Friday, 09 Jan 2015


New Games Journalism

What is New Games Journalism?

The reviews you see in gamer magazines are like the film reviews you see on TV. The author is trying to help you decide whether you should spend your money on this title, knowing that your decision will be based almost entirely on whether you will “enjoy” the experience. New games journalism describes the work of authors who are writing not simply in order to help consumers spend their money.

In Canvas, I asked you to read and respond to a new games journalism article called “Bow, Nigger.” It’s controversial, well-written, and very effective. (Go there and read it now if you haven’t done so already.)
Such articles are of interest to people who already own the game under scrutiny, and to others who don’t actually want to play the game, but who are nevertheless interested in the game’s cultural importance.
For instance, I might describe how my son, when he was nine, got excited about learning his multiplication tables when he played Timez Attack. Or, I might describe how the two-player drop-in/drop-out design of Lego Star Wars II was perfect for my son, who obsessed over each level until he completes it and my daughter, who had a much shorter attention span. I might also describe how their inability to agree on which direction to explore and on whether to be methodical about cleaning out each level or whether to rush about madly from environment to environment led to temper tantrums that resulted in the game being temporarily banished from the house. And I might note that when we installed Lego Indiana Jones, we were thrilled to see that when the two players head in different directions, the screen actually splits, so two players don’t have to remain near each other in order for the game to work.
The Canvas activity asks you to blog specifically about one sample of new games journalism, because I expect that for most students, game reviews will be first and foremost in your mind when I ask you to write about the games we study. Since I already know how to play these games, and since you don’t have to convince me whether or not to buy them, we need to focus on something else instead of “how to play” or “how it looks” or “whether it is fun”.  What else is there to say about a game, beyond whether or not you should buy a copy?  What about free games — are they worth talking about?  What about games designed to persuade — buy this produce, elect this candidate, support this global issue?
I’ll leave you with this article about “Ten Umissable Examples of New Games Journalism.”  The article is about 10 years old, so some of those links will no longer work. That’s okay.
I’m going to ask you to blog your own example of new games journalism. For starters, try giving me about 300 words.
A “new games journalism” story is in some ways a personal essay, and in some ways it’s a nonfiction short story in which you are the main character. Rather than offering a stream of personal reflections or announcements about what the world should be like (“People should stop being racist,” the author of “Bow, Nigger” tells a story, in which the main character encounters racism; the author models a particular response to that racism, and describes how the community responds. Nowhere does the author of “Bow, Nigger” write “Gosh, people, racists really suck, you guys should respect me.”  Instead, he shares a compelling story that demands the reader’s respect. (He does not TELL his main point, he SHOWS it.)
Here are some handouts that I use when I teach the following genres. Reading them will help you answer the question, “What does he want?”
Give it a try. Feel free to include this entry in your “risk” category.
What game will you choose for your focus?
What point do you want to make? (For instance, I might have written a NGJ essay about how the 2-player split screen that Lego introduced in its Indiana Jones game helped my siblings bond.)
What is a specific game-playing incident you want to examine? (Note that the author of “Bow, Nigger” zeroes in on one particular encounter with a racist player. He doesn’t rely on stories about what “some people” do or what happens “too often” or “all the time.”  He spends time describing what happens during a specific gameplay session, rather than listing the kinds of things that generally happen when he plays the game.)
You might need to go off and play your favorite game for a while, looking for an incident that’s worth writing about, and then come back to this assignment.

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