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Daily Reaction: Why the Games Industry Needs to Ignore the Mainstream


On today’s Daily Reaction, Seb and Dan discuss the controversial issue of the games industry constantly trying to be accepted by the mainstream media, and whether this desire is a good thing or a bad thing.

Seb: Games have always been seen as the red headed stepchild of the entertainment industry, with movies often seen as works of sublime art, music seen as divine creations and paintings seen as windows into our soul – while games are seen as games.

There has always been a struggle for legitimacy in the games industry, as proponents of the medium try to convince the world that it’s not only about twelve year olds killing prostitutes, when that’s just an aspect of the industry like The Human Centipede or Transformers are aspects of the movie biz. Over on, Warren Spector, of System Shock and Deus Ex fame, talked about the need for our own Roger Ebert.

Equally important, we need everyday, mainstream media to devote space to different kinds of games coverage. Criticism, not just reviews. What comes to mind is the way the NY Times, the Village Voice, The New Yorker and others treat films.

First off, it does irritate me when Spector, and many other developers, criticize the mainstream media for only focusing on big games like Call of Duty, but then only focus on big outlets like IGN when talking about what’s wrong with the “amateur science fiction”-style games media. Many of Spector’s issues with what games journalists don’t do is actually done by less publicized outlets.

But as for whether it would be good if the mainstream gave better and more in-depth coverage of games – of course it would. The thing is, pleading for acceptance isn’t the way to go about it. We shouldn’t have to change our ways to appeal to the mainstream, to be different just to make people who don’t understand the industry feel comfortable.

We should have better games that are more mature, less sexual and that tackle important topics. But we shouldn’t do it to make non-gamers happy, it should be the natural evolution of the industry as it expands.

I’m not going to be ashamed of what I enjoy just because some random guy at the WSJ doesn’t get games. The most ‘mature’ thing is to ignore them and focus on simply making the industry great for greatness’ sake.

Spector says that mainstream media members who aren’t even gamers should cover the topic, but that’s like asking me to review a song in Finnish. You need to be understand what you are writing about to write about it.

As time progresses, it’s becoming harder and harder for the more forward thinking mainstream press to ignore games (in fact they’re joining in on the trolling), with only the backwards conservative outlets still banging the ‘games are the devil’ drum – Fox News in the US, the Daily Mail in the UK.

The media is slowly changing to accept games, we shouldn’t have to change to be accepted.

Dan: I think there are a number of problems that are preventing our industry from getting a ‘Roger Ebert’ or a renowned critic who can piss on things and still get complete access to products early.

Our industry breaks down to a chain of command that is perpetuated by publishers, developers and their PR studios, then is supported fully by the public as they blindly follow the news. When a publication tears apart a game’s artistic value, the industry is fine with it as long as it follows the standard consensus, but if it goes against the grain, the world loses it. There is a perception from the market that all opinions need to be the same, leaving very little room for discussion on creativity and outward thinking.

Sites like IGN, Polygon and GameSpot are known for their uncomfortably close relationships with publishers and their advertisers, which means that directly spitting in the face of someone they go out drinking with can be problematic when it comes to tearing apart a game, even though that is their job.

Games journalism is a flawed system by nature, our audience cares little for the truth, we depend on word of mouth for accuracy of news, and the outside world thinks regurgitating information from an accident report has more credibility than an analytical breakdown of a billion dollar industry.

The other issue that is preventing widespread acceptance of games as art is that most people cannot accept that videogames are a medium of expression much like film. We have our variation on movies like Life of Pi, in games like Journey – a title wrapped in completely astounding visuals with a deeper meaning that flips standard concepts on its head. Sadly, the world simply does not care that Journey is an exploration of basic human nature and communication, as it is simply a pretty game.

This idea that games can be better, but are just being held back due to our overuse of sexuality and violence is also flawed. Human nature is shaped by our sexuality and our ability to commit violence, so it is in those things that we find our own maturity, as we come to terms with our own nature.

The games industry’s reliance on retail chains is slowly diminishing, which could assist with the development of games that explore mature themes, as the market has been under the control of chains like Wal-Mart who have banned the sales of ‘Adult Only’ (AO) titles – basically destroying their financial viability.

Critical analysis of our market does exist, but it is impossible to find a 1:1 correlation to a linear medium like film as our industry is still trying to shake off the shackles that the ignorant masses have placed on it. But it is up to the games media to push the artistic value of a product beyond factors of pixel count and anti-aliasing, while it is up to the gaming audience to stand up and let the world know that they are more than the simpletons that troll message boards looking for attention by any means possible.

What’s your view on the way the world views the media viewing our view of games? Share your simpleton thoughts below, troll us at [email protected] or Spector-take at Seb and Dan.