I am a gamer, as some who know me personally. However, more so over the past few years I have found myself in the analog (board) world of gaming, versus digital (video) games. Also being an aspiring designer in the analog world of gaming, I tend to spend my free gaming time playing analog games. In addition, it is a funny thing but as a game designer, you feel you never get to play games anymore. Outside as a regular gamer, if you got the design urge you clamor to be on the inside developing, and then when you get there you find your time slipping towards development. Other things get in the way as one gets older (house, kids, etc.) and if you are smart you find ways to combine the two such as playing games with the kids (and not telling your wife the game console is really for you and not the kids (shhh).)
One thing I find that has suffered the most is that of reading gaming sites and news. Sure from time to time I do, but since a lot of my inspiration for game ideas actually comes from real life and day to day news, I tend to find my casual reading slipping away from gaming related journalism. Years ago I read, and read (and read) every piece of gaming related print media I could get my hands on. If I could not play it all I was certainly going to read about it all. When Nintendo Power did not satisfy, there was GamePro, then EGM. Not only was I in a good position being born when I was in terms of digital gaming, I had the privilege of watching the journalistic side of the industry grow up. I also had the side benefit of building up a timeline of history from all the reading I did.
However, with all that excitement as I grew up, certain realities started to creep in to my view. One was the understanding that these gaming magazines had their biases. I still remember the day, as a young boy that I finally realized that Nintendo Power was not out for gaming as much as it was for a certain company. I noticed the tell-tale signs from that point on that certain things were amiss with my favorite magazines, as games that advertised seemed to get the most press. As I got more freedom with money and age, along with the advent of the Internet, I shed these magazines in favor of my mobility and new source of abundant game information choices. I found that as I got older and engaged the world community of the online, that people saw the same things I did. It was sort of that underlying hidden “we don’t talk about those things” between gamers.
The tradeoff I accepted during this whole period was the information in pictures. Since digital gaming was a visual medium, the pictures could make up for what was not talked about. Moreover, as is the custom with slight wrong doings, solutions were found for the problems. Review agitating (collection) sites like MetaCritic sprung up and gave a more balanced picture of how good games were. The underlying issue of bias was there, but since it was an unspoken truth it didn’t matter. It wasn’t until a little event known as Gerstmann-Gate hit.
Jeff Gerstmann was an editor for Gamespot and on that fateful day in 2007, Gamespot was decked out with ads for the newest Eidos game, Lynch & Kane. He gave the game a very low score, which led to his firing. What was not talked about suddenly became a spoken truth with this concrete proof. It was not so much vindication of a thought going back to my teenage years, but more a surprise that a well hidden thought in public would emerge from it’s shadows. A great summary of the event is found here.
And the world moved on…
This week I was caught off guard by the launch of Diablo 3. No, I was not taken back by the game launch itself, but the fact that within hours of release there was a number of problems. Now at this point I could be writing about a number of things, including how sad the state of affairs in modern gaming is when it comes to things like DRM (Digital Rights Management) or how Blizzard took a hit on its PR front with the miscalculation for server capacity on launch day. Something else caught my eye.
I don’t blame gamers for being angry that their $60 doesn’t get them a working product out of the box, especially when they were told and advertised by every single website and their cousin that the product would work as advertised. I don’t blame gamers for being savvy enough to find outlets to express this rage, it certainly beats being spoon-fed patronizing notions that the publisher is always right; video games are just a luxury; consumers should never be outraged at faulty products, or demanding quality equates to being a whiny, entitled brat.
It was amazing to see where we are now from reading that article. See what has changed is, well nothing. If anything some journalists in gaming have taken their a more incredulous approach to criticism to games they cover. If anything was surprising to me was that some gamers out there didn’t get the memo about Gerstmann-Gate and that unwritten rule of journalism. Bias will, and always has existed. I understand that as a part of the game you need advertising to pay the bills. And that advertising will come into conflict with truth in journalism. As much as a critic wants to be honest, fair and truthful when you have an ad of the movie sitting next to the glowing 4 star review, you as the reader have to take it with a grain of salt. Moreover, I thought this would go without saying.
But to my surprise, I guess it does need to be said.
There is a section of the gaming community for those on the outside would look at as fanatical, these gamers we call “fanboys.” Fanboys will latch on to a company or developer and defend them with all their might. What surprised me, or I should say felt weird, was that there was now fanboys of the sites and journalists themselves. It was weird in a way because normally these sites will bear the brunt of the fanboys of companies they like. I guess it really is a vicious circle that I forgot about, or my mind told me to forget, but it certainly is perplexing.
Years ago I entered my adult years with wonderment. And then this weird thought hit me when I turned 21 – Why don’t my parents go to the movies anymore?
Now I understand.