An Advertisment is Not a Documentary

LesterThe Verge is a tech site run by Vox Media in the United States of America. It is launching its games news site called, for some reason, ‘Polygon’. Those are the facts. Now, as ever when it comes to commerce and journalism, things get fuzzy.

Let’s watch this advert about for what Vox would like us to believe is ‘documentary’ called Press Reset: The Story of Polygon about the making of the advertising-driven website covering video games at the bottom of this piece.

Certainly, as another strand of the entertainment complex, the video game industry is worth celebrating. I agree. Some video games are good. Many people who make video games are good too. Celebration is what annual, voted on awards shows are for. It is not what news and reviews and interviews are for. Those are there to inform (maybe entertain) readers and, in the case of video games coverage, consumers.

Some people who write about people who make video games, who review games and who do interviews (me, I do that) are okay too. Some of us and some of what we do are necessary to inform consumers of video games about those products. Some of us can also be of value in informing game makers where they have progressed or regressed the industry from which we all make money. But, when all is said and done, we hacks, writers, keepers of journals and blogs are largely there to provide a service to our readers.

As I was told early in my career, “It’s great that you want to right a novel, the door to your house is through the exit of this office. I’ll buy a copy of your book when it comes out. Now, tell the readers whether this widget is any good.”

Times have changed a great deal since then. The New Games Journalism has much to say about this. From a “Manifesto” drawn up in 2004 by Keiron Gillen, who stated in the piece that:

“If Games Journalism is just a job to you, you really shouldn’t be doing it. The word should be “vocation”.”

As a side note, having signed a contract to write for Marvel, he stated in Rock Paper Shotgun that his vocation was, well, quite flexible and he was leaving full time games journalism.

“Those who follow my career may be wondering whether this actually has anything to do with me signing an exclusive contract with Marvel. Well… yes and no. Yes, it affected the timing. Not because it has anything to do with whether I can write games journalism or not, but because with the contract signed I felt it important to give my full, undivided and primary attention to the comic-writing.”

So, not so much a vocation as something to do until something ‘better’ comes along. Anyway, The NGJ manifesto eschews nasty details such as writing for a reader or looking at the worth of the video game in the actual video game.

New Games Journalism rejects this, and argues that the worth of a videogame lies not in the game, but in the gamer. What a gamer feels and thinks as this alien construct takes over all their sensory inputs is what’s interesting here, not just the mechanics of how it got there. Games have always been digital hallucinogens — but games journalism has been like chemistry, discussing the binding reactions to brain sites. What I’m suggesting says what it feels like as the chemical kicks in and reality is remixed around you.

OK. Cool man. This set of confused, overwrought and generally solipsistic nonsense pleased many writers who believed themselves to be beyond the herd. This set of writers became important to this set of writers and to the minority of readers who want to be writers. This has lead to the USA. Not the USA of self-knowledge (F Scott Fitz, Kurt Vonnegut, Ralpha Nader, Edward R Murrow, John Hersey, Hannah Arendt, Mariah Blake) but the USA of self-help books, TV psychologist, NLP. The USA that thinks that Lester Bangs and Hunter S Thompson and Tom Wolf are journalists not brilliant fiction writers; the USA whose only form of reflection is of itself in a pool of its own tears cried at the wonder of itself.

The logical conclusion? Fuck the reader… let’s make a ‘documentary’ about ourselves.

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