My two personal journalistic highlights of 2013

It’s 2014, and I can’t quite believe it. 2013 was memorable, and I’ll sure all of you will agree if you’re looking on gaming terms, with massive titles such as BioShock Infinite and Grand Theft Auto V, but both were arguably dwarfed by the release of XBOX One and PlayStation 4. The games journalist has had the opportunity to write about one of the most important years in recent gaming history.

I don’t just want to talk my thoughts on the year’s games, or purely about my writing games journalism. I’ll be looking specifically at my personal highlights as a writer across all fields.

2) Radio and Podcasting

I’ve done a lot of radio work in the past year, to my surprise, and it’s made me realise that I have an unexpected passion for it.

It started when I was unexpectedly asked to co-host the sports segment on Amplify, one of the shows on Bath Spa University’s student radio. It was an opportunity that I was keen to take up as I love sport. However, it was nerve-wracking entering the studio for the first time, with other hosts watching me from beyond the glass. I didn’t know if I could pull it off. Apparently I can, though I’m still learning.

My co-host and I had the idea to do something that combined news with analysis. The balance was a difficult one to strike, and I found switching from one to the other a little difficult. SpaLife has tested my talents as a speaker as I’ve not just done sports but experienced film review and chat too, and I’ve loved it.

Since then, I have indeed been in an episode of PSU’s podcast, PlayStation Unchained, which was great fun. It’s easy to forget that you’re doing work when you’re talking to a bunch of friends about your mutual and personal passions.

One of my great passions is the Star Wars franchise, so it was with no reluctance at all that I took the opportunity to guest on EUCantina’s EUCast. There has been a pan of Star Wars related information boiling in my head for years, and to be able to release some of it, to be able to seriously discuss something I have a deep interest in, was a real highlight of the year.

1) Working for PlayStation Universe

My highlight has undoubtedly been working for PlayStation Universe. It’s been a tremendous, exciting time, and I can’t believe I’m nearly at the point of having been staff for one year.

It is said that joining workplaces can be sometimes intimidating. I never found that the case at PSU. From the start it seemed a place where I could share my ideas and they would be seriously considered as if I wasn’t just new on the team.

Finding my feet took a little time as it does with anywhere. I had writing experience, but with any new environment, one has to get used to the way that things are done. I had to become familiar to the ideas of working with a team of people over the internet, making sure I posted regularly, etc. The thrill has been from trying to master all of this; I find no thrill in standing still.

Getting increasingly involved has been brilliantly, and I’ve loved taking the variety of stuff that I’ve done: covering the E3 livestream, podcasting, general day-to-day writing and, most of all, working with a creative and energetic group of people.

To sum up my journalistic year, the real pleasure has been tailoring it towards my passions. The last year was one of the first where I was able to go in my own direction and make what I believe to be a real success of it.

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13 New Year games journalism resolutions for me (and possibly for you!)

New Year is the time for resolutions, and most of them are ill-considered and overly ambitious. I thought, therefore, I’d write some relevant to my personal career development that will have more of an effect than ‘life changing’ plan. They might be useful for you, too.

I aim:

(13) to be a more frequent networker. No human is an island, and a journalist must be the total opposite. Here are my thoughts on networking if you are an up and coming journalist.

(12) to use social media more creatively. This means communicating visually.

(11) to learn more from other games journalists. This means reading more, networking more–reminding yourself that games journalists are part of a community. On that note, here’s last year’s resolutions from Paul Tassi, a Forbes contributor.

(10) to read more academic writings on gaming. Games journalists should have an in-depth knowledge of the workings of games to be able to provide the most interesting analysis.

(9) to game for fun more frequently. Journalism is time-consuming, and balancing journalism and other commitments is a challenge requiring self-discipline and the ability to schedule one’s own time. Thus, there’s not much time to game purely for fun. However, it’s important to make time for it because a) this is essential for keeping the passion for my work and b) it reminds me of what it’s like to play a game as a consumer.

(8) to specialise. Xbox Live and PSN mean there are more games on consoles than ever before. However, a specialism can definitely improve a writer’s output, whether that’s specialising in a genre, an aspect of game-design, or a particular MMO. A specialism not only means that I can write more in-depth pieces, but that I can show more of my personality and have more fun, too!.

(7) to write more widely. I might have just said that I am going to specialise, but writing more widely helps you learn where you interests lie.

(6) to take more thinking time. This is limited just like gaming time, but it is worth it. One of my tutors at University, freelance journalist Rin Hamburgh, taught me that simply flicking through magazines is a good way to spark ideas. It really is, and if you don’t give yourself some time to let ideas develop, and then to carefully plan them out, you won’t be able to write truly excellent pieces.

(5) to plan the year ahead. No games journalists will forget the big things that will be happening in 2014, such as the release of Metal Gear Solid V. But what to write to mark the occasion? And what about the smaller things, such as anniversaries? It’s worth having some ideas and getting some work started now, which is obviously a necessity for in-depth features.

(4) to realise that as no human is an island, neither is a games platform. It might be asking a lot to invest in every console and to buy a PC capable of running high-spec titles, but knowing what’s going on in the industry as a whole can help a writer predict trends and write pieces that show an awareness of how their specialist area of the industry fits in.

(3) to spend some time doing stuff other than games journalism. No matter how much you love games journalism, humans aren’t machines and burnout is always a possibility if you push yourself too far. Pop Matters’ L.B. Jeffries points out that even playing games for your work can lead to burnout.

(2) to continue to work on basic writing skills. Journalism isn’t about what you know, or how insightful you are, it’s about communication. It was Rin who taught me that getting something across clearly is more important than being a great writer. I plan to make an stronger effort to constantly sharpen my grammar, structural approach to pieces and the precision of your vocabulary, by not just being aware of my own writing but by reading voraciously.

This was originally going to be twelve resolutions but I’ve realised that I have one final resolution.

1) to keep the passion for my work. For me, it comes from purely getting my head down and reminding myself why I’ve decided to be a games journalist.

When the work comes for me and for all of you, I hope you have a successful, productive year for me and that you enjoy the releases that you’ve been waiting for. In the meantime…

Happy New Year!

A late Christmas gift!

Hi all,

Hope you have had an excellent Christmas and plenty of downtime.

Apologies for there being no posts last week–I should have warned you that I wouldn’t be posting over the Christmas week. However, this week I’ll be posting on New Year’s Eve, January 2nd and January 3rd. After that, the posting schedule will return to Monday and Friday as per usual.

All the best,
Lee

Every games journalist should use visual social media

mediascreen

It won’t take a journalist-in-training long to understand that social media is very important. The content you produce is the most important thing, of course, but the internet is saturated with gaming media. It’s therefore important for gaming websites to have a social presence, but for individual journalists, too. Poynter reports that Justin McIlroy, the managing editor of Polygon, told them that the video game industry lacks known personalities. Audio and video are infinitely more personal than text, and games journalists should use them to communicate with their audience online.

IGN is an example of a website whose social media presence is clearly working, with around 1.6 million Facebook followers at the time of writing. This is a hefty chunk of its estimated unique monthly visitors of 17.5 million (January-December 2012, eBizMBA). It appears that the number of Facebook followers is 11% of its monthly traffic. The followers on social media are very important, as they are people who are almost guaranteed to visit the site again and again.

However, IGN has it comparatively easy when stood alongside some of the smaller gaming websites that can’t trade off of reputation. In this case, it is important their journalists make themselves known. Twitter is a necessity, and you are certainly the odd one out if you don’t have a presence there. There are visual alternatives that aren’t always considered, such as Instagram, YouTube, Twitch – there are plenty of options out there – which should be also be used.

One of the most famous, if not indeed the most famous, video games journalists is Geoff Keighley, and that’s because he is a broadcast journalist. He’s not just hosted web shows, but has also appeared on American channel Spike TV. Most journalists don’t have Spike as a platform, and some mightn’t even have the confidence to feel like hosting a web show. But guess what? You don’t have to be a broadcast journalist. You just have to be yourself.

Being yourself is the way that you can gain an audienceYou do want to promote your articles, of course, but you’re not going to entertain existing fans of works or appear that exciting to people who’ve just stumbled across you by being a PR machine. Indeed, when I attended the ExPlay games conference this November, indie game developer Simon Roth stated that to be yourself on social media – an opinion that carries weight considering image is much more important for someone whose sales are undoubtedly significantly lower than AAA releases.

It could be argued that it’s a waste of time to try to broaden your social media profile. Why get onto YouTube when there are far more successful Vloggers such as Charlie McDonnell? Why get onto Instagram when IGN has less than 30,000 followers of their account (as of 17/12/13)? Well, you’re not in direct competition with Charlie, and IGN is a brand, not an individual. Especially on websites such as Instagram, you have the potential to reach that large percentage of the population who game but don’t consider themselves ‘gamers’.

You will have to do a bit of research to understand genre conventions. For vlogging, you’ll have to be familiar with the jump-cut editing style; on photo-blogging sites, you’ll need to be aware of the use of hashtags; for game streaming, you’ll have to decide on the format of your streams (length, structure, etc.). Take a look at the TotalBiscuit vlog below, which interestingly combines gameplay with unrelated discussion.

Bear in mind that high quality content comes first; there’s a reason why the VGX awards are mocked and Polygon is well respected. Unless a temporary monetary fix is all you want – which isn’t going to happen online – then your content is the most important aspect of your work. Just don’t forget that you have a face and a voice that an audience wants to see and listen to, and that there’s a whole other audience out there that wants to but just doesn’t know it.

UPDATE: You might disagree with my referral to the likes of YouTube and Twitch as visual social media. However, I believe it is appropriate to deem them as such based on your usage of those platforms. If it is about communicating with your audience, not just broadly through a video but through engaging in chat, perhaps even creating video responses to comments and to other videos, then they take on characteristics of social media.

The games video journalist: Is PS4’s share function a threat?

New technologies generally inspire fear in the old guard, and rightly so. The digital world is a looming threat over television, books and, most relevantly to games journalists, magazines. Games journalism is incrementally moving online, and the adaptation has been relatively smooth. However, the PlayStation 4 has brought the ability for gamers to stream gameplay footage online. Does expanding this ability to console gamers leave everyone who is called a games journalist in the lurch?

You might think that the construction of the last sentence is a bit odd. However, Jeff Jarvis famously wrote “There are no journalists, there is only the service of journalism.” I agree, but that doesn’t mean that the term journalist isn’t still going to be used. Clearly, though, not everyone is going to be called a journalist by those who use their content.

There’s definitely potential for a successful, democratised video game journalism, and it has been displayed from day one of the PS4. The most notable example is a Twitch stream known as The Spartan Show, that began life as a show streamed from The Playroom (1). It’s been recognised to such a degree that they’ve managed to grab guests such as Shahid Ahmad, Sony Computer Entertainment Europe’s Senior Business Development Manager, and staff from Housemarque, the developers of launch title Resogun. Cleary, this sort of broadcasting has been seen as something to be taken seriously.

Adam Boyes calls into The Spartan Show during its first night on air (Credit to WarioSixFour)

But let’s not act as if the ability to stream is something new. Anybody has the potential to stream gameplay footage with the right equipment . However, the PlayStation 4’s ‘Share’ feature isn’t about innovation, it is purely about democratisation via ease of access. Yes, there is stiff competition: YouTuber PewDiePie has over 18 million subscribers and 3 billion views at the time of writing. (Yes, I did mean to write billion) But it’ll mean that the likes of PewDiePie will have to work even harder to survive. Is this healthy for quality, though? Will it mean that mainstream sources have to try even harder to be heard?

It definitely means there will be more of an expectation to for gaming sites to be do forms of video broadcasting in order to keep up. Yes, even sites orientated around XBOX will face the pressure to do so when every PlayStation site is streaming gameplay footage, which will be a threat to the smaller sites that don’t have the human and technological resources. It could also be a threat to quality journalism, for it might distract attention away from crafting interesting long-form pieces.

However, it’s unlikely that quality journalism is going to see itself disappearing. Kieron Gillen proposed in his manifesto for New Games Journalism that the personal should be at the forefront of games. Chris Bateman provided an excellent rebuttal several years later, stating that NGJ has led to games journalism being too much about ‘I’. And yes, I (hah) concur. Subjectivity has it’s place but, if the people who conduct journalism want to be regarded as journalists, then they need to take their work seriously. This is part of the reason why IGN is the number one most popular video gaming site, as of December 1, 2013 (eBizMBA).

The crux of the matter is that, to produce high quality content it requires money. Up-and-comers might cause damage to some small content producers that don’t the quality journalism to keep themselves afloat. However, most games journalism websites have a repertoire of content, and the money to create a broad operation, that a YouTuber probably won’t have.

It is clear that game streaming is an increasingly important tool in the journalists’ repertoire, but it is merely supplementary. To maintain that distinction between the amateur and the professional, journalists need to use their experience, their knowledge and, in some cases, their financial resources to produce content that keeps the industry moving forward. They need to continue to provide work that others won’t or can’t. That is the role of a journalist.

(1) Streaming can no longer be done on Twitch via PS4’s The Playroom.

Games, Journalism and Culture: Games aren’t niche, so don’t make it look like they are (ASSESS)

This is the second and final of two pieces in my Games, Journalism and Culture series, focusing on how games are represented across the breadth of journalistic output. This particular piece also explores the importance of other media.

The debate of whether games are art may have a future, but there is no debate when considering whether games are a financial powerhouse. They are. The Motion Picture Association of America reports that the box office revenue for films worldwide was $34.7 billion in 2012, whereas the projection for video games, which reside nearly exclusively in the home, was $78.5 billion (including mobile) according to Reuters. Video gaming clearly isn’t a niche medium, yet it is treated as if it is.

The media needs to hold itself to account for making the medium appear niche. The U.K.  launches of the PlayStation 4 and XBOX One, momentous on financial and cultural levels, found themselves on the none of the front covers of the U.K.’s four traditional high-quality newspapers: The Guardian, The Independent, The Telegraph or The Times. Indeed, the Financial Times did have PlayStation and XBOX on the cover of their November 29 issue, but only because of a feature looking at them in relation to media devices like Apple TV.

Sadly, when high profile figures speak about games, the stereotype of games as ‘bad’ or ‘trivial’ sometimes rears its head. The Telegraph reported how Prince William stated, regarding the PlayStation 4 “It’s very addictive….I’d like to get one but I’m not sure how my wife would feel about it.” (via PlayStation Universe). The implication is that games are a sort of guilty pleasure. David Cameron has also admitted to playing games (BBC), and whilst it might be positive for him to reveal playing games, it would have been better if he had revealed he dabbled in the likes of Papers, Please instead of Angry Birds. The problem with Angry Birds that it is merely games as entertainment. Whilst games being presented as appreciated by mainstream figures is positive, David Cameron’s revelation may have further enshrined the idea that they are trivial, and not aiding them in becoming further widespread.

The games industry can, surprisingly, be represented poorly by games journalists, even without apparent negative intention. The reference to the ‘gaming community’ is also problematic, something that an article by Simon Park for New Statesman brought to light for me, pointing out that its use unintentionally suggests there is an archetypal gamer, when this is likely less true than ever. Wider culture isn’t helping either, with the blockbuster film Gamer being a generic action film, and reaffirming the image of games as being violent and childish. If only mainstream films portrayed the breadth and depth of games.

A major problem is the link between video games and celebrity, as we just don’t have any who have taken the world stage. Nolan North is, according to The Guardian, “the nearest thing the games industry has to a bona fide leading man.” Sure, he may be well know by by gamers, but how well known is he by the wider world? I think we all know the answer to that question, and as such, it needs tackling. The gaming industry needs high quality television shows, prestigious events, powerful orators. It needs to appear to be cultured, mature and mainstream. For the most part, we lack these. There are few T.V. shows worldwide dedicated to gaming. Some major gaming events have found themselves tainted by immaturity, which PSU shows with the case of VGX. Celebrities from other cultural forms regularly turn up to launch events. All of hese things make the industry weaker.

GamingByte has produced a helpful compilation of cringeworthy moments at VGX 

It wouldn’t take much for the games industry to gain more credibility, though the representation of gaming isn’t purely in the hands of gamers, games journalists, and the rest of the games industry. However, all gamers can do their bit. Treat our passion, our industry as mature and respectable, appreciate that it is made up of a diverse range of people. If we respect ourselves, others will.

What are your thoughts? Let me know below!

The next post will land on Monday, December 16. From that date onward, I will not be posting on Wednesdays. New blog posts will appear on Mondays and Fridays at the usual time of 6 P.M.  

Games, Journalism and Culture: Dominating the most boring debate in video games

This is the first of two pieces in my Games, Journalism and Culture series, focusing on how games are represented across the breadth of journalistic output. The next piece is due on Wednesday.

The debate of video games as art is an debate, and one that seems to have hit a wall. Games were notably regarded as not worthy of First Amendment protection by a U.S. court as apparently “[There is] no conveyance of ideas, expression, or anything else that could possibly amount to speech.” (2002, cited in Wagner, 2002Roger Ebert famously once argued that they’ll never be art (at least within readers lifetimes, though he did change his mind). Games journalists and developers have varied opinions: Phil Hartup sees player agency as a game’s artistry (New Statesman), Sophia George wrote for The Guardian that actual art design is key, and some, like Michael Samyn of development studio Tales of Tales, thinks games aren’t art. Despite the breadth of opinion, the debate is inconclusive, and it needs an entirely new approach by games journalists.

It doesn’t matter which side of the argument you fall on. If you think games are purely entertainment, fine–as long as you don’t hate games, which would be very odd if you are a gamer. I don’t think that the purpose of the debate is to make games necessarily be seen as art, but at least to be a cultural item worthy or serious mainstream discussion. Even if you disagree with that, then at least this debate should be re-energised, as it will in turn energise discussion within gaming communities.

A step towards making this discussion more lively is to not be ashamed of comparing video games to works from other mediums. Yes, Citizen Kane has often been referenced in the discussion of video games – so much so that a tumblr exists collating such references. Some say we have had a Citizen Kane moment – even film magazine Empire hasn’t been afraid to make such a claim, saying The Last of Us may be seen as that moment. It is worth being aware that Citizen Kane is generally regarded highly for it’s direction rather than it’s story, so whether it is one of film’s greatest works of art is up for debate. Yet, if it is culturally revered primarily for it’s technical prowess, then why can’t games be?

Is The Last of Us a marvel in story or just technical elements? (Credit to IGN, game by Naughty Dog/Sony)

Of course, Citizen Kane has an interesting story as well as. However, there have been many masterworks that games journalists shouldn’t be afraid of shouting to the skies about. The narrative of the likes of Final Fantasy X should willingly be compared to works of literature and film. There should also be the willingness to not do so at all: films and books are generally looked at within their own mediums and, as such, our medium does not need to be placed alongside others.

The problem is that the debate is limited to semantics when focused on whether games can be ‘art’, which Ebert showed by searching for a suitable definition of art in both of his posts. What needs to be discussed is what games can do rather than trying to fit them into a box that can’t be found. What they can do is make you cry. They can fill you with wonder. They can make you consider philosophy. I’ve discussed two of the three, and I’ve certainly encountered the latter, with BioShock making me consider the nature of society like few works have.

I urge every games journalist to look at this debate anew. If we can get people to consider that games have merit beyond pure entertainment value – yes, merely to just consider it – then perhaps we can push video games into the cultural conversation. That is long overdue.