For those who didn’t read my old blog, one thing I posted on there was a list of required reading for those wanting to get into the field, and be good at their jobs. I’d hate to see anyone show up on a site like The Escapist and make an ass out of themselves with poorly edited video trying to pose as someone good. So, some of these attitudes, media, and so forth may save your butt in the future.
Note: These listings will reflect a lot of things that Daniel, James, and Allison went over in an episode of Extra Credits on “How to become a developer.” Honestly, if you want to critique the industry, you need to know what they know.
- Have a solid understanding of video game history: You’re going to make yourself look like a complete fool if you say a gravity shifting mechanic is “new and innovative” when Metal Storm did it in 1990. Having a knowledge of video game history allows your writing to stay fair and unbiased, because you’ll know what innovations came about and when, and will keep your fanfare in check.
- Be incredibly well versed in literature: Most game developers out there have an extensive knowledge of Ayn Rand, Fyodor Dostoyevsky, C.S. Lewis, J.R.R. Tolkien, Edgar Allen Poe, and so forth. You need to as well. If you haven’t read Atlas Shrugged, The Lord of the Rings, The Cask of Amontillado, or Out of the Silent Planet, you better get cracking. Many video games carry influences from these books in many ways, and you need to know what’s going on.
- Have a knowledge of world religions: This is one of the most difficult, especially in modern society. Many developers come from a wide variety of backgrounds when it comes to religion, and you need to have a passing knowledge of where they’re coming from. You also need to be able to take off the blinders of your own beliefs. For example: If you didn’t catch the significance of Legion’s name in Mass Effect 2, and then sighed when it was a Biblical reference, quit now. Mythology and Theology can lend well to art.
- Know your films: Though I’ve droned on and on about how games don’t need to be more cinematic, that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t know cinema. There are quite a few things that video games could apply from cinema that would help in reviewing titles. For example: in my Medal of Honor review, I went on at length about lack of characterization in the game, and were I asked by the developers for examples of characterization in a similar scenario, I could rattle off five films and how they did it as a reflex. You need to be capable of the same.
- Know the commonly used technology: Though I don’t expect you to give all the technical specs of the Unreal 3 engine, or tell me the minute details about how Nvidia’s Phys-X tech works, you need to have a basic understanding of what the engine can do, and what games it’s been used in. This helps your ability to critique a game. For example: If one developer is able to remove the texture pop-in issue of Unreal 3, it sets a new standard. Games need to be able to reach that standard, and should be held to it.
- Learn about music composition: This is becoming more and more paramount as time goes on. You, as an aspiring journalist, need to understand how music works, and its application in video games. You need to learn how it can aid the immersion process. You should be fully willing to beat someone to death for saying that Martin O’Donnell’s work on Halo is superior to Akira Yamaoka’s work on Silent Hill. Essentially, you need to know why a track like “Love Lost” in Lords of Shadow can make someone’s heart sink, and the theme to Metal Gear Solid 3 can make your heart race.
- Know bad writing when you see it: As the ability to make deeper games continues to evolve, consumers need to know the quality of the story that they’re getting themselves into. More and more people are playing games for solid storytelling, so you should be able to pick out the good and the bad. A game like Metroid: Other M should NEVER be given any slack for bad storytelling, because the storyline is the center of the experience. Same goes for Modern Warfare 2, and other games out there.
Note: These really aren’t things that everyone can adopt, because sometimes your personality will clash with it. If you’re incapable of pulling these off, don’t pursue journalism.
- Go in with an unbiased attitude: Too many writers out there are complete and utter morons when it comes to this subject. When you’re asked to be unbiased, people aren’t asking you to put your tastes away. That’s idiotic. People are asking you to give every game you’re given for review a fair shot. If you’re not a fan of JRPG’s, then you shouldn’t review them. To use myself as an example, I refuse to review JRPG’s, and RPG’s that are like Diablo. I think they’re boring. If I tried to review them, that would shine through, I wouldn’t complete the game and couldn’t give you, the consumer, an idea of what you’re getting yourself into.
- Understand what the developer is trying to create: Here’s a question that I pose to you. If someone gives you a plate of spaghetti, would you judge it on whether or not it’s a cheeseburger? No, you wouldn’t, unless you’re daft. If you’re expecting a game centered around assassination (which is a process that takes time, patience, and planning) to be a fast paced action romp all the way through, then you’re a moron. It’s like expecting a kung-fu fight in the middle of Schindler’s List. To give the consumer an idea of what they’re getting themself into, and the quality of the product, you need to understand the purpose of it. You’re not going to see someone judge Painkiller or Turok 2 like it’s Baldur’s Gate.
- Come to the realization that there’s a business to Video Games: I’ve got another question for you, the reader. Would you go and stomp on a Girl Scout’s cookies because someone from that company had to lay off workers? No! Why are you demonizing a company for getting rid of a developer that is underperforming? Fact of the matter is that money drives the wheels of industry, and if you can’t perform, you’re going to get cut. Yes, the reality of someone loosing their job sucks, and we’ve all been there. However, what would you do if you were in the position of someone like Bill Gates or Bobby Kotick? Keep a developer around and watch your company bleed money? No, you wouldn’t, and anyone who says otherwise is a liar.
- Learn that there is no cheering in the press box: This is the hardest part of being a journalist, and it’s something that I struggle with daily. I’m both a Video Games journalist and an MMA journalist, and it is really hard for me to keep my composure when I hear news about Bioware doing something new, or watching one of my favorite fighters lose or win. Fact of the matter is that the job is to observe and report. If you can learn to balance the fan in you with the journalist in you, then you’re in shape. The comforting thing here is that everyone you work with is a fan as well, and there will always be points where you can take the journalist hat off, and put the fan hat on. It’s why I kept this blog, after all.
Note: Not all of these are books. I’m going to link you to some books, video games, films, and articles that I think you should experience before getting into games journalism. Some of the games you’ll just have to download on Virtual Console though. Finding a hard copy is near impossible.
- War and Peace
- Crime and Punishment
- Atlas Shrugged
- War of the Worlds
- Out of the Silent Planet
- The Lord of the Rings
- The Chronicles of Narnia
- The Great Divorce
- The Works of Edgar Allen Poe
- The Works of H.P. Lovecraft
- I, Robot
- Blade Runner
- Kingdom of Heaven (Director’s Cut)
- Jacob’s Ladder
- Soylent Green
- Black Hawk Down
- First Blood
- Pitch Black
- Terminator 2: Judgment Day
- The Empire Strikes Back
- Pan’s Labyrinth
- Raiders of the Lost Ark
- The Godfather
- The Silence of the Lambs
- Schindler’s List
- The Departed
- The Road Warrior
- There Will Be Blood
- The “Dollars” Trilogy
- Seven Samurai
- Perfect Blue
- Silent Hill 2
- Planescape: Torment
- Knights of the Old Republic
- Fallout 2
- Baldur’s Gate
- The Orange Box
- Super Castlevania IV
- Chrono Trigger
- Out of this World
- Grim Fandango
- Super Metroid
- Super Mario 64
- Beyond Good and Evil
- The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time
A New High (low?) in Game Preview Events- Ben Kuchera is a guy that I don’t particularly like. Personal feelings aside, I admire his passion for a lack of corruption in journalism, so this article is a must-read.
Game Journalists vs Game Bloggers- Probably my most infamous article, but I’m not including it here because it’s mine. I’m including it here because I know that it’s true. True to the point where I got quite a bit of ire from bloggers because of it. It’s how you know it’s working. ;)
David Jaffe on The Problem with Game Journalism- Jaffe is awesome. There’s no debate. However, I do think he makes an excellent point here in this interview. We have to be journalists first.
No Cheering in the Press Box - As I’ve already told her, A.J. Glasser is an awesome journalist, and she talks about how the games industry is using our inability to control the fan instincts against us.
What Grade is your Content Comprehension? - This is an interesting article about proper writing level and such, but also carries an undertone that game journalists need to be intelligent folks, which I agree with. By the way, I average a 13 in the Gunning-Fog index, if you’re curious.
How not to be a games journalist - Though mostly humorous, Mitchell Dyer makes some excellent points about the game press, and its issues with big events.
And there you have it.