Wearing The Dress: Game Journo-Thusiasts & You!
The following rant was presented in front of the IGDA Toronto chapter and the collected assemblage of Toronto’s video game community.
Right. So before you ask, yes; this is me, wearing a dress. Before you ask why, it was for a contest to win a copy of the game Fat Princess. Which I won. The question is, why did I decide to show this picture to a room full of strangers? As a person who might be described as a “video games journalist”, why would I decide to embarrass myself in front of hundreds of potential networking opportunities? Why show them the dress, David? Why?
I’ll get to that. First, let me just address this “journalist” thing. I think I’m representative of a lot of folks who describe themselves as “video game journalists.” Why yes, I am doing air quotes whenever I say the “J” word. There’s a reason for that. Let me describe my typical activities as a “journo”. It starts when I receive one of two things in my inbox: 1) a press release, or 2) a game. Press releases are fun because they basically convert me into an extension of the PR process. I can either choose to post it as-is, paraphrase it with interjections of my own thoughts and comparisons, or ignore it. With a game, I play it and express my opinions on it in a review. While I try to be as comprehensive as possible, I am still essentially providing a consumer cost-value analysis: whether or not the product is worth the financial investment. Neither of these activities are inherently journalistic. I might engage in a small bit of research, if that’s what you call Google & Wikipedia, and occasionally an interview might occur in an attempt to find an actual story. And yet, there are many individuals out there engaging in the very same activities who refer to themselves as video games journalists.
Let’s face it, anyone with basic WordPress skills can conjure up a gaming news website. Anyone who can formulate an opinion can fancy themselves a Reviews Editor. Anyone with a Rock Band microphone can record a podcast. Anyone who can pitch themselves to a PR rep can start receiving press releases. But I, and many like me, are not journalists. We are wearing the dress: all gussied up, looking pretty as you please, so that we might earn a proverbial piece of cake from the makers of the video games we so love.
This might seem like a very cynical opinion, and in some ways it is. I choose not to be the kind of journalist that digs deep, asks the hard-hitting questions, and uncovers uncomfortable truth. Doing so risks angering those who provide me with information, denying me the sweet, sweet teat upon which I currently suckle. They say that journalists shouldn’t make friends so that they might remain at an objective distance. By now, I have probably already tried to befriend at least half of you. So what do you call a “journalist” who is actually a hardcore fan of his chosen subject?
You call him an enthusiast.
It might sound like I’m being negative about what I do, but really, I’m not. Once we get rid of the baggage of “the J word”, we can stop focusing on what we’re not and take advantage of what we are. Despite it’s capacity for artistic expression, the video games industry is still, ostensibly, an entertainment industry. It’s not a place where hard-hitting journalism is really required. I strive for high quality writing; I strive for professional production values in my work; I refrain from reporting rumour as truth; I fact-check as much as possible. I play a game to completion before composing a review. I avoid misleading headlines and pandering for click-throughs; I am uninfluenced by those paying for ad space. None of these things make me a journalist; rather, they make me an enthusiast media participant with a high set of standards.
The relationship between you and the so-called games media is only odd when either side fails to recognize what most of us actually are: enthusiasts and fans with an audience and venues of expression. There’s nothing wrong with this relationship. So I might just be an extension of the PR process. So what? I relish the opportunity to tell my audience about games they really ought to check out. I’m more than happy to be wearing that dress. And let’s be honest… I make that dress look GOOD.