Wednesday, April 8, 2009

Opening the Nerd Floodgates: How Video Game Journalism Trends Apply to the Big Picture

I've been holding back the my "nerdiness" all semester long, hoping to stick to newspapers and more "legitimate" journalistic outlets for the remainder of this course. However, I'm fully entrenched in this research project and running short on ideas, so today I will be discussing video game journalism. Brace yourselves. I'll try to minimize the jargon, but I'm not making any promises.

Then again, with our spirited discussion of social media during Issues this afternoon, perhaps the gaming "enthusiast press" is a bit more relevant than you realize. After all, who is more familiar with the cutting edge of technology than video gamers?

It wasn't so long ago that print publications like the late Electronic Gaming Monthly and Computer Gaming World found success at newsstands, the former cultivating a devoted readership for nearly twenty years. However, the ad revenues have been steadily declining, forcing way too many beloved publications to shut their doors. Sound familiar?

For many of my fellow nerds and I, the near-implosion of Ziff Davis - publisher of the aforementioned EGM and Games for Windows Magazine - dealt a significant blow to our beloved industry. Plenty of doom and gloom ensued for a month or so. However, in the wake of these print giants, a number of independent bloggers have stepped up to fill their shoes.

The result: a more comprehensive look at the video game industry and the culture surrounding it than we've ever had before. Whereas the enthusiast press' main perogative was originally to offer product assessments, we're starting to true criticism emerge from personal blogs. Sure, some of it is a wee bit pretentious, but I'd still rather read about "Resident Evil 5's" "historically and socially charged imagery" than I would about its realistic graphics and online performance.

And those former magazine editors? Now that they're no longer shackled to game publisher PR demands, veteran game journalists are producing some really insightful stuff. The enthusiast press has been much faster at latching onto online media, particularly with podcasts and online video.

There are several great shows available on iTunes and other podcast aggregators, but my personal favorite would be Robert Ashley's "A Life Well Wasted." The show is essentially the gaming equivalent of "This American Life," with the former GFW editor serving as a nasally Ira Glass equivalent. He has only produced two episodes thus far - one focusing on EGM memories and another on vintage game preservation - but both turn their attention towards collectors, academics, writers and fans. Virtually unexplored territory.

We also have Retronauts, a podcast and blog devoted to old-school gaming. While bigshots Jeremy Parish and Ray Barnholdt are very opinionated, they're also some of the very few cataloguing the stories behind gaming milestones. They're certainly the only team seeking out guys like Hidenori Maezawa, Konami's famed composer, or Takahashi Meijin, famed button masher. Sure, you may not care about it now, but if and when* video games become accepted as art, you'll be glad that this crew was taking notes.

*In this humble blogger's opinion, this is really more of a "when."

Of course, newspapers and video game magazines are very different beasts. The former tries to maintain a barrier between advertisors and the newsroom, while game journalism has often been intrinsically linked to the very publishers on which it is supposed to cover. It's no coincidence that one of the few surviving game magazines, Game Informer, happens to have an exclusive deal with GameStop, the country's largest game-specific retailer. Even so, I think that the transformation of our nerdy corner of the press shows that there's no need for despair.** Even if our best journalists face momentary setbacks in the online transition, there will still be an audience that continues to follow them on the web later on.

**In an article that Professor Liebovich referenced this afternoon, it is suggested that we pay more attention to the state of journalism than to the state of newspapers. Function over form. I think this situation described above shows how well this philosophy can pan out.


  1. This is an interesting post. I never really paired gaming magazines with journalism, but now that I think about it, these publications are full of journalists providing insightful inside information to the gamer niche.

    Also, remember when GameStop used to be FuncoLand? I miss old school video games. They're too complicated and realistic for me now.

  2. I do indeed remember FuncoLand. I often wonder where they sent their cartridge overstock once the CD-based machines became popular.

    And I don't wish to oversell gaming "journalism." There are a lot of talented writers covering the industry, but most seem content either regurgitating press releases or writing superfluous top 10 lists. Some game journalists are even reluctant to refer to themselves as such, hence the term "enthusiast press." But I'm always glad to introduce folks to this nerdy little niche. Thanks for reading.