Consumer magazines are tanking. The latest figures from the Audit Bureau of Circulations show yet another drop (-2.27 percent) in paid circulations through the first half of this year and an even sharper drop (-5.63 percent) in newsstand sales. This decade-long slide shows no sign of stopping.
However, one publication has managed to buck the trend. Of the top 25 consumer magazines, Game Informer (4,364,170 verified subscriptions) saw the biggest increase in subscribers (+21.19 percent). Skeptics will say these numbers are inflated because GI's parent company, GameStop, includes a free subscription to the magazine when customers enroll in the store's Power Up discount program.
That may be true, but Game Informer is far from the only major publication to benefit from such a distribution deal, and in these horrific times for print media, who can blame GI for securing its survival? I'm happy to be a subscriber, if only to ensure that I received the October edition, featuring three gorgeous Saturday Evening Post-style covers devoted to Bioshock Infinite.
But I'm not here to evaluate GI's merits as a game magazine. I'm more interested in its covers. I find myself increasingly repulsed by the images GI and other game magazines feature on their covers, and I'm struggling with what I fear those images say about today's games and gamers.
This won't be a diatribe. Game magazines and websites know their audiences and direct their visual appeals accordingly. Casual gamers rarely buy game magazines or visit their associated websites, so publications like GI, GamePro, and EGM target the so-called hardcore crowd and try to give them what they want. It makes sense to me.
That said, I don't think I've fully apprehended the degree to which weaponry, militarism, hyper-masculinity, and violence dominate the visual landscape of our games media. I mean, I know it, of course, because I see it all the time. I've written about it here, and it's a frequent topic of conversation with my students and colleagues.
But when I sat down today and began collecting images from magazine covers published this year, I was staggered by the the extreme narrowness, the repetitious drumbeat, and grotesque rigidity of the imagery. Yes, it's supercharged male power fantasy stuff, which is troubling for all sorts of reasons. But that's not what shook me today.
I look at these images and suddenly wonder why I'm here. It sounds overwrought and self-absorbed, but I can't help it. If these magazine covers (and the flood of similar imagery on analogous websites, advertising, and elsewhere) convey something truthful about games, American game culture, and the game industry, is this a place where I can feel at home? Are we really moving forward? Will indie games save us?
This week my students and I read the oral arguments in the Supreme Court case involving the sale of video games to minors (transcript here). Claims and counter-claims aside, one thing is clear. This case is being argued by attorneys who don't know much about video games before nine Justices who know even less. What they know, or think they know, emanates from perceptions derived primarily from mainstream media coverage of video games. Images like the ones below.
FYI, I've organized each magazine chronologically, January 2010 through the most recent issue. EGM and @Gamer began publishing mid-year, which is why you'll find fewer of them. I think you'll discover Edge Magazine (published in the UK) charts a slightly different course, but you be the judge.
Click on any image to enlarge.