By George Smith / November 8, 2011
Part of the reason that videogames get no respect is because our specialty press is lacking in anything close to integrity or even coherent writing. While junkets and payola are alive and well in the specialty press of other artforms, nowhere is the bar for a successful bribe lower than in the realm of game journalism. Because while Entertainment Weekly might give your shit flick a good review if you inject some ad dollars into their rag and fly the editor-in-chief out to Aspen for the weekend, IGN will give you a good review for sending an overstock basement-grade T-shirt with the game's logo printed on the back.
As consumers of electronic entertainment, we rely on these cretins to make our bets when it comes time to throw down $60. Amazingly enough, Metacritic averages often get it "right", in the sense that better games tend to get green averages and the bottom of the barrel tends to get red. Far from being evidence of actual skill or professionalism, the game journalist racket in the age of aggregators has all the sweet science of a thousand apes flinging shit at typewriters and eventually pounding out Shakespeare. Except "Shakespeare" is replaced by nonsense like "DIS IS GOOD GAME WITH PURDY GRAPHIXEZ AND I LIKE SHOOTY ONLINE OTHER PEOPLE. THE PR LADY WAS VERY NICE AND SHE IGNORED MY BODY ODOR AND LAUGHED AT MY BAD JOKES GAME OF THE YEAR".
Below you will find a primer on the most insidious types working in the field today. It is our goal to make sure that your hard-earned money is only used on the finest wares the artform puts out to market, and as such, it's important to familiarize one's self with knowledge regarding the various flavors of sub-Maxim hacks who will stop at nothing to separate a fool from his money.
Without further delay...
The Career Man
This is the guy who gets the top job at a magazine or website, the guy who sets the tone of the publication and writes the editorials at the front of each issue. There is a reason he gets the privilege: At a magazine/site supposedly built on the viewpoints of its staff, the Career Man is completely incapable of expressing an opinion. He never hates on anything, never rocks the boat. If the magazine runs an article on "Which game console is the best?" he will see to it that it ends in a dead heat, with him casting the deciding vote of "you have to get them all!" If there's an article about PC gaming versus consoles, he will take the adorable position that the child gamers have a single leg to stand on. "Both have their merits!" the putz will say, regardless of the fact that consolification has destroyed more potential great games than EA buyouts. And "social" games? to The Career Man, they're just a way to "introduce a bigger audience to gaming", as if the folks who go into debt to buy a tractor for their stupid Facebook farms are ever going to bother to expand their horizons to a Red Dead Redemption or Supreme Commander.
The Career Man is loved by his advertisers, and by extension, his bosses. Ever wonder why any game that isn't fundamentally broken will never get below a 7? It's this guy. He doesn't give a rat's ass about you throwing down $60 for mediocrity, as long as he meets his circulation numbers this quarter. And why should he? He's the only one at his miserable bathroom reader of a rag making over twenty grand a year.
The Token Skirt
Yes, as in "token black guy", because each major publication today has at least one or two female staffers on the payroll. Rather than full-fledged game journlolists, these are little more than token window dressing. They're also pretty good bins for the trash that comes out month to month: Yet another Kinect fitness game came out? Give it to the chick. A downloadable puzzle game on the PSP? Let the skirt handle it.
A pretty face to send out to trade shows (instead of the aspies staffing the rest of the magazine), the Token Skirt is almost a public defender of sorts, a devil's advocate meant to give "equal time" to those games that can't hope to rise to an A or even B level. Nowhere is this more evident than in the year-end "best of" lists that the specialty press trot out like common whores, year after year. While her colleagues will give their votes to the year's biggest and best spectacles (or, at any rate, those that seem to them to be so, or have been bribed into considering to be so), the Token Skirt's list will be full of puzzle, dance, and downloadable titles. Because she's a cute girl, don'tcha know? She doesn't have the time or the energy to put into a piece of legitimate videogame mastery. Don't blame her, blame her social calendar! Look, in the monthly staff photos feature on page 3! There she is in a short dress and heels! There she is in another short dress next to the guy who made Final Fantasy! Hard hittin' journalism!
Can you name an ugly female game journlolist currently employed at a popular rag? [You forget there are no pretty and ugly people, we are all equal. Besides, opinions are subjective so even if there were pretty and ugly people, no one would ever be able to find them. —Ed] You can't, because all the hiring at these glorified advertising mills is done by men with the minds of small children. They'll never touch a (pretty) woman on their meager salaries, so this is it — deciding who gets the job of "office bitch" is the closest they'll ever get to sexual intercourse with a being that doesn't resemble what I had for lunch yesterday. (*)
(*) It was a Chipotle burrito bowl. It was pretty good!
The Frat Boy
He will have anywhere from 50-150 excess pounds on his frame, he will dress like a college-aged male half his age, he will be an opinionated jerk. The Frat Boy loves podcasts, because they allow him an opportunity to sit around with his like-minded coworkers/frat bros and be obnoxious jerks on the company dime. "I'm not being a drunken idiot! I'm generating dynamic multimedia online content!"
Because fortune favors the bold and the idiotic, The Frat Boy will do well for himself, much for the same reason that your boss is probably some 30-something idiot with a communications degree and too much gel in his hair. Take heart, for the Frat Boy will eventually get fired from a major magazine after someone spills their piss warm beer on his shoe.
That, or he'll anger the advertisers.
"Hey man, I'm just reviewing the shit until I can break into development."
The Self-Made Man
The SMM is different from the other stereotypes on this list, because he usually owns his own operation. The SMM will start a site from scratch — it might just be him at first, or he might have one or two competent pals along for the ride to code the backend.
Everything else, the actual content, will be generated by teenagers who will work their asses to the bone just for a few press copies of bad games. The SMM will assure them that, while he can't pay them right yet, the second he gets a buyout from a large corporation, he's going to get them six-figure jobs, expense accounts, gold-plated health insurance plans, and maybe even ponies.
The SMM will eventually get that sweet, sweet buyout. His e-mail will change ten seconds after the deal is inked, and you will never hear from him again.
The New Games Journalist
This guy will take 2500 words to tell you that a game has floaty controls. Then he'll toss in some wacky tangents that last longer than the actual review while having nothing to do with the game, because that's what passes for "literary" game criticism these days. The NGJ has a huge vocabulary, and hell if you aren't going to see at least half of it in any given article.
Typically, NGJ comes in two flavors: The Rogers and The Croal. The Rogers will write 5000 words about the time he went surfing in glorious Japan with his rock band and then attempt to tie it back to his 500-word review of the game proper (while still not telling you anything about the actual game). The Croal will suggest that games have some kind of responsibility to be advocates for social change, as if you're going to undo the damage of Jim Crow and segregation by making Resident Evil 5's zombies any other color but black (ignoring, of course, that with the exception of 4, every RE game's zombies have been primarily white, first-world suburbanites).
If a game has absolutely no qualities to make it compelling, you can set your clock by the fact that The Artputz will write in its defense. The Artputz will insist that a game's art style, or its simplicity, or its complete lack of tangible levels or goals somehow elevates it above those titles that bother to, you know, ship a playable, enjoyable experience. It should be noted that just about every working journlolist in the industry today has an Artputz within — this is why you see games like Braid and Limbo reaching their impossibly high Metacritic averages. If there were no videogame industry, the Artputz would be a film reviewer (it is likely he actually *aspires* to this, even now). As such, if he were not busy explaining how everything you could ever hope to know about life can be inferred from Fl0w, he would have been the guy who watched Basic Instinct and gave it four stars, because Sharon Stone showed her vag, and that, like, means something.
You know him. He talks fast and has a foreign accent. Or he makes the same YouTube video fifty times while dressed as a ridiculous caricature of what a nerd "should" look like. Or she's a wannabe Taylor Swift except she strums along to folk songs about Bionic Commando.
Oh, and they hate everything! Absolutely everything! A game could come down from the heavens and be the greatest experience in the history of anything and come with two flawless beauties as a preorder bonus, and still, these puds would find something to hate. "Sure, the included woman gave me head on cue. Her tongue controlled competently, I guess, but would it have killed her to be a wee bit less sloppy with the whole spot of business? Back when LucasArts was making point-and-click adventure games, I met this girl who gave amazing head, it's the sort of thing you can't get anymore. Crazy dome, dome like you wouldn't even believe. Why can't we get back to that? Gosh I hate everything that's new! Hey, buy a T-shirt and preorder my novel while you're at it!"
And this, more or less, is what passes for game journalism and criticism these days, dear videogame aficionados; this is what passes for "progress". Twenty years ago we had Johnny Wilson and Julian Rignall; now we have these guys. Aint progress just grand?