Blog Archives

Social media has “ruined” games journalism.

I follow games journalism too much. I say this as a person who followed sites like GameSpot and 1UP back in their heyday, and still support places like Idle Thumbs and Giant Bomb to this day. I like their stuff. I listen to the podcasts. I follow the majority of them on social media like Twitter and Tumblr. But I think social media has “ruined” games journalism, and here’s why.

Over the past several weeks, the internet has been increasingly abuzz over two major issues. First, Zoe Quinn of noted game Depression Quest suddenly has a blog from an ex-boyfriend leaking out details of their past relationship. Said event lead to constant internet harassment on Twitter and other social media, including her Tumblr getting hacked by anonymous hackers, even going as far as to reveal her personal information – known as “doxxing” – to the public. While Quinn denies the statement and many others associated by the ex-boyfriend have denied the claims, there are still groups of people going to Quinn’s Twitter account and verbally abusing her over accusations that were never proven, most of them associating her alleged sexual encounters with the restaurant chain Five Guys. It’s gotten to a fever pitch, people using #gamergate and #notyourshield hashtags on Twitter to continue the barrage of harassment, so much so that noted female games writers Mattie Brice and Jenn Frank decided to leave the games criticism industry, leaving many years of wonderful writing behind them.

The other is a long-brewing one with “Tropes vs. Women,” an internet series started by one Anita Sarkeesian, whose Kickstarter on “Tropes vs. Women in Video Games” got over $120,000 out of her initial $6,000 goal in response to harassment she got for it. Over the past two years, Sarkeesian and her company Feminist Frequency have been intermittently putting out videos in the series, with each new video receiving extreme criticism and anger from various people of the internet, mostly male. So much so that two men, Jordan Owen and Davis Aurini, decided to make a crowdfunded movie called “The Sarkeesian Effect” to point the “truth” about Sarkeesian’s actions. Sarkeesian’s newest “Tropes vs. Women” video got so much venom that people sent death threats, while people such as noted writer Joss Whedon vehemently defended Sarkeesian’s work. That’s not counting notable internet personalities such as Philip “thunderf00t” Mason going to great lengths to discredit Sarkeesian’s work, even as much as pointing out a single section in a video to prove her opinions were flawed and that we were – in his words – “baited, hook, line and sinker.”

Why did I mention those two women? What do they have to do with social media ruining game journalism? Because let’s face it, 20 years ago, these two would not have gotten nearly as much attention, if it weren’t for the internet and how Twitter, Facebook and Tumblr are so accessible that the average person could easily spout out their rhetoric without any consequence.

When you think about it, it wasn’t always this way. Back in the ’90s, you didn’t know much about game critics except whatever you saw them write in their respective magazines. You didn’t know much about people like Nick Rox, Dan Elektro or Steve Harris outside of what they wrote in the magazine (or their real names, even!). They didn’t have a personal newsletter, a TV show, or any other way of knowing what they like, except for their taste in games every month without fail. Websites really didn’t take off ’til the early 2000s, and even then you probably weren’t well-versed in the staff unless you watched their content constantly.

Even for me, I only followed the personalities at places like 1UP and GameSpot was because their content was available at their website. If I wanted to know more about them, I had to dig around the web or hope you could by chance chat with them on a forum, either the website’s forum or a more notable one like NeoGAF.

When Twitter started becoming a thing around 2007-08, suddenly the journalists whom you just saw on videos and podcasts now had their own personal soapbox to talk about stuff, what they’re doing, even what kind of bar they’re chilling at before a major event. Before, these people were relative unknowns, known only by the games they like. Now, they’ve opened almost their entire life into your internet world, finding out things about them you didn’t know previously.

However, this comes with a consequence of knowing TOO much about these people. This is something I realized when I was babbling some inane trivia about a former games journalist to a bunch of friends while playing Sonic and All-Stars Racing Transformed. Even though I met said person twice before at PAX and he seemed super-chill. But that’s just how my brain absorbs information, but I started realizing that by following the social media they did – their blogs, their videos, what else they’ve done over the years – that I was stalking them by proxy. Perhaps not to a creepy degree, but certainly unsettling to myself. Needless to say, I kept that sort of stuff to myself after that, and I feel embarrassed about knowing that information because the last thing a critic needs is having the equivalent of a creepy fanbase.

I’m probably not alone on this. You too probably follow a critic very closely, because social media has gotten you more personally attached to their work. Previously, at most you’d read their column or a review by the person, but now you’re digging into their personal lives, by whatever they show publicly. This doesn’t just apply to games journalism, it happens in other mediums too: I didn’t know Roger Ebert was really into rice cookers until he started praising them on Twitter among the thousands of other posts of whatever movies he critiqued that week. Then he wrote a book about rice cookers that I found out through his Twitter. Had I not followed him on Twitter, I probably would’ve known him for just his movie reviews and his long stint working with Gene Siskel and Richard Roeper.

Basically we get emotionally attached to these people, the people whom you may have talked to once or twice, as if they’re close friends or family. Sometimes this can lead to new friendships, but it’s not guaranteed. This can be used for good, but in some cases it can be used for evil, much like Quinn and Sarkeesian suffered the past few weeks. This is what social media has done to us: We know too much.

That’s why when you see people wanting to talk about “integrity,” in reality they’re saying “I don’t want to know about social issues, or drama, or anything like that. I just want you to write about video games in a simple way, just like it was before.” These people are basically wanting to go back to the “good old days” where all you knew was what E. Storm had to say that month, and didn’t know much about the person’s other views. When they say they want “unbiased games journalism,” all they really want are the facts, not the writer’s opinion on something. With social media being so prevalent these days, it’s impossible to revert to just spewing bullet points of stuff that’s on the back on the box.

The kind of people who are criticizing people like Quinn and Sarkeesian likely use video games as escapism from their personal lives. Anything that bucks the trend and makes people think about something, such as Gone Home, are met with increased hostility because, again, they play games to escape life, not live it. Because video games are starting to make people feel and understand parts of life by playing them, and are doing what other entertainment mediums have been doing for decades or centuries before it: personal experience. It just took us 40 years of video games to finally reach that point.

Keep in mind, I am not saying you should not follow notable people on Twitter or Tumblr and leave it only to following your close friends. I am saying that when you follow someone like Patrick Klepek, you’re not following a fan club, or a corporate Twitter ran by some lackey for peanuts, you’re following the man himself. Thus you should expect them to be personal to a public audience, and that includes disclosing their interests. If you’re not into that sort of thing, it’s okay to not follow them through those channels and stick to the videos and podcasts. We were fine with that ten years ago, and I bet some people are fine with just doing that.


Review: Instant Jam (Facebook)

courtesy of some MMO site.

For a long time, I had thought to myself that I could never get into the plastic instrument music game genre. Cost was the main factor, as well as me going through a phase where I was listening to nothing but film scores and NES tunes. But in early 2009, I had gotten the chance of a lifetime: A copy of Guitar Hero: Aerosmith for $10, which came with a free guitar controller. That was when I started getting into the genre; now I own several Guitar Hero games, as well as games of competitor Rock Band.

Despite Activision’s idea last year that “more Guitar Hero games = more profit,” — leading to oversaturation as a result — the genre is still going strong, and developer InstantAction decided to do their own version of it: Instant Jam. The game is an online Facebook application playable from your web browser, with only an installation of Java required. The game is currently in beta as I write this review.

What’s Instant Jam’s advantage compared to Rock Band or Guitar Hero? The answer is simple: the game’s set list is your MP3 collection. Sick of begging for Muse in Rock Band? You can play songs by Muse and a myriad of other bands previously unseen in those other games in Instant Jam. You can also play songs by bands that aren’t rock-focused as well. Ever wanted to play Daft Punk or Pet Shop Boys in those games? You can in Instant Jam. I was even able to play Haddaway’s “What is Love?” in the game, which was an amusing novelty considering its cult status for being that song used in a Saturday Night Live sketch.

Once you have your set list, you choose a song and one of four difficulties: Casual (like “Easy” in Guitar Hero or Rock Band), Normal (“Medium”), Hard, or Expert. The problem here is that some charts only have Casual or Normal difficulties, others only have Expert charts. Only a few of the songs actually have all four difficulties from what I saw. I also had problems where songs didn’t want to play, dumping me with a mysterious error that ran in an infinite loop until I hit refresh on my web browser.

image courtesy of Eurogamer

For those unfamiliar with the genre, it’s relatively simple: Hit buttons in time to a music track to score points. Some notes will glow a different color and give the player energy that when activated, doubles the score multiplier. After the song is complete, you’re given stars to determine how well you did. Instant Jam does the same features that those games have: Five notes in the respective green-red-yellow-blue-orange colors, their equivalent of Star Power called “Jam Power,” and lightning bolts replacing stars. You can use the keyboard to play the game, or plug in a USB-powered Guitar controller, which works perfectly fine for playing the game. I used my Gibson Xplorer guitar controller for the Xbox 360 and I could play and strum just fine, which is a big plus.

For Instant Jam to have song tracks to play in the game, the game has to scan your entire computer for MP3s. Now I have MP3s scattered all over my PC, and it will pull its playlist from whatever songs that match their charts. But even when it doesn’t have an Instant Jam chart, the MP3 will play in the game’s menu while choosing songs, messing with the shop, or fiddling with other options. I’ve had film scores, video game music, and former GFW editor Jeff Green yelling at Anthony Gallegos play in the background. It would be nice to limit it to whatever songs are in the “my songs” category, and it baffles me why they designed it that way. If you don’t have a song that Instant Jam has charts for, you can buy them off Amazon or iTunes and have them work in the game. The problem is that I had songs that have IJ charts, only to find the the game does not detect them. You can play them with the MP3s that you have, but all this does is lead to charts not syncing properly with the music most of the time. Other times I had songs disappear from my songs list, mysteriously not being detected by the program despite being detected and playable when I last played it. Overall, their song detection seriously needs work.

The biggest problem I had with Instant Jam is how the songs are charted. At times, the game made me play keyboard sections instead of guitar (Caesars’ “Jerk It Out,” Huey Lewis and the News’ “The Power of Love”), or switch awkwardly between the guitar and bass (Cake’s “The Distance”). The overall charting seems really awkward. I didn’t think InstantAction could rival Guitar Hero III-era Neversoft in really awkward charting. Of course, this may be nitpicking on my part, but unless there’s no playable guitar track, I should be playing the guitar from beginning to end, not switching between various instruments for the sake of variety.

Instant Jam limits the numbers of songs you can play to three a day, unless you level up, where your play count resets. Every time you finish songs, you unlock credits to buy new guitars, new backgrounds, and new notes on the fretboard. Some don’t unlock until you reach higher levels, others don’t unlock unless you pay money, which is something I really don’t like. I feel that this type of subscription model leads to “nickeling and diming” your audience, but due to the popularity of other online mediums doing the same thing — exchanging real cash for in-game goods — I’m not surprised InstantAction decided to adopt the same business model.

Outside of the gameplay, there are more issues in this beta. Settings not being saved, screens mysteriously shrinking before the main menu loads, even times where the game absolutely refused to load on my various web browsers. Coupled with the problems I already mentioned earlier, it makes the game look like an inconsistent buggy mess.

Now, I can forgive these guys slightly since it’s a game in a beta state. But right now as I write this review, the concept is solid, but the execution is awful. Since there are a lot of Facebook users these days, Instant Jam could be massively popular to the casual crowd if it is well designed and properly marketed. But right now, I can’t recommend that anybody should play this. This non-recommendation is not just for music game diehards, Facebook users and casual gamers in general should also stay away from this. In fact, I’d suggest that you try Frets on Fire instead, which is a free PC game that essentially does the same thing as Instant Jam does, but without all the bugs. Here is hoping that in six months time, they polish the product considerably, because this looks promising.