I covered E3 exclusively for Village Voice Media's Joystick Division blog. I missed covering the whole thing for G4TV, as my services had already been promised to JoyDiv by the time I heard from G4 about working the show, but I'm glad I didn't jump ship just for the bigger paycheck. I doubt I would have been able to write the sort of things I wrote for JoyDiv for G4, and I certainly wouldn't have had my choice of assignments. And there was one final benefit I'll get to at the end of this post.
So, here's what I did for JoyDiv:
I questioned the proliferation of ideas around the solid core of Dead Island, the worthiness of yet another Aliens game, the wisdom of putting a Star Wars motion title on an inaccurate motion-control system, and whether Battlefield 3 is a titch too "realistic."
I challenged the idea that Warhammer 40:000: Space Marine is a Gears of War clone, and did an impromptu interview about how EA Sports's FIFA 12 has really deep connections to professional soccer players that denote the quality of its simulation.
But my favorite piece of the show was my preview of Bioshock Infinite. Rarely do I see anything in a video game which makes me feel passionate about gaming. The Infinite demo was inspiring and refreshing. I had no choice but to go straight back to the hotel and write this piece up after seeing the demo, and the passion behind the writing must have had something to do with the piece hitting the front page of Digg. I wish more games gave me such material to write about!
Reading some of the comments on that Digg piece is funny. People thought I was kissing ass when I was writing some of the most heartfelt, honest games editorial I've written yet. I wonder sometimes how many gamers are really open to the idea of feeling something other than a sense of amusement when they play a video game. One would have to take that step first before then understanding just how rarely we're given anything to feel deeply about in video games.
Even with my goal of not writing marketing copy while I covered the show, it's impossible to write up E3 without working for marketing in one way or another. There's no such thing as bad press, and all that. And I had a stark reminder of the consumer function of my new vocation a few days ago.
On Tuesday I received an email from Jim Redner of The Redner Group, a PR firm that had been handling public relations for publisher 2K Games, including the 2K title Borderlands in 2009. Mr. Redner had emailed to ask me if I was interesting in reviewing Duke Nukem Forever, and that he had Steam codes and PS3 copies available.
I was shocked. The reviews were already hitting the web by this point. Surely there was naught more than additional damage to be done by further reviews!
The email was addressed “Hey Dennis” which, by the rules of my reality that exists mostly outside the confines of consumer-facing games journalism, implied that the email was actually sent to me. I was a little offended at the idea that I would have been sought out specifically and ostensibly as a target for a positive DNF review, after all I had read about the game’s “rape level.”
Not that I expected Redner to have looked up anything I’d written before, but I’m a feminist ally who was quite loud about it during the height of the Dickwolves controversy prior to PAX East 2011. How could I possibly have had anything positive to say about Duke Nukem Forever?
I found out later that PR people have tools which allow them to automatically fill in a recipient’s first name on mass emails BCC:’ed to a whole bunch of people, and I became aware of falling just a little further down the games journalism rabbit hole. One step closer to being a proper cog in the machine of video game development, publishing, and where game journalists step in, i.e. sales. Whether we want to or not. Most of our jobs wouldn’t exist unless people had games to sell, and needed us to spread the word to the prospective consumers.
There’s a lot that goes on under the hood of video games journalism that the average consumer of said press never gets to see. I love talking inside baseball specifically because not many other people do. To veterans of the games journalism industry, I assume it’s either boring subject matter or they’ve made their peace with the realities of their careers, and don’t want to revel in the awfulness, but gamers are done a service if those of us in the press shed light on the kind of bullshit that we deal with. So I’m glad that Jim Redner’s rage-tweets went public, and shed a light on journo blacklisting practices, even if I simultaneously feel bad for Jim Redner at the same time.
And that leads me to the best part of having stuck by my guns and covering E3 for Joystick Division instead of jumping at the chance for a higher-paying but less intellectually-satisfying gig: the First Person column I used to write over on Bitmob has been picked up by JoyDiv, and in my first column, to be published on Saturday, I'll be talking about the relationship between PR companies and bad video game releases.
This column is a very exciting development, as there is already one heavy-hitter games journalist publishing a weekly column on Joystick Division, and there's an exciting announcement coming about some other new additions to the site who are also well-respected writers about games. Let's just say that I am going to have to keep pushing myself to get better, and that's an awesome thing for which I'm humbled and grateful.