Proposal: Can We Separate “Games Journalism” and “Games Criticism” as Two Different Things?

ICOI spent a bit of Sunday afternoon chatting with some folks on Twitter about the #GamerGate hashtag. Contrary to what I was told to expect, the people I interacted with were polite and amicable. I’ll point out that I only interacted with maybe 10 people in total, and that it would be foolish to assume those people represent the #GamerGate movement as a whole. But those people were really nice.

I’m still trying to sort this all out, but it seems their objective is fairly straightforward: They want to make “Games Journalism” better. But one of the questions that keeps nagging on me is that of the editorial. What are we supposed to do with that?

Ten years ago, Kieron Gillen presented a manifesto he called “The New Games Journalism,” which was supposed to kick off a new type of video game criticism based more about the human experience and how games affect us rather than a purely objective observation of the facts.

I agree with a vast majority of what he says. Video games have shaped me as a person, and they’ve affected my perspective on the world around me. They’ve helped me through some really dark times, and I have certain feelings associated with certain games. When I explore those feelings, quite often I find something that says something about me as a person and about the human experience in general.

I will firmly and enthusiastically declare that art is a form of expression that ultimately comments on the human experience. If we take the human experience out of video games, we strip them of their ability to act as a legitimate art form.

So here’s my proposal: For far too long “Video Game Journalism” has been defined as the body of writing about video games. However, much of that writing — I would argue a majority of that writing — is not actual journalism in the traditional sense. (You could argue there’s a connection with Tom Wolfe’s idea of “New Journalism,” which Gillen mentions in the essay I’ve linked above, but I still want to encourage the idea of keeping that separate from actual journalism.)

BioShock InfiniteSo perhaps we need a definitive line between “Games Journalism” and “Games Criticism,” and we should probably create a third category too.

Games Journalism will fall under the definition of standard journalism. It would be things like news stories and investigative journalism. Games Journalism will fall under the standards of objectivity and whatnot that are attached to traditional newspaper reporting.

Games Criticism will be the game review alone. That type of writing will be a bit more open to interpretation, but I think Roger Ebert’s rules of thumb for film criticism form a pretty good base level to build some basic ground rules upon.

There’s a third thing that I’m going to call either Creative Nonfiction or The Personal Essay. This is already an established form of writing in literary circles, and it has been for centuries. Look at people like Henry David Thoreau and Ralph Waldo Emerson for examples of this. They really just talked about their thoughts and feelings in a way that insightfully tapped into the human experience, thus their work resonated with a broad audience. When a game affects us on an emotional level, I think this is the only truly honest way to write about them.

I think that breaking down the “Games Journalism” umbrella into a series of sub-genres is something the industry has needed for a long time, and in light of recent events, perhaps we should start right now.

I’m also open to further discussion. If you think you’ve got a better idea, I want to hear about it.

For now though, we need to stop stumbling over terminology that’s obviously not working anymore. Some direction on what to call things so they can be defined more accurately is probably a healthy place to start.