The media is inherently fast-paced. Interest lies in the next story or the next scoop. Games journalism is no different — a new release, especially in the Christmas season, often outpaces the conversational aftermath. The necessary time to analyze how a game works, what makes it work, and if it could again make millions.
Beyond the everyday news bits, that leaves little time for lengthy coverage. Revenue-starved sites aren’t in the state of affairs to criticize their advertisers, the publishers. That’s the root of the constant accusations of bias and journalistic malpractice. And it’s holding the industry back.
To appropriately criticize the idiotic and immoral practices of the business, and to do so at length is something the industry needs more. To cover issues in greater and more vivid context, and to create a layer on which to build more constructive conversation about where this industry is going.
Ben Kuchera of The PA Report, a site I’ve attempted to model Holygrenade after, first spurred this thought. An average post ends anywhere from 800 to 2000 words, broken down into various topics for easy skimming. The subject matter tackles topics like review embargoes to personal tales of triumph.
His refreshingly honest pieces show there is space for proper criticism and opinion without monetary impunity. Smart criticism too, not hidden behind the veil of publisher influence.
Games, naturally, are complex beings. Many different forces working together to provide a delightful mixture. But games are also deeply experiential — beyond the scope of observation into direct interaction, an exclusive trait video games possess.
The power of that exclusivity is rarely explored in games media. Everyone has a go-to moment where a game triumphed, or forced sadness, depression, or anger, or made us question our own humanity. These moments underline our passion for the medium, and to understand how they succeeded in stirring emotion is one step to further comprehending the concept of a video game.
Mass Effect and other preeminent morality makers are perfect examples. But one rather underplayed title made headlines, a summer release of a retired franchise, for its demanding storyline and how it acted more as a character study than a shooter. That would be Spec Ops: The Line.
Receiving barely any press, the game tanked commercially. However, on the fire of this article among others, it drew more interest. Specifically, one scene attracted a brunt of the attention. The squad comes across what appears as a military camp, and the destructive answer lies in front of them — white phosphorus.
Caught in the phosphorus assault are a group of civilians. Most damaging is when the camera focuses on a mother clenching her daughter, burnt to a crisp. Reality hits and for the rest of the game Walker and company struggle with what they’ve done.
What triggers such an emotional response is the player’s supposed instantaneous regret upon discovering civilians in the wreck. The game primes the player for a routine military bypass common in military first-person shooters only to throw it in a completely different direction.
Writer Brendan Keogh, after playing Spec Ops: The Line, decided to do the impossible: write an e-book examining every frame. The product? A 50,000 word analysis of Spec Ops‘ unparalleled glance into forced choices in a military shooter. Long-form journalism taken to the extreme.
One quote from Keogh in the linked article speaks true to my argument: “Players are smart. They think things while they play, and it’s the role of the critic to really help find the vocabulary for those players to understand those thoughts. Killing is Harmless is an attempt at doing that for a game, and I think the response it has already received has shown that that kind of discourse is really wanted. That alone is enough to count as a success, I think.”
No word on if Killing is Harmless has been successful, however Keogh’s unprecedented approach made headlines. Entire film courses revolve around one film or director, so it’s sensible to believe gaming can hit that point of emphasis as well. And games are built as prolonged experiences, stretching 20/40/60 hours as best, so to ignore that much content is bewildering to me.
I think next year will bring more of these stories. Games analyzed meticulously to the point of absurdity, to further our knowledge of what constitutes as experiential in interactive entertainment.
To the readers: Do you agree more lengthy journalism is needed for the gaming industry? And can you provide other examples?
Image courtesy of PatrickSchreiner.com.
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