When you’re a child, there is nothing (ABSOLUTELY NOTHING) more exciting than receiving mail. This is before your mailbox gets stuffed with bills or letters from collections kindly informing you that, no, you’re not exempt from paying student loans because you thought college was a waste of time/you got chlamydia. The best mail you could receive was a magazine, a tome of full-colored knowledge that was paid for by your parents and could keep you busy on even the longest of car rides. For me, it was video game magazines, from Electronic Gaming Monthly to PSM to GamePro. They were my life. Now they’re all gone, and, most recently, Nintendo Power has become another casualty in the war against print media. It’s time we faced facts — video game magazines are dead. The question is, with gaming sites and “as it’s happening” reporting, is there even a place for them? The answer is a resounding “maybe, possibly, depends.”
Way back in the day (the 90s), video game magazines served several purposes. They advertised upcoming games before it was cool to have commercials for them on TV. Games were reviewed so that our hard-earned dollars didn’t go to waste, new games were previewed, getting us super psyched, and, to a lesser extent in the early days, game industry issues were explored in greater detail. But you know what the best part of those magazines were? The screenshots. High quality, super realistic shots of games that caused spontaneous drooling. The first shots of Zelda: Ocarina of Time caused elation, the reveal of the world map in Super Mario 3 drove me into euphoric fits. All thanks to magazines. Then something changed…
It was about the time that Final Fantasy VIII was announced that I first found my way onto the Internet to look for video game-related media. I remember going onto Videogames.com and downloading (on my 14.4 dial-up) character designs, screenshots, and wireframe leviathan models all pulled from the demo of the game. Then I proceeded to print them, draining my ink cartridge. The point was, they were mine. The same images then appeared in an issue of PSM that arrived a few weeks later. Old news dudes, old news. Suddenly magazines began to lose a bit of their luster.
Who needs to wait for a magazine when you have news at your fingertips? Why pay for content when it’s available for free? Honestly, what good is a magazine, especially one that deals with the entertainment industry? Oddly, enough, what caused the irrelevance of video game magazines is actually it’s best feature, a built-in time delay.
Imagine you read a news report that your favorite character is getting a redesign. Likely, you saw this on a website, and the content itself was just acquired or leaked. Knee jerk reaction, you hate the new look. It’s a kick in the teeth to all the fans who loved the character’s once white-haired look. Everybody flips, comments are posted, flame wars begin, all because a picture was posted. Now, what if you were a magazine who acquired this information, but knew by the time you shared it with your readers it would be old news? You take a different approach, perhaps a feature on how character designs change, an interview with the character designers on why the change took place. You are given the ability to dive deep because you’re not trying to be the first to post the story. You’re not fighting for page views of the same story, you’re given the chance to take a new approach to games journalism, an in-depth approach.
Let me be clear, not all websites are devoid of in-depth features on the gaming industry. 1Up and the Penny Arcade Report in particular are must-read websites for gamers looking for more than just the news. Not every article published on these sites is timely, but they’re all interesting reads that, in my opinion, would sometimes work better in magazine form. Why? Word count. Readers aren’t too keen on clicking through multiple pages on a website for one article, but laid out in a magazine, where readers expect to spend a bit more time on the text, that is where these stories can thrive. I would love to see a collection of gaming articles in physical form. It would be a worthy addition to any bookshelf.
So while magazines will never have the same, up to the minute news coverage as websites, there is still a way for the remaining publications to co-exist in an online world – by offering the content that truly needs to be read, not quickly scanned and commented on. Where long form is the standard form and articles become a looking glass into the industry as a whole. Now please excuse me while I mourn the passing of Nintendo Power by crying into my polybagged issue announcing Final Fantasy IV for the SNES.