You MUST Be Good At Video Games To Cover Them

Just when I thought the mainstream games media couldn’t get any more stupid, they go ahead and pull this one on me

1 February 2018

Now here’s an issue I never thought we’d need to be discussing, nonetheless debating. While the instigating story itself is quite old—a tech and games journalist of 25 years finding it hard to complete a game tutorial—the resulting topic shows just how out of touch games journalists are with the people they’re supposed to be informing and entertaining.

You know it’s bad when we can’t even count on critics and commentators to be experts in their field. I’m not asking for all game reviewers to suddenly become e-sport superstars. I’m not being unreasonable. But as gamers and consumers of video game content, we need to set some standards.

Despite the ridiculous oxymoron of ‘professional video game critics don’t have to be good at video games,’ statements in that same vein have been presented by those on the other side of the argument.

A popular defence involves the comparison of different industries and their critics, as one writer at IGN states, ‘football announcers don’t need to be pro football players’ and ‘restaurant reviewers don’t need to be professional chefs.’ This is plainly dishonest. Technically correct, although designed to mislead.

Ignoring the fact that sports commentators are often former players, and chefs famously hate amateur food reviewers, the comparison of video games to other mediums is not in the least bit apt.

For one, watching sport and eating food require no skill to enjoy. Meanwhile, video games are essentially a test of dexterity and thinking. You can’t ‘lose’ watching football, but you can certainly lose a video game, and as everyone can attest to, losing is not fun. From that alone, it’s easy to see how difficulty and one’s ability to perceive it can have a major impact on their opinions.

In video games, difficulty is a major part of the experience. How can we expect someone to provide insight into a game that may be too hard if they find every game hard? The latest Wolfenstein entry was evaluated as being too difficult even on normal settings. How would someone who is not good at video games to begin with be able to pick that up?

I would hope reviewers of any kind would possess the skills necessary to analyse and cover their art form. This isn’t just needing eyes to watch a film. You need to have knowledge of how movies are made and the principles that may guide a director to success or disaster.

The same applies to video games.

The standard of knowledge may be higher, but it is one that must be reached regardless. Perhaps the reason why many are choosing to forgo this standard, however, is because games journalism is becoming less about information and more about entertainment.

Regardless, there is still an audience for interesting critique and discussion, provided those who discuss know what they’re talking about. As gamers, not all we want are Let’s Plays.

In order to break into games journalism, websites and companies used to inquire about a recruit’s gaming knowledge, but the ultimate question was always, ‘can you write?’ It was assumed that everyone who applied for a job in gaming was a passionate and adept gamer.

Nowadays, though, the real question is ‘you can write, but can you game?’ The standard for a games journalist is lower than ever. The term simply loses all of its meaning once we remove the most vital aspect of the profession—expertise.

The real loser in all of this is neither the gamer nor the journalist, but the developer.

I can’t help but feel sorry for the teams and individuals who work tirelessly on projects only to see them previewed and covered by hacks who don’t know what they’re doing, such as the writer who previewed 2009’s Uncharted 2 thinking it was 2016’s Uncharted 4, calling the title ‘familiar.’

No wonder.

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