Reviewing a review – or – What’s wrong with video game journalism
I remain cautiously optimistic for the Wii’s latest science ficiton shooter game, Dead Space: Extraction. I didn’t get the opportunity to play much of the original Dead Space on a friend’s console last year, but it was definitely an intriguing world to explore. Plus the Necromorphs are amazing creatures in that they require strategic dismemberment rather than the usual shoot-until-dead game play style found in other games.
I jumped at the opportunity to read 1Up’s preview of the game, found here. I’m disappointed. Not in the game but rather in the preview itself. Video game journalism is probably already a joke to the world of journalism, and I think I have finally been let in on it. Writer Justin Haywald, one can tell, is doing his best to be an objective reviewer. His enthusiasm is on the game itself, but everything else he writes is suggestive of his belief that the Wii is a video game console for children.
He is not alone in that thought process. Many gamers across America subscribe to the believe that the little white console with motion controls is what you buy for your kids after they graduate from their V-Smile. Nintendo has targeted the system at families as a whole and so produces games that are family-friendly, so it’s guilty of causing the initial association. However, games that are fine for the whole family cannot truly be considered games for children or games that are not adult. Most Zelda games employ brightly colored graphics, but I most would hesitate to dismiss them as games for children.
What the previewer really means to say is that Dead Space: Extraction is the next in the slowly developing line of M-rated games for the Wii. Of the three consoles out on the market, the Wii has the fewest M-rated games. Saying “adult games” instead of “M-rated games” displays a bias, even if unintentional. The connotation when using the word adult is suggestive of being grown up and therefore better, which is why it is used so often when discussing games for consoles. Those players usually mean to imply that the games of choice in their hobby are age appropriate and therefore to be accepted. Mature themes, mature language, and (mature) graphic violence are the things that are appreciated in adulthood.
Which is interesting because those are qualifiers for the Mature rating tag. People don’t simply say that the games are M-rated, they instead say adult or mature because it suggests more than an arbitrary label. It suggests adulthood and having grown up from bright colors and enemies who disappear in puffs of smoke. Sex, profanity, and violence are the makings of a true adult.
I’ve played both MadWorld and House of the Dead: Overkill, and I would not describe either one as remotely adult. Both are M-rated, but MadWorld is simply a gratuitously violent game with an abundance of swearing and sexual humor, and House of the Dead: Overkill is…damn, it’s the same thing. The swearing and sexual humor are incredibly juvenile, and there’s certainly no rich message to be found in either game. These are simply games painted in the very adult color of blood red to sell better to children – especially adult-aged children.
Coming across a preview like Haywald’s helps me to realize that gaming journalism is far from mature itself. Journalism is supposed to be about objective reporting. What I found here was the writer’s willing perpetuation of a marketing strategy. Video game journalists are not reporters. These journalists are a form of extended marketing for video game companies, meaning that they’re simply salespeople. I’m suddenly very happy that most of the big name video game publications have gone under.