For a long time now, many in our industry have argued that games journalism needs to 'grow up'. They say that the current state of reviews, obsessed with graphics and mediocre storytelling, are inadequate for a medium with so much potential. They say that we need game critics that are like film critics- ones not afraid to write 10,000 word essays on the relationship between a game's visuals and 19th century impressionism, or the legacy of the French Revolution, or the way Red Dead Redemption's sound so expertly evokes some famous 1940s radio show.
How many people do you know who read film reviews before watching a new movie? Personally, I know almost no one who bases their viewing decisions on film criticism. This is not just anecdotal evidence, either. Despite consistently getting 1 and 2 star reviews, and sitting at a horrific 35% metacritic average, Transformers 2 made more than $500 million at the box office. No video game with that kind of average has ever been a major success. If next year's Assassins Creed or Call of Duty or Battlefield hit 3/10s and 4/10s on major review sites, despite their huge fanbases and marketing campaigns, they would be commercial disasters. Why? Because way more gamers read game reviews, than filmgoers read movie reviews.
So why do people spend hours reading criticism of their favourite upcoming games without doing the same for the movies they also enjoy? Well, there are a number of reasons. Games cost more, and are hyped up more prior to release, for example. But the biggest reason is that game reviews, unlike movie reviews, provide the consumer with what they need to know.
Are the graphics good? Is the gameplay fun? How long is the game? (am I getting value for money?) Are the characters entertaining? Is the world/lore/story interesting? Is this a universe I want to explore? Is the voice acting good? Are there any bugs? How's the character customization? Did the game crash on you/does it need to be patched? Are there any day-one DLCs? Overall, was this game fun?
If anything, movie reviewers could learn something from games journalism- they could focus on whether a movie was fun or entertaining rather than whether it provided intellectual value.
It amuses me most of all when people bring up Roger Ebert in defence of this argument. Ebert was one of the very few movie reviewers who rated films on their own merits- if the picture was a stupid-yet-entertaining mass market blockbuster, he gave it 4 stars (out of 4). This is exactly how games should be rated, and indeed how they are rated most of the time.
For all the fuss, when Eurogamer or IGN rate a game 8/10, there's a very good chance it'll be fun to play. The vast majority of gamers (as evidenced by the continued failure of intellectual critic websites, and the continued success of IGN/Gamespot/Eurogamer/Destructoid/PCGamer/etc..) do not want bullshit pseudo-intellectual journalism that attempts to get 'to the bottom' about the psychological impacts of gaming, or why games make us feel the way we do.
We don't want to hear about how gaming helped you get over cancer or depression. We don't want to hear about how Liara from Mass Effect changed your life. We don't want to hear about why there will never be a Citizen Kane of gaming (again). We don't want to hear about the fundamental game design flaws behind Assassin's Creed's combat system for three hours.
We want previews, trailers, news, leaks and reviews. Hence the popularity of the thousands of brash, plain and clear-as-daylight Youtube personalities (From Angry Joe to the Cynical Brit) who tell it 'as it is' and review games based on their entertainment value, rather than their intellectual clout.
Instead of lamenting that people don't want their own peculiar brand of bullshit, perhaps its time that the Media Studies graduates who like to believe they're above ordinary gamers go back to college and study something more productive to society.
Because games journalism is just fine as it is, and we don't need to make it more complicated or more 'intellectual' any longer.