Baby Steps: How Journalism Deals with Video Games
I have a new-found respect for farmers (that I’m somehow failing to apply here) after attempting to complete either mission. After four lengths of the cornfield I decided to see if tractors can swim. Tractors cannot swim.
Rock, Paper, Shotgun reviews (the demo) of the Farming Simulator 2010 and is pretty snarky about it. I am the last one to defend the Farming Simulator, but somehow, I could not be happy with the malicious glee that hides behind the article either.
In the end, it is not just about being snarky. The real reason why this review is so snarky is not because the game itself is bad. The reviewer never even considered that. For him, it was enough to know that this game did not conform to his – perversely – elitist sense of what a game should be and what not. Farming Simulator does not comply, so here comes the ridicule.
In terms of sales, he could not be wronger. The original version of the Farming Simulator dominated the sales charts of amazon.de for months. Apparently, people see it as a game, and they are willing to pay for it.
Can a game reviewer just disregard that? Obviously, and he even gets cheered on by the comments left on the page.
Imagine a literary critic reviewing a children's book, and mocking its many pictures, its simplistic language and its morally charged and black-and-white story. Clearly, he would be scolded for his utter disregard of the intended audience of the book, and his arrogance for assuming that only books targeted at him are "real" books.
What seems appalling in one case is courant normal in an other. If there is not something to shoot on the screen, it is not a real game. It is as simple as that.
Where does that leave the game designer, a game designer even with more aspirations than just brewing the next FPS clone? Between a rock and a hard place.
Not only are his games not taken seriously by game critics (they are not "real" games), normal culture critics sneer at them as well, as so wonderfully demonstrated in this case (they are just lowly entertainment for the dumb masses, after all):
(Abstract: Why would the Swiss Arts Council Pro Helvetia fund something like games?! After all, everyone knows that they are corrupting children!)
It boils down to that: not only do games need to find their place in society as an art form, the culture industry and with that mostly the journalists need to learn to deal with it. It will not do to dismiss everything that does not cater to your hardcore gamer heart. And it will clearly not do to just sneer about it, because it does not come in the form of a dead tree.
Ironically, exactly those novels are a) often more violent and sexually charged than games and b) might be as captivating as a video game, just like any fictional content, no matter what the medium.1 But of course, in the case of a novel, it is called "fascinating" and is totally something different, right, Mr Thorsten Stecher?
Some call it "Wirklichkeitstransfer", like Prof Matthias Steinmann. It happens everywhere. ↩