19 May 2010

Game Journalism: intro

History of GJ

For a long time, popular games journalism was the main site for active and articulate players to describe their experiences and make their preferences heard. [...] Internet [...] has accelerated the processes of language creation, value sharing, and community formation.
-- Mäyrä, 2006, A moment in the life of a generation

The first player magazines started in 1981 in the UK and the USA. Online publications appeared in the late 1990's. With the digital era, journalism has been facing a big challenge: paper newspapers are leaving ground to online websites and blogs are the new watchdogs. Journalists are well aware of the impact of blogs on their practice (see p59-97 of this Fall 2003 issue of Nieman Reports). Game journalists are tech-savvy, so it did not take them long to realize online journalism was a solution. However, original business models had to be found to attract and keep readers on profitable and reliable online newspapers. In 2006, the Eurogamer network business development manager stated multimedia digital content will be king. Indeed, as of May 2010, Kotaku and Joystick are respectively the 16th and 49th most influential websites.

Nowadays, game journalists such as Ben "Yahtzee" Croshaw are not only writing articles, they are also podcasting and/or creating videos. Some such as the Destructoid staff even build games.

What does GJ consist of?

A game is traditionally covered by a game newspaper in a reveal then preview then review fashion. Features are bonus and do not have to cover a particular game.

Reveals News or rumors build the hype preceding a game.
Previews I think game journalists are sometimes allowed to play a game before other game journalists. Playing and writing about a game before other journalists corresponds to a non-GJ scoop. However, the company may ask for a promise of a nice review in exchange.
Reviews A journalist plays the game and critiques it. Comparisons are eventually made to other games of the same genre. Often, a score is given to the game at the end of the article.
Features Wikipedia gives a quite exhaustive list of journalistic features. As for GJ, interviews, analyses and opinions are the most frequent. Feature-specific journalistic elements such as the nut graph can sometimes be found. Columns are features from a particular author that are published at regular intervals.

The (secret?) powers of GJ

Review aggregators

In 2001, Metacritic appears. Metacritic is a website that gather scores from game reviews (and movies and TV series, among others). Examples: Arcanum received 24 critic reviews averaging a score of 81/100. GTA IV for Xbox360 received an average 98/100 in 86 reviews. Other websites such as GameTab or GameRankings do the same score-aggregation work.

Civic journalism wants newspapers and readers to be more involved in social life events. Civic journalists advocate that The way we do our journalism affects the way public life goes. Presumably, civic journalism builds credibility because readers realize journalists are closer to their topic and more involved. Many of the tenets of civic journalism seem to have been applied in current gaming news websites. For instance, Making a newspaper a forum for discussion of community issues or Considering public opinion through the process of discussion and debate among members of a community are illustrated in game publications by the substantial comments section following news entries. GJ has a big impact on players' life. However, game journalists do not seem to be aware of their powers:

  • Reveals and previews build hype and convey the companies' marketing a step closer to consumers
  • reviews and features influence consumers' behaviors. They are also a feedback given to developers.

In fact, GJ is similar to trade journalism in the way that both Kotaku and Reuters influence their respective market and industry. In High Scores Matter To Game Makers, Too, a WallStreet Journal journalist explained in 2007 that because Metacritic and Game Rankings typically post scores quickly after a game debuts and before any sales data are publicly available, Wall Street is also paying attention to them.. He continued: Some game companies now tie bonuses for their developers to game scores on such sites, while the stocks of game publishers can fall when a new title gets a disappointing score.

New Game Journalism

NGJ originated with Kieron Gillen's Manifesto and Ian "Always Black" Shanahan's "Bow Nigger" in 2004. NGJ articles have a more personal touch to their work, using a narrative, experiential approach that acknowledges the effect of the game on the player. Gillen argued that NGJ articles reflect how people experience games more accurately than the "previews" that are the meat and potatoes of the gaming press. Since video games are (getting) artistic, it makes sense that reviewers only mention their experience of the game, and not what other players would experience. Somehow like arts journalism. Examples of NGJ can be found here


  1. Interesting article. I love the look of the Stalker-games, and I would really love to see the GSC-team do a Fallout-game. They do post-apocalyptic right.

    I think video games can be art, and further, we're in the studio system of video game development. There are a couple of rock star name brand designers for video games, Sid Meier and Wil Wright amongst them, who can sell a game on their name alone, but that's probably where films were circa 1930

    Video games are not just art.. They are comprised of many different arts. It can be argued that video games are actually the highest of all art forms. They require scripts, acting, 3-D modeling, interactivity, 2-D illustration, storyboards, programming, and the list goes on and on. That argument made by Ebert is probably the most narrow minded, short sighted thing I've ever read. And it is nothing more than disrespectful to game designers. Shigeru Miyamoto (Mario, Zelda), Yasumi Matsuno (Vagrant Story), Tetsuya Nomura (Final Fantasy Series), Hideo Kojima (Metal Gear Series), Hironobu Sakaguchi (Final Fantasy Series) are some of my favorite artists.

  2. That is high praise for someone working in a medium which won't reach the status of art within any of our lifetimes.


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