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New Games Journalism

March 9th, 2005 by Troy Goodfellow · No Comments · Uncategorized

These recent articles about New Games Journalism have a lot of bloggers blogging and chattering classes chattering. The gist of it goes as follows: Most games journalism is little more than PR hype, fanboy ravings, previews and reviews. Even the features usually run the same stale gamut from “women in gaming” to “violence in games”. NGJ is a more reflective style of writing, not quite self-referential, but more focused on how the player reacts to the game; it’s less about whether the game is good or not. Gaming is discussed not as a series of products or release dates, but as a cultural activity to be explored.

Some of the criticisms of this approach are in very tongue in cheek. They mock the idea that anyone really cares about what a game writer is going through or how many cultural touchstones they can hit. Considering how many game writers like to reference comic books, Star Trek and Chuck Palahniuk, I don’t see why people should get so bent out of shape. Sure it can sound pretentious, but that’s certainly no worse than sounding like king of the nerds all the time.

Matt Peckham, who writes for Gamespy and PCGamer among others, has posted a more thoughtful critique of the idea of NGJ, but I think he gets a little lost in the idea of whether or not a game can be artistic. I don’t think that NGJ requires an artistic game in order to produce artistic writing. Think of all the good writing out there about horror or science-fiction. Most of the stuff being discussed is certainly not on the order of a Tolstoy or a Shakespeare, but it can produce genuine feelings within the reader/viewer. Same with gaming. Which brings us to Matt’s best point.

It’s all about the writing.

A good writer who knows what he/she is talking about can make their experience(s) come alive. It can have very little to do with how good the game is. Check out, for example, one my favorite examples of good game writing, Tom Chick’s Shoot Club columns. Take “Trevor, Angel of Death” as an example. Your standard piece of comedic fiction in which the bombastic Trevor’s expectations for a game are laid low by the fact that no one can really figure out how to play it. Sound familiar? How often has your first session with a new game been complete chaos because you had no idea what the hotkeys were or what was going on around you? And it’s not like Swat 3 is some giant piece of art.

This is what, I think, a lot of the critics of NGJ are missing. New Games Journalism is not about the art of the games, but the experience of the play. It’s not about the writer being the smartest guy in the room, it’s about the writer saying, as we often do to our fellow gamers, “A funny thing occured to me while I was playing Civ.” What makes NGJ different from casual conversation is the skill involved in making me care about the outcome whether I know the game or not.

Matt is right. NGJ is not new. It’s just what we used to call good writing. There be precious little of that in the game journalism world, but frankly, there’s precious little of that in any journalist world. If we could all be Tom Chicks, Erik Wolpaws or even Matt Peckhams it would be a much richer world for me to work in, and it might help advance the image of gaming as something that serious people do.


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