E3 is fast approaching, and that means writing previews. I've therefore been thinking about how best to accomplish the task while maintaining integrity and independence of voice, and not becoming an unofficial arm of publishers' marketing departments.
When I was five years old I decided that the ideas of Santa Claus and God were equally stupid, and professed my disbelief in both. I thus began a life of not holding to illusions. The notion that game previews aren't always tantamount to marketing copy, no matter how we attempt to write them, is too much to swallow. This is not a criticism of video game journalism, however. The editors who run these outlets have an obligation to provide the content their audiences clamor for, and gamers by and large want previews.
Unless a marketing department is so inept that it allows the distribution of preview videos and demos which are undeniably horrible, such that games journalists can trash the game in question without fear of being wrong when the game is released, we're not given a whole lot to work with that doesn't boil down to marketing games for the publishers. Good preview assets are carefully produced to prevent us from taking any other angle on them.
Being a freelancer, I get to wear many different hats on a regular basis, and the more experience I get at doing so, the less the phrase "video game journalist" feels appropriate to me as a catch-all for the work I'm doing. Sometimes I'm an entertainer, sometimes I'm a journalist, and I aspire to be more of a writer.
Over on G4TV's The Feed, I've recently published features on why Call of Duty has remained at the top (of the sales charts), and how Rockstar Games is developing as a studio. The CoD piece was a little obvious. It didn't take too much thought, at least in my mind, to pin down why the series is so successful, so I kept to brass tacks.
The Rockstar Games feature drew off ideas I'm developing for a big, multi-source feature, so I was a little more invested in the piece and it was more thoughtful...but both pieces are still entertainment writing for the most part. There's nothing wrong with that, and I do pride myself on trying to inject some smart content into these sorts of pieces, but they're mostly about amusing the audience.
And both of those pieces are written about stuff I know. I'm a stereotypical "core gamer" in my personal gaming habits. These are franchises and studios I know intimately. In these matters, I really am a subject expert. On the other work I'm doing lately, expertise is not a card I have to play...
Full disclosure: if I have a bias in regards to Brink, it’s in favor of. We’re in the multiplayer FPS doldrums, and Brink was the only hope of giving us an antidote prior to Battlefield 3 this November. The prospect of Brink failing to attract the attention of my gaming buddies, who are the only people I like to game online with, displeases me mightily. If Brink isn’t good I’ll accept that…but I’m not sure whose review to trust because I know how and when these Brink reviews were written.
The game journalists reviewing Brink either played the game at a review event, or received their review copies last week in the mail. The multiplayer matches they played were against each other, or against developers from Splash Damage. In either case they were not playing Brink in the same conditions in which you, the intended audience for these reviews, will be playing the game, which is really the only accurate way to report on the performance of a multiplayer shooter title.
I was originally going to review School 26 for Joystick Division, but a good review, in my mind, depends heavily on perspective. Editors wisely try to assign writers to reviews who are familiar with the relevant genre. Or who have played previous games in the series if the title is a sequel.
How, then, was I meant to review a game meant for pre-teen girls? The idea's kind of ridiculous. All I kept thinking about were the questions I wound up asking Kirsten Forbes from Silicon Sisters, the studio that developed the game. You can read the piece here.