It arrived on my desk almost three years ago. Sealed in shrink-wrap, protected by packing peanuts, boxed in brown cardboard, it was never meant to be played. No writer in the building wanted to go near it, no reviewer wanted to play it. As I was about to put it in the communal freebie box, the figurative fly swat of the universe came down on my brain to stop me. I put the game in my bag and took it home.
The general consensus among those who know quite a few things and those who know absolutely nothing is Imagine Journalist (or Imagine Reporter as it is known in the US) is an objectively bad game. It has been described as vapid, dull, and repetitive. In his review of the game back in 2009, Gizmodo AU’s current editor, Alex Kidman, called the game “rubbish” and “shoddily put together”. When he let his seven year old daughter try it, she politely gave it back after 20 minutes before curling up like a small cat to nap away the sadness.
As sloppy as the game looked before I’d even played it, I took it home, put it in my DS, and gave it a chance.
Why I Played It
The Imagine series is what it is. Name a profession, a pseudo-profession, or a flavour of Gummi Bear and there is probably an Imagine game for it. That the series decided to make a game about journalism shouldn’t mean anything, but for this journalist, it means something. It means so much that three years on, I still have the game and I still think about it.
I think about it because I am critical, and I am critical because I care. As someone with few interests, my work is the centre of my universe and Imagine Journalist strikes where I am weakest – that squishy part of me that cares about journalism (no chubby jokes please). While playing the game I am unsure whether to laugh or cry. The game’s depiction of journalism is about as accurate as a drawing of the human body done by a child who barely passed the safety scissor test – it’s inaccurate, but there’s enough there that you wouldn’t mistake it for a walrus.
I am sure that if Imagine Orthoptist came out there would be a legion of eyeball doctors playing the game against their better judgment and finding themselves in my position: this game is so bad, it’s so wrong, but it’s about something that matters so much to me that I can’t help but pick it up and be critical of it. I want to ignore it, but I can’t help but be critical of it because I care. I should let it go — it is driving me a bit mad.
Where It Goes Wrong
The game tells me it will teach me how to get a scoop.
“A scoop!” I think to myself excitedly. “Tell me more about how one gets a scoop in a video game!”
The resulting task requires me to ride my in-game push-bike around town to collect stars on the road, with each star representing a “scoop”.
The game then tries to teach me how to interview someone.
“Interviewing!” I exclaim to no one in particular. “Interviewing is a thing I often do!” I am curious to see how it works in a video game.
A woman appears on the screen and speech bubbles fade in and out. Tapping on a speech bubble before it fades out is how one “captures the words”. This is how we interview.
The game teaches me to take notes. A dialogue box appears and I have to write down all text coloured in red. Once the dialogue box disappears, I need to rely on my notes to answer a short multiple choice quiz. Subjects covered include famous people, store openings, and famous people attending store openings. True facts.
At some point I am assigned an “investigation”. This job requires me to use my stylus to dust away a white screen to reveal where the interviewee is standing. It’s a bit like a Where’s Wally scratchy, but not interesting.
At the end of each task, I am told that “I did it!”
I Can Only Conclude That I Have A Problem
This is a game that was never intended for me. I am far outside the target demographic: too old, too much of a sociopath and, arguably, too clever. But even if I was within that demographic like Alex’s daughter, I wonder if it would be any better. My guess is no. At its core Imagine Journalist is the most unimaginative of games. It’s lazy, it’s poorly-designed, and it looks and sounds dull. It’s the kind of game you hope to fail so that others like it never get made. I really want it to fail. But I’m the chump who played it, photographed it, and I’ve now written about it... so I guess it wins this time.