2014 Update #1

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The face above represents my disappointment in that I can’t get the second part of the review to you today. My phone charger is not with me, and my phone is due to die imminently.

I would like to state that this post had come from my phone, so I can give you a quick preview of my thoughts: I’m happy, especially with how easily you can share photos to WordPress.

To assuage your disappointment, I’ll be doing my first podcast today! The app review will follow on Friday at 12pm.

Cheers for now!

UPDATE: I’ve made the image smaller as I wasn’t too happy with how my face was blown to gigantic proportions. This might have been an error on my part, as I missed as to whether there were size options on the app.

2014: Why look back, not forward?

Many people will be desperate to hear more about this year’s big titles. It seems that the expectation will be realised of most gamers going online to play story-led games such as Destiny and The Division. Perhaps the precursor to this was LEGO Star Wars, which popularised the idea of drop in/drop out local multiplayer, or perhaps DOOM’s influence is more notable, a game which showed the potential for online multiplayer. Does the past of a form of entertainment matter for our readers, though? Why shouldn’t journalists purely set their sights on the here and now?

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Destiny (Image credit to Currys, game by Bungie/Activision)

There is a need to keep present and up to the demands of the 24 hour news cycle. For instance, people clamour to hear any information about the next Uncharted release, and a relevant website that doesn’t report updates on time risks significantly damaging their credibility. The focus of games journalists, for most publications, needs to be on current issue if they are to serve the needs of their readers.

The readers are the ones who keep a website running, but they are done a disservice, however, if it is assumed that they won’t have an interest in the past. Many gamers might if they were exposed to it, and it’s clearly evident that many still are, with services like XLink Kai keeping games alive that have said goodbye to their servers. If we don’t provide recognition that gamers buy and play games in different ways, then readers will undoubtedly spend more time on sites that dedicate themselves to their particular passions.

Understanding the past and the small communities that still exist around old games can also help the crafting of news and features. Press releases are all well and good in providing news about AAA releases, but what about a developer who has disappeared from the mainstream for ten years? Won’t the audience want to know what they are up to? And researching the past can’t replace thorough knowledge because, like following anything change, one doesn’t follow a straight path to see the evolution of games.

Understanding the past also lets games journalists understand the future. You can see trends, and you can write pieces that contain analysis based on a wealth of knowledge. I have previously said that communication is the most important part of journalism. However, what’s the point in communicating ideas if it is merely regurgitation? What makes games journalism irreplaceable? Games journalism only is if journalists have insight that others may not.

Remember that your work has the side effect of serving the games industry. I don’t mean that the needs of PR should be served, but if journalists aren’t going to champion all corners of the gaming industry, then who is? Yes, you might tell a friend about that trilogy Bungie made before Halo, but writing an article about it lets many more people know about something they might not. You will have provided a gateway to people who may not be familiar with games before the last generation. You have stopped the overwhelming hype PR for upcoming releases from dominating the gaming conversation.

 A screenshot of DOOM's multiplayer (Image credit to Dedoimedo, game by ID Software/Bethesda)

A screenshot of DOOM’s multiplayer (Image credit to Dedoimedo, game by ID Software/Bethesda)

The year has yet to begin in earnest, with none of the big titles having been released. This leaves a good chunk of time to consider how we can serve our readers better. As long as there is cause and effect, the past will always play a part in the present.

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: 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.

DISCUSSION: What do you want from games journalism?

Hi all,

I’m not blogging today, but I’m keen for some discussion. I would really love to hear what you want from games journalism. It seems appropriate to reflect since we’ve just headed into a new console generation, which has affected PlayStation journalists; it makes gameplay streaming easy, which opens up new opportunities for how journalism is conducted.

What I would love to hear in particular is: in what manner is games journalism succeeding and how is it not? What type of articles do you want to see more or less of?

I look forward to hearing your thoughts!

~Lee