Welcome back to Part 2 of “Why Gaming Sucks.” This time, I will be sharing my opinion on what is wrong with the gaming media. If you haven’t already read the introduction to this series, then I encourage you to check out Why Gaming Suck Part 1.
The Hype Train – All Aboard!
Over the new year holiday, I played a substantial amount of Game Dev Tycoon. I got to the point where I had to start generating hype for upcoming games by talking to various media outlets. This got me thinking about the hype trains which are generated by the media. I did a quick Google search for one of the most hyped games of 2014, and the results were exactly what I expected.
The media really enjoys talking about video games. There is nothing inherently wrong with that. In fact, trumping up video games is their job —in some aspects. However, when media builds up games to the point of which claims are made that it is the “second-coming,” problems begin to arise. To be fair, I do understand why some of these pieces come into existence and I must admit that I have written one myself.
In other cases, media often builds up a game to be something that it isn’t. Take the 2011 release of RAGE for example. The media talked it up, claiming it to be a Fallout-esque game, which it wasn’t. This caused a minor uproar in the gaming community since the overall outcome was not what was expected (I will cover more of this issue in the third segment of “Why Gaming Sucks”). I thought RAGE was a solid title for what is was, however it wasn’t what many perceived it to be, thanks in part to the media reception.
The other problem with media coverage of video games is that they tend to focus on the AAA titles. Some of these titles get more than enough attention through the various events like E3, GamesCom and TGS, to name a few. This creates an incredible imbalance as the smaller titles are left with little-to-no coverage. What’s to say that these smaller titles do not deserve as much attention as the AAA behemoths?
Unclear Business Practices – You Didn’t See Anything
I had the idea of expressing my disdain for the media towards the end of 2013. Fortunately, I decided to hold off long enough to experience the events that took place at the end of 2014 — that’s right, I’m talking about #GamerGate. It is pretty incredible that most of the points I came up with in 2013 are somehow relevant to events that took place before #GamerGate initially began.
For example, back in 2007, editorial director Jeff Grestmann left his role at Gamespot. The reason for his departure seemed to stem from the negative review he gave Kane & Lynch: Dead Men. Depending on who you asked, Jeff was either let go due to “creative differences,” or the more controversial reasoning, which was that he was let go due to the advertisement agency not being happy with his negative review of the game. The second reason would make sense considering the serious amount of promotion Gamespot was doing at the time for Kane & Lynch. To the surprise of no one, it became public knowledge that his departure was somewhat involved with the exchange of money. This in no way helps dispel the widely speculated perception that publishers pay for positive reviews to bolster sales.
Fast forward seven years, when a particular game developer was accused of having relations with people in the media that supposedly gave her positive coverage and enhanced her title. When these particular outlets were questioned for clarification on the matter, the gaming community was not given a dignified response. Instead, they were criticized, mocked and ridiculed.
Let me be clear; I would like to avoid any discussion in regards to #GamerGate, but rather compare and contrast the events from before and the events of now, and how little a difference there really is between the two. In both cases, two media outlets were not upfront with their audiences, and in both instances, their followers became understandably upset.
Another instance of this is back in 2012; the legendary ‘Doritos Pope’ Geoff Keighley held a promotional stream for Halo 4. Due to the plethora of product placement for Mountain Dew and Doritos in Keighley’s background, controversial discussions sparked surrounding the stream. Articles were published later on from both sides of the spectrum, spawning the catchy hashtag #DoritoGate. Now, tell me if this sounds familiar; both events caused controversy and both events influenced people to question the integrity of games journalists.
One would expect that when a company is questioned in regards to the effect of their business conduct on their dedicated audience, that they would come out and be honest. I guess this goes to show how naive one can be. This also begs the question, what other backroom deals and details are we not informed of? I’m not suggesting that all company matters should be revealed, but those which concern the audience should be.
Trust is built on a bed of honesty. How can media outlets expect to be trusted when they are not being entirely honest with us? Speaking of honesty…
Review Scores – You Get a √-1
I remember very clearly the story that made me stop caring about the score of a review. A couple of years back, I was deciding whether to pick up Borderlands or Lost Planet 2. I had already played the demo for Lost Planet 2 and enjoyed it. Although Borderlands looked enticing, I knew next to nothing about it. Feeling indecisive, I did what most would to do and decided to look up the review scores of both titles. At the time, Borderlands was receiving better scores than Lost Planet 2 which was getting certain, minor complaints. Considering the discrepancy between the two, I did what anyone would expect and went with Borderlands. After completing the main story, I kept thinking about how much fun I was missing out on with Lost Planet 2.
Because of this, I went ahead and broke two of my rules: never trade in a game, and always avoid games with low review scores. To make a long story short, I put well-over 500 hours into Lost Planet 2 and I still consider it to be one of my favorite games of the last generation.
After that particular conflicting-review experience, I decided to base my purchasing decisions solely off of my interpretations of what the game provided. This meant no impressions, no previews and no review scores unless I personally knew the reviewer. Ever since I’ve started to follow my two newly implemented rules, I’ve enjoyed many games which I would have otherwise avoided if I would have based my opinion off the feedback from the media.
My main issue with reviews scores is that oftentimes, they do not tell you the full story. They are usually an arbitrary number between one and ten. Does a seven tell you how well constructed the story is? Does a nine tell you about the issues with the gameplay? Also, if the values are not properly defined relative to one another then the whole system is pretty much useless.
Without getting too much into the whole “are video games art debate,” I would like to specify that I do not think it is fair to muddle the work of others by categorizing their efforts into a simple number. Some of these studios put in weeks, months and years of blood, sweat and tears into their projects and it must be soul crushing to have other people stamp it with an arbitrary number and call it a day. There are games of which a number cannot describe the themes explored like Spec Ops: The Line, Papa & Yo and Brothers: A Tale of Two Sons, just to name a few.
The obvious solution would be to remove review scores altogether, something many media outlets are actually doing. However, some people use review scores as a quick indication of a game. This leads to me to believe that the best solution, for outlets that use review scores, is to place a greater emphasis on the content of the review rather than the actual score.
Sensationalism – Kicking The Hornet’s Nest
“The presentation of stories in a way that is intended to provoke public interest or excitement, at the expense of accuracy.”
By definition alone, one can elude to which gaming media outlets I’m referring to. We all know why these sites do this: to generate more traffic. It is easier to elicit outrage than it is to engage on a higher level. That alone should provide you with an idea of how these outlets perceive their audience. Pretty depressing, right? Then again, the audience does not help much either (another topic of discussion for “Why Gaming Sucks Part 3”).
There’s an old saying that goes something like: “You can judge a person by the company they keep.” I believe this saying can also be applied to gaming media. Through this, one can judge a particular outlet according to the content they produce. Outlets that think of their audience as brainless cretins tend to avoid producing content which engages with them on a higher, more personal level.
The God Complex – I’m Right, You’re Wrong, Period.
“A God complex is an unshakable belief characterized by consistently inflated feelings of personal ability, privilege or infallibility.”
A prime example of someone who displays this type of behavior is Kanye West, better known as “Yeezus.” The way to spot someone with a God complex is by taking notice of how they exert their ideologies. Most people with a God complex seem to believe that their opinion is the only one that should exist and is exempt from all challenging factors. These people can also be found in the digital space, writing gaming articles and phrasing their opinions as definite facts.
There isn’t much than can be said about this unfortunate factor in games journalism. The only thing we can do is ask for less narcissism. I’m sure we can all agree that there is nothing wrong with having an opinion on something. However, if you are not at all accepting of potential criticism, than why have an opinion at all? Worst case scenario would be that we block out the opinions of all people who disagree, which would create a proverbial ass-to-mouth community.
Much Words, No Time
- Hype Train – Over-hype is bad and the AAA games do not need it. The focus should be on the smaller titles.
- Unclear Business Practices – Be honest with the audience, they have the power to make or break you.
- Reviews Scores – Unless we create a universal criteria for review scores, they are rather pointless. Also can you really put a score on an artistic effort?
- Sensationalism – Just stop it, it lessens your credibility and your peers.
- God Complex – Less of the narcissism please, thank you.