Press Start: Game journalists need to be good at video games
Why do some game journalists suck at their jobs?
Whether it's blatant conflicts of interest or penning articles that straight-up insult a publication's audience, it seems some game journalists just can't take their jobs seriously. It's no wonder many gaming sites have become a laughingstock while gamers turn to trusted YouTubers for coverage.
This latest example of game journalism's failings might not be as serious as others, but it's still worth mentioning: Some game journalists just aren't good at playing video games, and that's a problem for the industry.
In late August, gaming website GamesBeat published a video of games journalist Dean Takahashi playing half an hour of "Cuphead," and he's mind-numbingly bad at it. So bad, in fact, that I—and I'm sure many others—wonder if he plays video games at all.
Now, "Cuphead" isn't an easy game by any means. But Takahashi has trouble even completing one of the most basic moves in the tutorial. It takes him 90 seconds to figure out how to jump over a pillar, something my mother, who hasn't touched a video game in 15 years, could deduce in half the time.
The video, titled "Dean's Shameful 26 Minutes of Gameplay," is presented in a lighthearted, joking manner. The video's description says Takahashi is admittedly bad at platformers and sidescrollers, but he was the only GamesBeat staff member able to play the "Cuphead" demo at the time.
The description also mentions the inexcusable insults thrown Takahashi's way after the video surfaced. Those aren't OK, but I find it hard to disparage the gamers who saw the video as evidence of yet another problem in games journalism.
Games journalism is unique in the sense that those covering games need not only be knowledgeable about them but skillful in playing them. You might not expect a sports reporter to be a great football player, but in order to properly cover and understand video games, you need to at least have an average skill level.
That said, not every gamer is good at every game--and no one would expect them to be. I, for instance, stink at and don't fully understand sports games. I'll probably never preview or review one because I feel I wouldn't be able to fairly cover it due to my lack of skills and knowledge.
When GamesBeat decided to publish Takahashi's laughably bad "Cuphead" run, even in jest, it projected the idea there are paid professionals covering games they simply do not understand, and that's not a good image.
The video alone isn't a big deal, but Takahashi's incompetence with video games has affected his reviews. A decade ago, he gave a harsh review to "Mass Effect," a critically acclaimed game, because he found it difficult. It wasn't until after his review was published he realized one major reason the game was so hard was because he forgot to level up his characters.
Takahashi admitted his mistake, which is commendable, but it's hard to defend a professional video game journalist missing something such as that. To gaming fans, it simply looks like someone who is bad at video games is responsible for informing an audience of millions about them. That just doesn't add up.
Takahashi isn't the only one at fault. In May 2016, video game site Polygon published a video of a staff member playing "Doom" before it released. They, too, are just awful at the game.
Unlike GamesBeat, Polygon didn't publish the video as a joke--but that's what it became. How are gamers supposed to learn what "Doom" gameplay would be like when the person demonstrating it is just plain bad? Again, gamers called into question the quality of games journalism, and I can't blame them.
I don't know how often Takahashi reviews video games, but I know I will approach any future reviews he and Polygon publish with caution. In the meantime, I hope games journalism realizes all gamers want is fair, accurate coverage of the hobby they love so much.
I know I do my best to live up to that expectation.
Video game columnist Jake Magee has been with GazetteXtra since 2014. His opinion is not necessarily that of Gazette management. Let him know what you think by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org, leaving a comment below, or following @jakemmagee on Twitter.