The Nine Worst Cliches in Gaming Journalism

Must have lost a few points recently, since my count was wrong. Never the less, updated.

When it comes to the gaming media, the quality of the journalism is… not very good. From lazy stories taken off social media sites to uncontrollable rumour mongering and even outright attacks on their audience, gaming journalism is to real journalism what the average tabloid is to the BBC. And just like the tabloid newspapers its quality is inspired by, the world of gaming journalism has its cliches too.

So let’s look at them all! Here are the nine laziest cliches in gaming journalism!

Video Games in Real Life

Let’s start with the most ‘harmless’ one first. Namely, video games in real life.

This was somewhat of an interesting idea… round about the time the internet started becoming a thing. So, about 1990 then. When a bunch of bored college students dressing up like video game characters was somehow a new and innovative piece of ‘comedy’ genius.

Unfortunately, since then, it’s just became way overused. For example, how many attempts at recreating Mario Kart in real life have there been?

Above: Tons

Far too many, as you can see in the tons of real life Mario Kart videos shown above. And the thing is, just about every series on the planet has been recreated like this. Mario platformers, the Legend of Zelda, Pokemon, Metroid, Super Smash Bros, Mega Man…

It’s not interesting any more, and is completely overused as an article subject. Please find something else to write about. Just not…

Classic Games Remade in the Unreal Engine

These silly remakes. Okay, there have been some cool looking Unreal Engine remakes for popular games. Like this one of Clock Town in The Legend of Zelda Majora’s Mask:

Or a surprisingly high amount of this Super Mario 64 Unreal Engine remake/test video:

But the vast majority of these remakes just aren’t very interesting. They’re not trying to be anything like a game, they’re just the same old bland field with a few character models chucked in for the sake of it. For example:

I get it. You can buy a bunch of assets for the engine, and find some character models from popular video games in a similar style. But they’re not interesting in any way. Anyone can make this sort of thing, it’s not special.

Talking of overused ideas, the next one is getting a bit old as well…

Video Game Marriage Proposals

It’s like rule 5963 of the internet; if a work allows user generated content, someone has used it for a marriage proposal. It’s like some sort of geeky ‘tradition’, propose to your one true love (who just happens to care about video games for some reason) through an edited video game level.

It’s happened in Super Mario World:

And Super Mario Bros 3:

It’s happened in New Super Mario Bros Wii:

Twice:

Either way, it’s getting a bit old hat by this point. Indeed, it makes me want to see either:

1. Someone actually divorce someone through an edited video game. Forget a marriage, imagine someone breaking up in the form of a custom level filled with dangerous traps and angry messages. Now that WOULD make for an interesting video.

2. The person being proposed to being an actual level designer/ROM hacker, who promptly chews out the creator for their shoddy level design. Because let’s face it, almost all of these levels are designed in the laziest, most uninspired ways possible, and laden with sprite spam and cutoff. It’d be rather funny to see someone like levelengine pick one of these hacks up, utterly annihilate with a bad score in a video review and then stick it next to Hammer Brother Demo 3 and Link’s Adventure on a worst ROM hacks of all time list.

Either way, the marriage proposals are getting a bit tired now. Time to try something new! Like, the very opposite of the next cliche on the list:

The Top Two Million X of All Time

Because if there’s anything the internet likes more than jokes and memes and ‘heartwarming’ Youtube videos, it’s lists. So if there’s a topic related to video games in any way at all, there will be hundreds upon hundreds of lists about it.

Like the top ten hardest or top ten easiest bosses. That seems pretty common.

Topmaniac

Above: There’s a good chance this guy will be on the easy bosses list. Along with Gohma and Cloud ‘n Candy.

Or lists about random subjects no one really cares about. Top ten cats in gaming? Oh sure, that’s actually surprisingly (or should I say ‘purrsprisingly’) common:

top ten cats

Above: Given how much the internet loves cats, this should surprise no one.

But the worst (and obviously most common of all) tends to be the inevitable list of ‘best games ever made’. Trust me here, every single journalist on the planet seems to have written a version of this list. And guess what? They’re all completely useless.

This is because of two obvious reasons:

1. Games are different from each other in just about every way, so even the best games of all time by Metacritic score are usually not comparable. Can you really say that the Legend of Zelda Ocarina of Time:

Can be objectively compared to Super Mario Galaxy?

Above: Can you spot all the beta elements in this trailer?

Cause they’re both good. Just good in different ways, and appeal to different people. Additionally, no one will ever actually play every game ever made. It’s impossible, there are simply too many of them. So how you can REALLY say what’s the best game? Or for that matter, what’s worst?

And that’s not even getting into today’s sorry excuse for a ‘media’, which wear their political biases on their sleeve and will happily give scores based on how ‘moral’ they think a game is rather than how good it actually is. So next to games people actually like, you get the odd walking simulator and boring Twine game that mostly only appeals to insane Tumblr users. But more on that later, the point is that top whatever lists just don’t work, and they’ve been done to death by now. Please think of something else to write!

top ten gaming reinvented

Above: Also, you’re reading a top nine gaming journalism cliches article. I’m a hypocrite, aren’t I?

Although it should be your own work…

Press Releases as News

Which in simple terms, means something that takes effort to write.

It mostly certainly does not mean ‘copying and pasting press releases into a WordPress post’. Journalism is not ‘being paid to press CTRL + C and CTRL + V in quick succession’. It’s meant to be about doing research. Providing a balanced look at the events of the day. Standing up for people who otherwise have no voice. Finding interesting things your readers actually need to know.

Above: This is better than your ‘article’

Copying press releases and acting like corporate yes men is nothing like that. In fact, if that’s the kind of thing you like doing so much, maybe your boss should just pay your salary to the company’s marketing team. After all, they did the hard work of actually writing the press release and providing the screenshots!

salary compare

Above: Some stats from Reed show that the industry is very aware of this, since apparently the average gaming journalist salary is even lower at about $28,000 (£19,000) a year…

But even regurgitated fact sheets are better than posting…

The Latest Rumour from Social Media

Because back in the olden days, the media has this thing called ‘credibility’. If they wrote about something (say, in a newspaper or magazine), you had the assurance that someone had done their research and made sure that they weren’t posting utter crap. That that ultra rare secret really was in the Legend of Zelda Ocarina of Time, that the method for getting rare Pokemon easier actually worked…

Oh who am I kidding. The gaming media were always crap at checking out their sources and doing any more research than the bare minimum. Heck, the UK got a Pokemon strategy guide that said Missingno was the 152nd Pokemon and was rarer than Mew. The old Nintendo Official Magazine (our equivalent to Nintendo Power) had a few cheats listed where they basically said ‘we don’t know if this works, but try it anyway’.

Either way, it’s not gotten any better since. Is there a new rumour flying around on Twitter? Well, it’s going to be on IGN, Gamespot and Kotaku within a week, assuming the latter doesn’t shut down soon. Did someone on 4chan claim to have leaked a super secret list of games for Nintendo’s 2016 E3 presentation? Watch the press just run with it, accuracy be damned. Some fairly realistic looking video going around on Youtube? You’d better believe the press will run with that one too:

Above: That would fool most journalists

What’s worse, once a rumour ends up online, the endless game of Chinese Whispers or Telephone kicks in, where instead of following a story back to the source and getting the facts, an endless stream of sites will post each other’s take until the very last one is saying something completely unsupported by the evidence. Like this scene in Mario & Luigi Paper Jam, except with the Toads as the journalists and the news about Neo Bowser Castle as the rumour:

Above: Bottom Toad is the source, top one is the average Kotaku writer.

Add what I sometimes like to call ‘machine translate and guess’ translations (where a journalist who doesn’t know another language puts an article or post through Google Translate, then tries to guess what it’s meant to be saying based on the result gibberish), and you’ve got a long line of misinformation being spread all over the place.

But what else is poor journalism? How about claiming the death of a popular company?

Nintendo is DEAD

Like Nintendo, whose downfall Micheal Pachter predicts every year. That got bad enough we actually got comics about it:

Wii is DOOMED

Above: The full comic is even funnier

Either way, the media loves to predict the company’s demise. Whether it’s the Wii, the 3DS, the Wii U, mobile gaming, the Nintendo NX… Doesn’t matter if their games and systems fly off the shelves or become a permanent fixture there, they’re predicted to ‘go third party’ by the end of the generation. It’s like gaming journalists desperately long to see a world where Nintendo files for bankruptcy, the bailiffs move in on Nintendo HQ and Mario gets sold off to a cheap app developer to star in a line of endless runners.

Why is this? Hard to tell really. I suspect part of it is because (even with the Treehouse and their localisation choices), Nintendo doesn’t care much for ‘social commentary’ in their games. They’re just games, which you play for fun without anything in the way of a meaning behind them. Like your usual cartoon or classic Disney movie.

Above: Albeit a little stranger.

And if Nintendo aren’t doomed? Then it’s the JAPANESE VIDEO GAME INDUSTRY that’s doomed, because apparently the same people who grew up with the likes of Mario, the Legend of Zelda, Sonic, Final Fantasy and Pokemon love to talk about how backwards those Japanese video game companies are!

Usually with logic like ‘they don’t use pre made engines, so they can’t compete with the West’ or some other crap.

Yeah, you tell yourselves that guys.

It’s nearly as pointless as…

The Blatant Popularity Bias

Or in simple terms, the somewhat vague connection between ‘amount of money spent on advertising’ and ‘positively found in critic reviews’.

Got a mediocre yet somewhat popular game in a well known franchise? Then the reviews have a tendency to never go below average, or often a fair bit above it. So the latest game in the New Super Mario Bros franchise will get great reviews… down to even the fairly mediocre aspects of the game like the graphics and music. What, a lot of people don’t see to find the bahs inspiring? What plebs!

Meanwhile, a game with a bit less popularity like say Pokken Tournament (or other such titles) will get worse reviews, with even their best aspects severely downplayed. Apparently, to the ‘professional’ critics, this:

Is better than this:

And that holds to everything. A lot of Zelda fans may consider the soundtrack in the Legend of Zelda Skyward Sword fairly weak outside of a few really great songs, but hey, the critics apparently think it’s Mario Galaxy quality. I mean, I’m not saying the game is actually bad in any way (though a surprisingly high amount of Zelda fans and gamers seem a tad ambivalent to it in general), but I’m certainly gonna question claims like ‘its soundtrack is among the series’ best’. Yeah right.

The rule of thumb with online reviews of games seems to unfortunately be ‘if a game is good, everything about it is good’ and ‘if a game is bad, every aspect of it is equally bad’. As if a general rule is that a game cannot be good in some ways and bad in others, it’s an all or nothing deal.

And when it comes to franchises like Mario, there’s often blatant review score inflation. As I sometimes say, add Mario to a game and the score seems to go up by two or three points on its own. Same if it stars Link. Oh, it’s a Kirby game, or a Wario game, or a Donkey Kong game? Sucks to be you, apparently your best is still seen as ‘mediocre’ compared to the red capped plumber.

But let’s continue on, to my most hated thing in gaming journalism. Brace yourselves, this WILL be controversial.

Social Justice Nonsense

Yes, you probably saw this coming. After all, if any article is to exist about gaming journalism, then the kind of social justice crap mentioned by GamerGate and the critics of things like the Fire Emblem Fates translation is sure to come up.

But dear god, the gaming media has become really messed up because of it. Like how in some cases, there are cases of games getting bad reviews not because of any real quality issues, but because the review writer hated the game’s content and thought it was somehow ‘immoral’ in some way. Like this funny example, where a Dead or Alive game got a bad score… from someone who just seems to hate the concept:

https://archive.is/qrX8S

THE WORST – One of my least favorite games ever. Just thinking about it is upsetting. I am upset.

Okay then, that was pathetic. And do you know what other things are equally pathetic?

How about claiming that gamers are ‘evil’ and ‘sexist’ and ‘bigoted’ and other crap, based on the same insane troll logic that you laughed at back when Jack Thompson was the enemy of the moment?

How about making stupid claims about a ‘lack of diversity’, when most of the media making said claims is as diverse as a piece of internet stock art (or perhaps a 1950s sitcom)?

Complaints about ‘privilege’ from people who’ve never worked a day in their sorry lives and had everything paid for them up to and including an 200,000 loan?

A key example of this in action (click here)

Above: Someone who loves complaining about privilege in gaming and the media…

How about attacking the very people who keep you in business to begin with? Yeah, that makes a lot of sense doesn’t it? Imagine if anyone else did that. Like say, the barrister at your favourite coffee shop started yelling death threats and stuff at the customers. Or a startup developer went on the company Twitter account and started saying the company’s customers were all stupid bigoted pricks who should sod off. How long do you think those people would remain employed?

Above: Then again, given how horrible some people in customer facing roles are…

Honestly, get that crap out of gaming journalism. Don’t like who games appeal to? Then leave and get a new job. You know, like a sane person.

Because gaming is supposed to be fun. Games are an escape from a world which sometimes feels like it’s going insane, a way to escape in an alternate world where you can take a break from the pressures of society. Sometimes you don’t give a toss about politics and you just want to enjoy a good old Mario game where the only thing to think about is how to jump across platforms and defeat enemies.

Above: Like this one.

Remember how games used to be? Fun. People played games to enjoy them. People wrote about games cause they enjoyed them and felt like part of the community

Now it’s become nothing more than political drama and fighting. Thanks to this silly gaming journalism trend and all the crap that’s come with it, the gaming community has become a bitter and depressing place that’s almost not worth bothering with any more. It has killed more people’s interest in video games than any ‘troll’ behaviour online ever could have.

Either way, it’d be nice if the world of gaming journalism stopped with this social justice crap, and kept it to personal social media blogs instead of what are presumably supposed to be fun, interesting sites about the gaming world and all the great video games released in it.

And please, get some goddamn originality and standards too. Enough with the rumours, the pointless gimmick videos, the obsession with lists… There are so many great things that could be written about video games, so much possibility for a decent press to form. There are writers with great insights into game design and storywriting and everything else you can imagine. There are people who are finding all new ways to play games, and are practically dissassembling them on air, like this guy and his Mario 64 series:

There are endless numbers of great fan projects, like people who have remade the Super Mario Maker physics system in Super Mario World’s engine or the upcoming Wario Land fan game WwwWario and co are working on. There are tons of editorials you can write about video game localisations and content and other such things.

We don’t have to be a gaming version of Buzzfeed or a ‘social justice’ blog disguised as a video game news site.  The world of gaming journalism can be so much more than that.

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Ayat Soltani
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Ayat Soltani

I will agree with most written here, what I don`t agree it with the last one. It is very sad that all these social justice has lead to people down right rejecting serious debate and serious discussion. To be honest, I hate the “but games are supposed to be fun” argument that is brought up whenever something serious is discussed about video games. On one side we gamers want our hobby to be taken seriously and on the other hand, we run and scream “games are just silly fun” whenever we encounter any form of criticism and argument we do… Read more »

Kaynil
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I really loved your article, very well conceived. We start with a simple top list to end up with an interesting reflexion. I liked the lampshading of the top lists, I think we know it, lists sell clicks, people like to think their time is so valuable that a link promising concise content, specially if they give the impression that you might be missing something ("the third entry will shock you", "The Top X biggest failures") are more attractive that the prospect of a long rant. Regarding people forgetting games are still games, I was talking with a friend about… Read more »