The Democratisation of Games Journalism
Over the past few weeks, games journalism has come under a massive amount of scrutiny. Most people will already be familiar with what’s been going on, but if you’re not I recommend this excellent summary. The whole thing has been thrown back and forth a fair bit now, with people covering it fairly, people defending their mistakes, people showing their biases and a few excellent pieces of satire. It’s thrown up some issues, but what’s been astonishing is the number of people who have responded by basically saying that they always thought that games journalism was full of people shilling things and that they’re not shocked at all. I’ve read a lot of people stating that this type of practice is why they don’t trust or buy games magazines anymore, which is surely a hugely worrying prospect for the media relating to games.
I think one of the main things which has been bought up is that it is now extremely easy to find honest, personal opinions on games online, which people are writing and distributing for free. Even more than that though, it’s very easy to find a community of actively enthusiastic gamers who are discussing the latest releases and offering a variety of opinions on them, allowing an observer to consider multiple viewpoints upon a piece of software from people who they’re fairly certain are unbiased. You can quickly gage the response to a product in this type of venue and feel that you’ve read unbiased, honest opinions and discussion from people who paid full price for a piece of software because they love it and who care enough about that game and it’s relative merits and flaws to go online and discuss those things.
This crowd analysis and review process is conceptually similar to a lot of the initiatives springing up online which use a large group of networked people offering their resources to create things which would previously have required large investments of time and money from a limited number for people. Often, these networked alternatives have tangible strengths above and beyond those of the traditional models for either creating or planning these endeavours. If you build a level editor into your game you can suddenly employ millions of people to create your levels with a degree of interest and creativity which it would be impossible to match with people you employed. If you democratise the funding of projects you can communicate directly with passionate users in order to show that there is a market for the type of product that regular producers won’t fund. And if you create an active discussion with multiple intelligent people going over the strengths and weaknesses of a project objectively and backing up their opinions with reasoning, you’ve got something that does the job of a review far better than an actual review does.
A thread of discussion about a game has no subjective undertone, because it’s created by a group and people are free to contribute. On the rare occasion that a group discussion is overwhelmingly positive or negative, you can not only get a very strong impression that that game is very good or bad, but you’ll often get something more. In situations where a group of people are playing the same thing at the same time and utterly loving it, you feel a sense that you’re playing the game as part of a group, far more than when developers or console manufacturers create community features. One of the reasons I buy games for full price on their day of release is to be there for the active discussion of them, and if the games turns out to be great and a lot of people agree about that then you find a sense of community and shared experience which is really enjoyable to be part of. If a game turns out to be really bad, and everyone agrees upon that then usually the discussion is pretty funny to read, with people tearing the product to pieces from every angle whilst the occasional person tries to chime in about why they think its OK.
These types of discussions are why I love the internet and why I love experiencing games when they’re fresh and new and exciting. And these discussions drive the love we have for the medium by engaging us in personal discussion where our feelings and opinions are as valid as anyone else’s, which is a massive difference from the traditional model of a single person being trusted and respected with the job of playing the game early and telling us if it’s any good or not. People have been calling out for reviews to drop scores and just focus on writing a piece of text which conveys the reviewers feeling about the game for a long time, and whilst that’s still a valid suggestion I think that the whole idea of reviews might soon find itself thrown on the scrapheap and forgotten because they’re just not relevant anymore. A group discussion and the consensus it reaches is far more valuable than a single person’s opinion, and if it then turns out that a company paid that person to make their opinion piece positive, it’s minimal value is diminished to none. The whole point of the article which started this whole thing was that all it takes is a seed of doubt to devalue everything a journalist is saying, and it seems like those seeds have already been sown.
If you’re thinking that you don’t know where there’s a decent, funny, interesting games community, I don’t either so I end up spending all my time on Rllmuk, the official second cuntiest forum on the internet.