Monday, February 28, 2005

You Got the Touch!

I've been reading all sorts of opinions on the state of game journalism, and I have even written a bunch of stuff on it. I even wrote something very profound and awesome on the topic of game journalists being too easy on developers the other day, but my computer crashed and I lost it. Oh well.

I was thinking today while sitting on the crapper that it's true: Reviewers are too easy on developers and publishers. Not in the old "You don't use enough negative Simpsons references" way, but in the "Your focus is too narrow and pointed in the wrong direction" way. Game reviewers concentrate on everything BUT the important bits: Did the game change your life? Did you learn anything? Did you want to call your mom when you were done? The answer to most of these questions for most games is, "No."

So I think, someone must do something. Some game magazine must get out there, put its neck out, and do something different. Then I remembered how, in my past experience, it was nearly impossible to do that. We tried to do it with Gamestar, but they made us put boobies in it. Incite tried it, but they got bogged down with Gene Simmons talking about how awesome Twisted Metal is. Obviously, since those magazines failed, no one wants to read responsible, intelligent game journalism.

So who can make the change? Who can be a Superman in this new era of Superfriends?

I'm looking at you, Game Informer.

Yes, I know. No one sees you as a real magazine. The other mags hate you because you have such a huge circulation, and marketers see you only as a basketfull of eyeballs looking at their ads. It sucks being the official mag of a popular game store and being force-sold to people who come in that store. No one respects you until you bring out that Big Number: 1.5 million circ. It's probably more by now; who knows?

But you are the hope. You are the future. You are in the unique position to actually do something about the state of things. And why you, you may ask?

1) Because you're widely read. If GamePoo Xtreme decided to buck up and do reviews that really talk about what's underneath the games, no one would care. If they ran a cover that read, "New Lara Croft Game To Be Developed By Bungie," no one would see it. But you, you can do it. You can make a mass change, and tons of people will see it. Yeah, they might be disoriented or upset, but that brings us to the other factor:

2) You have a captive audience. Your audience is stuck, man! As long as Gamestop keeps giving their employees incentives to whore out your mag, you'll have a huge audience no matter what you do! If you have a 15% renewal rate (which is what I heard a few months ago), you have nothing to lose! If you're going to pass transitorily through the hands of over a million people, you might as well do it with something worthwhile.

You hold the keys to the future! You can write intelligent reviews that are more than just, "The controls are adequate, but nothing to write home about." You can say, "Metal Gear Solid 5 attempts to tug the heartstrings, but its tugging proves false as poor characterization turns the people you meet into stereotypes and archetypes that we've all seen a million times." You can say, "Driver 6's overreliance on technology betrays its insecurities when it comes to actually affecting the viewer." You can say, "Fable 2 gives players a sense of deep ownership of their own actions that expands what can be done in video games." A good piece of art is great, but it's not exceptional until someone tells the masses why it is so.

Looking at Game Informer and its huge readership and captive audience makes me think that THAT is the place to get this stuff done. Get intelligent with the reviews! Don't let game writers get away with poor stories by saying, "Yeah, it's crap, but what do you expect from a shooter?" Don't let RPGs get by with boring combat or poor design. Examine the game, learn what it's like to make a game, and know what makes one game system work and another fail. What makes a fighting game crappy? Don't just say, "poor controls." Say, "The timing is off, and one might think that in a game that emphasizes bloodthirsty action, the main character might be able to interrupt enemies' attacks with more brutal ones of her own."

Put that in your magazine, and let the captive audience lap it up (or ignore it at will; they still get the magazine, so advertisers won't give up on you). Your example could change the business, and all the other magazines will look at you and say, "Not only did they con out over a million circ, but they ALSO have intelligent articles that actually educate me on what games really are!" You'd help the business grow, you'd help keep developers and publishers more honest, and you'd get to say that you did it--you are this generation's Edge.

Game Informer could be the future, folks. Shudder.