Over the past two months I’ve become addicted to The Newsroom on HBO. The show has changed the way I look at the news and the people who deliver it. Being as I’m completely obsessed, I wanted to take what I’ve learned from the show and apply it to games journalism. I have come up with a list of ten responsibilities game journalists have to their audience. There are publications and websites out there that hit it out of the park when it comes to delivering us information about video games, while others still have a ways to go. What we must understand is that just because we’re talking about video games does not mean that journalists should be held at a lower standard than traditional journalists. If anything, game journalists should work harder as they fight the stigma of not being deemed “real journalists.” So without further ado, ten responsibilities of game journalists:
1. Grab attention with your headlines without lying. Remember when there was a RUMOR that FF Versus XIII was cancelled? Let’s check out some headlines about the rumor that was a rumor and not confirmed because it was a rumor:
Report: Final Fantasy Versus XIII Cancelled – IGN
Report: Final Fantasy Versus XIII Quietly Cancelled – Shacknews
Final Fantasy Versus 13 Cancelled – Game Rant
I’d click on those news stories, wouldn’t you? Too bad it wasn’t a news story, just a rumor that Kotaku spread around with a news story filled with protected sources like it was proving Obama was, in fact, born in Switzerland.
2. Report news without bias. Don’t start a news story about a new game with “dust off your Wii” or signal the death of a console when reporting sales figures for the month. Give us the news in the news. Nothing more, nothing less.
3. Don’t make predictions about the future of the industry based on that dream you had last night or what an outspoken game developer says. Especially don’t make predictions based on what an analyst such as Michael Pachter says. Seriously, About.com broke down some of his predictions. Let’s stop pretending anyone knows what the future holds.
4. Lay off the snark. Everyone on the internet is guilty of adding just a little too much sass into what they say. It’s not only damaging to the discourse, it also doesn’t speak too highly of the person who writes it. If you have a problem with a game/company/issue, illustrate why such a problem exists rather than just blowing it off with a quip.
5. Review games based on what is in front of you. Don’t mention your disappointment that something you saw during a demo or preview is missing, that would be like rating a movie down because you saw a cool scene in the trailer that didn’t make the final cut. This also means not rating a game based on patches you hope come out. If a game is a buggy mess, no matter what the scope of the game, it is still a buggy mess. Rate it as such.
6. Hold developers and publishers accountable. Console exclusive DLC, negative comments on different game consoles, always-online requirements. When you see something that doesn’t jive, ask the people in charge. Don’t accept the PR response. I know game press relies on free games and access, but if that comes at the cost of giving people a pass, it isn’t worth it.
7. Stop the pandering. It’s hard to take a website seriously that calls out games as sexist when half of their side content is devoted to half-naked women. This ties back to the first rule. You’re going to get clicks by posting about sex, but that doesn’t mean you should.
8. Dig deeper. This is why I personally love 1Up.com. They present featured stories that explore the industry. While long-winded pieces aren’t everyone’s cup of tea, it helps to legitimize gaming. Odds are if you’re a game journalist you have a passion for the industry. Share that passion!
9. Engage the community. Go on message boards, post in the comment section of your articles, take feedback on podcasts. You are in a position where you can grant a voice to your readers. Bring your readers into the journalism and create a dialogue.
10. Remember your roots. Too often we forget that games existed before the year 2000. By going back and exploring where games came from and how they’ve evolved over the past four decades we can all have a greater understanding of the industry. If your readers don’t know about events such as the game crash in 1983, it is your job to educate them. Without that foundation, games journalism can not move forward.