In the meantime, I'm just a guy who writes about videogame theory and how the medium can achieve better cinematic emulation (while keeping its own indentity). Though, if that's too boring, you can always find something delightfully fluffy in the following:
Do you remember when games magazines used to feature readers' drawings of Mario being brutally cut up by Sonic wielding a chainsaw or Yoshi biting the head off a perpetually shocked Tails? Yeah, we all laughed at that crap; more so for the jagged red lines that spurted illogically out of Mario’s backside than the actual violence on display. It was completely messed up to see Sonic being strung up by his balls and being disembowelled by an off-model (and dead-eyed) Mario, but it was also telling of how times were changing for the worse.
Before Nintendo and Sega really made it big, I used to play on an Amstrad CPC 464. A stunning bit of 64K RAM technology that used cassette tapes to load games. I loved that machine and I wasn’t alone, at least two other friends owned the same home computer. So we’d swap game tapes and brag (see also: lie) about how we got past the 20th level on Roland on the Ropes using secret passages, despite the level design always being randomised. It was a bit of a psychological mind game; you cold called for responses and then did one better. It was all bullshit bravado but it kept us competing and made us better gamers. There was small sense of community at the time, even if we didn’t fully grasp the concept. The only way you’d be left out of our clique is if your parents bought you another system. Of course, that only made one kid jealous and so he’d go on about how his Commodore 64 was better. Sure, we argued but I don’t think there was ever a point where we said ‘Well, Amstrad has sold more than Commodore, so fuck you, innit!’
It was never about the selling, just about what played better. You couldn’t really argue what minutely looked superior since the same game could look radically different on every system. Nobody I knew back then even cared that much about who was winning what and how many sales had baring on some anonymous person’s life. Well, maybe we did, but I don’t remember it being as dumb and as it is now.
Eventually, Sega bragged about how their system, the Mega Drive, was the best thing since sliced bread. There was real aggressive marketing campaign aimed at kids in the morning and prime-time TV. Like if you don’t buy this system, then you’re only deserving of coal and water for your birthday. To say the whole ‘To Be This Good It Takes Ages/Sega’ campaign had attitude was like saying Hitler hurt a few people during the war. For me, this was the start of when the games industries started to rely on PR firms to really sell their products.
Sega’s marketing attack on Nintendo was probably the first time I’d seen two companies really compete for your (parent’s) money. It was either the Mega Drive or the Super Nintendo; you could only have one or the other. Theoretically, you could own both, but the marketing by both companies said otherwise. Magazines advertised exclusives much in the same way, even if they were on the same side. It all boiled down to sales.
Nobody really gives a shit about the kids.
But the kids don’t know that.
When you’re young, you’re impressionable and whatever happens, you know best. Except you don’t have a clue. It’s all beating of chests and moody sulks as you strive to find popularity. PR companies know how people tick; it’s their job to expose your weakness and exploit it. Games magazines ended up pulling the same tactics when it came to an oversaturation of their market.
Games journalism started to slide in the wake of PR companies waving exclusives in their faces. Their influence grew and magazines really had to get onboard unless their staff wanted to find a new job. More and more pages sprung up where they jokingly criticised another system with some kind of unfounded fact, but covered it up the desperation with the cool kid attitude. It’s like having a heroin addict as a friend; he’ll make you laugh, but there’s that worrying feeling that you’re never going to see that stereo system again. Their opinion mattered back in the day when there was no internet and a lack of moving visuals, but as you got older you realised they were just selling what the editor wanted from them, since they were far too comfy in the PR companies’ beds.
It’s something that’s never really gone away. You only have to look at the whole Gamespot/Eidos debacle to be easily reminded how journalism and public relations go hand in hand. I’m not saying PR companies are completely evil, since how else is the news supposed to get their facts? But what I am saying is that journalists need to take a bit more control and be less of a mouth piece.
As I said before, games journalists can be pretty well respected, despite the flak they get. They have the power to make sheep out of audience and we need that more than ever. The three big companies at the moment are targeting their products at a young, impressionable audience. Kids will buy into anything as long as it gives them some kind of social status and when you throw in the anonymity of the internet? Oh know there’s going to be hilarity. It’s all well and true to say the internet spawns anonymous fanboys, but I don’t see anybody doing anything about it. All we do is tut and moan about how they think one system will ultimately ‘win’, when they’re the sore losers whatever happens.
Those same kind of fanboys will follow anything. For example, Ben ‘Yahtzee’ Croshaw puts out the same inane review every time for Zero Punctuation and yet he’s built up an audience of people who think there’s subtle differences for each review. A sheep audience isn’t a necessarily a bad thing, but it just goes to show how easy games journalists have a star power to come up with their own arguments and not just sell whatever was sent to them in the post.
But nobody is doing that on a larger scale.
Read the stuff on Destructoid or Kotaku, bar one or two cross examinations, it’s mostly just reporting. That’s fine, but how much of that is outweighed by the press release news items? Printed games journalism has no writing personality anymore; magazines like Edge prefers to keep things anonymous even when dissecting an industry flaw. Only their freelance columnists have any identity and they’re stuck in the back pages.
I guess what I’m ultimately saying is that we need a gaming version of The Fonz.
A guy or girl that’s so damn cool, that when it comes to discussing ‘real issues’, people don’t laugh at his God-bothering ways. Eventually, when the fans grow up, they realise that, ‘hey! that guy wasn’t cool at all’, but then they also discover that he subtly taught them valuable life lessons as he hit the jukebox to play the Snake Eater theme tune. Forget those stupid ‘yeah, you’re nobody fag-hater’ posters. This would be the real deal that you’d reminisce to your kids about, Stand By Me-style. Okay, not that extreme, but you get the gist at least.
For some, this would look like a necessary evil. Sure enough, this is an unfortunate, flipside to the proceedings. They’d be using a platform like a tobacco lobbyist, but I can’t see any other way since Nintendo are willing to pull the same ‘get them while their young’ trick with Cammie Dunaway’s ‘soccer mom’ facade. All they want is your money and people need to be educated about this. I mean, how did we end up at a point where kids, who have barely even grasped the idea of business studies, can come out with unsubstantiated facts about the gaming marketplace? How did we get to the point where kids, who have no influence in your life whatsoever, say you’re a ‘fucktard’ because you own a system that didn’t sell as much as theirs? It’s because these companies got to them early for their parents income, by way of using PR firms and fearful mouth breathing journalists who just go where the money is.
This isn’t to say that games journalists should be using their opinions to sell you something like Gamespot. We should truly have a large group of journalists who, likeNetwork’s Howard Beale, are ‘mad as hell and not going to take it any more!’ We need more people to cut through the crap and inform people of the industry’s shady dealings. We need to, and I hate to say it without sounding like a concerned parent, teach the kids.