Image by Jeff Klugiewicz
Games journalists should be able to play a video game competently. It’s part of their job description, after all. You don’t expect a movie critic to have never watched a film bar Minions and Transformers, or for your barista to not understand the inner workings of a coffee machine, or the chef at the Michelin starred restaurant to have never progressed beyond the grilled cheese stage of cooking.
On June 29, website GamesRadar+ published an article entitled Crash Bandicoot N. Sane Trilogy Review: Makes the Binding of Isaac feel like a summer getaway, in which game reviewer Louise Blain compares popular platformer Crash Bandicoot to an entirely different game, Dark Souls, stating:
There’s no avoiding that the controls just mean that Crash Bandicoot has become Dark Souls. It’s a horrible shame.
The problem with this? Crash Bandicoot—especially its sequels, which Blain refused to play—is much easier a game to play than Dark Souls. This led to an outpouring of mockery from video gamers, who criticized Blain for not being able to play a relatively simple game, instead comparing it to a game that is far more challenging. It makes one wonder if the Senior Channel Editor on a games website has actually played many games?
On August 24, Venturebeat’s Dean Takahashi published a review of side-scrolling shooter, Cuphead, entitled Cuphead hands-on: My 26 minutes of shame with an old time cartoon game, in which Takahashi, supposedly a full-time game reviewer, struggles through the tutorial of Cuphead. Naturally, much like with Blain, Takahashi was widely mocked.
This leads to our final example in what will be a long list of games journalists unable to do the utter basics of their own job description. John Walker, Senior Editor at Rock, Paper, Shotgun recently claimed on Twitter:
John Walker believes that anyone who talks about gameplay in—God Forbid—games needs to reconsider their life choices. He later appeared to claim he was saying this to get a reaction from nasty trolls, but many others seem to have latched onto views very similar to Walker’s “joke”. Recently, Ubisoft announced the latest Assassins Creed game will have a combat free mode, basically rendering the game a walking simulator. Actual walking simulators like Gone Home have won lots of awards, while there are generally better almost-walking simulators like Telltale’s The Walking Dead Seasons Two and Three, that are much better, and at least have a little gameplay. The “game” that got Gamergate “victim” Zoe Quinn famous is literally an interactive novel masquerading as a video game. And these games journalists lap this stuff up.
Why is this? Because these people are not actually fans of video games, they are not gamers. They are barely even casual gamers.
It is not an insult to be a casual gamer or even a regular gamer, but games journalists fear they are the lower rung of journalist, barely above gossip magazine columnists. At least games journalists call themselves “journalists”—those gossip rag fiends get the lowly title of “columnist” or maybe “reporter” if they’re lucky. Games journalists wish they were with the higher rungs—their idols at CNN, Wall Street Journal and New York Times. That’s why, instead of playing and reviewing video games like they’re supposed to, they politicize these games. They want out of video games, and into “serious” journalism.
Being a fan of video games needn’t be an insult. Video games are an art form akin to movies and novels, and they’re in their golden age right now. Most games journalists don’t play video games—or they rarely do—so don’t realize the beauty of modern games. Why are they so embarrassed to call themselves gamers, or even casual gamers? It’s not embarrassing to enjoy stunning games with amazing gameplay like Civilization, Stellaris, Metal Gear Solid (the first literary video game), Mass Effect, Telltale’s The Walking Dead: Season One, and many more. It’s not embarrassing—or even hard, for a casual gamer like myself—to play simple games like Super Mario, Crash Bandicoot 2 and Crash Bandicoot: Warped, and The Sims series.
We’re in the renaissance of video games, and games journalists are embarrassed to play video games. You’re not Jack Thompson: playing video games isn’t dirty and taboo, and it’s not embarrassing to admit you’re a casual player.
The problem is: if you’re a games journalist, you should have more than a cursory knowledge of what you do. It’s not embarrassing to be a casual player, but you should see video games as more than just something you do “sometimes for work”. It should be something that invigorates you to talk about, something you love to do, and not something you struggle to get through ’cause you haven’t played anything since Super Mario World on the SNES when you were ten.
Now, I’m off to get some quality food from that top chef who only knows how to make ramen and microwave meals.