I found out last night that the University of Michigan-Flint offers a course teaching “The Analysis and Criticism of Videogames”. A games journalism course! The first of its kind! Colour me inspired.
I know that some of you who visit here want to earn a living as games journalists, and that others are already neophytes in my strange trade. Well, this is your lucky day! I’m playing professor for the next few minutes.
The following are five of my most ancient and magical techniques. You can use any one of these to improve the quality of all the writing about games you will ever do. Listen well.
1. Do not use the word “Gameplay”
Articles saturated with this word read like they have trapped gas. More often than not “gameplay” can be replaced with the word “game”, unless it’s part of a horrible fucking sentence like “Gameplay-wise, Far Cry 2 is more of the same” or “The gameplay on offer is solid and a lot of fun.”
Good journalism uses a minimum of words. The word gameplay should not be surviving the cull that occurs when you read over what you’re written to see if you can convey a fact, opinion or emotion in less time.
2. Don’t ever duck an explanation
This is more common than you’d think. A reviewer might, for example, say “It seems tedious at first, but for some reason the turn-based combat sucks you in.” They might also drop an “It’s hard to explain” or “It’s tricky to put your finger on why the…”
I don’t care if it’s hard to explain why a mechanic works or doesn’t work, or if it’s taxing to think about why a game brings out a particular emotion. Saying “It’s hard to explain” is an admission of defeat. Jesus, as a games journalist you should feel a burning need to understand why a gun in a game feels good to shoot, or why a level’s atmosphere makes you feel lonely. You should be capable of disassembling design and figuring out how it works.
3. Do not comment that a game is “Trying too hard to be clever”
A game cannot try too hard to be clever. What you’re saying is that the game somehow purposely devotes itself to being clever, and that’s a statement which tells the reader very little but does carry the obnoxious subtext that you hold no sympathy for people who try to make smart games. If a game doesn’t work how it’s intended to, drop straight into an explanation of why.
4. Do not, when writing a strapline, subheader or image caption use a variation of “Lions, and tigers, and bears, oh my”
Officially the “War! What is it good for?” of 08/09.
5. Do not say “If you like x kind of thing you’ll probably like this, because it is x”
So you’re reviewing an old-school RPG. For your concluding sentence you write “Fans of traditional RPGs will probably find some meat on these bones. The rest of you should probably steer clear.”
What you’re doing here is addressing everyone who knows they like traditional RPGs and telling them that they will probably like this because it’s a traditional RPG. See also: Mentioning a game is very hard, then saying people who love hard games will probably have a really good time.
Let’s say you were reviewing a pizza. At no point in that review would you point out the people who find pizzas delicious would probably enjoy eating this pizza. Nor would you mention that fans of spicy beef will take great pleasure in the spicy beef topping. So don’t do it in your games writing.
Alright, done. I’ll see if I can come up with another five of these rules in the near future. If I can get a total of 20 good ones then I’ll package it as a .pdf and try and distribute it. Suggestions are very welcome.