Stop the press. Seriously. - February 9th, 2002 - Drew Cosner
Disclaimer: The opinions expressed within this column are those of the participants and the moderator, and do not neccessarily reflect those of the GIA. There is coarse language and potentially offensive material afoot. This sucks. Don't say we didn't warn you.
I wish I had some nachos.
W-Agent Drew, I've known that much of the mainstream media was clueless ever since I read an article about FFVII right after its release that claimed that Cloud had appeared as a young boy in one of the earlier games in the series. If I hadn't by then, I would have known it when I read several newspaper/magazine reviews of Final Fantasy: TSW that reported that its plot was taken from one of the FF games.
I think that the reason for this has been in part because of video games' reputation as the redheaded stepchild of the entertainment industry - they make a huge amount of money and millions of people around the world play them, but when it comes to the mainstream (and especially "sophisticated" and/or scholarly) media, it's still stereotyped as "that kid stuff."
Of course, we do have to keep in mind that much of the mainstream media never grew up with video games. Almost all of the older adults I know think half an hour spent with Super Mario Bros. in 1987 or Mortal Kombat in 1992 means that they know enough about video games to know that they don't like them. Yet these same people wouldn't dream of dismissing an entire genre of movies or books, let alone the entire field, simply because they didn't like the first half hour of a single movie or book in that genre.
To be depressingly honest, I don't think that the mainstream media will change much until either older adults give video games a chance and start playing, or until those who grew up with video games get positions of influence in the media industry.
I think, in a way, you've hit the nail on the head: video games still aren't considered as respectable a media format as, say, films. Films are considered an art form worthy of critique and scrutinization. Conversely, as far as most media outlets are considered, giving the same kind of attention to video games is like running a bonus feature rating the top ten Lego construction sets of the year.
Let me put it in different terms: you know how sometimes you'll be like, "Yeah, my kid brother wants to go see that Pokeewhatsitscalled movie" to your friends, even though you know damned well the actual name Pokémon? You don't want to look too knowledgeable about something considered so childish in front of your friends, people whose estimation of you is valued.
I'd say that's basically the same way more mainstream media outlets treat video games. If they enthuse over games too much, the average person who stills considers games a child's toy will begin to wonder. At least, that's how it seems to me.
Upon reading Mr. Mud's little letter, one thing popped into my head. A good
few months ago, I was watching CNN, which was doing a piece on video
games--two game in particular. Which two games? Ico, with its almost surreal
depth and backstory? Silent Hill 2, and its morbid, eerie feel? Metal Gear
Solid 2, perhaps?
They were doing a piece on two Playstation games. These two games: Barbie
Adventurer and Jimmy Neutron, and how obviously great they would be. We'll
just let that sink in.
Case in point, I'd say.
|At least they didn't say that
MechaDrewzilla (Zero 3 Upper),
'Far as I see it, the mainstream media tends to paint every square
millimeter of any topic with subjectivity and ignorance. Even if, by
absolute chance, someone happens to get something mostly right, so much is
lost in the "news-byte" compression scheme that the information ends up
being mostly useless anyway. The only times you consistently see the
mainstream give objective coverage of anything is when they're doing sports
and finances. Sports being all about black-or-white gameplay where no
subjective judgment is necessary, and finances being all about hard numbers
So, really, the mainstream jacks up even the stuff they actually care about.
Gaming is still a niche thing, and it only appeals to a certain age range,
so until that changes we'll continue to see limited coverage. ...And
'limited coverage' will translate to a 98% chance of misinformation crammed
into a sidebar or 10 second clip.
I don't think the situation can improve a whole lot. Yes, coverage will grow
as the youngsters of today become the not-so-youngsters of tomorrow, which
will eventually nix the stigma of games being soul-pervading demon-biscuits;
however that won't change the fact that the 'mainstream' is for the
C-average, 100IQ Joe with a ring in his nose. As long as the reviewer writes
purdy or looks interesting, the content barely matters. People who actually
care about any specialized topic know not to look to the mainstream for
At least the FFX review didn't say, "It's a pagan-themed killing simulator
in which you play as anarchists who steal things from peoples' homes."
This... is probably the most well-written, thought-out letter I've received in months. Which, of course, leaves little for me to say in response, seeing as all the bases have been so satisfactorily covered. Good job, Psiga -- you have my compliments. Combine them with 25 cents and you can buy a gum ball.
|Well maybe his opinion is WRONG
Mud Pepper asks us how can mainstream VG coverage improve and why it
hasn't done so yet.
I cite an excerpt from his letter:
"This same review also encompasses Baldur's Gate: Dark Alliance, a game
which the reviewer describes as '10 times as much fun' as FFX, and in whose
water he frolicked his characters for a full five minutes just to watch it
ripple splash. Now, Baldur's Gate was fun, and pretty, and the water was
cool, but I think our Mr. Godinez misses the point of an RPG like FFX: the
story and characterization. He criticizes FFX as too repetitive and praises
Baldur's Gate, a game with infinitely less varied gameplay than FFX, but a
tiny fraction of the story and character depth."
Mr. Pepper has just cited the reviewer's opinion. I love FFX as much as
the next guy, but I don't particularly think it's appropriate to cite
someone's opinion about a game as an example of what's wrong with the
mainstream media's attitude towards video games. If the reviewer prefers
Baldur's Gate to FFX, that's his opinion, and his right; there's nothing
wrong with it. I'm sure you guys know all too well the dangers of daring to
have an opinion about a game.
That leaves me with very little to say about this topic other than Mud
Pepper also mistakenly claimed that Warren Spector was the developer behind
Project Ego. It is in fact Peter Molyneux, of Populous and Black & White
fame, who is developing Project Ego.
Actually, I think this points at a larger problem: namely, most major publications have 1, maybe 2 people on call to handle game reviews and related stories. This is in contrast to gaming-specific magazines, which have easily 10 people on staff and just as many freelancers on call. Game mags take for granted that gamers have varying tastes, and assign games accordingly, afforded this luxury by a much larger pool of labor.
On the other hand, larger publications dole out coverage of every game they opt to run a story on between the aforementioned 1 or 2 people, no matter what their tastes may be. So we end up with Joe Madden Fan railing against Final Fantasy X for being boring tripe, only to extoll the virtues of Wayne Gretzky's Latest Crap Licensed Title in the next subheading. Oh well, I guess.
I think the main problem with "mainstream" coverage of videogames is that
most people who write for the big publications aren't familiar with the
subject matter. Sure, I've seen the odd blurb in TIME or The Courant about
Final Fantasy 8 or Black & White, but these articles usually just function
to call attention to the product or act as an obligatory footnote to
something popular and new (and shiny; no matter how horrible the game is in
every other regard, it'll probably recieve attention if the graphics are
impressive enough). I've never seen anything that was truly objective in
regard to games... and on the whole I don't expect it from them. When I want
news on the latest console RPG, I come to the GIA or another gaming
website--and wait for my next gaming magazine to arrive in the mail. These
people know what they're talking about.
Video games aren't really a mainstream news topic in the first place. It's
what they call "niche news"-- only significant to a specific interest group.
Granted, this could change in the future if video games continue to evolve
into a recognized art form rather than than what they are widely percieved
as now: a lowbrow time-waster. When they reach the level of public interest
and recognition that movies (or at least independant films) hold, then
things will change.
All of that is nothing new, though. My own opinion is that video game
journalists need to take the initiative in this particular artistic
revolution. The writers are the active ingrediant in the written media,
after all. If you guys want to turn gaming into an art form, you need to get
yourself out into the mainstream magazines and papers. Start throwing out
resumes and ideas for gaming columns to the media biggies.
If you can't take yourself seriously enough to write for a mainstream
audience, the mainstream audience will continue to not give a crap.
All good points, Friar. The only thing I might add is that video games are hardly alone in being given shoddy, inaccurate coverage. Just about everything considered a "niche story" gets the same treatment. Just as one example, I remember reading in a classroom text book about how a human interest story on some major news show misrepresented Hawaiian Creole as being solely the language of surfer dudes. It's certainly not the case, but since nobody cares that much, they could get away with it. I guess as we gamers grow older and the non-gamers grow, you know, dead, news programs and the like will be held more accoutable by their viewing audiences.
That Xenosaga card game looks like it's bitchin'!
The bunny.... not quite so bitchin'.
Indeed. And thank you, El Cactuar, for sending a letter which requires little in response on my part. I appreciate that.
|The depressing possibility
First and foremost, I loathe mainstream video game reviews. But we have
to keep in mind perspective and audience. In a large daily paper like
the Dallas Morning News, the author has to review a game in such a way
that it's suitable for the masses. Just like if GIA (not necessarily
GIA, any videogame site) posted a review written by a mainstream
newspaper for a mainstream audience, we'd flame the hell out of the.
GIA's reviews, while suited for their audience of hardcore gamers,
probably wouldn't fly in a newspaper.
First of all, they're too long to print in a newspaper. More words takes
up more space, which can be used for ads. Second of all, any paper
editor will tell you that every article written in a newspaper has to be
written at a fourth-grade reading level. No big words, no complex
writing style. The general public has different needs than those of the
gaming community, and a large newspaper like Dallas Morning News must
cater to the needs of the masses, not a small community of gamers.
While we may be deluded into thinking that the gaming community is
enormous and encompasses everyone who plays video games, it is not. I
don't know how many unique users a week GIA gets, but take that number
and compare it to the number of copies of FFX sold and you'll see that
we're a vocal minority. It's a testament to the quality of these games
if they can please both the hardcore fan community and the general
public. Anyway, all I'm trying to say is yes, mainstream game reviews
suck, but at least they're getting reviews at all.
Yeah, sadly, it's entirely possible that the Morning News' take on FFX was perfectly suited to its audience. What's to say the average person wouldn't find FFX to be interesting only to the fans it caters to, whereas getting a kick out of Baldur's Gate and its more action-oriented gameplay?
That said, are you guys going to join my cult and help me exterminate people of such poor taste or not? The offer still stands.
All right, here's a fun little topic for you, while we're all venting: if you could change just one thing about the gaming industry, what would it be? Anything at all, be it sales practices, media coverage, even the fans; this topic is meant to encompass all of gaming-dom. So work yourself into a good rage, set to writing, and let me know what you come up with. Simple enough, right?