One of the more pervasive, messy, things I’ve been making a conscious effort to move away from is the very idea that games are competing with other games and for my time. Or consumer journalism, if you like.
Needless to say, it’s been a bumpy one.
A few years back I realised that it neither did games justice or particularly made me happy. It’s the reason I set up a whole site where I’d just talk about things I liked or found vaguely interesting in games.
What tipped me over the edge into action was largely watching so many people make wonderful things and them being assessed as to whether they’re better or worse than something else, like that matters somehow. Like they absolutely need to be ranked.
And, you know, being the one doing the ranking. Whoops.
I know it’s different strokes and all that but I don’t rank the music I listen to. Ask me for my favourite and it’ll depend on a myriad of things right at that moment. Ask me again 5 minutes later, it’ll be something else.
The same for film, TV, books and comics.
So why treat games differently? Well, partially the entire mainstream games culture is obsessed with ranking and scoring, so there’s that. Partly the cost because games cost a lot of money to buy and largely always have done.
But they’re not all expensive. Why was I ranking and judging 360 XBLIG games, right? The answer, depressingly, is that I’d bought into the idea that the moment you charge money for a game, that’s the moment consumer journalism comes to the fore. Even if you’re charging less than 80p or something.
It doesn’t make much sense if you stop and think about it but then, much of capitalism just doesn’t.
Anyone who knows me knows I tend to have very little money. There’s regularly days where 80 pence on a videogame means something essential would have to go, so no, not happening. There’s days where I don’t have 80p. I get all that stuff too intimately.
Thing is, if I have 80p to spend on a game and there are games that cost less than 80p, there’s little value to me discussing the ones that don’t hit the spot, only being able to find the ones that do. Flexing my wordmuscles on the bulk of indie or small games that don’t appeal to me barely benefits me, let alone anyone else. These days, I don’t really see much point in doing it for big box games either.
Yes, a good aggro review of a game that doesn’t gel can be a guilty pleasure to write, or to read, but it’s also often just unnecessarily cruel and entirely disproportionate too. It certainly feels to me that being less cruel to people just trying their best with what they have seems like a situation everyone wins with.
Obviously I make the exception for misguided stuff, cruelty, hate, whatever. That’s not most videogames or most people in videogames though. And you know, that’s also best dealt with through discussion or shutting that shit right down. Critique of its content to the fore, people first, not market first stuff. Not is it worth spending money on or whatever. That stuff? It’s definitely not competing for my money or my time. It’s not even in the running.
The other more notable exception is discussing monetisation because it’s 2020 and for a long while now, games have used free or cheap as a Trojan Horse for allowing people to keep spending on them (or not cheap as big box games tend to be). That, to me, is the moment consumer journalism becomes the most beneficial – not telling me how many graphics a game has. Consumer journalism for consumer issues, if you will.
I think broadly, this is the normal for a lot of sites now so perhaps there’s little controversial here in the year of our Molyneux 2020. Just, on a personal note, getting to a place where I’m more comfortable with games just being, crap bits and all, feels like where I always tried to aim to be at, I just got it all in a bit of a muddle along the way.