Saturday, March 05, 2005

It's All In The Name

I've been fuming over this for a while now, but thanks to my goldfish-like attention span and poor time management, this is the first time I've tried to express it. Here goes.

I am annoyed with - and I'm only going to write this once - New Games Journalism. Understand, I don't have any problem with the end result. All this stuff about experiencing games and emotions and humanity is just beautiful, and it's great that the subject has developed to the point where it can be discussed in terms of how you feel, rather than empty details. Awesome stuff, all of it. But that's not good enough; it's got to be labelled as NGJ now, and the dewy-eyed, standard-bearing descriptions it's been receiving are becoming insufferable.

I've never been entirely comfortable with the term "games journalism" in any case, and NGJ as it stands at the moment is a step beyond into faux-literary pretension. As a defined movement it's both uneccesary and unwittingly demeaning; a validation for any gamer who has spent hours spent playing shitty RPGs and mediocre FPSs and understanding appalling gags like "sword of +4 sarcasm" and lame previews that had to be enthusiastic about games you knew were going to be terrible. It turns out it was all okay! No more little boxes listing the publisher and the maximum number of players; it's a literary movement, worthy of lots of self-important discussion.

This is understandable. It's also bullshit, and I hate it for the same reason that I gave up on literature: there are entire bodies of criticism that are now entirely self-perpetuating, generating huge amounts of books and speeches and arguments - people dedicate their entire lives to arguing nuances in long-dead literature that they can't prove and nobody would have seen if they hadn't invented. Dressing up interesting writing based on games as a "movement" is merely spawning exactly the same thing: a grounding for a load of useless, pointless arguments that don't achieve anything other than jumping-off points for more arguments.

My deepest bile on this subject is reserved for The Videogame Ombudsman - a self-appointed and apparently utterly unqualified site which seems to exist purely to state fatuous media-studies truisms while suggesting that rabid fanboyism may have some basis in fact - but that's focused on "journalism" of a different sort and will be ranted about separately. What I'm cross about NGJ is that it's gathered disparate bits of genuinely interesting writing and is attempting to present itself as boundlessly significant. And it isn't. It's a huge and welcome improvement over feature lists and polygon counts, yes - but that's significant only because they were so crummy. That there now exists excellent prose talking about what takes place in and around games, and doesn't require years before the joypad to understand, is an inevitable consequence of market maturity, not some brave new literary creation.

Let's not forget, the thing that started this - the excellent "Bow, Nigger" - was produced entirely from the mind of always_black as a novel feature for a very small games site. He didn't introduce it as The Brave New Thing, he just threw it out there and let people find it. And they did! And it was discovered, and circulated, and printed, and discussed just about everywhere and that's absolutely right and true. But it was only a breakthrough in games discussion if all you'd ever seen before was witless previews of puzzle games; prior art has existed ever since the first conversation between two people who regarded games seriously enough to talk about them. Now, however, a reverse-engineered, ever-shifting and dissent-spreading concept has been founded in its name, and it's redundant.

NGJ didn't need a name, and it didn't need an oversight committee, and it didn't need to have its fundamental nature endlessly debated - not yet, at least. It just needed people doing it. Now it's a "movement" it's got nowhere to go but up its own arse.