To say that games journalists have gotten a bad rap over the years is an understatement. I’ve seen hate and accusations of shilling thrown around for scoring a game too high, and for not scoring a game high enough. Complaints get issued about how coverage tends to be restricted to popular games instead of focusing on lesser-known titles. Plus, credentials are constantly questioned due to unskilled gameplay and opinions that seem to undermine the core concept of a game.
Here’s the question: in an age where consumers seem increasingly distrusting of critics, news writers and the like, do we need games journalists? After all, everyone already seems to have their opinions formed, and far too often it seems to be the job of the critics to validate those opinions instead of providing their own insights.
Well, let’s start by getting something out of the way: yes, I consider myself to be a games journalist. Contrary to popular belief, I don’t live in an ivory tower, nor do I have servants who hand me games on silver platters while I praise idols of EA and Ubisoft; I live in a basement suite. I don’t “live the dream” of playing video games and complaining about them 24/7; I’m writing this beside the pool at my university while stressing about final exams. Lastly, believe it or not, I don’t own a Ferrari... it’s a Lamborghini, get it right.
Now that that’s out of the way: I think we need games journalists much like we need sports journalists, film critics, and news reporters; many people want easy access to popular news. As a result, while games journalists have the luxury of getting their opinions published, they have a responsibility to keep a public-facing persona while doing so. Sites also need to focus on trending topics with a wide appeal if they want to get some semblance of ad revenue to support themselves. If you’re looking for games discussions in which people don’t have those restrictions, it’s probably best to eschew games journalism altogether.
I hesitate to use the classic, “If you don’t like it, just ignore it” argument, but it’s sort of what this comes down to. In general, I use Twitter and YouTube to learn about the industry. If something catches my eye on Polygon or the like, I’ll check it out. Every now and then, I’ll look at 4Chan to get some more candid thoughts on the industry. There’s nothing wrong with any of those sources, but it’s important to recognize that they’re generally only useful in certain circumstances.
The same goes for reviews. It’s amusing that so many people spew vitriol over reviews that don’t align with their opinions. If reviews were written to validate the opinions of others, there’d be no point to writing them; why spend time reiterating what everyone knows? Reviews are opinion pieces, plain and simple; they are not and never will be objective. An objective review is a press release.
I think that part of the issue here is that the industry focuses so heavily on groups, rather than individuals. Thus, information doesn’t come from journalists, it comes from news sites. Reviews don’t come from critics, they come from conglomerates. How often do you hear people say, “Polygon gave this game a 5” or “IGN wrote this biased news article”? Those pieces weren’t written by some journalism supercomputer; they were written by people like you and I, each with their own beliefs and opinions. There’s nothing wrong with that on its own; the problem is that those opinions get merged to represent the site as a whole.
Because of this, it’s on sites to publicize their writers more and for readers to recognize that one person’s opinion is not all-encompassing. Absorbing writers into a greater whole only serves to undermine all arguments being made. If I don’t know who’s giving out the opinions in an article, why should I care? Alternatively, focusing on individual writers allows readers to determine who shares their opinions, who tends to have interesting insights, and who doesn’t have anything to say to them.
I’ve rambled on for long enough, so what’s my point to all this? Well, much as I’d like to see journalists and gamers join hands and sing a song of love and peace, I know that’s never going to happen. While it’s been parroted around constantly, the simple message is: someone disagreeing with you does not invalidate your opinion. Use that opposition to help you reinforce your own beliefs and figure out exactly why you disagree with them.
I can’t understate how lucky I feel to be able to do what I do. I constantly look at myself and think, “People want to pay me to write about video games? But why?” That’s why I wanted to write this article: I ask myself nearly every day if my job is really necessary. I guess what it comes down to is that, so long as people are interested in the opinions of others on games, games journalists will be relevant. It doesn’t matter whether you’re writing for a major publication, discussing on a forum, or shouting into the void on a personal blog (been there, done that). Giving people a platform to share their opinions is as necessary as the opinions themselves.
Also, I swear I’m not picking on you, Polygon and IGN. You guys are just big enough that you make for easily-understandable examples.