Journalists in video games are as diverse and wide ranging as journalists in the real world. Some are action reporters, others prefer to sit down with their subjects and chat. The common thread that ties them all together is their search for the truth. This truth depends on their skills as an observer and actions as a reporter. Good journalism in video games is about how a character develop a story. And there are a few characters here who have epic stories to tell.
1. Jade – Beyond Good and Evil: GC, PC, PS2, Xbox: 2003
With a laundry list of good deeds, Jade from Beyond Good and Evil is a real action reporter. With the IRIS Network and under the pen name "Shauni", Jade infiltrates and exposes the Alpha Section–the so called protectors of Hillys–as a corrupt military organisation bent on world domination. Now that's a scoop. What distinguishes Jade is the diversity in which she uses journalism to help save Hillys. Altruism comes in many forms. You can promote the preservation of ecological zones, support a local orphanage or defend the planet from alien invasion. With her camera, Jade exposes lies told by a corrupt military regime and reveals the hidden plot to take over the world.
It helps to be able to kick a little arse when you're a journalist. Though her interviewees might be a little more intimidated than cooperative, Jade isn't looking for a peaceful solution to save Hillys from its fate. She uses revolutionary journalism as a weapon to fight the Alpha Section. Jade is an action reporter who constantly throws herself into dangerous and life threatening situations. Sometimes you might even forget that she's actually a journalist. With her camera she categorizes the planet's wildlife for future preservation, she finds evidence of the Alpha Section's involvement with extraterrestrial life, the DomZ, and she exposes the truth to the people of Hillys. Journalists in video games often strive towards finding a definite truth in their reality. Through her investigation, Jade finds out the truth of her existence and why she kicks so much arse.
Without spoiling her secret it involves a prophecy, her pen name and the colour green. Jade finds a larger than life story for IRIS Network, and in the process she finds a personal truth. Journalism isn't always about making headlines or getting onto the front page, for some video game journalists and real life journalists it's about exploring the self. There always has to be a motivation for a journalist. Jade's past is obscured and we only know so much about her character. There's always an exploratory impetus for good journalism and in-depth stories. Jade is a damn fine journalist, and she'll go to any lengths to find the truth even if it takes her into space and beyond. And back here on Earth another journalist is looking for his true identity.
2. Rex Chance – Impossible Creatures: PC: 2002
Rex Chance has what is, possibly, the best name of all video game journalists. He's a former wartime correspondent who worked during the Spanish Civil War. And in 1936, when fascists attacked a local village, he tried to save a child only to see him die. Disgruntled and disillusioned, he returned home only to be fired from the news agency. A few years later, Rex received a letter from his estranged father Dr Eric Chanicov. His father had gone missing several years earlier, and in the letter he revealed that his research was being used in the development of Sigma technology. Rex puts on his protagonist boots and war reporter gear and heads out to Isla Variatas, a remote set of islands in the South Pacific.
Rex is also a hybrid semi-creature half-human who has the power to control animals. The game is old, so I can spoil some of the plot on this one. Sigma technology has allowed scientists, like Dr Chanicov and Upton Julius, to combine creatures and creature more powerful hybrid specimens. Rex just so happens to be the first cross between an animal and a human being. He represents a newer and stronger form of the human species. His awesome name is just an added bonus. Now he has to fight for his life and find out the secret behind his existence.
Rex takes to his leadership role pretty quick. As an international journalist; he's seen his fair share of war, blood and fighting. Most couldn't go from taking a cruise to commanding a legion of half-wolverine half-crocodile mutants in one day. However, the intensity of warfare can really affect a journalist's outlook on life. Ernest Hemingway was a foreign correspondent during the Spanish Civil War. After he returned, he wrote For Whom the Bell Tolls, a powerful story about an American demo man sent to destroy a bridge. Now, Hemingway wasn't a genetically created human being. He was just a journalist, but his retelling of the Spanish Civil War provides some insight into the intensity of warfare and how it can change you as a person. When it comes down to it, Rex is pretty hardened and he brings that to his journalism.
Throughout the game we learn about Rex's past from his journal. He is constantly writing and detailing his journey with Dr. Lucy Willing. He shows his skills as a leader, a technician and a fighter. You have to wonder, why did Rex get into journalism? It could just be that he has good instincts for danger and his dormant animalistic traits make him more aware of his surroundings. Or it could be that he is obsessed with finding the true nature of his existence. Journalism in video games is often used as a means of finding personal truths. Investigations are used as a vehicle to drive a journalist towards the truth. Rex receives a letter from his father and investigates the true nature of his existence. Impossible Creatures left players on a huge cliff hanger and I think this game definitely needs a revisit. And speaking of sequels.
3. Reuben Oluwagembi – Far Cry 2: PC, PS3 and Xbox 360: 2008
Far Cry 2 was a huge departure in the series. Jack Carver disappeared and the player was given the choice of 12 unique, yet silent, characters. The game's plot can be surmised in just one statement: Find and kill The Jackal. This notorious arms dealer has armed the Alliance for Popular Resistance (APR) and the United Front for Liberation (UFL), and it's your job to track him down and eliminate him. It's a real virtual adaptation of Joseph Conrad's Heart of Darkness and Francis Ford Coppola's Apocalypse Now. The problem for you is that the Jackal is like Nietzsche spouting ghost or a spectre, and there are others looking for him.
Reuben Oluwagembi is a journalist looking for the Jackal. Your interaction with Reuben in Far Cry 2 is limited as your character doesn't really have a voice. He wants to expose the illegal arms trade in the small nation and he asks you at the beginning of the game to look for the Jackal's tapes-small bite-sized recordings that have been spread all over the country. The Jackal touts his overman philosophy and believes he has gone beyond the bounds of morality, but that doesn't mean he condones the brutal level of violence in the small nation. The player kills a lot of people. Essentially, we become apart of the bloody cycle of this trade and you go up against mercenaries who are armed to the teeth. It's easy enough for you to dole back the punishment, but Reuben is just a journalist and he isn't the protagonist.
A majority of the journalists on this list can either defend themselves or have the miraculous ability to dodge bullets with ease. Reuben is only human and he's looking to write a story. The Jackal, is inaccessible to anyone else other than another mercenary. He can't go out by himself and go looking because he'll get killed. In one mission, Reuben asks you to rescue a number of journalists that had been captured. They were to be executed or deported from the country, and if you did everything right that won't happen. It's important to him that this story is told and that the world is made aware of the chaos the arms dealing trade has created in this small country. As an observer, Reuben becomes an objective voice on this conflict that you are trapped within. His observations as a journalist form an empathic bridge for the player exposing the true nature of the game's violence. The saddest part of all of this is that Reuben's story was ignored by the international press. He plans to publish his story on his blog.
4. Frank West – Dead Rising: Xbox 360: 2006
Looking for a scoop on what he thought was a riot, Frank West goes to Willamette, Colorado and finds himself in the middle of a zombie infestation. With no other journalists in sight he has an inside scoop on a story the government is trying to cover up. He has the ultimate exclusive. Unlike Rex above, Frank's intervention and interference in the situation goes beyond his role as a journalist. In order to survive, he has to wait 72 hours until Ed Deluca, his chartered helicopter pilot, returns to save him and his scoop. Frank initially goes into this situation looking for a story, but it evolves into something much deadlier. Frank is really more of an action hero than a photo journalist, and zombie smashing has to go against some part of the journalism code of ethics. Hell with it this game is about causing undead mayhem and saving lives. Frank is one of the toughest video game journalists ever, he knows how to knock out a zombie and take a fantastic photograph.
Frank has reported on wars and shows his skills as a natural leader. And in a time of crisis, like a zombie infestation, having someone who knows what to do and where to go-the roof in this case-is essential to survival. Think of Dead Rising as George A. Romero's Dawn of the Dead simply with a journalist instead of two cops, a flyboy and a lady. The fun and the danger are both there, but the atmosphere changes with the character's vocations. Journalists don't get in the way of their stories. They aren't supposed to get involved and start bashing heads at a riot. In a video game, where's the fun in just being an observer. Sometimes you just want to be involved in what is going on around you. Yet, Frank finds himself up against a greater opponent.
He's going up against the zombie invasion and a mass government conspiracy to cover up this incident. Dead Rising has six endings. Some end with Frank escaping to tell his tale of zombies, victims and survival. One ends with him being kidnapped by government forces leaving his fate unknown. Another has the zombie infestation going nationwide affecting the whole of the United States. In Tatsunoko versus Capcom we see Frank standing by some lockers with his co-workers. So maybe his story was told, but as we've seen in the trailers for Dead Rising 2 the zombie infestation has spread. And he isn't the only journalist who's had to deal with the undead.
5. Joseph Schriber – Silent Hill 4: The Room: PC, PS2, Xbox: 2004
An in-depth investigation into a serial killer and the occult sounds interesting. Who wouldn't want an interesting subject like Walter Sullivan? Joseph Schriber is an investigative reporter who led an exposé into The Order, a cult running the Wish House, an orphanage in Silent Hill. As a fan of the survival horror genre, you know when "Silent Hill", "orphanage" and "cult" are all in the same sentence that you might just want to stay home. As a journalist, well that's another story.
Joseph Schriber lived in room 302 in South Ashfield Heights, an apartment complex in a small town not too far from Silent Hill. We learn of his fate from a small diary that's passed under Henry Townshend's door. His diary reveals that Walter Sullivan is more than just an ordinary killer. His investigation revealed that Walter had committed suicide in prison and his body disappeared. Joseph went one step further and dug up Walter's grave only to find his body gone and the numbers 11/21 marked in the empty coffin. Those numbers represent the 21 murders Walter has to commit in order to revive his mother who has been manifested in his psyche. It's a long story. The interesting part of all this is Joseph was able to decipher all of this and The Order's influence over Walter. His diary's red pages help Henry defeat Walter and return some order to Ashfield Heights.
Going overseas for a story is a typical endeavour for a journalist. International reporters travel to every end of the Earth looking for stories. Joseph Schreiber travelled into Walter Sullivan's psyche to find his story. He literally went into Walter's "Other Worlds". Joseph even returns from the afterlife as a spirit to help guide Henry, now that's dedication to your craft. What's more none of the analysis of the game or the development of the mythos could have occurred without his investigation. Joseph Schriber found himself an amazing subject for an unprecedented investigative report. Yet there are other serial killers out there terrorising the media with their myths.
6. Nolan Campbell – Clock Tower: PS 1996
What's up with video game journalists and serial killers? It's like they have a death wish. Nolan Campbell is a relatively young reporter for the Oslo Week Newspaper and he's embroiled in the murderous plot of the Scissor Man. Unlike some of the other journalists here, Nolan is a little bit of a bad one. I can respect that he's looking for a scoop and the Scissor Man, but it's more than a little strange to romantically hound Jennifer, a 15-year-old and clearly disturbed individual. Still with his cameraman Tim, the two make a formidable team and manage-if you play your cards right-to help defeat the Scissor Man. Finding images of Nolan is next to impossible, so here's a photo of director Christopher Nolan and B movie star Bruce Campbell.
What distinguishes Nolan from the other journalists-so far-is that he's just a third-rate writer looking for a story. He has no grand altruistic vision driving him towards protecting Jennifer and defeating the Scissor Man. He's just in the wrong place at the journalistically right time. He's just a little more unscrupulous than some of the other characters on this list. There are certain boundaries that you have to abide by when writing a story. No making up names, avoid misquotes like the Scissor Man and use the utmost discretion when approaching a subject. Nolan and Tim investigate the Scissor Man myth and find themselves in the middle of a tense situation. In a few scenarios they survive and in others they end up either roasted in a fireplace or shoved into a wine barrel. That's a morbid fate for two reporters looking a big scoop. However, like most of the journalists on this list Nolan and Tim have ultimately redeemable characteristics and traits.
In a few of the game's scenarios, Nolan actually helps Jennifer defeat the Scissor Man. In one ending, he distracts the large-fulcrum wielding maniac until she casts a sealing spell. He redeems himself a little and managed to make himself out as a good journalist. As far as I know, Nolan never actually published his story about the Scissor Man and his ordeal. Well, he's more than just a sleazebag asking Jennifer out on a date just to derive some "truth" out of his investigation. He is searching for the truth and though he may have some odd mannerisms and off putting characteristics, he is a journalist in search of a story. He finds it, but there are things worse than serial killers out there.
7. Rick Henderson – Hitman: Blood Money: PC, PS2, Xbox 360: 2006
A journalist can work his or her entire life towards getting one good story, and that scoop of the century seldom comes looking for us. Rick Henderson is a journalist with the First Edition, a newspaper dealing with both international and national affairs. In Hitman: Blood Money, he's lured to Alexander Leland Cayne's estate assuming the former Pentagon director wants to talk about the attack on the White House or his plans for retirement. What Rick found was the story of a lifetime. Alex had the Hitman.
The Hitman is like a myth, a ghoul or goblin made up to scare politicians and the world's corrupt into being good. He's really the result of a cloning experiment designed around creating the perfect human being. He was made from the genes of four of his previous targets (Lee Hong, Pablo Ochoa, Franz Fuchs, and Arkadij Jegorov) and some from his creator Professor Ort-Meyer. The nature over nurture problem comes into existence, he kills the Professor, ending the production of Hitman 48's, and Hitman 47 mystifies himself as the International Contract Agency's deadliest assassin. Rick stares, mouth open as Alex tells him all this. In journalism this is called a "Get". Fortunately and the unfortunately for Rick, this "Get" gets him killed.
Rick's last words are, "Your secret is safe with me! I swear to God, I won't tell a soul!" Now, he knows, Hitman knows and I know that any journalist worth his salt would go right to printers with this kind of story. With the overwhelming evidence at the scene and the evidence produced by Alex, Rick could easily account for the hundreds of unaccounted murders and assassinations that have taken place over the last twenty years! Now this-as Alex comments early in the game-is the type of "good journalism" Rick is known for. Unfortunately for him, his story is left unpublished and he ends up as another casualty of the Hitman. Hmm… but he did have his recorder with him and even the best clean up teams can be sloppy sometimes. This is truly the mark of a good journalist.
8. Lotta Hart – Pheonix Wright: Ace Attorney: GBA 2001, Ace Attorney Series
How does one describe Lotta Hart? Born in the Heart of the Heartland, Lotta is a hot blooded, Osaka accented-akin to a Southern accent in the United States- photographer whose first claim to fame involved a UFO and a wedding. She's steeped in the paranormal and has been heavily involved in Pheonix Wright's case file. She's kind of annoying and has a penchant for getting into "a lotta" trouble, but she's a damn fine photographer and she has a huge fro to boot.
As a journalist, Lotta leaves a lotta to be desired. Okay enough with the puns. She's a photographic journalist who lives by a strict journalistic ideology. If she has a source, evidence or an insight into a case; she'll protect it no matter what. That's professional, but it makes things difficult for Pheonix. In Justice for All, she becomes a key witness in two different murders. In the first case, Maya Fey had been accused of murder after she had channelled a dead spirit. In the second case Juan Corrida, a television superstar, had been murdered and Lotta's photographs become key pieces of evidence in the case. The problem is she needs to be coaxed into giving testimony.
Journalism is about helping people, defeating tyranny and finding the truth. That's the ideal. Sometimes journalism can be just about finding that scoop or that claim to fame. Lotta is a good journalist and photographer, but when someone's life is in danger c'mon, just C'MON! Especially when it's a friend like Maya. Still, any journalist can respect the protection of sources and information. Just when it's a life or death situation you might want to rethink your ideology, especially when Franchizka von Karma pops out the whip.
9. Frederick Lancaster – Front Misson: SNES 1995, Wonder Swan Colour 2002 and DS 2007
How many journalists can claim to be an accomplished Wanzer pilot? Frederick Lancaster is an Oceania Community Union war reporter who joins the Carrion Crows, a crack team of mercenaries hired to combat the United States of the New Continent. Huffman Island becomes the focal point of the OCU and the USN's conflict, and he's right in the thick of it. Lancaster's really not much of a fighter, but he's quite a journalist and he has a giant mech! Imagine the interview you could get. You could literally pull people into interview and meetings. But he's just there as a reporter and as an observer, and the only pulling Frederick does is info out of the Carrion Crows, and he has quite a beat.
War reporting and video game journalism make a good combination. It means that a character like Frederick can fight for his life and keep his wits about him. Combat in Front Mission is visceral. Wanzers, derived from German "Wanzer Panzer" meaning "walking tank", are giant duelling mechs that can battle over any terrain. Fredick isn't an accomplished pilot, but travelling with the Crows means that he has to know how to defend himself, properly pilot a giant mechanical tank, travel light with a constantly moving caravan of soldiers and learn how to maintain his machine. Most journalists I know have trouble waking up in the morning. Frederick Lancaster is tough stuff.
Admittedly, Frederick is one of the worst pilots you can have on your team. He's weak and the only skill he excels at is the "Evade" skill, which is kind of funny and rather apt. Journalists in war zones have a tendency dodge bullets, but not always. Journalism is a dangerous career choice, especially during times of war. Frederick is quite a journalist and he makes an appearance in Front Mission 4, seasoned and still reporting. One thing about his character that can be deceiving is his stance with the OCU. He fought with the Carrion Crows, not because he wanted to defeat the USN, but because he saw a story in the mercenaries. Journalists are supposed to objectively observe their surroundings and write stories. The change they create comes after and from the reactions of his or her audience.
Journalism in video games is used as a tool to help characters develop their stories. Whether it's Frank West beating down some zombies or Jade revealing a large extraterrestrial conspiracy, journalists seek the truth so audiences can get a bigger picture of the world around them. That's really what journalism is all about. Each of these characters has a story and we become their audience.
There are a few more video game journalists out there still. Heavy Rain's Madison Paige and Uncharted's Elena Fisher are two, and the crews from Siren: Blood Curse and Michigan: Report From Hell. Leave a comment and let me know if there are any that I missed.
Republished from Level Forty-Two with permission.
Matthew O'Mara is a journalist, feature writer and game enthusiast living in Toronto, ON. He started writing about video games after seeing Geoff Keighley defend Mass Effect on live television. He was inspired to help end the stigma that has been placed on this emerging art form. He currently writes for LevelFortyTwo.com.