Screw your journalism: Why games blogging is nothing to be ashamed of

When I first started my career as a writer, I had one goal — to be a videogaming journalist. I wanted to review games, specifically, for some major Web site like IGN or GameSpot. I wanted to write for magazines like Edge or Games(tm). Never in a million years did I think that, rather than being the straitlaced ace reporter of my mind’s projection, I would be writing satirical articles for an indie Web site that sports a big green robot for a mascot.

During my time on one of the big three videogame blogs, however, I find myself unable to look back. As people grow more and more eager to paint a thick dividing line between what it takes to be a games “journalist” and a games “blogger,” I introspectively ask what it means to be in the latter camp — a camp that finds itself loved by some, reviled by others. It’s an interesting position to be in, and one that needs discussing.

Many people are quick to criticize the nature of gaming blogs. Either too bland or too sassy, tagged as “wannabe journalism” or a “cult of personality,” gaming blogs are often under fire, and the term “blog” itself is used almost like a dirty word — a straight up insult, even.

I find it no insult. I am a blogger, and damn proud of it as well. Hit the jump as I explain what it means to me to be not a videogames journalist, but a videogames blogger. And damn the hides of all who would belittle the path we took.  

I don’t like using the term “journalist,” to describe myself. As Reverend Anthony put it himself on RetroforceGO, I am a blogger, not a journalist. A journalist is someone who investigates, who goes out in the field, finds the news. He interviews, he prods, he asks the kind of questions nobody else is asking. What do I do? I merely spread the word. I look at what the journalists have brought to us and take part in what I’ve seen referred to as the “blog echo,” the posting and reposting of news among the entire mass of gaming blogs out there.

Contrary to what some may think about bloggers, I am under no illusion about what it is I do. I am very lucky to have this gig, but I know it’s not winning me any Pulitzers. I know I am not a journalist. I get to go press events where and when I can, I get review code posted to me by some publisher or other, but I am not N’gai Croal. I am not Dan Hsu. At the end of the day, I am just some guy who got lucky enough to find a big enough soapbox for his opinions. 

While I am not deluded about my job though, I am by no means ashamed of it. Quite the opposite in fact — I am damn proud of what I do. This is the best gig in the world, and one I hope to do for many, many years. There are those who think that myself and others shouldn’t have such a sense of pride, however. Since I started writing for Destructoid, I’ve heard all sorts of criticisms aimed not just at ourselves, but at our fellow bloggers as well. I’ve never fully addressed these points of contention before now, but I hope to finally present a cogent argument for our existence, and an explanation as to why we are succeeding. 

First of all, one must discuss the so-called “echo.” When a story breaks, you can be sure that the bloggers will jump on it within moments. As they race to be first with the facts, they splash their stories on the frontpage, written in their own personal styles, and as the news spreads like a fire, it gets picked up by other blogs, who source the blog they saw it on, who then get their work sourced by another blog.

As people with day jobs, and as people who lack the sheer volume of contacts that come with the backing of a big media site, there’s not a lot that we “lowly” bloggers can do about the way we manage day-to-day updates. The breaking news we get to report is minimal, and a lot of our work does indeed come from press releases or other blogs. At the end of the day though, all we want to do is write about videogames, and nobody is forcing you to read what we write. If you’re expecting any blog to be your sole daily source of breaking news, then you’re pretty much misunderstanding the nature of what we do. As for the blog echo, that’s a “problem” you only face if you read every single post that every single blog makes in a given day. Most readers, however, only come to a select few sites for their gaming news, which brings me to the second largest issues people have with blogs.

Unlike journalists, who strive to be objective and must generally be impersonal with their writing, bloggers will project themselves onto the work they do. They will never be shy about adding in their own opinions to the news they write about, and give the world a piece of their mind. Blogs are full to the brim with personality, and the news often comes flavored with a big chunk of bias. I want us to be realistic here though …

If you can’t give the world breaking news, how else are you going to stand out from the pack?

People who complain about blogs regurgitating news really go against themselves when they also whine about the so-called “cult of personality” that the writers seemingly head. I have always said that people don’t go to Destructoid to read the news — they go to see what Destructoid has to say about the news. The very reason that blogs keep their readers is because they offer more than the straight up facts. They add their own flavor, they add their characters. If we all tried to be serious journalists and produced the facts with pokerfaces on, we’d suck and we know it. Nobody wants to read an article on Eurogamer only to go see the same story posted on Kotaku. However, they might want to read Eurogamer’s piece and then move on to see what Brian Crescente’s opinion on that story might be. If you have a problem with people injecting personality and editorial opinion into their posts, then you are striving for a network of Web sites that are all exactly the same, or just one games site on the entire Internet. Where’s the fun in that?

A games magazine might have readers. A games blog, however? That has fans. I’d rather have the latter any day of the week.

Everybody has their favorite Web site, and that’s what keeps us strong. This perceived detriment, the rampant opinionatedness and the projection of a writer’s own self into a story, is also our biggest strength. You can go anywhere to read a simple story. However, you can only go to Penny Arcade to see Tycho’s take on it, you can only go to Kotaku to see Brian Ashcraft’s take on it, and you can only go to Destructoid to see what Dale, Colette, or I have to say. If that’s wrong, then I don’t want to be right, because this is one cult where the personalities rock.

The question that comes to mind however is this — do blogs compromise information in the projection of their personality? Sometimes, I have to confess, yes. Yes we do. Tommy Tallarico himself accused the blogs of rushing so quickly to be cynical, to appeal with negativity to the crowd of jaded gamers that make up their readership, that they will not only downplay, but even eschew the facts in favor of whipping up a storm of anger.

I’m big enough to admit that I have, at times, lost grasp of the facts in a desperate rush to get my voice out there. Bloggers will do that. When I first started writing, I was terrible at it, and even now, with several months under my belt, I admit I am not the best writer I can be. I am still learning, but that’s another great thing about blogging — we have that freedom to evolve. We are able to learn from our mistakes. I fully understand that most magazines would have fired me by now, for either mouthing off one too many times or accidentally announcing that the next Elder Scrolls would be an MMO. I have screwed up in the past, big time, and while I strive to be as professional as I can be, I am not a journalist and I do not claim to have “journalistic integrity.” I only have my honest opinions, be they cynical or naive. 

I cannot speak for any other editor or any other site, but I do know that for my part, the abundant negativity is not intentional. Sadly, humans are difficult to please, and in any industry, be it games or soft drinks, there is always going to be something to complain about. I ask you though, is it only that you’re paying more attention to the negative writing than the positive writing? While blogs get accused of being snarky and perpetually displeased, it is easy to forget that they are just as liable to respond to a story with huge masses of excitement and glee. I myself am more than aware of this, having been attacked by fans of every major console by people who only pay attention when I say something negative and ignore any prior positive comments. It’s true that blogs can be very negative, but it’s often the negativity of the critics themselves that exacerbate the issue.

To wrap up, we don’t have the freshest headlines, we share our opinions even if you don’t want to know them, and we will take an almighty dump on something if we’re not satisfied. We are not journalists. We don’t talk about the Turok demo with a straight face, and we don’t try to be impossibly “unbiased” when we talk about a subject that, by its very nature, inspires one’s personal preferences. Once more for the record — no, we are NOT journalists. We have the freedom to be ourselves, we have the fans who appreciate us, and we are here to stay.

We are bloggers, and if you don’t like that? Go read GameSpot, by all means. 

Just remember to enjoy that haughty opinion of bloggers, because it really doesn’t matter if you’re the Peter Sissons of videogames — nobody’s winning a Nobel Prize for writing about Princess Peach.

Jim Sterling