Disclosures: Game Journalism and My Professional Identity Crisis

I made several attempts at writing a piece about game journalism, all of them conveyed some aspect of the message I wished to communicate. That said, the more I pondered the subject the more thoughts occurred to me, and ultimately lead to something of an internal meltdown that has caused me to step away from Anjel Syndicate for the last month. As I’ve alluded to over the last couple of months on social media we’ve had some staff shuffling, departures, and in my case as large identity crisis in terms of my professional life. This relates to the subject at hand, however as the title suggests this piece will be a mixed bag of disclosures by me, and thoughts on game journalism as a whole

First however, I’d like to start with a disclosure on my part that is known to some, but generally not something I’ve spoken about before. Game journalism is something I’ve more or less stumbled my into by a mixture of accident, whim, and having a lot of time on my hands between projects/work/life. The trajectory of my career as a writer never had this particular segment of the industry as a target, or even as a step along the path. It was more in the nature of something to do while I was looking for work or working on personal design projects and other writing.

I’ve had a passing relationship with the media side of games, however the development from when I started really building a network or background in the industry was on the other side of the business. Building up from community work originally as a volunteer forum moderator or volunteer player GM in the MMORPG space. I did some contributing work in some story aspects of a title or two (uncredited but such is life) and was slowly building my way there before Acclaim and Project: Top Secret. I’m not going to rehash all of that however as it’s not relevant to the subject at hand, it simply is illustration for where I was compared to where I am today.

Needless to say, when I made the decision to launch Anjel Syndicate as an independent game media site it wasn’t with the intention of becoming a full time game journalist, or even to grow as much as the site in the almost two years since I made that faithful choice. Launching AS and making the leap into running a game media site was a whim, and an experiment to see if some of my various theories about game journalism could be proved, disproved, or otherwise tested. So colour me surprised when reader numbers continued to grow, contacts and relationships developed with various publishers, and developers, and all the feedback I’ve received since. Very quickly AS was gaining something of a presence, and growing toward a path of success insofar as building an audience goes.

Here is disclosure number two in case you want to keep track. The more successful AS was becoming the more agitated I was becoming, and the more I found myself living, thinking, and breathing the day to day operations, growth, and everything involved in running this thing I’d chosen to kick off out of a whimsical moment. I’ve since realized after years of fighting to gain entry into the industry and not getting very far I’ve developed an issue with handling success of any kind. Therein lies the crisis I’ve mentioned in that I had to pull away to really take a good long look at what I’ve done and what AS has since become. With all the staffing shake ups, work issues, success, and my astonishment I’d become quite demoralized over the whole thing and very nearly came close to walking away.

Let me apologize now for my weakness in this regard. We wouldn’t be where we are without our readers, and my moment of weakness is a betrayal of the support you have all shown us since we launched. To be clear, it won’t happen again. Regardless, I had a weak moment, and for that I am sorry, and can only dedicate myself to making up for it.

I’ve come to the startling conclusion that much to my surprise I’ve become a game journalist. For good or for ill, I’ve built this site with the help of some fantastic people, and I’ve grown to love it, to love covering games, and news from this side of the line. I fully intend to clean up my mess and devote my efforts and time to build on our successes, the staff, and continue to build and grow our content and presence, delivering our brand of coverage and doing so as independently as we can for as long as you all keep reading.

So then, now that we have that out of the way, let me dive into how I view game journalism and what it means to me. I’m not going to start tossing out definitions, or pointing out other writers and sites discussing how they conduct themselves. Nor am I going to start screaming about who is a good game journalist and who is a shitty one. Game journalism is a combination of subjective art, voodoo, and weather prediction. Everyone has their own opinions about it, how to do it, and what it “means.’ This, therefore is my take on the subject of game journalism, agree or disagree is your choice and I respect that.

There is, in my estimation, two main segments to game journalism. The coverage of game news which includes, new game announcements, asset releases, big industry events, industry happenings, and of course covering topics that are of interest to the gaming community (Which is something of it’s own segment at times since it straddles the news and editorial avenues more often then not.) Then we have reviews and previews of titles before, during, or following a games launch.

One of the primary complaints about game news is that journalists aren’t being critical enough, or doing enough investigation at times about various things that make the news. Likewise, complaints about the use of press release content in news pieces being seen as journalists just echoing the pitch that PR reps and agencies are sending out to sell the games they represent. I’m divided on both these points and to be honest I agree that there are times we could do more investigative work on particular subjects in a case by case basis.

As for the supposed thought that the game media is simply passing around the marketing pitches rather than doing “something else”. (I’m still not quite clear on what this “something else” that is supposed to be happening.) It’s rather amusing to me, the delivery of gaming news, especially when it comes to asset drops, feature announcements, game announcements and so on. We in the media are making our communities aware of what’s going on with the games that are being put out. The press releases and pitches that PR and Marketing reps put out are intended to portray and generate excitement and buzz about the games they’re pushing.

Publishing those press releases either in part or in their entirety isn’t an endorsement of those messages, it’s to transmit the message from the industry to the consumers. More often then not, at least here at AS I prefer to deliver some portion of the press release along with my thoughts about either the news, or the game in question. The companies are well within their rights to try to sell you their games, and being objective about news is about not taking sides. They want to try to pitch their game to the gaming consumer and they are well within their right to do so. Obviously when we publish some part or a compete press release we are giving them a platform to do that. We can supply our own thoughts about the pitch, the game, or some part therein, but it’s not our job as media to block their attempt to do that any more than it’s our job to blatantly tell you to ignore all presence of this game, or that game.

News coverage is largely sharing what’s going on within the industry to keep our readers informed about these things. To make you, our readers aware of the games that are coming, give you an opportunity to read or listen to what the publishers are trying to sell you before you make up your own mind to buy the game or not.

This now of course leads me to reviews and previews.

Game reviews and previews is about as subjective as you can get in the world of game journalism. Certainly there are technical aspects that can be and should be pointed out when we’re taking a look at a game. However, at least here at AS our method is to look and base our opinions about any one game in terms of how much fun we are reviewers had with that game.

Game reviews and even further game journalism is all about sharing experiences. When we write up a review or preview; we are sharing our experiences with that game with our readers and sharing our thoughts and opinions about that game. Even within the staff we have disagreement about various games and often just because I find a particular title fun as hell while someone else was bored to tears is simply the reflection of the gaming community at large. You might not agree with the review we publish, you might not agree with the score that was given by the reviewer about that title. It doesn’t make you or the review wrong about the game, nor does it make you or the reviewer right. All it means is that the reviewer had a different experience than you did.

I have often looked at the various scores and reviews a title has gotten and they can be positive by the majority and negative by a minority of the various reviewers cover it, and that’s as it should be. Sure there are times that the wrong person might end up covering a game that is outside their preference, and they might hate it while the majority loved it. Or conversely, the media at large may of came down hard on a game and our reviewer actually enjoyed their time with it quite a bit. That’s just how it is sometimes, it’s not done on purpose, it’s just a difference of the experience had by the review compared other reviews elsewhere.

I have always believed in trusting my staff to share their opinions regardless of majority or vocal minority out there and for them to deliver their honest experience with a game. It’s something I will always stand by. Additionally we have had titles come in and we didn’t publish a review, there are various reasons for this, perhaps there were technical issues that while solvable have prevented a proper review within our usual turn around time. If a review simply cannot complete a game or a review with a satisfied sense of a game, or in some cases they make a total hash of doing the review, I’m not going to publish a half-assed job.

This leads to my final thoughts on game journalism for today. That being of course the relationship between game journalists and the PR and Marketing reps, as well as with developers and publishers. Over the last several years in foray as a game journalist I have established a lot of contacts and built relationships with various PR and Marketing people; along with various developers and publishers through-out the industry. This has been for some fairly obvious reasons of course.

In order to cover game news we need access to that news. Be it press releases, game assets, or yes even review and preview access to games. We have received review and preview copies of games and hardware from all sorts of companies both big and small since we started out, and I’ve developed friendships with many of the people I’ve come into contact with on the publishing and developing side of the industry. You really can not get far as media of you treat the industry as the enemy, you truly can’t. The reality is, the PR people, the marketing folks, and the developers and publishers are passionate about the games they make and sell, and certainly they want those games to be well received both by the media and consumers.

Does my having friendly relations with PR people affect my coverage of titles? Of course not, I’m going to deliver my honest thoughts about a game regardless of the fact I might be friends with people who made it, or if I happen to extremely dislike the contact person I deal with. Just like normal everyday friends, you can disagree, argue, or even totally dislike things that they might absolutely love. If my experience about a game is totally horrible, I’m going to say so, just like if my best friend were to wear a shirt I thought was completely hideous, I’d say so. They might not agree with me, but I’d like to think (and usually I’m right) that they appreciate my honesty, or when my staff comes to a game and have a completely disappointing time I will defend their review no matter how much I might like the company or people involved with that game.

I have yet to be asked to change a score by anyone on the PR side of the industry that we have dealt with, and I don’t expect to. If it does come up, I will defend my staff or my own assessment to the hilt no matter how much I like the person complaining. That said, if I or one of my staff missed covering a particular feature, or glossed over a section that might be valuable to the game and we didn’t give it the time it might have otherwise justified, I accept the feedback from the publishers/developers/etc and will look into it.

Will it change our final outlook on a game? Perhaps it will, if it turns out to be more experience changing than anticipated. If it doesn’t really change anything about the overall experience we will still endeavor to mention that feature in a more expanded way while pointing out that in the end, our final opinion about the experience remains the same.

Game journalists are ultimately a bridge between the game makers and the game buyers. We have to be honest with our readers, and honest with the publishers and developers, but neither they or our readers are enemies, we’re all just people who are passionate about games with opinions that at times will vary. Game Journalism is a weird business that while still has some maturing to do as a business, isn’t something that shouldn’t take itself so seriously.

For my part and as my final disclosure, I am a game journalist. I accept that now, and will do my level best to be as good of one as I can be. That said, I’m not going to take that occupation too seriously as though it’s my job to change the gaming world. I am going to take my roll owning and running AS seriously and continue to build our staff and content to deliver our work to our readers. Games are (generally) meant to be fun, and covering them as a game journalist can be rewarding and enjoyable so long as you don’t take yourself too seriously and act like a jackass. We can always improve on however do things, how we cover things, but when everything is said and done we’re just sharing the news about gaming that we all love, and sharing our experiences with the games we either enjoy, or make us weep in anguish. We can disagree, we can argue, but we can all agree that games are worth taking the time to discuss, share, and enjoy.

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2 comments for “Disclosures: Game Journalism and My Professional Identity Crisis

  1. 12/07/2012 at 00:55

    I know you told me this piece was coming and I’m glad to have finally read it. It’s funny how things like this tend to creep up on you in life, and while you may say that you are not this-or-that, the reality of it finally hits you that the very thing you’ve been doing, but say doesn’t define you, has actually really become a part of your life.

    Anjel Syndicate has been fun to be a part of. I’ve enjoyed reading and helping to deliver the varied content here on the site. Sometimes we might go through a rut where it seems to the outside observer like we are just spewing the same news other major venues might be, but there has been enough unique special content, podcasts, videos, and journalistic pieces, as well as reviews, that AS has really blossomed as a sight and has grown. It’s hard to say where we will see the site this time next year, two years from now, or so on, but I can say that I think the site will continue to grow and develop.

    With the team currently behind things now, as large or as small as that is, I can only say that good things are coming.

    Great piece, David.

  2. 12/12/2012 at 22:02

    You see that, people? That is a moment of enlightening realization in regards to one’s life. Personal expression doesn’t get much deeper or truer than that.

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