Opinion

Game Journalists Defend Being Bad At Games

It’s not too much to ask for a professional to be competent at his or her job. Game journalists, for example, are expected to be familiar with the medium and have a modicum of skill in playing them.

Just as sports journalists don’t have to be professional athletes, game journalists don’t have to be esports champions. Such expectations are unreasonable, and the only ones making that claim are game journalists upset that one of their own was made fun of by yours truly earlier this week.

In my tweet that has since gone viral with over 2 million impressions, I highlighted a snippet of VentureBeat gaming contributor Dean Takahashi’s painful playthrough of an upcoming video game called Cuphead. The game’s wonderful, 1930s inspired art was marred by Takahashi’s performance. He made the game look harder than it was, and even struggled for over two minutes with the brief tutorial.

Unable to read the on-screen instructions, Takahashi spent over a minute trying to perform a basic maneuver that, as I highlighted in another tweet, was easy enough that even a four-year-old could figure it out after just a few seconds of watching.

During the preview event, the game’s developers told Takahashi that they didn’t think their game was “difficult.” It was merely “challenging.” Takahashi disagreed, stating that he “quickly put the lie to that terminology.” It’s worth noting that the game journalist even misattributed Cuphead’s creators to another popular video game made by an entirely different team. Facts are not his forte.

Riffing on the “game journalists are bad at video games” stereotype, I asked: “How do they think they’re qualified to write about games?”

Thousands of people who responded to my tweet expressed nothing but disgust and disdain at the professional game journalist’s inability to grasp the game’s basic functions. “I have to assume that this is some kind of elaborate clickbait. There’s just no way,” remarked Markus Persson, who created Minecraft.

Popular YouTuber Keemstar suggested to me that game journalists watch YouTube gaming videos and “write [bullshit] without ever playing the game.”

Since then, game journalists have been circling the wagons with article after article decrying my so-called “attack” on their colleague, painting me—as well as every other gamer, game developer, and commentator who found his performance appalling—as cyberbullies, GamerGaters, and in more than one instance, as Trump supporters. No, there’s no logic in that, either.

These so-called professionals claim that the expectation of basic competency and literacy of the interactive medium is a form of gatekeeping and GamerGaterism. While this may be the case with new gamers still on their training wheels, Dean Takahashi—a veteran game journalist of over 25 years—has been on the scene for longer than many game journalists have been alive. It’s a moot point.

Video game literacy is every bit as important in covering games as actual literacy when writing book reviews. This wouldn’t be Takahashi’s first instance of being illiterate to the medium he writes in, disappointing the readers he’s supposed to be catering to.

In the past, the game journalist panned a role-playing game called Mass Effect with a bad review in 2007, not knowing how to level up. After he was called out and encouraged to revise his review, his apology featured a caveat that Mass Effect should’ve been more like a completely different game.

More egregiously, Takahashi thought that the decades-old Warhammer 40,000 sci-fi series ripped off Gears of War’s designs. In a 2011 article, he panned the former for being so “embarrassing” that it made him “wonder about the dearth of creativity in video games.”

When he was later raked over the coals by readers, he attempted to justify his mistake. “First, this post is not research-backed journalism,” he wrote. “I walked into a room, looked at a game, and offered what I thought about it. I’ve been doing that professionally for around 15 years.” Classic.

It wasn’t the only game he was hard on to excuse his own ineptitude. In a piece about the strategy game XCOM 2 from 2016, Takahashi complained about how gamers were “obsessed” with hard games and the addition of features that raise the stakes. The game was so hard for him that he called the game’s creator to complain about its difficulty. It’s worth noting that the turn-based game comes with numerous options to make it easy.

Reflecting on the aftermath of his video’s infamy, Takahashi claims I “clipped it to the 2.5 minutes of the most damning inept gameplay.” This is not true, given that all 20-something minutes of the video were equally damning.

Digging even deeper, Takahashi claims that my post was “political propaganda for the disenfranchised gamers, the sort who went from Gamergate to the alt-right and elected Donald Trump as president.” That escalated quickly.

It’s instances like this that make it difficult for gamers and anyone else who feels as passionately as I do about video games to take anyone who says game journalists deserve respect or have their work taken seriously. And the defensive, arrogant reactions from so-called professionals who look down on their audience has the effect of pouring water on a grease fire already out of control.

Is a basic level of competence too much to ask for?

Gaming YouTuber John “TotalBiscuit” summed it up best in his observations of how the games press reacted to criticism of Takahashi’s miserable Cuphead playthrough.

“Invariably some ‘journos’ came out of the woodwork to defend the awful Cuphead player,” he wrote. “Of course they did. Competence is anathema to some.”

“I would not read reviews by a car reviewer that didn’t have a driver’s license,” he continued. “You just need a BASIC level of competence, basic. If you lack that competence you essentially start misrepresenting the game badly which is an actively harmful level of incompetence.”

“Some viewers have unrealistic expectations but this is NOT the fault of the ‘gaming community’ it’s the fault of a person bad at his job,” he concluded.

Ian Miles Cheong is a journalist and outspoken media critic. You can reach him through social media at @stillgray on Twitter and on Facebook.