Video game journalism: Should it be different?

There seems to be a lot of debate going on about video game journalism lately. Or maybe I just notice it more because of who I follow or because I’ve been a journalist for more than 22 years and a gamer for nearly 30 years or because I’ve recently thrown my hat in that ring and started some role play blogs. Regardless, it’s started me thinking, not just about the new path I’ve put my career on but the road I took to get here.

First, let me say that, to me, there is very little difference between video game reporting I do now and the financial journalism I did for the better part of two decades. Video game journalism, at least the way I practice it, is even more similar to travel writing although it is a far cry from tech writing, which is funny because video games only take you places online or via a computer or gaming console/device. You’d think tech, in the broad sense, would play a bigger role but it doesn’t unless a new platform is being released.

Which makes me wonder why people, both readers and, it seems, other journalists, seem to be so up in arms about the nature and condition of journalism as it relates to video games. There seems to be this idea that journalists who report on (not review) video games are behaving differently than any other kind of journalist. Consider this comment from VentureBeat:

Many proud pundits, reporters, and editors in the video games industry splice their personal ideologies, moral beliefs, social concerns, and political views with the information they provide.

I hate to ruin Ryan Perez day, but if he thinks video game journalists are the only ones who infuse their reporting with their personal perspective he’s in for a huge shock. Every journalist I know does this, including me. It’s in the stories we chose to cover, the angles and slant we pick and even the publications we submit to. The fact is if we didn’t do it, we’d never sell a thing and the world would only have one news source because all news would essentially be the same. (On a side note: I could also argue that this is exactly what is happening with the consolidation of the news industry…think about it, how many articles in your daily or even weekly newspaper carry the AP or Reuters byline? But that’s a different topic for a different blog.) Seriously though, the idea that “real journalists” report “just the facts”, without any bias, interpretation or perspective is as outmoded, old-fashioned and quaint as the original Dragnet. It just isn’t practical in the modern world, if indeed, it ever was.

Having said that, I will admit two things:

  1. The professional journalists I know, although tailoring their reporting for the audience and media outlet they work for, do strive to present information in a straightforward and unbiased way. Their goal is to inform their audience and let them make their own decisions based on the facts presented, not force their opinions down readers’ throats.
  2. Blogs are very different from “news media” by definition. Though some news media, be it a local TV station or the New York Times, do have blogs (or in some cases more than one), they should not be confused with the primary “news” product which is the news broadcast or newspaper. At best blogs are a feature news type exercise along the lines of a news magazine like Newsweek or a news show like 60 Minutes. On the other end of the spectrum, some blogs are purely editorial and opinionated like the letters to the editor or the Colbert Report

Most of the “video game journalism” I read and am aware of comes from blogs or specialty/niche publications. I also receive a variety of press releases from game makers and press release distribution services. Based on his editorial (blog?) for VentureBeat, I’d guess the same is true for Perez. I expect content from such sources to be biased and have a certain point of view. Perez must not because he takes umbrage with the fact that such slanted content exists purporting to be “news”. My question is: what are his sources and why is he disparaging others when he’s doing the same thing? To be fair, I am guilty of the same thing, critiquing someone else’s work to bolster my own. If there is a difference, it’s that I’m putting this out as my opinion and publishing it on a blog, so my audience really shouldn’t be expecting “news” or “journalism”, particularly since I’m using the first-person.

There is actual journalism being done about video games.

professional video game journalismNews organizations from USA Today to CNBC to Forbes are reporting on the video game industry both as a whole and on individual companies as well as on video games themselves. Of course, such outlets are not where most gamers get their video game news. They rely on specialty media like IGN or Game Informer instead. These outlets have a vested interest in the success of the video game industry as a whole, if not in the success of specific companies or titles. That doesn’t excuse them from trying to pass off editorials or blogs as news but it does mean that type of content will be more available through those outlets than through more general news media.

Ultimately, I believe there is space for both traditional journalism and opinion/editorial writing about video games. Writers, whether reporters or bloggers and the media outlets publishing them need to ensure the content is properly packaged while readers and other audiences need to have both an open mind and a critical eye. Not everyone is going to see the same thing in an article or game. That’s what makes the video game community so vibrant and fascinating. It’s also what makes reporting on video games such a challenging and, ultimately, rewarding, endeavor.

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