Opting out of the snark
January 26, 2008
Game journalism has been under the microscope lately, and for good reason. Bloggers and professional journalists (I'm purposely avoiding the question of whether there's a distinction between the two) need to be concerned when our integrity is impugned, and the whole Jeff Gerstmann affair has troubling written all over it.
Despite all the hubbub, I'm not terribly concerned. It seems to me it's virtually impossible to get away with much nefariousness in the continually updated, interconnected world we're working in. A million eyes and ears are out there keeping watch (for better and worse), and even a slight alteration in a re-posted game review is immediately noted and compared to the original version stored on somebody's hard drive. It's telling that not even hyper-secretive Steve Jobs can prevent unofficial Apple blogs from revealing just about every new product before it's announced these days, despite his best efforts.
As far as game reviews go, I don't believe in objectivity, so I don't fret about them either. I can find dozens of reviews and forum discussions on just about every new game released, and I'm comfortable with the variety of viewpoints and perspectives I can find among them. Bloggers have essentially obviated the gatekeepers, and I believe we're all better off for it.
So, I'm not troubled by the stuff a lot of people are concerned about these days. What troubles me is the snark.
What's the snark? I define it as the persistently cynical, dismissive tone of many game blogs and their related podcasts. It's the de facto perspective that says everything sucks, basically, unless we can generally agree that it doesn't, at which point it will be acceptable to say it's cool. Detached derision is the standard-issue expression of thought, and genuine affection or sentiment rarely allowed.
I don't read many non-game-related blogs, so I don't know if the snark is specific to us, but I find it all very tiresome and dispiriting. I love playing video games. I love writing about them, even the ones that disappoint me. Video games make me smile. I'm not embarrassed about that. They make me feel joyful. It saddens me that so few blogs capture this feeling...or permit themselves to express it. My guess is that most bloggers are no less enchanted by games than me, but they have chosen to adopt what Leigh Alexander calls "blogger tone -- cynicism, exaggeration and theatrics."
Too bad. As it often does, non-conformity suddenly looks a lot like conformity when you take a few steps back.
One of my readers recently observed that I too often overindulge in my enthusiasm. That may be true. I'm rapturous lately about Gitaroo Man, for example, and I often use this outlet and my podcast to express those sentiments (mixed, I hope, with some thoughtful analysis). I think I've been rather tough on certain games and designers as well, but it's never been my goal to tear down games or the people who make them, and I'm not terribly interested in writing angry blog posts about games I don't like.
I certainly don't intend to be a scold--and I could write columns on all the terrific game blogs I admire--but I wonder if we can be a bit more clever, a bit more positive (not Pollyanna), and do with a little less snark?
If, despite my plaintive plea, you decide to stick with the snark, at least try to elevate the form. See above photo for inspiration.