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Worth Reading: 10/26/12

A few thoughts on this week's journo drama, and a graphic we spent all week on. Plus, a large helping of games, stories, videos, and links to a bunch of ridiculousness.

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You know who we are, and we don't hide a thing. We hope that builds a trust with the audience, one that we work very hard to maintain every day.
You know who we are, and we don't hide a thing. We hope that builds a trust with the audience, one that we work very hard to maintain every day.

Games journalism is not the only form of journalism with problems. You need only pay attention to the horse race coverage of our election for a glimpse into what plagues other arenas of journalism.

That’s not an excuse for the problems in games journalism, just a reminder to keep the world in perspective. I’m not going to recount the series of events that lead to much of the Internet getting up in arms for the umpteenth time about the supposed widespread impropriety of the profession I dedicate my waking life to. I have, however, linked to a series of articles, essays, and reactionary pieces about what’s happened, and that’ll catch you up to speed.

In brief? The Eurogamer piece was on point--he took the words out of my mouth. I don't have a problem with calling out someone specifically. Unlike the iPhone fiasco with Gizmodo, this is a public figure. She's dug a deeper hole for herself by locking down her Twitter, and altering her resume. She should have just gotten in front of this, and taken her lumps. I believe she made a naive mistake, not one of cynical opportunism.

But I want to talk to you is about what matters: trust.

Do you trust me? I hope so. Because if you don’t, I want you to find someone that you do trust, and listen to them instead. Trust is the most important tool I have.The stories I file come with the built-in trust that I've reported them without compromise, or at least compromises that you, the reader, trust me to have made for the right reasons.

Doing good work in the enthusiast press has enormous challenges. Some of the fault lies with those who control access to games, and just as much has to do with other institutional issues. Some people come into games writing simply to have a way to play a bunch of games and talk about them, and they don’t want to engage in serious issues like the rampant, ingrained misogyny in design and our culture of violence. They may be found saying “game journalism is srs bzns” on Twitter. That's fine! Some people like writing about games, but they’re mostly looking for a way into the industry, and want to move into development. That's cool, too. I’m not either of those people, but I’m okay with both being around, and it’s healthy to have different, sometimes radically different, perspectives. Not every writer has to be all things to all people, and expecting anything more from a single writer makes no sense.

I take games deathly seriously, probably too much! You don’t have to. That’s okay. I don't shy away from the journalism moniker, in the hopes it will inspire me to have higher standards for my own work. I want other people to hold me to that standard, too, even if it means constantly being reminded of my own failures. It gives me something to aspire towards, a marker that I can look back on and say “yes, I’ve made progress” or “no, I’ve been lazy.”

Earning the trust of the audience is--and should be--difficult. It’s what allows me to operate in the unideal environment that is the enthusiast press. Is it a perfect place? Nope, there are problems on all sides, but people have to make it better from within, and I’m happy to be part of that fight. The moment trust is lost, drop me like a rock. That’s at the center of this firestorm that’s wrapped everyone up this weekend: a loss of trust. To say that the actions of one or a few accurately reflects on the whole is a simplistic view of the world, as there’s nothing I can do about the actions of one writer in the UK. I manipulate what’s within my control, and hope that maintains a trust with you.

It’s the beauty of Twitter’s intimate immediacy, and the level of interaction we have on Giant Bomb. You know what we’re thinking. Ask tough questions, and hopefully a bunch of really dumb ones, then make your own judgement.

Debating whether games journalism is broken is a fruitless discussion. It’s been done to death, and I’m tired of it. The best argument I can make is to continue trying to produce interesting work about the games, the culture, the people, and maybe illuminate just a little bit more on what remains a tragically undercovered, misrepresented medium. If I fail, I’ll fail because my work was shitty and I stopped putting in the proper effort, not because I threw up my hands about the limitations of my work environment. I knew what I was getting into. I’m not going to accept that it can’t get better, and I’ll try to do that one article at a time. Whether or not all of my colleagues do the same isn’t my problem.

I’m not sure how much of this ramble touches upon what actually happened this past week, but that’s how I feel about it. If you have any other questions about it, you know how to get in touch with me. Now, let's move on.

Hey, You Should Play This

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While we patiently wait for Nintendo to release another Advance Wars, designer Michael Silverman has done all of us a solid with this politically-themed take on the beloved Nintendo strategy franchise. I’ve been doing research for an story (next week) about the intersection of video games and politics, and Strategery 2012 is what got the idea in my head. Strategery 2012 seems clearly designed by someone with a liberal-leaning view on politics, but is that just my own political philosophy bleeding through, blurring interpretation? It’s an idea I’m going to explore more in that upcoming feature, but I’m curious to hear what you guys think about the game, separate from its political setting.

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I’m not going to say anything about these two games, except to recommend you play both of them. Do it.

And You Should Read These, Too

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E3 2012 has long since come and gone, but there was a familiar refrain this year: what’s with all the violence? God of War and Splinter Cell took the brunt of the criticism, games with gore-soaked trailers that forced some to wonder where the line is. It’s hardly the first time the “too much violence?” question has been trotted out, but Tadgh Kelly does a better job of articulating the issues than I ever have. Kelly argues the move towards ultra-violence is a consequence of changing business models, a knee-jerk reaction by AAA publishers realizing their best defense is showcasing technologically deafening depictions of a head shot. Fortunately, he believes there’s a way out.

The real subtext of E3, AAA games and the swerve into ultraviolence is this: It's one last desperate throw of the dice to shock-and-awe players back into becoming premium customers. It's saying "Don't look at all that free gameplay out there on phones and Facebook. It's cheap, but we are premium." in a shower of gore. Just like the adult film producers they are feeling the need to punch through the fog of over-supply before the industry grows holllow. This is also why they want new consoles, a new platform story, and a new hype cycle to start. It's why they hate the very idea of the Ouya.
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It’s incredibly tough to convey the experience of playing a game, a job more difficult the more abstract a game gets. Michael Abbott tossed a bunch of game reviews for Journey, Papo & Yo, and The Unfinished Swan into a word cloud generator, and discovered how few words we have to say anything about what it’s like to play them. That’s not to say Abbott claims to have discovered the words we need to solve this problem, only that it’s an issue meriting discussion.

What emerges is a stark and narrow collection of terms, none of which goes very far describing the essence or, dare I say, soul of these games. There’s nothing wrong with words like "emotional" or "experience" per se. Most games do convey a "world" and deliver "gameplay," but too often these terms function as generic placeholders. They communicate a vague sense of something richer, more vivid and complex. In a mush of overused terminology, they’re essentially meaningless.

If You Click It, It Will Play

Noteworthy Pieces on That Journalism Thing That Happened This Week

I Don’t Know About This Kickstarter Thing, But These Projects Seem Pretty Cool

  • Shadowgate is the latest throwback game to try and reboot on Kickstarter.
  • Who knows if Interstellar Marines will get funded, but it takes balls to announce a damn trilogy.
  • The developers of Quest for Glory are also taking to crowdsourcing for a new game, Hero-U.

Valve Just Launched Greenlight, So Here’s Some Games That Don’t Look Terrible

Oh, And This Other Stuff

Patrick Klepek on Google+