Experience Points: What I’ve Learnt From Writing About Games
I have been professionally writing about games and gaming for roughly three years now. My first outing, which funnily enough led to my current writing and editing stint here at eGamer, was a blog that I ran with my good friend Timothy Biggar called NerdR4ge, which is still online for anyone interested in my earlier articles and writings. Following this in 2011, I began writing for eGamer with my very first column which centred on the first stage of my Masters thesis and analysing gamers in a academic sense. I was also stuck in writing academically which over the next few years has drastically changed. On Monday, I finally submitted my Masters thesis on gaming, which has felt bittersweet and provided a sense of relief that everything in my academic career is now coming to a close. I originally sought out eGamer as a viable avenue to explore gaming culture and learn about the gaming community in South Africa more broadly. I’ve learned quite a bit and wanted to share some of my insights that I’ve gained over the years of writing.
The first thing I’ve learnt about the gaming industry is that no one gives a flying fanfare who you are, what you’ve done, etc. If you say stupid things about the gaming industry, gamers will call you out on and make an example of you through various forms of social media, sites, forums and the like. You are not a wondrous entity exempt from criticism. This in itself is a curse and blessing when writing about games. It keeps you grounded and helps you as a writer to maintain levelheadedness particularly when writing about games. Although some game journalists and critics are attention seekers, this is undeniable, it is not the general form across the board. When you write about gaming, you’re writing for a particular audience and it is quite easily identifiable when you’re writing about something that you are uninformed about. Just look at some of the typical high-rated N4G articles and you’ll see what I mean. Writing about this industry, and gaming journalism in general, has now become a rumour-based mill where truth is predicated on unproven and unconfirmed “facts” that no one has the tenacity to double check. Press releases are golden truth and this is a sad reality for much of the industry, where laziness and a lack of coherent thought process go into the writing of gaming-related articles.
The other element of the industry which I’ve come to terms with over the years, is the gaming community itself one which is “two-sided” in the very sense of the word. What I mean by this is that the gaming community can be both beneficial and advantageous in the support of some cause or leading to change in a game’s development, but at the same time can be a dismally negative force that leads to game developers’ leaving jobs, people having nervous breakdowns online and worsening a situation with a publisher (or developer) far beyond repair. But as I write this, I must stress that gamers can also be a force for good fighting publishers when content isn’t fully up to scratch on release and excuses are made time and time again. Gamers can change the industry. However, the industry can react badly to gamers’ attempts at getting their point across, because the method at times can be questionable, overly aggressive and excessive in nature. “Excessive” is a great word to describe the gaming community, as the community’s intentions and commitment can go either way both positively and negatively. This was a factor that I had to come to terms with when writing my thesis even, and every so often an article would reveal the more negative aspects of the gaming community especially in the comments section (where trolling wasn’t intended).
The final element I’ve come to expect from numerous gaming-related articles and writing is the concept of gender, specifically female gender politics and representation. The under-representation of females in the games industry is truth. We’ve seen Twitter campaigns, articles exploring this topic and so forth. This is an important talking point. From writing both a thesis about gaming as a subculture and writing more journalistic pieces, I do get a sense of the under-representation of females in the gaming world, in both writing capacities from the development side and journalism side of the industry, to the characters we play as in games. This is something which is forever persistent in the gaming industry and needs to be discussed thoroughly, so that we can tackle the issue head-on, instead of merely brushing it off as a fault of developers and publishers. Most of the time, gamers act as if there’s nothing they can do about such an issue, that it is out of their hands. But this is an internalised delusion as gamers have gotten angry over the silliest of things in connection to their favourite games (Mass Effect 3 anyone?). Why can’t we talk about this and make some ground so that this is no longer a taboo issue, but rather a topic we can discuss freely without negativity.
That’s all that I wanted to discuss and put across. These are the lessons I have learnt from writing about games academically and from a journalism standpoint. There have been some positive lessons and some negative ones, and that helps to sum up the games industry. It is by no means a perfect industry to work in. No entertainment industry is perfect, far from that. However, we should be able to discuss such issues and bring them to the fore, instead of resigning ourselves to the idea that things will always stay the same. Things will stay the same if we don’t do anything about it. Gamers can change the industry if they so choose.