Have Video Game Writers Forgotten What Matters about Gaming?

As much as some people like to deny it, video game writing and journalism is a complete mess at the moment. Filled with corruption, sensationalist writing and a blatant disrespect for the people who actually enjoy video games, it’s honestly a field that I’m almost ashamed to even be associated with.

But there’s something far worse about it that I think needs attention brought to it.  That, is the complete disregard for what matters in a video game by so called ‘professionals’ writing about them. They’ve completely forgotten that games are about gameplay above all else.

This can be seen in many ways.  Like how in the academic and ‘criticial’ sphere, absolutely nothing gets written about Nintendo games?

Why?

Because they don’t appeal to a bunch of pathetic lit crit kids who seem to think games should be glorified movies.  They call most of their writings video game criticism, but frankly, they’re really not.  Instead, they’re just  treating games like films or books and acting like the whole ‘game’ or interactive part should be some sort of after thought.

And I’m not the only one thinking this.  Nope, I actually asked someone I know online with an interest in the field (who wrote a pretty notable book about video game design in the last few weeks or so), and he pretty much said that Nintendo gets ignored because gaming criticism is shallow and only focused on PS3/Xbox 360 ‘blockbusters’ with some sort of story.

It’s true as well.  Go look up sites supposedly dedicated to video game ‘criticism’ (that aren’t just review sites/news sources like Gamespot or IGN).  You’ll find very little about say, the Zelda series.  Or Mario games.  Or Luigi’s Mansion Dark Moon.  Or Pokemon X and Y.

Why?

Because they focus on being fun games to play with deep systems rather than corridor shooters with a ton of cutscenes that can be treated like a poorly made Hollywood movie.  Criticising characters at English Literature 101 level is easy.  Talking about actual game design or gameplay strutures is much more difficult.

So guess what?  Nintendo gets basically thrown under the bus by this group, simply because they focus on making enjoyable games where the core gameplay comes first.  Mario & Luigi Dream Team has one of the deepest and most interesting RPG battle systems in video game history, yet you’ll never see something talking about it in any level of depth. Because that’d require work.  Because they’d have to talk about the changes brought by free analogue movement and how attacks have gotten more complex to dodge to compensate.  Or how the badge system, item system, gear and action commands work well together.  You can’t write a game criticism article about the story in a game where the plot comes down to ‘Bowser and Antasma try and take over the world’ and where the characters include talking pillows, beef obsessed tour guides and people related to ? blocks.

Same with Donkey Kong Country Tropical Freeze.  The game design and levels open up tons of interesting things to discuss for anyone willing to take the time and effort (the fact the game has 3D sections and camera views in what’s still arguably a 2D platformer is a very neat evolution of traditional platformers), but these people can’t manage that.  They’d just complain that the story is about DK and family fighting to save their island from a bunch of evil vikings:

All these games and many more are such interesting and wonderful examples of fantastic game design (with magical atmospheres unmatched by most of the dull works released by the third parties nowadays), yet no one ever seems to talk about them. They don’t prioritise what matters.

If you still need proof of this… well, just watch any site about gaming criticism or the industry and see how many seem to outright attack people who enjoy video games for the gameplay.  Yes really, I’ve seen cases where supposed ‘experts’ tried to say that the story was somehow more important than the actual game design.  Because apparently, the fact people loved Super Mario Bros, Tetris, the original Pokemon, the Zelda series, fighting games, etc can’t be because they considered the gameplay the main thing about them.  Because games like this one:

Couldn’t be oh so popular and beloved because people enjoyed them and weren’t stuck playing out (or should I say ‘watching’) some bad attempt at a Hollywood film or TV episode, right?  And don’t think it’s old games either.  Remember, titles like GTA and Call of Duty 4 and Skyrim and what not, are titles many people play for the entertainment value.  Not the ‘story’ above all else, unless all those people talking about those wacky stunts they pulled off by causing havoc were lying.  Heck, you could even say the popularity of a lot of modern mobile games (not all of them, but at least a couple) come from how they keep the basic gameplay at the forefront and just provide a simple pick up and play experience that people enjoy coming back to time and time again.

So that’s part of how video game writers don’t seem to understand what matters any more.  But there’s another part too.  Do you know what it is?

The controversy baiting.

Because let’s face it, video game journalism and writing nowadays seems to be as least as much about trying to get people to attack you than about the games themselves.

Like the social justice stuff that seems to be plaguing the gaming world now. Like it or not, this stuff is literally tearing the gaming community and world apart.

That’s not to say it’s all completely disagreeable or that gaming sites shouldn’t cover it to at least a small degree, but come on. It feels like that’s ALL people talk about now. Instead of discussing about games and their objective qualities and their design, we’re spending hours going on about whether or not some character or another is some ‘sexist’ or racist or classist portrayal of some stereotype and completely forgetting about what actually matters in this hobby; the gameplay and mechanics.

And it’s getting worse and worse. Some gaming sites (which I won’t mention) seem to have foregone almost all discussion of game design or games in general to rant about social justice and online ‘evil’ stuff instead, to the point quite a few seem to have basically declared war on their userbase to do so. Don’t like this fad? Well, sucks to be you I guess, since apparently the journalists in gaming now have decided that inflamed trolls and idiots bring more ad clicks than people looking for an intelligent article that actually talks about games for their gameplay qualities.

The way this stuff overshadows other work in the field annoys me as well.  Just imagine being someone who’s written tons of thoughtful blog posts or articles about why so and so game is a masterpiece of design.  Someone who’s spent ungodly hours doing minute research on every last aspect of the game and whose said something really interesting that everyone should be willing to read.

And then you get completely ignored while a bunch of poorly thought out gaming feminism videos or social justice attack articles end up covered by the all the news sources in the industry.  That’s the story with a whole bunch of people I know online, and it honestly really annoys me to no end nowadays.

Finally, let’s not forget the final scourge of gaming sites and writers nowadays.  The business school obsession.

Seriously, when the hell did video games become about what sells rather than what’s actually fun to play?

Okay, that’s not only a problem with the journalists and their writings (just look at how many big gaming companies like EA seem more obsessed with coming up with business models than decent games), but the fact everyone seems to have turned into armchair analysts just makes so much writing about video games utterly dull as hell.

I mean, why do we even care if Super Mario 3D World sells?  If Pikmin sells?  If the 3DS/Wii U/PS4/Playstation Vita/Xbox One sells?  What the hell does it have to do with us as gamers?

Because a good game won’t become ‘bad’ simply because it doesn’t sell millions of copies.  A company making millions doesn’t necessary make them good in terms of quality (regardless of what Sean Malstrom and his followers would have you believe) and vice versa.

It just seems like people have become so vapid in this respect.  What, has it become impossible to like something which isn’t popular nowadays?  When did the so called ‘better than thou’ video game community start to care about the mass market and peer pressure?

And all this just bugs me.  It just seems like the gaming journalism world has become more concerned about everything other than what matters in video games, turning into a place which I honestly feel kind of bored by.  Too much distraction with social issues and movie style criticism and money, too little about how to make a truly great game to play.  Or even just anything interesting in general.

Does anyone else think so? Have video game writers and journalists just forgotten what’s important in gaming and gotten sidetracked by just about everything else instead?

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Michael Ocampo
Michael Ocampo
6 years ago

*Starts slow clap* This is why I like your site man! I don’t agree with you all the time but this was an amazing article and there should be a lot more traffic coming to here and commenters joining in on the discussion!! Here’s to this site getting more famous!!

Ashley
Ashley
6 years ago

I have to agree with you for the most part. I kind miss being ignorant to gaming journalism. I had a lot more fun then. I honestly have never cared too much about graphics as long as I am having fun but they should be at least ok depending on the system. I hate it when journalist go on about sales number like they know what they are talking about. For the most part, they don’t understand a damn thing about finance and economy they are just writing gibberish. Hell, I am a first semester MBA student and I can… Read more »

gamer
gamer
6 years ago

I am wanting game play over graphics. I love the old stuff, retro video games are the best. I like to play more simple games and fun games. i love the 3ds and the wii u consoles.