The ABCs of Game Journalism

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Adclicks: The alpha and the omega, the end all/be all of the profession. This is why the usual rags update a hundred times a day, about anything that has even the flimsiest of connections to video games. You may think you got into games writing to share your love of the medium with a like-minded audience, but in reality, the powers that be only pay your meager wages to subsidize the sale of Halo/Call of Duty themed Doritos and Mountain Dew to children half your (biological, not mental) age.

Big, Overpriced City: Where the few full-time, salaried jobs are to be had, despite the fact that email/texting/IM exists and digital downloads are a thing now. Also bear in mind that wages are a race to the bottom, kept low by an always-present legion of scrappy idealists not old enough to drink – they’re willing and able to subside on a diet of ramen and free energy drinks to take your job. Combined, this means you can look forward to having three or five obnoxious roommates in the worst part of town for the lion’s share of your career.

Conversation: Game writers love this word, as using it gives them the illusion they toil in service of something weightier than electronic entertainment (protip: they don’t). Once upon a time, writers wrote, publishers published, and readers read. Maybe a few readers would respond with a letter, post comments, or take the initiative to become game writers themselves. No longer: Today, every preview, review, and publisher-fed “news” blurb must be framed as if it has depth and gravity. Everything has meaning and societal importance; nothing is “just” a game.

Development: “I’m only writing these glorified marketing pieces to pay the bills until I get my big break making games.” That’s what you tell yourself when you go to sleep at night, isn’t it? After all, the dude who made Bastion did it, you can too!

Except Bastion dude was chief of the web’s largest games outlet and had top execs at every major publisher on speed dial. You live in Iowa, have an acne problem, and wear a Fedora (sorry, Trilby).

Editor: The big jobs, the company men, those fabled “full-time, salaried jobs” alluded to in item B. There are only a handful of these jobs, everyone wants them, and the niche press is already up to its eyeballs in old guard types who have more experience, name recognition, and connections than you could ever hope for. Aspiring to be a game journalism editor is a lot like aspiring to break through the closed Hollywood ranks, sans the promise of riches and sex appeal if you hit the lottery and succeed.

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Fifteen: The average age of the snot-nosed brat who is waiting to take your job the second you upset an advertiser or justice warrior (Item J). He lives with his parents and has no expenses; so working for a compensation package entirely made of free press copies makes total financial sense. Hyperbole? Not on your life – I was this little brat, and as a result, I hardly ever paid for a game during high school.

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Girl at the Gastropub: Forget 9/11, to hell with JFK; here be a conspiracy you can prove. Game journalists as a bloc welcome the wholesale dumbing down of games so that one day they may become as “mainstream” as Glee or Katy Perry albums, finally freeing them to tell that last-call special with the bangs and Buddy Holly glasses what they really do for a living. This may seem to be an oversimplification, but the scientific principle of parsimony (“the simplest theorization is often correct”) applies even here: Deification of casual and smartphone gaming over the past several years entirely stems from the gaming journalist’s inability to hit on girls.

Hobbyist: The sanest path into games writing is to write about games for the same reason you play them. That is to say, for funsies. You’ll need a day job, but you still might make a bit of pocket money here and there. Going pro may seem like a fantasy come true, but like the high school cheer captain who became a porn starlet, you’ll be sick to death of the whole enterprise by your third gored anus.

Indie Fetishization: If a game plays like warmed-over dung muffins but was developed in a garage/overpriced downtown office space by some trust fund hipsters with MFAs, the unwritten law of the profession states you’re going to give that game no less than an 8, because it represents “a new perspective” in the medium. And should the developer insist the game is an allegory for some social justice issue? 10.0 or you’re a bigot.

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(Social) Justice Warriors: Like stand-up comedy before it, it has now become very fashionable for poseur faux-progressives to loudly and proudly dump their assorted baggage, peeves, and life traumas onto a medium that originated with plumbers rescuing princesses. Indeed, the justice warrior will tell you that by repeatedly chasing after her, Mario – and by proxy the player – is an agent of the patriarchy, failing to properly empower Peach by respecting her desire for a polyamorous arrangement with a dude who wears a turtle costume during intercourse.

Kill Yourself: An alternative to your current life plan and dead-end career path. Ending one’s own life is the most personal of decisions, and as such, I’m not saying you should do it… I’m just saying that carbon monoxide is effective and painless so long as you do it right. Barring that, there’s always helium. Either way, make sure you do it somewhere isolated: There’s likely no significant other to worry about, but Mom and Dad shouldn’t have to take a dirt nap on your account.

Ludonarrative Dissonance: The type of meaningless term that games press hipsters invent to fuel the personal delusion they’re engaged in anything but rote coverage of new and exciting shoot-the-man playthings. Nobody needed to invent a term to describe a likable action hero who racks up a body count big enough to fill one stadium per level; we already had one – likable action hero.

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Manchild: You probably are one, and your audience is absolutely flush with them. There is a way to spin this into a sort of lucrative persona (see item Y), but it requires a level of charisma you probably don’t have.

Newgrounds.com: A decade ago, this was the premier flash-based browser game slum where rank amateur devs could release their hastily designed piles of code as freeware. Now those glorified student projects are sold as actual products on Xbox Live and Playstation Network. You will be expected to take them seriously.

Objectivity: There is none, because the entire profession relies on news, screenshots, interviews, and early access to review copies, all of which is metered out selectively by the PR and marketing departments of giant publishers. It should be noted that the shills, to a man, roll their eyes at any suggestion of partiality. “All reviews are, like, opinion, man,” they’ll say, conveniently ignoring that the lion’s share of games is scored on boxing rules (nothing lower than a 7).

Polygon.com: An insufferable game journalist supergroup which regularly trashes fantastic games for daring to have sex appeal, and can spend half or more of its famously, painfully underwritten “reviews” to grandstand about social issues. Imagine if Consumer Reports used their iPhone reviews to discuss the moral failings of Foxconn at length? Nobody would subscribe.

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Related – Plante, Chris: Polygon’s henpecked editor-at-large is a man who once wrote an article decrying Bioshock Infinite, one of 2013’s masterpieces, on the basis that it was too violent for his wife to watch.

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Related – Pitts, Russ: Polygon’s current features editor (and former editor-in-chief of The Escapist) can’t go very long without using the words “girls becoming women” in articles ostensibly about video games. And yes, he looks exactly like you’d expect after reading that sentence – you wouldn’t want to see him loitering outside a public restroom while your wife/girlfriend/daughter was occupying it.

Questions You May Ask Yourself: What am I doing with my life? Will I ever grow up? Will I ever get health benefits? Can I ever expect to make more than $20k a year? Is it too late to go back to school for a real career? Will girls really touch my penis if I get indignant about boobplate armor and high heels on female characters in fighting games?

Answer key: less than nothing, probably not, no, hell no, apply right this second, not on your life.

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Rogers, Tim: Prima facie uber-hipster (Christ, just look at him) and Godfather of what is commonly referred to as “new” games journalism. Tim’s special “talent” lies in writing sprawling, edit-free, 10,000+ word Livejournal posts/“reviews” that talk about the actual game for ¼ that length. The other ~7,500 words will be used to talk about the time the author lived in Japan, the time the author tried to make out with a girl but ended up playing a Mario game instead, the author’s designer jeans and underwear, the author’s awful band, etc. This clod has given an entire generation of dreadful writers the terrible idea that the best way to write about a video game is to ignore writing about the game altogether.

Sexism: Your colleagues are obsessed with it because they’re a bunch of liberal puritans who spend too much time on Tumblr. Your bosses are obsessed with it because whining about it brings in the clicks like nothing else. As a result, if a female character in a video game has a huge rack or is otherwise made to be visually appealing to the medium’s overwhelmingly male audience, you can set your clock to the fact that some chowderhead on staff is going to put it on the same tier of atrocity as gang rape.

Thesaurus: Never write without one. Communicating about a topic in a clear, concise way might make for good writing, but you’ll never garner attention on the games journalism circuit in such a fashion. The more needlessly large words you can shovel into your review of Gone Home, the better. And the first person to come up with an eight-syllable synonym for “the” gets to be the big cheese at an outlet of their choosing.

Unaffected and Detached: The only way to write about video games if you want to be considered a “serious” game critic by people who spend more time on social media than in public. Gone are the days when you could freely admit to looking forward to the next dumb, disposable military shooter for the guns and explosions. You must show yourself to be unmoved by any amount of awesome on display, particularly if the game eliciting such excitement within is a finely crafted, top-shelf title by a large publisher. Conversely, you must never appear to be these things when covering janky twin-stick shooters, glorified walking simulators with terrible narratives written by first-year creative writing students, or boring crafting games with retro art styles. These titles – unlike shooters with world-class mechanics and production values – are made by amateurs, meaning you must grade their products on a curve fueled by sunshine, optimism, and kneejerk praise for anything perceived as counterculture.

Venture Capital: Make friends with these people. If you can toe the line long enough to build a sizeable following, you might be able to con them into funding your very own publication someday.

Word Count: Get it up! Some outlets still pay by the word. Good writers might say more with less, but good games journalists will use five words where one would suffice. Rockstar games journalists use 100; very few of which discuss the actual game (see: Rogers, Tim).

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X-Rated: Once upon an Internet, attractive, work-adverse women flashed their goods on camera for items from an Amazon wishlist. No longer – today, it’s entirely possible to “pay for college” (or implants, purses, etc.) by spackling on the makeup and throwing on a Mario T-shirt (preferably with underboob). And though gamers may respond financially to the mere promise of a halfway attractive, personable woman being in a Call of Duty lobby with them, don’t neglect to remember that our species has latent masochistic tendencies due to the trauma of never getting to diddle prom queens, cheerleaders, or even lowly field hockey players. For you, this means you’ll never have to work a day in your life if you’re willing to tart it up and publically deem all gamerkind as overgrown manchildren. Frame it as “critical lens” all you’d like, but you’ll be engaging in nothing more than intellectual femdom with controllers. The self-hating nerds will come out of the woodwork, either to lavish undeserved praise in the hopes you’ll sleep with them, or to call for the death of you and your entire family. Either way, your Kickstarter will meet its stretch goals.

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Youtube: The automobile to our horse and buggy, this is where the industry is headed: straight into the toilet. Even if you’ve never played a game in your life (and especially if you’ve never produced an intelligible thought), your accent, stupid character gimmick, or – for the ladies – hipster glasses/bitchface/lip gloss combo will make you exponentially more profitable than actual writing ability or a proper knowledge base re: video games.

Zilch: The chance you will ever afford a house in one of the cities you’ll have to move to in order to pursue this pipe dream full time. Lots of people – yours truly included – get excited when they first see their name in print. Will it thrill you the fiftieth time? The hundredth? If not, then please, for the love of god, go to college, preferably in a STEM field. Barring that, learn a trade. Do something, because otherwise, you’re throwing away any hope of financial stability for the ability to legally write off a Playstation as a business expense.

 

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About George

George holds the world record for having pissed off the most game journos in a single post. You can read more of his insane ramblings about digital playthings at www.subtleblend.com or follow him on Twitter.