Lets plays, Twitch TV and New Games Journalism
This month marks ten years since Kieron Gillen first sat down at his keyboard and typed out his manifesto for the future of video games journalism. Ten years in which console, trilogies and trends have all come and gone, but the hopes and ideals for the future of games writing his essay spoke of seem as distant now as they have ever been.
Previews still dominate the pages of glossy magazines, promising the world to whoever owns the right system. Reviews are still written as shopping lists, letting the reader know that should they purchase the game in question they can expect graphics, sound and even controls all included for their money. And squatting at the end to neatly condense the past thousand or so words is a score of stars or numbers with varying degrees of decimal places.
New Games Journalism has had some influence, inspiring writers both new and old to break free of a rote style of games writing and experiment with more free form articles based on personal experiences. But in this modern world of Metacritics and bloated mass media amalgamations (not mentioning any names) is there any hope for the kind of high minded journalism that Mr. Gillen imagined? Will we ever get our pub anecdotes with delusions of grandeur?
It might just be that we’re looking in the wrong place. When let’s plays and streams were first coming into vogue, I didn’t understand their appeal.Why would you sit and watch someone else have all the fun playing a video game rather than going out and doing it yourself? The whole idea seemed ludicrous to me, like having someone else go on your vacation so you don’t have to. Despite my misgivings though they exploded in popularity until Youtube and Twitch were filled with personalities whose streams went out to thousands of viewers.
So I took a closer look, to see what it was that I was missing in these videos. Surely if so many people were flocking to watch these videos, they must offer more to the viewer than the chance to watch another person play a video game. Having spent many an hour in my youth watching family friends whose notions of sharing were less than enlightened grind through single player campaigns, I’ve had plenty of experience with just how boring watching someone else play a game can be.
Millions of viewers and subscribers can’t be wrong. So what it that keeps them watching? I suspect it’s the very same thing that New Games Journalism, at it’s heart, is trying to capture.
In the eponymous essay Kieron Gillen wrote that: ‘New Games Journalism exists to try and explain and transfer the sensations allowed by video gaming to anyone who’s willing to sit and take the time to read it’. Sharing with someone the wonder of stepping into World of Warcraft for the first time and exploring the regions you’ve sent so many armies across before or the poignancy of Joel and Ellie’s journey in The Last of Us is what New Games Journalism strives for, and these videos have it in spades. As you watch, the player is able to take you with them on their journey through the game, and show it to you through their eyes. Though there might be thousands watching, it can feel incredibly intimate as you experience exactly what the player is feeling.
Of course not every video is like this. There are plenty that are focussed more on competitive play and sharing the players technical knowledge, or like traditional games journalism an attempt to demonstrate the pros and cons of a title to assist in your decision whether or not to buy it. But the best of these videos are shared experiences, where the player opens up their heart and says: ‘This is how this game makes me feel’. Whilst this might not be the kind of work Kieron Gillen imagined when he wrote his piece, they exemplify the spirit of new games journalism, if not the form.
So whilst at times it might seem that new games journalism is nowhere to be found, you might just need to look again.