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September 23, 2014

Filed under: gaming»media

Press Play

I have started, and then failed to finish, three posts on the #GamerGate nonsense, in which a gang of misogynists led by 4Chan have attempted to hound Anita Sarkeesian and Zoe Quinn off the Internet for daring to be women with opinions about video games. There's very little insightful you can say about this, because they don't have any real arguments for someone to engage, and also because they're dumb as toast. At some point, however, someone decided that they'd use "ethics in journalism" as a catchphrase for their trolling.

What they mean by that is anyone's guess. This Vox explainer does its best to extract an explanation, but other than some noise about "objectivity," there aren't any concrete demands, and the links to various arguments are hilariously silly. One claims that there's a difference between "journalist" and "blogger" based on some vague measure of competence (read: the degree to which you agree with it), which veterans of the "blogger ethics panel" meme circa 2005 will enjoy. Frankly, the #GameGate movement's concept of journalism is itself pretty fuzzy, and tough to debate. As a journalist with actual newsroom experience, I think there are a few things that we should clear up.

Game journalism, isn't

Real journalists make phone calls. They dig into stories, find other viewpoints, and perform fact-checking. It's not glamorous work, which may be why reporters are so prone to self-mythologizing (a tendency I'm not immune to), but it is hard and often tedious. It's also, in its best moments, confrontational. There's an old saying: journalism is publishing what someone doesn't want to be published — everything else is just public relations. Some of that is just more myth-making, but it's also true.

When's the last time you read "gaming news" that had multiple sources? That actively investigated wrongdoing in the industry? That had something critical to say about more than how a single game played? You can probably think of exceptions, but that's what they are: exceptions. The vast majority of what gamers call "journalism" isn't anything like real reporting.

This isn't unusual, or even wrong. It's pretty typical for trade press, particularly in the entertainment industry. After all, there's only so combatative you can be when you're dependent on cooperation with game studios and publishers in order to have anything to write about. I don't expect hard-hitting investigations from Bass Player or The A.V. Club either. It's not journalism, but it still has value.

#GamerGate doesn't understand the difference

Unfortunately, as far as anyone can tell, the cries of "ethics in journalism" actually translate to a desire for more press releases and PR, like in the halcyon days of Nintendo Power. That's probably comforting for a lot of people, because PR is inherently more comforting than critical thought, but it means what they want and what they claim they want are very different things.

There's a kind of irony of calling for "objectivity" in gaming press, where the dominant mode of writing is through previews and reviews. People making this call aren't asking for actual objectivity, because that wouldn't make sense — what's an "objective" review? One that can definitively state that yes, the game exists? It's a code word for "tell me about the graphics, and the genre, and leave any pesky context out of it."

That isn't much of a review, frankly. It's the kind of thinking that gives four stars to Triumph of the Will because the cinematography is groundbreaking, no matter what the content might have been. Incidentally, the author of the definitive — if satirical — Objective Game Reviews site has a really nice post about this.

We have met the enemy, and he is us

Here's what's funny about #GamerGate and its muddled, incoherent demands for journalism: by all accounts, the person who actually meets a lot of their criteria is none other than Anita Sarkeesian, the person they loathe the most. I mean, think about it:
  • About half of her videos are just unaltered clips from games — that's what makes them so powerful, since they speak for themselves. And what's more objective than plain footage?
  • She states her biases right out of the gate. The YouTube channel is called "Feminist Frequency," so people know what they're getting into.
  • She's funded by people who paid for her kickstarter, not gaming companies or PR firms. There's no corporate influence.

It's exactly what they're asking for! And they hate it! It's almost as though, protests to the contrary, this isn't about journalism at all. As if there's actually an agenda being pushed that's more about forcing women and alternative viewpoints out. Imagine that.

March 11, 2008

Filed under: gaming»media»online

Catching Waveforms

My interview with Audiosurf creator Dylan Fitterer is up on the Opposable Thumbs journal for Ars now, and can be found here.

It's an interesting interview in part because the game is an indie title that would be much harder to do on the console, and yet it's apparently been very successful over Steam's digital distribution. There's an argument to be made, I think, that PC gaming isn't dying--it's just going to be overtaken by titles like this, which have lower system requirements and can leverage the platform in new and interesting ways.

Thanks to Corvus for helping me get in touch with Fitterer.

April 17, 2007

Filed under: gaming»media»online


PeterB reviews Crackdown:

I wrote a review in this month's issue of PTD magazine that I'm reasonably sure is going to garner me no small amount of hate mail. I won't reiterate the entire thing here, but to make a long story short, I panned Crackdown, a game where your objective, as a cop, is to murder as many immigrants as possible. I panned it specifically because of the game's absolutely vile morals, and more specifically its vile politics.

I actually felt uncomfortable panning the game. Technically brilliant, this is still a game whose idea of a good time is shooting a rocket launcher into a crowd of racial stereotypes.

Later today I'll write about This Film is Not Yet Rated, which I think has something similar to say about the movie industry.

March 22, 2007

Filed under: gaming»media»online


I have no idea where it originally came from. Joystiq reposted it today, but it's all over flickr and ROFL CAT.

June 14, 2006

Filed under: gaming»media»online

How China Cheats

This week's Escapist features my article "How China Cheats at the Videogame Industry" as the cover story. I hope I got those characters right. They should read dianwan shijian, or "video game world"--not an especially deft turn of phrase, but not inappropriate. I just don't want to end up on Hanzismatter.

A couple days ago I mentioned to a Bank co-worker from Hong Kong that I'd written something on software piracy in China. "Software? That's not important," he said. "They counterfeit medicine and food there, too. People die, they get poisoned. That's a big problem." I think that's a good perspective to keep in mind. The Escapist piece tries to restrict itself to the causes, problems, and solutions of the gaming market--but this is a struggle faced by many different industries, not just entertainment software.

In other news, after submitting my DWI article to NoVA Magazine, they asked me to write a short piece about telenovelas, the soap operas that are fantastically popular on Spanish-language television. I don't know where to find a telenovela expert--but I'm going to enjoy figuring it out.

June 13, 2006

Filed under: gaming»media»online

Fair Trade

I hope this is not gratuitous, but an economist with some experience in the region has responded to my Escapist article in the accompanying Lounge entry. I think both his comment, which is interesting and not unreasonable, and my response are worth reading--but then, I would. You can find them both here

June 5, 2006

Filed under: gaming»media»movies

Screen Shot

A list of reasons that movies based on games suck:

  • Not having anything to do with the actual game (Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within)
  • Having far to much to do with the actual game, to the detriment of the plot and believability (Final Fantasy: Advent Children)
  • Uwe Boll.
  • Terrible scripts and dialog (Street Fighter, Double Dragon, Silent Hill)
  • Written by and for twelve-year-olds (any of the Mortal Kombat or Pokemon flicks)
  • A focus on images and special effects rather than the aforementioned scripts and dialog (wonder where they got that trend?)
  • Uwe Boll.
There are maybe four or five movies that aren't offensively bad based on video games. The first Resident Evil (and to a lesser extent, its sequel) was better than it had a right to be, although RE's grounding in horror movies made it an odd, reflexive beast. I have heard, although I haven't seen them, that the Tomb Raider movies are decent--on the other hand, their Metacritic numbers are dismal. Which just goes to show that casting Angelina Jolie will at least get you mixed reactions.

Every medium has difficulties in the adaptation and transition from one form to another. Books that are turned into movies tend to be too heavy, suffering from crushing 500 pages of plot into 120 minutes. Comic book movies betray the worst of their source material: the silliness of outlandishly-costumed vigilantes Fighting Evil while mishandling their soap-operatic personal lives. Nowadays we even have a whole genre of movies adapted from other movies, particularly in the case of foreign flicks (read: Japanese horror). Because sadly, Americans may run screaming from the theater if they have to watch anything without a cracker as a main character, or listen to the devil-tongues of furriners.

I watched Advent Children the same weekend that I finished the third Prince of Persia game. AC is blatant fan-service: Square managed to squeeze every character and reference into the movie as was humanly possible. A friend and I had a good time calling out various references ("Ha! Limit Break!" "Bahamut!") as it went along, but that's not the same as saying that it's a good movie. It just means that it's not a terrible two hours if you are a tremendous dork. Even if you are a tremendous dork, you probably need to have played the game--and since I never actually got more than an hour into FFVII, I was lost pretty much the whole time.

The shame of this is that Final Fantasy VII is one of those games that (for some reason) brings back misty-eyed reminiscences for people who actually have finished it. You would think that just remaking the cinematics from the game using new tech, and finding a way to glue them together narratively, you'd have a half-decent movie. With games being more cinematic these days, it would make sense to do that, right? Take GTA's non-interactive sequences, play them sequentially, and you've basically got a Godfather knockoff right there.

Instead, when I look at the list, I see two different approaches: one is to overcomplicate an otherwise faithful script, and the other is to pretty much disregard the source material altogether. The former isn't hard to understand, since (despite my enthusiasm) much of what glues a game together is repetitive and relatively uninteresting to watch. Nobody wants to watch someone level up after killing ten rats, and you can't base an entire movie on drive-by shootings (now that I've said that, someone will try). Leaving those mechanics in the movie (read: Doom) is a boneheaded move. The key would seem to be striking a balance between faithfulness and the rules of cinema--finding devices to fill the space where the game took place, and using them to build character or flesh out the already-existing plot--more "based on" and less "inspired by."

There are people who would say that you can't make a good movie from a video game by definition, because they're basically trash. I actually take some heat from friends who will read here every now and then, because I occassionally discuss the games I play at a higher level than they might deserve. To those people, all I can say is "Pirates of the Caribbean." Was there ever a dumber idea than to make a movie from a (let's be honest) lame and uninteresting theme park ride? Cory Doctorow might get all slobbery when someone proposes turning Disney animatronics into a feature, but I'm pretty sure the rest of us heard the news a few years back and rolled our eyes. Now look at it (and try to ignore The Haunted Mansion while you're there).

I'd like to discuss pulp at a later time, but in short: there are many great movies that are based on material as shallow as the average video game. Spiderman turned out pretty well. Seven is nothing more than a cheap thriller that realizes the best of the medium (great acting, excellent plotting, and a good gimmick). When it all comes down to it, classics like The Maltese Falcon are based on dime-store material. I'd like to say that there are a lot of games that would meet some level of quality--maybe not enough to rise to greatness and widespread acclaim, but competence would be nice. I don't think it's too much to ask that they be as good as, say, Mission Impossible.

Ah, easy for me to say. At the center of my optimism is the belief (new, I'm sure, to a generation of people who grew up post-NES) that a game can be just as much a cultural artifact as a book or a film. The implication of many conversions is a lack of respect for the original--Silent Hill is one of the first that seemed to take itself seriously, for what good it did.

Most people think time is like a river that flows swift and sure in one direction. But I have seen the face of time, and I can tell you they are wrong. Time is an ocean in a storm. You may wonder who I am, and why I say this. Sit down, and I will tell you a tale like none which you have ever heard.

Could just be me, but I'd watch that.

April 16, 2006

Filed under: gaming»media»online»linky

Right On, Deux

Awesome! The voice of reason has returned!

February 24, 2006

Filed under: gaming»media»online

Marketing Must Be So Proud

Thanks to the crew at the Escapist for the mug. I think you've really overestimated my value as a trendsetter, though.

July 1, 2005

Filed under: gaming»media

NGJ: The Economics of Used Games

As I noted below, I'm planning on doing freelance work while the Bank has retained me for another year. Freelance is primarily difficult for two reasons: motivation and sales. The former has to be present at every step of the way, and the latter determines what you will write and who you can sell it to, both of which are stressful.

In the past, although I've technically worked freelance, my primary experience has been as a stringer, so I knew with confidence what my editor would and wouldn't buy, and I was often given assignments (I had a semi-specific "beat," which helped). It's really disorienting being cast off into the wild, not sure what to write or where it can be published. I don't like it, and I tip my hat to those who do it successfully. As you may have guessed from my content, I have a tendency to take on a million personal projects and finish 3 of them, so I'll need to improve my discipline.

However, I had an idea last night for a piece and some of you might be able to help (crickets chirp). I want to do research and eventually draw conclusions about the economics of the used game market(s). Clearly, it seems to me, there's the underground eBay/trading market and there's the corporate Gamestop/EB-run market. But what's the relationship between these two? To what pressures is the former reacting? For the latter, what influences the prices set at each store, and at what level are those prices decided? Although the institutional game market theoretically reacts to supply and demand, are there other forces at work? There are a lot of questions here that I'd like to see answered--and I'm guessing others might be curious as well.

To that extent, I plan (at some point) to start tracking a small set of newly-released games, their reviews and sales figures, and their new and used prices in each market. With this information over a period of months, it should be possible to make some general observations about the market. I also want to interview the people responsible for setting prices at the company, possibly retrieving information on the margins and financial rewards of the used vs. new sales role.

This is a long-term project, but it's one I think is marketable to a tech mag (Next Generation or Wired would be my targets) or a few mainstream news sources. But perhaps you can help: is there anything I'm forgetting? If you have access to this kind of information, or can offer insight into investigative directions I might not be considering, I'd appreciate that help. Please visit the comments or send me a note to let me know.

Future - Present - Past