It’s not uncommon to get a journalist’s perspective – after all, they’re paid to write down their thoughts, feelings and opinions. In the case of most game journalists, their primary task is to let the game-loving public know which titles are worth playing, in what boils down to a glorified “Buy It, Rent It, Skip It” rating scale. But last night on the NYU campus, a few prominent game journalists discussed their craft itself as part of the Game Center lecture series. Stephen Totilo of Kotaku, Leigh Alexander of Gamasutra and Jamin Brophy-Warren of Kill Screen (a new gaming print publication, gasp!) gave their take on a variety of highbrow video game topics like gender, violence and the death of print.
The three industry vets spent a good deal of time discussing the difficult nature of writing for such a niche audience. As Totilo pointed out, games are experienced quite differently than movies, and are thus a lot trickier to cover. Because modern games are both expensive and expansive, a journalist can’t assume readers have a “high gaming literacy.” That is to say, even with an extremely popular game like Modern Warfare 2, a writer can’t take for granted that players have beaten the single player campaign or that they’ve shared the same overall experience. This makes games journalism far more nebulous than film criticism, a field where it’s safe to assume that everyone has viewed the same movie in essentially the same way. It may take a player a few days to beat a game, or that quest may be stretched out over a year. Plus, as gaming becomes increasingly popular, the sheer number of must-play games can overwhelm even a dedicated nerd’s gaming time. Case in point – Totilo Beat 30 games last year, but played over 100. This abundance of games is one of the biggest hurdles for the PR industry.
Another hot topic was the divide between mainstream and enthusiast games press, which has increased steadily in the past years. But as the writers were quick to point out, some the most compelling pieces of prose stem from outlets like the New York Times, who approach their rare game coverage as a Times’ piece first and a gaming piece second. In short, the range of games coverage is as diverse as the quality of the games themselves.
From a PR perspective, the takeaway here is a bit muddy. At TriplePoint our goal is to connect with journalists and secure coverage in a wide variety of outlets, spanning the gap between the fanatically enthusiast and the widest-reaching mainstream press, preferably through a mix of print, web and televised content. We have our work cut out for us, just as these three journalists have a difficult task before them. By keeping the communication lines as open as possible, all parties stand to benefit. But with so many games and just one Leigh Alexander, for instance, it’s vital to stay in tune with her thoughts and opinions via persistent reading and social media monitoring. Because when the day comes when we’re working with an amazing new JRPG, I want her to be the first to know. As Jamin Brophy-Warren, points out, “When it comes to movies I just sit there and watch, but in games I’m the one making things happen.” That’s a very powerful experience – the glue that holds our industry together.