Something you learn quickly when working at a small video gaming website like the one for which I work, GameFront.com, is that access of any kind is really hard to come by.
Quickly, it becomes really difficult to execute what you might call “journalism” in other circles. Doing research and getting interviews with the people who actually make the games you’re writing about is notoriously difficult, and the entire industry is under tight controls by public relations companies. The game-making industry controls the message as best as it can, whenever it can, regardless of what the message is. Innocuous questions go unanswered all the time because information control is power in this industry, and publishers wield it. It’s hard to blame them, really.
Jason Schreier over at Kotaku put it into words not long ago, and it’s not necessarily a bad take. Penny Arcade’s Jerry Holkins responded by calling Schreier out for, as he says, treating the furthering of his career as if it were some kind of utopian free information vision. As someone who is routinely frustrated by what Schreier describes, especially having come from newspapers where you’re encouraged to dig and find truth, I don’t think Holkins’ cynical viewpoint is necessarily fully correct. But he has a point when he notes that for the developers and publishers, this is business. They have their own BS to worry about, be it protecting secrets (unlikely) or bottom lines (much more likely).
Anyway, the point of all this is that it’s hard to actually talk to people. It’s hard to find real stories. It’s hard to break “news” and it’s hard to really get at the soul of the gaming hobby by trying to drum it out of the people who make games. Occasionally you get something candid or real; often you don’t. It’s a losing battle, and there’s a reason that much of the games journalism industry comes off, and is thought of, as a mouthpiece for the people with the money — it’s hard to tell any other stories.
Or is it? Actually, allow me to answer my own awful rhetorical question: no, it really isn’t.
Something I’ve been working on lately at GF is finding ways to cover what is arguably a much bigger and more interesting segment of what makes gaming gaming — the people who play. Millions of people make video games a pass-time; for many others, it’s a huge part of their lives. The storytelling of video games was a big part of my development as a writer and brought me into a lot of fascinating worlds that have made me want to do the things I do. A lot of people find a lot of passion in this stuff. Not all of them are guarded by PR bouncers who limit what they’re allowed to talk about and when.
So we’ve started a new series in which the focus is on telling the stories of people in the gaming community. People making stuff. People doing things. People who turn their passion for the stories and experiences brought to them through interactive entertainment and turn it into cool things through struggle. I think these are stories worth exploring, and what’s insane is that no one anywhere is telling them. It doesn’t happen. It isn’t done.
That, I think, is a fundamental failure of games journalism.
Anyway, not to harp on the point. I’m not here to call out the industry or claim I’m its savior or something. I am here to share this cool new project about which I’m excited and whose time I think is overdue.
You can check out the stories we’ve done so far here. I know, they tend to be a bit male-dominated. It’s still a male-dominated hobby, but I’m working on diversifying our coverage.
The latest story is one about which I’m probably the most proud. I spoke with James Jones, a fellow games journalist who actually landed a job writing web content on Star Wars: The Old Republic. For James, it was his dream job, and it’s hard not to see why — the developer, BioWare, is much loved and creates awesome things. It’s Star Wars. And it’s getting paid to write things.
But after the game was launched, the studio where James worked was hit with waves of layoffs and that dream had to come to an end. It’s a sad story, but I think ultimately an uplifting one for James, and a great perspective on what goes on inside gaming what what it can be like for those of us who land the jobs we all dream about when we’re 12. Sometimes it’s amazing. Other times, not so much.
You can read James’ story here. (I’m actually treating it as the second piece of a two-part arc, the first of which is about Hugh Jeremy, a fan who was lifted from the community to work for the developer he loved thanks to passion and diligently making YouTube videos. You can read about him here.) Feel free to leave suggestions for other interview subjects in the comments.