The dual mandate of game journalism

A good read. A brief remark about this:

far too long most game reviews have been, rather obnoxiously, attempts to rate games on a technical scorecard and come up with a numerical rating for them that looks scientific

Twenty years ago, if you picked up a magazine covering video games, it was written in the style of a consumer guide, not a media journal. Nintendo Power is analogous to Guitar World, not the New York Review of Books. Thus, you have puff pieces about upcoming products, a few pieces of interest to the audience (interviews, stories, cartoons), and reviews intended to be used as a guide whether to buy a product. That's where you get the rubrics and the 100-point scales from. It's also where you get certain expectations of objectivity. Consumer product reviews are expected to be written by disinterested individuals based on observable criteria.

This isn't the case with media/entertainment journalism, and never has been. Nobody read Pauline Kael expecting to read a careful description of the acting, cinematography, and choice of setting. Nor did they expect her to carefully excise any sign of her political opinions, aesthetic preferences, or even personal assessment of the director, actors, and so forth. The idea that a critic would be prevented by ethical considerations from even discussing the work of an artist they knew personally is absurd. Roger Ebert knew, liked, and even made a damn movie with Russ Meyer. He refrained from writing starred reviews of Meyer's films from then on, but he didn't stop writing about them — hell, he even wrote about his own movie.

In the last decade or so, there's been an increased effort to establish a true criticism for games. John Teti's Gameological Society, of late folded into the AV Club, has done an excellent job of this. On the other hand, they'd be virtually useless to me if I was trying to figure out what new games I might be interested in playing. I can still see the benefit of high-quality, consumer-focused reviewing sites for that purpose. Games are consumer products with fairly objective qualities of interest to players; they are also a form of media open to interrogation, interpretation, and criticism; they also can be narrative works worthy of close reading and analysis. Games journalism will only really be fully developed when all of those facets are accounted for.