Press Pass: Top 10 Good Things the Internet Has Brought to Game Journalism
I was a bit surprised to see last week that Bitmob's Dan Hsu had compiled a list of the Top 10 Bad Things the Internet Brought to Gaming Journalism. Sure, the list made some good points, and was generally fair about considering opposing points of view. But overall, focusing a list solely on the problems caused by the Internet presents a pretty skewed picture of how the medium has changed game journalism over the last decade or two.
The simplest way to correct this skewed picture is obvious: a similar list of the top-10 good things the Internet has brought to game journalism. And here it is:
While two Electronic Game Monthly readers had very little chance of interacting with each other (unless they happened to meet in real life), two readers of a videogame site can easily connect and share their common interests through comment threads and message boards. Sites like Destructoid and 1UP (and Bitmob itself!) work hard to cultivate this community, and make themselves into places people come not just to get information, but also to share their passion with like-minded people.
On the other hand: The "communities" surrounding many sites are either eerily silent or filled with trolls and fanboys that seem unable to carry on a serious conversation.
9. Doing our job
This point doesn't affect the reader directly, but the Internet has made being a game journalist immeasurably easier. Forget the obvious points that reaching out to a developer via e-mail or instant-message is much easier than catching them on the phone, or that telecommuting has allowed many journalists to work effectively from anywhere in the country, not just the Los Angeles and New York media hubs. Tools like RSS feeds, Google News search, electronic press-release archives and more have made it incredibly easy for journalists to get background information, cross-reference related stories, and add context to their pieces.
On the other hand: The Internet has also made it easier for lazy journalists to simply copy-and-paste press releases with minor touch-ups, discouraging the shoe-leather reporting that can break important stories.
8. Journalist accessibility
In the old days of print journalism, the primary option for getting in touch with the writers was a plain old snail-mail letter. If you were lucky, you might get a response a week or two later. If you were really lucky, your missive would show up in the magazine's letters page for the entire readership to see ... a month after sending it.
Compare that to today's landscape, where most Internet journalists are accessible via e-mail or instant-message instantaneously. Plus, now any reader can add their two cents to a comment thread and instantly help guide the journalists in a new direction. Besides giving journalists a better idea of what the readers are interested in, these feedback mechanisms can also help them catch and correct mistakes quickly.
On the other hand: Most readers are idiots, and their comments often involve baseless charges of "bias reporting [sic]." Some sites might also give too much deference to commenters, posting ginned-up, "controversial" stories just to get the readers chattering.
Shoe cited this as the No. 1 Bad Thing the Internet has brought to game journalism, saying "some people never need to be heard from again, period." While that's undoubtedly true, there are some people who definitely do need to be heard from -- people that only have a chance to speak their minds because of the Internet.
In the old world of print-only gaming journalism, there was a very limited set of voices that could affect the debate -- if you weren't a staffer or freelancer for a major magazine, you were left out. The Internet has opened up the conversation to the masses, allowing regular Joes to post everything from intelligent commentary to awkward personal YouTube reviews and everything in-between. Sure, separating the wheat from the chaff is tough, but that doesn't mean there isn't any interesting wheat to be found out there on the Internet -- and it's wheat that would have gone totally un-reaped in the magazine era.
On the other hand: Most gaming forums devolve into wretched hives of scum and villainy (see: NeoGAF).
In the magazine-only era, most outlets had the same types of consumer-focused content -- short news stories; number/letter-grade reviews; and hyperbolic previews -- with little space for deeper critical considerations of games or issues that affect the industry at large. There's nothing wrong with this, per se -- gaming is a consumer-driven medium -- but the Internet has shown there's also a market for more thoughtful writing about games.
Sites like The Gamer's Quarter, The Escapist and many others look at gaming from original perspectives that by and large weren't represented by the mass-market game magazines. Some of this change has been driven by the slow maturation of gaming itself, no doubt, but a lot of it has come from the Internet and its ability to bring together the smaller audience of people who want more thoughtful analyses of games and gaming.
On the other hand: Most Internet game journalism is shallow, consumer-driven pap that resembles the content of most of the magazines that came before it.
Because of space constraints, most game magazines can only cover the biggest releases. With no space constraints, sites like GameSpot and IGN can write a review for practically every game that comes out on every system. EVERY GAME! This isn't just good for lovers of Barbie Horse Adventures, but also for fans of indie games and releases from smaller publishers that would have had trouble finding space in magazines. These types of games have a much better chance of getting coverage and breaking out through Internet coverage.
Not only that, but the Internet has allowed for outlets that target gaming niches outside the usual young, male gaming-magazine demographic. Between sites like What They Play, GirlGamer, GayGamer and countless others, you can find a community that caters not just to your taste in games, but to your personality and/or lifestyle as well.
On the other hand: By trying to cover everything, some sites don't cover anything particularly well.
Can you imagine an entire magazine devoted to adventure games? OK, maybe you can, but can you imagine it selling enough to remain viable? I didn't think so. But a site like Adventure Gamers can thrive off a small community of devoted fans, thanks to the power of the Internet.
Name any popular genre or series, in fact, and you'll find similar communities sprouting up on the Internet, from Grand Theft Auto to Dance Dance Revolution, from role-playing games to classic games. These sites can dig deeply and passionately into these niches-within-a-niche, and provide a specific focus that general-interest magazines never could.
On the other hand: How many Pokémon sites do we, as a species, really need? I mean, really!
The worst thing about written game journalism is that you have to decide between reading it and actually playing a game. Not so with podcasts. Now you can mute the (likely dull) game soundtrack and listen to your favorite journalists yakking about games while you grind through Fallout 3. It's just like having a bunch of friends chatting in the room while you play, except without the pesky need for human interaction.
Podcasts are also useful when you're working out, doing errands, or working a desk job; and for other situations where you can't easily read a Web site or watch a video, but still want to catch up on your inane videogame chatter.
On the other hand: Most podcasts are poorly edited, hours-long ramblings where the hosts seem more interested in the sound of their own voices/laughter than in imparting any interesting information.
I'll never forget the first time I downloaded a game video, wasting four hours on the old AOL dial-up to get a 30-second, postage-stamp-sized, grainy, shaky-cam video of Super Mario 64 direct from Nintendo's Space World 1995 show half a world away. In the nearly 15 years since then, we've advanced to instantly-streaming, full-HD video trailers for most big releases, and live streams of E3 press conferences beamed out to the entire world.
Screenshots and fancy layouts are nice, but there's simply no way a magazine can provide an experience comparable to seeing a game in motion. These videos help put a vivid picture of a game in the viewer's head, and give new life to the words we write. And who needs printed words at all, when video is also providing original game-journalism opportunities (see Yahtzee Croshaw's "Zero Punctuation" series or our own Crispy TV features).
On the other hand: OK, Angry Video Game Nerd, we get it: Old videogames sucked and you enjoy cursing. MOVE ON!
When Sega's shocked the world by announcing an immediate surprise launch for the Saturn at E3 1995, you were more likely to see the system on the shelves before reading about the news in a magazine. Today, you'd be able to follow the press conference through a live blog and line up at your nearest GameStop immediately.
When it comes to news, there's just no way that magazines can compete with the immediacy of the Internet. By the time you read about something in a game magazine, that information is two to four weeks old, and may very well be outdated or inaccurate. With the Internet, not only do you get the news as soon as it breaks, but you can follow a story as it develops and evolves in real time. In an industry where so much changes day to day, this is crucial.
On the other hand: The fight for timeliness leads many sites to focus on getting it first rather than getting it right, and rewards quick blurbs rather than deep analysis.
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