Why Games Journalism Is In Much Better Shape Than You Think

In a past life, David ‘Raygun Brown’ Rayfield was a music journalist. Nowadays he writes about video games. In the wake of Dorito Gate, and an inordinate amount of introspection, he takes a look at the differences between games reporting and music journalism. You might be a little surprised at the differences.

It’s a little childish to hold a grudge against Method Man but on some unconscious level, I still do. Three times in a row, the former Wu-Tang Clan member cancelled an interview I had scheduled with him. Well, he didn’t cancel it. His PR people did. Every time, it was all very last minute. I understood he was a busy man but it was getting rather frustrating. He was touring at the time, possibly with Redman, I don’t quite remember. I shuffled around my life at the drop of a hat every time I received a call and was told he was ready to be interviewed within a few hours. Alas, I didn’t secure the interview and eventually managed to squeeze a reason out of his PR people afterwards. I’m paraphrasing here so my apologies if I remember this incorrectly but the interviews kept getting cancelled because Method Man was “stoned out of his fucking mind”. In retrospect, I guess I shouldn’t have been surprised.

For the most part, my time writing in the field of music journalism was rewarding and fun. As a contributor and part-time deputy editor for a music street-press magazine here in Brisbane, I met tons of great people, travelled, covered countless live shows and on the whole, helped shaped me as the starving writer I am today. Sonic Youth were extremely friendly, Simon from Basement Jaxx didn’t bite my head off when I mistakenly called him Felix and the boys from Kasabian bought me a drink over our shared dislike for My Chemical Romance. I learned a lot and wouldn’t have changed it for the world. Even though the music industry was incredibly self-important and filled to the brim with people who thought they were changing the world, I still consider it a rewarding time in my life.

But in over five years, not once did I hear anyone take issue with the state of music journalism as a concept. Not another writer, editor, musician, publicist, event coordinator either here or overseas ever said to me that they believed music journalism was ‘broken’. Not once. Despite regurgitating PR email after PR email and being slaves to the advertising dollar for our very survival, there were never any cries of corruption or bias from any corner of our industry. Sure, musicians and PR responded to bad reviews or questionable interviews but our main concerns were:

1. Making damn sure we had our VIP passes for an upcoming music festival.

2. Pretending you actually liked Spiritualized or My Bloody Valentine.

3. Bragging to other music journalists about how some crappy indie band from Brooklyn formed last week and can barely play one song but they’re so amazing and you know the bass player.

These were our worries. Don’t get me wrong, stellar writing and journalists were everywhere but nobody gave a damn about whether an excess of untoward influence ran through music journalism. No constant rage or mocking of other publications and how they weren’t keeping up to some invisible standard of a Lester Bangs or a Mark Jacobson. There were no regular columns or articles discussing music journalism and what can be done to improve it.

Complaining about trying to make that four hundred word interview somehow seem coherent because Red Bull marketing takes up three quarters of the page? Who cares? I wrote it, so just pay me my money and give me that sweet Batman Begins jacket and Radiohead tour poster while you’re at it. When it came to the actual practice of music journalism, nobody spent too much time thinking about it. True, I wasn’t editor of Rolling Stone or NME but in five years, it stands to reason I would have at least heard about such a thing happening somewhere.

Games journalism seems to be a different beast. It has come a long way from the mainstream media discussing games with sentences like “Games have come a long way since (insert obsolete video game here)” but it still struggles for legitimacy outside of the world it lives in. Ironically, this doesn’t seem to hold it back. Whereas the music industry thrives on growth-crippling cliques and self-obsession, the games industry (whether press, PR, developers or fans) is inherently global. Everyone just naturally pays attention to everyone else. And despite all the constant criticism, this watchful attitude is strangely healthy. ‘Keep the bastards honest’, to quote a former Australian politician.

Most of the accusations against games press are exaggerated and sometimes insane but if there’s even a hint of impropriety these days, it is immediately clamped down upon and laid bare in gruesome detail. No other form of journalism, from music to sport to political to imbedded war reporting, has the kind of ravenous wolves scratching at the door like this one. They are always there, hungry for more evidence of wrongdoing. You think the slightest dip in writing quality or a random misspoken comment on Twitter will slip through their net? You better think again. They make sure nothing gets past. Their instantaneous nature brings these ‘issues’ to light and breaks them down under a microscope. If they smell the faint whiff that you were somehow influenced by a publisher or you’re ‘trolling for hits’, then you might as well be on trial for murder. Because the Internet is representing for the prosecution and your past deeds will be exposed for everyone to see. We shouldn’t exactly thank them, but the state of games media isn’t in the dark hole everybody seems to think it is either. And it’s because everyone involved won’t allow it.

Nothing like this existed during my time in music journalism. True, I mostly wrote for a print magazine but the feedback was always there. In the space of half a decade, it would make sense that even a vague notion of this same deranged authority would present itself. But it never did.

Here’s a small example of how different the two worlds are. During the time I was covering such events, Boy George came to town to DJ in one of those multi-million dollar super-nightclubs. That night, any media or VIPs that went anywhere near him was given a strict set of instructions by his PR team. One of these rules was ‘Unless he is talking to you, don’t look him in the eyes’. If he didn’t ask you to get him a towel or a drink, it was forbidden to make eye contact. I’m dead serious. I wasn’t up to speed on what the consequences were if such a rule was broken, but that’s beside the point.

Can you imagine if anyone in the video game industry had such a stipulation? Their reputation would be in ruins and they would become a laughing stock. Half a dozen articles across many different sites would be written about what this means for the industry and whatever game or site they were connected to would be shredded to pieces and a hundred career-ending memes would be created within the hour. In the music industry however, it was laughed off as yet another example of a prima donna, celebrity attitude and forgotten in a haze of free booze, dancing and “ooh, is that the guy from The Presets?”.

The general consensus seems to be that games journalism is ‘broken’. When compared to any other field of journalism, this criticism has been blown out of proportion to a staggering degree. If you say it’s broken enough times, then maybe you might start to convince yourself and others that it’s true. Like telling everyone a new Syphon Filter game will be totally awesome or repeating the word ‘Candyman’ three times while looking in a mirror. In reality, this just isn’t the case.

Games journalism is perfectly fine. It’s safe and sound because we have our own twisted police force protecting it. On some macabre level, all the nutcases who cry foul of games journalists being influenced on a game review by giving it a 7 instead of a 9 or yelling from the highest rooftop that all games journalism is recycled PR, help to highlight the fact that nobody can hide. Anything that they might deem to be anything less than in-depth, solid and groundbreaking games journalism is studied and analyzed as if it were a treasure map leading to a pot of Mountain Dew. There’s no chance of the industry press getting worse because anything that’s even slightly questionable gets stopped in its tracks and torn apart in excruciating detail. Game journalism as it is today can only get better because it picks up after itself like a drunken yet responsible maid of honour at a wedding.

So maybe you shouldn’t worry so much about that less than glowing review or a guy sitting next to a bag of Doritos. Because when you step back from it all, everything seems ludicrous. It’s okay to think twice about raging about a writer not meeting a level of quality that some other writer displayed last week. Hundreds of other people will take care of that for you.

And yet, I still think Method Man is a bit of a ponce. I guess games journalism can’t fix everything.

You can (and should) follow David Rayfield on Twitter. He blogs at Preparations For Birth.

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