Lots of us complain about the mainstream media's shallow, often infantillizing, coverage of video games. It can be discouraging to witness a flourishing art form consistently packed into the same worn-out boxes. Yes, video games make big money; yes, lots of people play them; and yes, some of them are violent.
There's more to the story, of course, and lately it's coming from an unlikely general media outlet: National Public Radio. Over the past year or so, NPR has devoted considerable airtime to reporting on video games as part of its coverage of arts and culture. These pieces vary in length and depth, but the sheer frequency of them suggests that somebody at NPR has decided to take the lead covering video games in the absence of thoughtful coverage from other broadcast outlets.
In recent weeks, NPR has reported on the music game phenomenon with stories on both Guitar Hero and Rock Band. Rather than the standard sales figures and "gee-whiz it's popular" angles, NPR has focused on the social bonding and underlying tech aspects of the games. Liane Hansen spoke to Rolling Stone reporter David Kushner who plays Rock Band with his daughters; she also interviewed Tod Machover whose team at MIT helped to develop Guitar Hero. Morning Edition reported on the Beatles Rock Band deal; and All Things Considered ran a feature piece on the evolution of video game music. And those are just the music game stories.
In the same brief period, NPR has run stories on Indie game developers, Obama ads in video games, libraries using games to woo kids, Microsoft's XNA project for game developers, teachers using games to teach kids science, coverage of Comic-Con, the Championship Gaming Series, a feature on Jonathon Blow's Braid, and three separate stories from different angles on Spore. I could list many more.
Relative to other broadcast media outlets, NPR is lapping the field with its coverage of video games. These stories are nearly always thoughtful and well-reported, if not terribly deep or analytical. Given the network's diverse national audience, this makes sense; but I do hope for more reporting along the lines of Heather Chaplin's stories for NPR on GTA IV and Braid. Chaplin understands games from a gamer's perspective, but she also knows how to convey the experience of playing these games in a clear, jargon-free manner.
So, as a blogger who has done my share of whining and finger-pointing about video game coverage in the mainstream media, I tip my hat to NPR and hope for more to come. If you agree (and you live in the USA), I encourage you to consider making a pledge to your local noncommercial, not-for-profit NPR station. When you make your pledge, tell them you appreciate their coverage of video games. Such feedback, I assure you, can make a difference.