Game Over for Video Game Journalism?

Video game journalism has over the past few years not only changed its platform, but its purpose, and while it used to be a profession based on the words written down to educate and inform, video game journalism now relies not only heavily on the person that carry those words, but if that person is entertaining enough. Question is whether or not this “dumbing down” we’ve seen of video game journalism will eventually lead to its demise as a profession.

Journalism as a term is being challenged in a major way, and being a journalist has changed drastically from back a few years when you could rely solely on your pen. News stories are beingsimplified and amplified to reach larger audiences, magazines are being replaced by blogs, and YouTubers are the ones who get to interview the President. As for journalists, they are no longer only conveyers of information and subjective, but informed opinions , but also must entertain their audiences and, in some cases, even smile to a camera — which, to be fair, plenty of journalists do enjoy. There is a lot to discuss when it comes to journalism’s current state, not to mention the term itself and whether or not citizen journalism/ social media has ruined it for good — but that’s another debate.

What I want to discuss right now however is video game journalism. Like with film journalism, video game journalism has thrived in recent years. Being a visual medium, the transition from print to digital was not only seamless, but necessary. Voice-over reviews, video interviews, news shows, previews and just online articles in general — it all fits the digital form more than print.

Pioneers in the industry such as Gametrailers paved way for not only other media outlets to transform how we receive information, but also gave its audience the chance to react and interact. Journalism became less static, and created conversations. People made their own reviews and gameplays, filmed their reactions and commentary to industry news. Unfortunately, the result of this “dumbing down” has led to a troubling trend in media outlets suffering, something we saw the result of a few weeks back with the news that Gametrailers closed their doors for good.

Somewhere along the way, something changed. For while the biggest demographic of gamers are closer to their 30s than 20s, it appears as if the companies owning the most respectable media outlets in the industry, companies who might not have any other connection to the gaming world, have decided that the main demographic is not worth as much as the generation below them.

For is there a trend we see more frequently now than everis that YouTubers and other web-personalities getting higher numbers than professionals in the industry. It seems that the younger demographic doesn’t respond to quality journalism the same way as “older” gamers do, and sometimes value personalities over professionalism or “old-school” journalism.

Not that I blame them. If it weren’t for the fact that I’m not 17 anymore and studied journalism for three years, I’d probably also be critical moreso at journalists than personalities. As pointed out in a recent Forbes article, some reviewers aren’t critical or reliable enough anymore, and we see reviews of games that do not challenge its developers or give an objective perspective on a game — and are sometimes obviously paid for. Although, the paid-for part of this is definitely not a journalists-only problem. For the competition to get a game and review it first is tough, and many are willing to abide to studios’ promises of being able to lead the pack, in exchange for not getting a slap on the wrist. Regardless of this however, media outlets generally have a set of rules that they must abide — and I wonder if we all underestimate the power of that.

Having been a fan of Gametrailers for years, alongside so many others, it was obviously sad news that they were closing down — but not surprising. For while Gametrailers, who started making video content before YouTube was even a thing, was an especially sad loss for those of us who grew up with them, we’ve seen this happen more and more in recent years.

My home country of Norway is a great example of this — though a small country with few media outlets, it’s had a good amount of video game publications the past few years, both digitally and in print, through larger media outlets and independently. Late last year however, Norway’s two biggest broadsheets decided to close down each of their video game outlets, VG’s LevelUp and Dagladet’sPressfire.

It came as quite the surprise to most — both LevelUp and Pressfire had good audience numbers. The reason the broadsheets closed them (budget cuts) was never really reasonable either — video games is a huge industry, and for broadsheets to ignore this might make it harder for them to grow a younger audience. Yet for some reason, it appears if those outside of the games industry, who have always expressed stereotypical views on the industry as childish and silly, do not think it deserves or needs quality journalism.

We, the gamers who don’t drink Red Bull religiously and call out other people’s moms during online matches of Call of Duty, who respect the fact that Lara Croft should wear comfortable clothes and don’t feel a need to pledge allegiance with either a console or PC — we enjoy hearing informed opinions on things. Old-fashioned, perhaps, but without ethical journalists on our side, the gaming industry will ivenitably suffer — not to mention lose its credibility as a serious artform.

It’s not that older gamers necessarily don’t appreciate the new digital format. We all enjoy hearing/seeing people interact, and while personality is a plus, it’s nice to know that those people we’re watching or listening to can identify pros and cons in games, constructively deconstruct a game’s composition, debate current issues in gaming and bring forth news in a transparent and as objective as possible way. That, and they’re trustworthy. They’re not just a person who might be working for EA for all you know, but a person regulated by the company they work for.

The world we live in now has changed, and it is easy to be deceived by cheeky sponsors, charismatic personalities and not-so obviously “paid for”- reviews, where objectivity and criticism might be thrown out the window.

And even if it’s “just games”, to a lot of people they’re more than that. It’s a medium filled with digital artistry, storytelling and technical achievements, sometimes not only meant to entertain, but to inspire, teach and critique today’s society. And we should celebrate the medium not through dumbing down content or forgetting about journalism, but showing the world the digital artistry and intricate technical and story-based achievements that go into making a game.

Without journalists and media outlets two things might happen — one, what will replace journalists, meaning entertainers/gameplayers/streamers etc., will be people that are not necessarilly tied down to the same rules and regulations a journalist is. While there are obviously “bad eggs” in the journalism bunch, most journalists abide to the unwritten rules of their work, to be ethical, speak the truth, not take bribes and either be as objective as possible or transparently subjective. Imagine someone without the support of a media outlet requesting to review a game early — that doesn’t come easily to a lot of people. There’s huge competition, and not anyone can ask to review a game early. The result of this? Wanting to keep up in the race by accepting demands from developers — for exmaple by giving the game a decent grade regardless.

The other thing that might happen, where we to lose journalists, is, to put it simply, that the “big boys” in the industri will win. AAA-games will take up the limelight, and indies will say bye bye. The bigger the wallet, the better the press — or lack of press, but rather coverage I suppose.

Video games do not only serve children anymore — on the contrary, games are made for a mature audience. So why the dumbing down? Why are we, as gamers, giving up on media outlets that wanna provide us with information, educate us, entertain us and give us content worth watching or reading? Do we really wanna learn about games from Pewdiepie alone? And if so, how can we then expect the industry to be challenged when games aren’t giving us what we deserve?

Not that there’s anything wrong with Pewdiepie necessarilly. But he’s not a journalist. He’s an entertainer, and while that’s not a bad thing, he does not have a responsibility to you, the audience, to be truthful, ethical or accurate — a journalist does.

And so the question remains whether or not journalism will die the next few years. What journalists need to do is be transparent, critical and not afraid of asking the hard questions. And gamers need to realize the value of journalism, and how without it we might end up with games that might be broken because nobody challenges them and AAA-developers taking up all the spotlight, and indies suffering in the name of money, fame and popularity.

We can have both, you know. And we can have both the faces and facts put together. Not all big media houses need to share the same faith as Gametrailers — all it takes is for gamers to express how they both admire and support the entertainers and the educators on your screens. Those, and the ones who are both. I’m not saying we should go back to print journalism and have every journalist look like an extra from Mad Men — but do not give up on those who still follow rules of ethics that some might not, who won’t accept payment for a review, who will ask the tough questions and critique an industry despite loving it with all their hearts — and maybe teaching you one thing or another.

Journalists are not only watch dogs, but validators of industries and their rights and wrongs. Ther video game industry is now massive, yet big parts of the mainstream hasn’t caught onto that. What journalists can do is show the mainstream the wonderful things about this industry, and validate it’s importance and value to society in a way no streamer or internet personality ever could. They can expose and critique, reach audiences beyond the gaming community, and help further the comminuty’s wishes.

We got the best of both worlds, sometimes put into one. Do we really wanna end the game at this point?

Sofia Hariz is a freelance video game journalist, film critic and podcaster. This article was first published on her personal blog and in Norwegian for Gamereactor Norway.