blogging.jpg So, video game blog Kotaku has a new feature up, named 'Blogging Down The House', that apparently heralds a new 'Preview Ho of the Month' feature on the website, which will be "a compilation of the most egregious, blatant promotion for unreleased games from across the gaming press", announced in a feature that begins: "Why do games, for the most part, unrelentingly suck such ass?"

The article's author, Wagner James Au, is a former in-house and current out-of-house blogger for 'virtual world' Second Life, and is, to be honest, a bit of a long-time critic of the mainstream game biz. In reviewing E3 2001 for Salon, he suggested that the game business was "still grossly unprepared for the mainstream, a disreputably grab-ass, twerpy adjunct to the real media." Even more stridently, in a follow-up article on the Columbine massacre for Salon in 1999, he stoked the game violence connection quite ably by suggesting: "Knowing the dark urges these games evoke in me, I can easily picture Klebold, Harris and all their pathetically savage predecessors, slack-jawed before their PCs and game consoles, misappropriating them to dress-rehearse the revenge melodrama they've already scripted in their heads." Nice.

Now, I've already mailed Au to point out that Dan Hsu's previously GSW-referenced rant on magazines trading ad space for reviews was published in EGM, despite him saying that it "didn’t show up in game magazines", and honestly, I think major Slashdot threads and a massive 78-comment VGMWatch thread about the story doesn't qualify for making it something that "most of the gaming press cravenly failed to follow up on."

But, putting aside that story, and bearing in mind that I may be more of a 'glass half-full' guy than Au, here's the important point. I have the April 2006 issue of Official U.S. PlayStation Magazine here next to me, and sorry - the previews just aren't "groveling" or "hyping crap". For Midway's Stranglehold, for example, the most judgmental line I can find is: "Besides the Hollywood treatment, the core game will be third-person action title, replete with guns, bullet time... and even vehicles." That's a description, not a rave. And we at GSW recently discussed how video game magazines genuinely seem to be evolving, as more mature gamers demand more considered, expansive editorial.

Now, I'm not saying that there aren't video game previews, or even reviews, that aren't off-base. Everyone makes mistakes, as Au himself admits. But in suggesting that: "Bloggers have transformed the mainstream media... US politics... and Hollywood... It is time for blogs to do the same thing for the game industry, breaking the closed circuit of suck once and for all", this is where Au loses me.

Attacking the integrity of video game journalists will not magically make video games 'better', in some kind of tremendous cacophonous upswell. Here's the truth of the matter - good game writing is out there, and video game creativity and innovation will continue to exist, both on the risk-happy indie game scene, and even in many mainstream games, despite the financial factors which favor risk aversion - as a random example, try the analog punch controls in Fight Night Round 3. With the genesis of aggregated game rankings and the Internet, previews surely aren't the root of all evil when it comes to misguided buying decisions.

And, since I feel Au is picking up on a larger trend, there is no absolute death of creativity to go alongside the industry's financial issues right now - there wasn't in 1983, and there wasn't in 1994/5, and there isn't now. In fact, we should be criticizing constructively, as we also try to do on sister pubs Gamasutra and Game Developer magazine, and helping to meld a better industry through coherent discussion.

My view is that we should collectively be highlighting intelligent writing from Computer Games Magazine, The Escapist, OPM and the multitude of online sources that GameSetWatch covers daily, and helping to break indie and mainstream games that startle and innovate, rather than finding a different shaped stick to bash game journos (and, by inference, the game industry) over the head with. Sure, it's not perfect out there, but isn't it more fun to try to build the new world together than to break the existing one down for no good reason?

[UPDATE: Over at QT3, Tom Chick has a slightly different rebuttal, suggesting: 'I never thought I'd say this, but Wagner James Au has a point. It's not a very good point. And it's not particularly well thought out. In fact, I'm not even sure it's the point he's trying to make.']