The Game Industry 7 Comments

Film Journalism and Game Criticism

Murf wrote a post this week about the big game journalism sites and why he’s kinda giving up on them. I certainly can’t blame him — I came to the same decision myself a while back. If they’re not just frequently stupid (Kotaku), they’re dripping with privilege and industry connections. (Fun fact: the only active word filter I use on Twitter is “Ben Kuchera“.)

I actually had a draft from back in April with a rant on why I like amateur game writers so much better than (most) professionals, and I still feel that way today. A lot of it is the rotten 24-hour newscycle, which demands that articles with click-happy headlines be churned out on a regular basis whether there is anything to actually be said or not.

Certainly another problem is the close relationship between big game press and big game publishers. I’m not going to dwell on this because it’s been done to death in other places, but suffice to say I don’t think we’ve seen the last of Doritos-scented “journalism”.



I realized while responding to Murf’s post that the problem may start right back with the name: games journalism. Why journalism? I mean, yes, in a very technical sense writing stuff about games for a paper or online magazine is journalism, but that word implies a certain amount of objectivity and an eye for public service. I’d argue neither of those exist with any regularity in games journalism.

People who write about movies (a similar leisure genre), on the other hand, are critics. Film criticism can encompass a number of different types of media, from basic reviews of new releases to discussions of film theory for an academic audience. They are all, though, collectively known as film critics.

If controlled the world, I would replace the label “game journalism” with “game criticism”. So what is the difference? Well first, it’s that “critic” in criticism. Gaming types are notoriously terrible at accepting anything less than a perfect reception for their favorite game. Of course not every review has to be a hatchet job (although for movies anyway that seems to be what we enjoy the most), but I feel like we would all benefit from being remided that real examination includes a critical eye.


Never pass up an opportunity to use a frame from Transmetropolitan.

Also, I think games coverage would benefit from the academic theory approach that seems implicit in the term “film criticism”. We often hear that game journalism shouldn’t ever discuss any real world context for games, but film theory has been doing this successfully forever! Feminist film theory, psychoanalytic film theory, even Marxist film theory are all valid and established areas of criticism. Even if we ignore those in particular, it would be nice to see gaming also develop some academic structure for interpretation and criticism.

Games are not politics. There are few causes for “reporters” to write exposes that they painstakingly untangled (although when those occur they’re great!), and regurgitating press releases or writing about your favorite gamer snack* is hardly journalism. At the moment I’d rather hear what Syl or Syncaine or Angry Joe says about a game than any traditional outlet!

What games need is critcism, just like film, from simple reviews to details analyses. “Game Journalism” may look good on a piece of piece of paper and imply a certain amount of authority, but it seems to me that it’s neither what readers want nor what is actually delivered.

* The gamer snack thing, by the way, is great blog material! Blogs are for informal, personal communication by people who do not claim to be any great authority and mostly just like talking about their hobby. In my opinion.

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  • Reply
    November 26, 2013 at 4:29 pm

    Every word you have said is gold and you should feel good about it.

    I would argue that there is a place for “game news”, just like there is for film news, but that it’s a totally separate thing and reviews and critical analysis NEED to be happening, especially since there is totally a market for them.

    If games are art (and they are), academic discussion around and about them should be a lot more mainstream.

    • Reply
      C. T. Murphy
      November 26, 2013 at 10:38 pm

      I think Aro has it 100% right. I don’t mind Polygon and Kotaku and whoever else existing, as long as they aren’t the absolutely dominant force in the room. What they have to say about a game has a serious affects people’s opinion, influences sales, etc, whether we like it or not.

      And it shouldn’t, because they are, more often than not, just a shill for the marketing wings of the publishers. We strongly need critical, analytic, and academic voices looking at games. If that means reviewing games later than the first day or revisiting them later, then so be it.

  • Reply
    C. T. Murphy
    November 26, 2013 at 10:39 pm

    Also, thanks for the nod!

  • Reply
    December 1, 2013 at 8:12 am

    Great post, and so spot on. Between this and Murf’s educated ramblings I’d agree 100% that ‘games journalism’ needs to be redefined. If video games are to be taken seriously as a valid art form, there are a lot of things it could learn from film theory which will give it some credibility.
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    February 19, 2014 at 7:12 pm

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