What I’m about to write would have been enormously unprofessional a few months ago, but since I’m no longer a member of the games press, nor do I have any intention of going back any time soon, I am more than happy to express myself freely.
My statement is simple: If you’re that cynical about video games, find something else — anything – to write about.
I say this after a day in which not one but two utterly dreadful articles were brought to my attention — I’m not going to link to either; you can seek them out yourself if you’re that interested.
First up was the review of Fairy Fencer F over on my former stomping grounds of USgamer. After witnessing… the reviewer in question’s review style on a couple of other Japanese role-playing game titles — most notably the actually rather excellent Tales of Xillia 2, which he panned — and the fact that, back when I was still on the staff, he wouldn’t review Atelier Rorona Plus on the grounds that a Google Image Search for the game looked “creepy”, I wasn’t altogether surprised to see that he tore this title to shreds, also. And he did so in such a way that told me three things: 1) he had a pre-existing dislike of the company that produced the game (Compile Heart) 2) he hadn’t taken the time to engage with the game on anything more than the most superficial level and 3) he simply didn’t give a shit about JRPGs as they exist in 2014.
I haven’t yet played Fairy Fencer F, but given the way in which the review in question was expressed — telling people who might actually be interested in the game absolutely nothing about the game, its story or its characters and instead bashing Compile Heart and its parent company Idea Factory, bemoaning easily ignored technical issues and generally looking down its nose at people who might want to play it — I don’t have much faith in it as a whole. I intend to give the game a fair shot myself once I have time to settle down with it, and when I do I intend to provide some detailed thoughts on the subject over at MoeGamer, much as I did with Tales of Xillia 2 recently.
Now, games journos will often point out how stupid it is to disagree with a review, which is, after all, a subjective opinion. And it kind of is; if you like something which someone else hates, then great; more power to you. But what we had here was more than that — it was an outright unhelpful review, instead more concerned with scrawling “I Hate Compile Heart” over everything than actually providing any sort of interesting, helpful analysis or criticism. It actually felt borderline insulting at times — though thankfully not so much as the site’s notorious Hatsune Miku Project Diva F review, which was so offensive to fans of Japanese games that emphatic complaints from me and my then-colleague Cassandra led to the formation of my JPgamer column.
If this was a one-off, I wouldn’t mind so much, but the reviewer in question has now done this several times — leading me to question the motivations for assigning him (or him stepping forward; I don’t know which way round it was) to these titles in the first place. As the former staffer who single-handedly built up a ton of goodwill with fans of niche titles that get ignored at best, marginalised or even ridiculed at worst by other sites, I can’t deny that it smarts a little to see all that goodwill getting well and truly pissed up the wall by giving the sort of games that I would have been all over — and that my fellow enthusiasts would have loved to hear more about — to someone who clearly and obviously hates them. Something that helped make USgamer unique has been lost; now it’s just another site with a predictable “loljapan” attitude about it. I would rather the site simply didn’t review these titles at all than let this joyless arse anywhere near one ever again, but sadly it’s not up to me. How very disappointing.
But let’s not get too hung up on Fairy Fencer F because this was, surprisingly, not the most stupid thing posted today. No, that honour goes to the epic-length editorial over on Polygon about finding the tutorial to the new Lord of the Rings game troubling. Why? Because at one point, you sneak up on your wife and kiss her, using the same control scheme and animations as you use later in the game to assassinate people and monsters. Somehow this bizarre objection was spun out to somewhere in the region of 1,500 words — an impressive achievement on the part of the author to take that long to say absolutely nothing, I must admit. (Although frankly, given the state of some of the entries on this blog, I’m probably not one to talk. But eh; there’s a difference between a professional, commercial games site and a personal blog I use as an outlet for mental detritus.)
Polygon has been going down the toilet for a long time; I can’t say I’ve ever been a particular fan of their uniquely pretentious brand of games journalism, nor the sanctimonious attitude of several of its staff writers, but since ditching their features staff a while back — the one part of the site that actually had anything meaningful or interesting to say — it really has been circling the drain. I wasn’t surprised or angry to read this article today after someone pointed me in its direction earlier; my only real reaction was a sigh and a shake of the head. Games journalism in 2014, ladies and gentlemen; better to say 1,500 words of nothing at all about the week’s big release than, you know, say nothing at all. Because if you make people angry you’ll at least get some page hits as people share it indignantly.
Today has been one of numerous days that I’ve looked back on my time with the games press and thought “That was fun while it lasted, but I don’t want to go anywhere near that ever again.” If a prerequisite for being a member of the games press of 2014 is being a joyless wanker who can’t find the fun in anything, then count me out. Give me a call when you ditch the clickbait business model, fire all these miserable tossers and start bringing on board people who are actually enthusiastic — even passionate — about this exciting medium. I won’t be sitting by the phone waiting for your call, however; I’ve got better things to do.
You know, like playing games… and actually enjoying them.