Should games journalists be good at games?
The recent release of Cuphead has reignited an age old debate over the legitimacy of video games media, or rather some of the people working in that particular field.
GamesBeat writer Dean Takahashi gained internet infamy when he famously could not beat Cuphead’s tutorial level while attempting to demo the game. There’s a video out there where you can watch him struggle to make it over a basic jump for 26 minutes. Granted Cuphead is a very difficult, dare I say Nintendo Hard game, but it’s not exactly working on new mechanics. It’s just Contra with cute 1930’s cartoon characters. They say any publicity is good publicity, but I don’t think GamesBeat did themselves any favours by putting this clip out there.
Of course Takahashi isn’t the only games journalist to make a complete arse of themselves over their lack of ability. Take Polygon’s poor attempt to play Doom 2016 as another shining example of quality games journalism.
Now I’m far from what you’d call a pro gamer. I don’t pretend to be. I don’t review much stuff anymore, but when I do, I try to stick with what I know. You won’t see me talk about stealth games very often, because I’m bad at those. Not every reviewer is going to be an expert on everything. I wouldn’t expect a guy who’s a hockey expert to wax about the finer points of cricket. But you’d expect journalists demoing or reviewing a particular product to have at least some base competency in its general sphere. Or else why would you be doing it in the first place?
I think the whole debacle has sparked a much larger debate over games journalism as a whole. I’ve tried to avoid the whole GamerGate thing. Questionable ethics is a related issue, but it’s a big can of worms I don’t feel like opening. Overall though, it feels like the quality of gaming media has been taking a steep dive over the last few years.
I think a huge part of the problem is media outlets aren’t hiring actual trained journalists anymore. Rather, and rather alarmingly, they’re hiring bloggers and social media influencers as surrogates for actual reporters. Hell, BuzzFeed made a whole business out of that, while pretending they’re not fake news. In this click driven, pithy hashtag obsessed media environment, everyone else quickly followed suit. Now I’m not saying that’s necessarily the case with GamesBeat or Polygon. But being in the business myself, it’s a general observation I’ve made. It explains why the news media as a whole has become the cesspool it is.
If you’re a journalist, the public has an expectation that you’re an expect in whatever beat you’re reporting on. Whether it be world news, sports, cars, or video games. The simple fact of the matter is that if you can’t master even the simplest mechanics, you have no business being a games journalist.