Game journalism

Tropes are for dopes


spitting in the wind: [spit-ting-in-the-wind]
idiom; euphemism (see also pissing in the wind)
1. A futile, self-defeating act.
2. Wasting time trying to achieve something than cannot be achieved. e.g. “Assigning Congress the task of addressing the budget deficit is like spitting in the wind.”

Bellyaching about mainstream media coverage of video games is an exercise in expectoration blowback. No amount of complaining seems to make a difference, and those of us who believe media coverage imacts public perception battle high blood pressure every time we hear another outmoded, ill-informed piece of reporting from journalists who clearly lack first-hand experience playing games, or have simply failed to do their homework.

NPR (National Public Radio) generally bucks the tired ‘soundbyte-news’ trend with thoughtful reporting that goes deeper and wider than other news outlets. Recently, the network has attempted to address its stuffy ‘east-coast intellectual’ image with refreshingly astute and lively coverage of the arts and technology. Video games, in particular, have received frequent attention. In the last week alone NPR aired four segments devoted to games on its flagship programs, All Things Considered and Morning Edition.

But apparently not even NPR can avoid the common pitfall of shoddy reporting on video games. Like its mainstream brethren, NPR consistently frames its game coverage with ‘analysis’ that fails to illuminate the games themselves. This kind of coverage produces four threadbare tropes that have come to define game journalism in the popular media:

  • Video games make a CRAP TON of money. Even more than movies!!

    RENEE MONTAGNE, host: The new version of the video game “Call of Duty” is out now, released last week. In the first 24 hours on shelves in the U.S. and the UK, the game made a staggering FOUR…HUNDRED…MILLION…DOLLARS in sales - a new record.

Coverage of the game industry as business news will inevitably include sales data, and it’s certainly newsworthy that the COD franchise generates big revenue numbers. But Montaigne’s conversation with Harold Goldberg (G4TV) wasn’t a business report. The segment focused on “this season’s hot video games…” and Goldberg’s remarks were limited to 20-second blurbs - on COD: “It’s almost a lifestyle for certain people”; on Skyward Sword: “…at once sweet, adventuresome, heartwarming, and a little scary; on Skyrim: “It’s much more than slaying dragons; it’s building up your character…”

Goldberg does the best he can, but the segment is yet another consumer-focused “game buying guide” story that doesn’t say much about the games themselves.

  • Gamers are CRAZY! (see also lazy, anti-social, obssessive, etc.)

In a segment called “Gamers Take Advantage Of Three-Day Weekend,” Beth Accomando of KPBS recorded an interview with her 18-year-old son and his friend who spent three uninterrupted days playing Skyrim.

DAVID: Oh, for a game like this, you should more or less just say goodbye to your life now - your wife, kids, job, bills - bye.

KYRA MORALES [customer in line at San Diego GameStop]: I’m going to play like 24 hours and then drink a Mountain Dew to keep me up.


KYRA MORALES: And then play another 24 hours.

The report is a personalized and lighthearted take on gamers and their devotion to certain games, but once again we learn almost nothing about the game itself. What’s more, the piece feeds the popular misconception that gamers are mostly obssessive teenagers with time on their hands…when reams of data on games and gamers proves otherwise. Lots of players stood in line and bought Skyrim at midnight; but far more of us unwrapped our copy when it arrived from Amazon on the day of release.

  • I don’t waste time playing games myself, but I’ll happily discuss why you think they’re interesting.

Reporter2One of the saddest aspects of games reporting is that few of the journalists covering them seem to know much about their subject. NPR relies on experts like Jamin Warren (Kill Screen) or Brian Crecente (Kotaku) to discuss games with its on-air hosts, but rarely do these experts get to weigh in with more than cursory expertise. Warren recently discussed Batman: Arkham City with Renee Montagne:

MONTAGNE: Now “Batman: Arkham City” is getting attention for more than its good reviews. And it’s gotten good reviews. It is being sold with 10 percent of the game missing – that missing part would be Catwoman. How does it work?

What follows is an informative exchange about the industry’s increasing reliance on DLC, but once again (noticing a theme here?) we learn almost nothing about the game. Why did it get good reviews? Ironically, Warren co-founded the preeminent print magazine devoted to games criticism, but here he’s limited to being an industry pundit. He performs admirably, but one wishes he could have weighed in on why these Batman games have so deepened the cultural footprint of this iconic character and series.

  • I don’t have anything interesting to say about this game, but here’s a provocative montage with lots of carnage, accompanied by blurbs with numbers in them.

I’ll admit this one’s a bit of a cheap shot (not aimed at NPR, by the way), but if we’re compiling a list of media coverage tropes for video games, this one must be on that list. Offering lots of heat, but very little light - this familiar encapsulation of games as wildly popular, violent, newfangled, ever-more-realistic, etc. has become the de rigueur presentation of games as a pervasive form of entertainment invading our living rooms, competing against TV and movies for our money and attention.

I focused on NPR in this post because I’m a true blue fan of the network. I financially support my local station, and I’m a devoted listener to its full slate of programming. I single out NPR because I believe it can do better in its coverage of games, just as it routinely does better with its national, international, and political reporting.

During the same period in which the stories I mentioned above were aired, NPR interviewed artists like novelist Don DeLillo, musician Keith Jarrett, and filmmaker Alexander Payne. I’m happy the network has expanded its coverage of games, but it can truly lead the way by focusing on games as creative expression, not just as commerce or cultural curiosity.

Reporting on Skyrim multiple times without talking to its director Todd Howard is a curious and disappointing omission. I’m happy to hear Harold Goldberg’s thoughts on Uncharted 2, but why not sit down with Amy Hennig and discuss her goals for the series…or what it’s like to be the most creatively influential woman in an industry dominated by men? Games offer so many compelling hooks for good reporting. Break free of the tropes and blaze a new trail.

What would such coverage look (or in this case, sound) like? Last Friday, P.J. Vogt from WNYC's "On The Media" reported on Ian Bogost's Cow Clicker, and "what happens when your creations take on a life of their own." It's the kind of smart, illuminating reporting on games that I hope we'll see more of in the future.

Cow Clicker - On the Media


Late to a party nobody threw


Metro 2033 forces me to examine why I choose to play certain games, but not others. It makes me consider the degree to which I'm swayed by games press coverage, social media chatter (or silence), and the critical light we collectively shine, or fail to shine, on individual games. Since its release ten months ago, Metro 2033 has existed mostly in the dark, and that's a shame.

This game did not fly under my radar. I knew all about Metro 2033. I saw the screenshots, visited the website, read a few reviews...and cavalierly dismissed it. Another derivative shooter. More post-apocalyptic wastelands. More plucky humans blasting mutants in subway tunnels. 

In other words, more Fallout 3, but with a survival horror twist - because mashing up genres can cover up a lot of recycled ideas. Oh, and it's made by a Ukrainian developer (4A Games) I've never heard of. So, yes, dismissing Metro 2033 was a no-brainer. With so many un-played games on my shelf, why would I choose to bury twelve hours into this one?

What a cynical player I've become. When you've suffered through enough bad games, I suppose you inevitably build a defense shield to protect yourself from harm, and self-protection is the primary function of cynicism. But I hate it. I don't want to be this way. I'm not convinced that a critic's credibility hinges on a prerequisite cynical sensibility.

The broad conversation about games among gamers is generally laced with cynicism, and I understand why. Buyer's remorse stings at $60 a pop. But if we're honest, I think we might also agree that negative, snarky discussions about games persist because they're a fashionable way to talk about games. For some people, it's the only discursive equipment they know how to use.

I blame only myself for overlooking Metro 2033. I like to think of myself as a free-thinking independent gamer. I've often tried to champion games here that I consider unfairly ignored. I enjoy discovering off-the-beaten-path titles recommended to me by friends and readers. These days, I receive email and download codes publicizing all sorts of games I might never otherwise play. I see myself as generally detached from the short-attention-span gabfest that characterizes our discourse about games.

But who am I kidding? I'm part of that gabfest. It's fun to sing the praises of unheralded games when they come along, but such discoveries are rare, happy surprises. Most games don't rise above mediocrity, and the sheer volume of releases forces me to employ a filtering system. I can't play everything; nor do I want to.

And so I rely on a system that is deeply flawed at best. I read press releases; I scan preview coverage to see what's coming; and I follow the advice of trusted reviewers and Twitter chatter (plus my own curiosity) to help me sort out which games to play and which to avoid. Sometimes that system works, but other times it fails miserably.

In the case of Metro 2033, it resulted in a collection of impressions based purely on feature descriptions, genre classifications, and comparative analysis. The actual experience of playing Metro 2033 has little to do with any of that stuff. The things that make Metro 2033 unique and worth playing are the very things routinely overlooked in most critical accounts of the game.

Outstanding games (books, movies, etc.) have failed before, of course; but when it happens, it's worth asking why. Metro 2033 is a game "victimized by consumerist reviewing," as Patrick Klepek put it to me via Twitter, and he's absolutely right. There may be other contributing factors, but the critical response to Metro 2033 certainly did the game no favors. It's not a question of Metacritic numbers. It's about how we discuss and convey a game's distinctive merits when those merits can't be quantified.

To understand and appreciate Metro 2033, we must detach our perspective from all the ways it can be itemized relative to other games. I'm hardly the first to suggest we're not very good at that yet. Until we improve, ambious and striking games like Metro 2033 will continue to be unfairly ignored.

In my next post, I'll explain why Metro 2033 succeeds so impressively, and I'll try to offer a way of seeing that accounts for the in-world moments, places, and encounters where its qualities shine most brightly.

Hyperbole of record


In the social media circles I frequent, Seth Schiesel recently unseated Roger Ebert as the punching bag of the moment. It's an interesting displacement when you stop to consider it.

Enthusiasts like me get bent out of shape when Ebert claims games "can never be art" (though, to be fair, his argument is a bit more subtle than that); but we get equally lathered up when the New York Times games critic succumbs to hyperbolic euphoria in his game reviews.

Ebert needs to wake up, and Schiesel needs to calm down, says the Twitterverse.

I mostly agree, but I also think it's possible to consider Schiesel's work in a more positive light. I'll give that my best shot in a moment. First, let's examine Schiesel's case file as a critic prone to gilding the lily. Yes, it bulges. Below are extracts from 11 of his reviews, published in the last 10 months, listed in reverse chronology.

Red Dead Redemption: " sets a new standard for sophistication and ambition in electronic gaming... The leading edge of interactive media has a new face."

Nier: "I cannot think of another single game of recent years that more faithfully represents the sheer intellectual breadth of modern video games."

MLB 10 The Show: "...perhaps the most finely calibrated, lusciously animated, fanatically detailed team sports game yet made."

Heavy Rain: " single-player experience has made me as genuinely nervous, unsettled, surprised, emotionally riven and altogether involved as Heavy Rain... Mr. Cage and Quantic Dream have put the world on notice that the future of video games may be closer than we thought."

Bayonetta: "...more alluring and more powerful than any big-budget game to come out of Japan in recent years."

Dragon Age: "...easily sails into the ranks of the best single-player role-playing games ever made... masterly in its overall design and conception... I felt as engrossed and simply swept away as any game has made me feel in recent years."

Assassin's Creed II: "...provides an unparalleled historical adventure along the lines of an interactive Dan Brown or James Clavell novel... conveys the unmistakably buoyant sense of a team of developers maturing as artists and growing into the full flower of their creativity and craft... demonstrate(s) just what wonder this relatively new form of entertainment can evoke."

Uncharted 2: "...a major step forward for gaming... no game yet has provided a more genuinely cinematic entertainment experience... the kind of game that will justifiably drive people to buy new televisions... The designers at Naughty Dog have absorbed the vernacular of film and then built upon create something wondrous."

Brütal Legend: "...a deliriously inspired concept... No game so far this year delivers a deeper, more fully realized aesthetic experience."

Beatles Rock Band: "...nothing less than a cultural watershed... it may be the most important video game yet made."

Fight Night Round 4: "...a triumph... the greatest (boxing game) of all time. There has never been a more visceral, precise and natural electronic simulation of hand-to-hand combat."

Like many reviewers, Schiesel tends to evaluate games in comparative, rather than analytical terms. He appears to approach each game with a measuring stick that calculates the degree to which Game X  advances the medium, pitted against other similar games.

Applying this metric, Schiesel sees Beatles Rock Band as the greatest music game ever made; Fight Night Round 4 as the greatest boxing game ever made; Uncharted 2 as the greatest cinematic adventure game ever made, etc. - and maybe he's not far wrong with any of those assertions. Nier is another story, but that's another post.

In a still young, fast-moving, technology-reliant industry like video games, it's easy to perceive iteration as milestone. Compare Uncharted 2 to Tomb Raider and ponder how far we've come in little more than a decade. To long-time gamers like Schiesel (and me) who vividly remember playing such games, Uncharted 2 can feel like a certain kind of miracle. Schiesel conveys that gleeful discovery in his writing, and I admire him for it.

Of course, if too many games are deemed 'important' or 'unparalleled,' those distinctions lose their value, and Schiesel has probably rung his bell too often and too loudly. I wonder, though, how Schiesel's distinctive position influences his coverage of games. Writing about games for the most influential newspaper in the world, I suspect Schiesel may frequently see himself as an advocate for games in a traditionally conservative print media environment.

When I read between the lines of his reviews, I often sense Schiesel pleading with his readers (and perhaps his editors) to pay attention, abandon preconceived notions, and give these ambitious games the respect they deserve. He's an advocate journalist, in this regard, for a medium that could use a few more such people in high visible places.

Maybe the rapturous Red Dead Redemption review that appeared in today's Times is precisely the same one Schiesel might have written for a personal blog, but I suspect not. I don't know. Guessing at someone's intentions is tricky business, and I probably shouldn't be doing it.

The problem with hyperbole as advocacy is that it soon begins to sound like desperation. It's the parent who calls me to brag about his kid who's applied for a scholarship. The more superlatives he waves around, the more I dread meeting his kid.

I think many of us, me included, have occasionally fallen into similar traps when we discuss and write about games. We so want our place at the table. We so want the world to understand why we love games and why they matter to us. We so want this game to help us make that case. Sometimes our effervescence overflows. Leave it to gamers to call us on it.



I've been reading lots of reviews and blog posts certifying Mass Effect 2 as the future of RPGs. It fixes what's wrong with the genre and sends designers of backward-looking games scrambling to the drawing board. It represents, as several notable outlets have noted, the future of storytelling in games and a lesson in how to do narrative games right.

I'm going to play contrarian here, but first let me say I think Mass Effect 2 largely earns the lavish praise heaped upon it. It's an exceptionally fine game with fabulous production values, and I've enjoyed just about every minute I've spent playing it. I'm not quibbling with the hype. Not much anyway.

I'm troubled by the mentality that games exist to invalidate other games; that the most effective measure of a game's value is its ability to surpass or trump other games that preceded it. Among its many praiseworthy aspects, Mass Effect 2's success as a kind of refutation of other games is considered an especially noteworthy achievement.

The problem with this line of reasoning is that it mistakes streamlining for refinement. It assumes the fiddly RPG elements the game eliminates are vestiges of outmoded design. It presumes that frequent skirmishes and action-based gameplay are more fun or engaging than the strategic RPG elements they replace. It assumes that a dialogue-tree system of interactions enables a more sophisticated form of player agency. None of these assumptions are incontestably true.

I'm not suggesting ME2 lacks refinements. As an iteration on the original game, ME2 is chock-full of mechanical, interface, and visual upgrades. As many have noted, its shooting and cover system is vastly improved from ME1, and Bioware seems to have learned from its mistakes in this regard. ME2 improves on ME1 in all sorts of useful ways, and that's a good and praiseworthy thing.

But when we discuss Mass Effect 2 as the game to finally shatter RPG genre limits and chart a new narrative path, I think we project too much on a game that exchanges some limits for others. I want meaningful interactions with my environment, not pop-up notices for glowing blue frames. I want dialogue unbound by a nice/naughty/neutral triad. I want to do trivial things. I want lower stakes. I want to play a game that doesn't insist the future depends on me. I want a game that defines role-playing more broadly than dialogue choices. I want a game that won't insist my actions and movements (what I do, not what I say) are merely bridges to the next fight.

I'm not suggesting ME2 is a bad game because it fails to meet those expectations. On the contrary, I think it's a terrific game. I'm merely pointing out that while ME2 is unquestionably a high peak, there are plenty of other mountains worth climbing.

It's useful to consider how ME2 succeeds as a well produced RPG that elevates certain genre elements, and de-emphasizes others. But Bioware is up to more than simply rearranging the RPG furniture here. ME2 is a canny scramble of storytelling and game design highlights from previous Bioware games, Gears of War, Star Trek/Wars/Galactica, and The Magnificent Seven, among other influences.

What Bioware has accomplished with ME2 is less about refining the RPG or blazing a new narrative trail than about distilling and mashing up stuff that works from other sources. ME2 is a tantalizing cocktail of action, adventure, sci-fi, RPG, and shooter ingredients, poured into in a big cinematic shaker. 

Bioware knows what we who write about games ought to know better. Genre classifications are essentially meaningless, and it's time to drop them and move on. Three of the best games I've played in the last year - Mass Effect 2, Demon's Souls, and Shin Megami Tensei: Devil Survivor are all classified as RPGs, even though they actually have very little in common. On the other hand, IGN may classify MLB 09 as a "sports game," but I say it has more in common with Mass Effect 2 than Mario Baseball. More than ever, genre categories seem like arbitrary labels we apply to games so they can be properly shelved.

And, of course, the scramble extends beyond games. It's the Judd Apatow Effect. Inject moribund romantic comedy genre with lowbrow buddy-movie humor to create slacker-striver films with male and female box office appeal. It's Robert Plant and Alison Krauss; it's MMA; it's the Subaru Outback; it's Elton John and whatever flavor-of-the-week artist the Grammys pair him with. 

It's the inevitable trajectory. For better or worse, we like our entertainment scrambled. Sometimes it doesn't work, and sometimes - as Mass Effect 2 skillfully illustrates - it does.

Garnett glee


If you listen to video game podcasts, chances are you've heard Garnett Lee's voice in your ear. He's been at it longer than nearly all of us, dating back to the deliciously offbeat 1UP Show, which began an eon ago in 2005. Taking over as host of 1UP's flagship podcast in 2006, he began a 205-episode trek (164 1UP Yours and 41 Listen Up shows) that served as a weekly dose of entertaining - sometime raucous and occasionally inebriated - conversation about games.

Steering through a thicket of personnel departures, layoffs, and the Ziff Davis / Hearst / UGO corporate shuffle, Garnett was the steady hand that held the show together and maintained a semblance of order within each episode. An apparently ego-free host, he was often the butt of jokes and the target of his own self-derision, but one vital thing about Garnett Lee shined through every show. The man loves games, and his passion and joy playing them have never diminished. Pull Garnett's string on a racing game, then sit back and watch him fly. It's a beautiful thing.

I suppose some readers may find my affection and admiration for Garnett Lee a little surprising. My own modest podcast shares little in common with the 1UP shows, and I go about my business here very differently than the gang of journos at the 1UP Network. I'm guessing we target different audiences, but maybe not. I don't know.

But I've always felt a certain kinship with Garnett. We're both guys in our 40s who often find ourselves locked in vigorous and thoughtful conversation with smart-ass kids half our age. We both recall the arcade era as a teenage memory, a social part of our lives growing up in rural America.

But more than anything else, we've both watched games grow up, and we just can't wipe that stupid grin off our faces. By the time you hit 40, you're either a cynical bastard or a hopeless idealist. When you listen to Garnett gleefully describing the 5 minutes he spent playing a game at E3, and the very real possibility that this game could be AWESOME, you know the path he's chosen.

Garnett is leaving 1UP to join GameFly as its editorial director for media properties. He will also oversee GameFly's recently acquired sites, including Shacknews. I wish him all the best, and I thank him for his genial companionship through all the miles in my car between here and everywhere. He says he'll start a new podcast, and that makes me happy. I'll keep listening.

Spore and the rush to judgment


Spore is a disappointment. That's the word on the interwebs and bloggoworld. Seven years in the making, the game generated unprecedented cross-media hype and sky-high expectations. Now, a full one day after most of us finally got our hands on it, Will Wright's magnum opus has been met by what feels like a collective 'meh' from the video game cogniscenti. Nice for the noobs, but too simplistic for us vets. Sort of an interesting toy, but where's the gameplay? Five so-so games "smushed together in a casual-player-friendly manner."[1] Actually, "Spore is kind of boring."[2]

The prevailing opinion seems to be that there just isn't enough game in Spore. As simulators go, it's incredibly ambitious, but most reviewers seem to think "real gamers" will find little to enjoy in Spore, at least until they reach the Space phase. The Sporepedia is interesting if you like looking at other people's stuff; and wow, people sure are making a lot of stuff.

I wonder, in the rush to judge the game and assign a review score to it, are we fairly seeing Spore for what it is, rather than what it isn't? How much do we really know about Spore at this point, given the intrinsically organic nature of the game, its content, and the many ways players will discover to mold, create, and play with its malleable universe? The standard process for evaluating games - advance copies sent to journos; hours spent playing through the game; reviews written and published in time for game release - may not be the best or most appropriate way to fairly evaluate every game. It seems to me a fair assessment of Spore should require more time.

I haven't finished Spore, if finishing it is even possible. But I have devoted many hours to it, and I consider what I've seen so far a stunning achievement. Astonishing, really. Playing Spore - experiencing it all for the first time; imagining, creating, and exploring the game as a vast universe of places, creatures, and ideas - is unlike any gaming experience I've ever had. Approaching Spore as a game with its own utterly unique agenda; and accepting, even admiring, its insistence that this experience be accessible to gamers and non-gamers alike - both are pivotal to understanding what Spore is all about.

Is it possible that by misconstruing certain stages as "Sims-lite" or "Civ-lite" we are missing the forest for the trees? Spore intelligently generates a complete, diverse ecosystem based on the design and evolution of your own unique creature, integrating an eco-appropriate sampling of creatures designed by other people around the world...all seamlessly, and beautifully on current-gen PC/Mac hardware.

And here's the thing: it all works! I haven't even mentioned the procedurally generated music or the eighteen different types of editors available to the player. As my son likes to say, 'Are you joking me?'

Part of my concern about the critical reception to Spore (I should mention the European scores are notably higher than the U.S. scores)  is the limited and restrictive definition of that word we all love to hate: gameplay. The problem, say 1UP and IGN and Gamespot, is that Spore mimics a hodgepodge of gameplay modes from other genres, but none of them especially well. If Spore were really about action, RTS, RPG, or any other familiar game genre, this criticism would be warranted. But it's not. Not at all, actually.

Spore enables the player to create her own experience, her own narrative, her own meaning. What you get with Spore isn't a formulaic set of genre-specific gameplay modes, despite the trappings of these in various phases of the game. What you get with Spore is the most phenomenal and breathtaking toolbox any game has ever delivered. Inside that toolbox are the most wonderful and fantastical tools any game has ever offered. What we will do with them, how they will evolve, and what impact they will have on our "gameplay" is still anyone's guess.

I have no idea at this moment what Spore means or if/how Spore will matter in the long run. But why do we need to know now? Why can't we wait and see what happens? The necessity of release-date summary judgments and final scores has never been clear or obvious to me. In the case of Spore, I think such treatment does the game a disservice. I think I'll hold off awhile before deciding what to think about Spore.

One more take

Gta4trailershot After I posted my short and admittedly angry piece earlier today, several thoughtful readers suggested I elaborate on my objections to the IGN "Ladies of Liberty City" video. I agree that I didn't properly explain my point of view, so here goes. After this, I promise it will be back to normal programming.

I think it's unlikely I'll be able to persuade anyone of anything, especially given how polarizing this and other GTA-related issues tend to quickly become. But I can at least try to clarify my intentions in posting as I did. I'm speaking, obviously, only for myself here, but I feel strongly about this, so I'm sure my tone may be seen as harsh or dogmatic. I don't think there's much I can do about that.

What IGN did was morally and ethically reprehensible. They posted a video using stitched-together segments of GTA4 gameplay to show a series of incidents where women are paid for sex and then shot and killed, or run over by a car and killed. This montage was not delivered as some kind of ironic social critique. It was, essentially, a hip, funky homage to killing women.

A similarly heinous compilation pieced together in any other medium and posted on a highly visible website would be denounced immediately, if it ever saw the light of day. Why is it somehow acceptable - and why are responses like mine considered "hysterical" - simply because the video uses footage from GTA4?

I'm not the first person to suggest we're reinforcing the marginalization of the medium by falling back on the "it's only a game" argument (I would extend this to include "it's only GTA."). I recommend Mitch Krpata's "Sex, Violence, and Video Games" for more on this. He says it much better than me.

Of course it's possible to do all the things the video depicts while playing GTA4. It's possible to do all sorts of ugly things in all sorts of media, as well as in real life. The fact that it's possible doesn't make it acceptable to do what IGN did. If you want to play GTA4 at home and kill as many prostitutes as you can, that's your decision. It's another thing entirely to make a compilation video featuring one killing after another, set to music, and post it on your website that receives over 20 million unique visitors per month.

The video is a construction. It was deliberately made, edited, and posted. Someone made specific choices about what this video was intended to communicate. It's not simply "footage from the game." I am suggesting that whomever is responsible for it ought to be held to account.

I've played two hours of GTA4. I have no idea if it's a good game or a bad game. It's irrelevant to my argument. I admire Rockstar for their innovative approach to video game design. They have made an indelible impact on gaming and gaming culture. These facts are also irrelevant to my argument.

Finally, I don't mean to suggest there's some kind of monolithic entity known as the "gamer community" of which IGN is some sort of spokesperson. We're way more complicated than that. But there is a culture and community of gamers out here, even if we don't all think or behave alike. It's fair to say that video games continue to suffer a serious image problem in our culture at large. Making the case for video games as a legitimate form of human expression is a long uphill climb. I know this from personal experience as an educator facing resistance, misinformation, or simple ignorance from my peers and colleagues every day. I realize lots of gamers don't care how we're perceived. In my career, I don't have that luxury.

I'm trying to move the ball forward. That's why I started this blog. It's hard for me not to take it personally when a major media site devoted to gaming posts a video like this because they think it's funny or cool or subversive or whatever. From a purely selfish perspective, it makes everything I'm trying to do as an advocate for video games more difficult to justify or explain. This may not matter much to others, and that's fine, but it matters a lot to me.

Pushing back

18_18_ign_logo When one of the major games media outlets (Fox-owned, ironically) does something like this, we can let the politicians and cultural hand-wringers frame the discourse for us...or we can do it ourselves.

Thank you very much Leigh, Lux, Stephen, and Angela.

Dear IGN,

Removing the video and saying you "crossed a line" is a woefully inadequate response. You need to issue a formal public apology, and the people responsible for creating and posting this video must be held accountable. Jack Thompson is the least of your worries. You need to answer to us, the gamer community, many of whom resent the self-inflicted black eye you just gave us.

Step up and do the right thing. Until you do, I will no longer visit your site, your sister sites (Gamespy and Rotten Tomatoes) or your podcasts. I encourage others to consider doing the same.