Gaming

To The Point: Yes, Games Journalists Should Be Good at Games

Screen Critics Sam begins his To The Point series by tackling the recently resurfaced issue of games journalists being competent at video games.

It’s been over a week since the uproar began surrounding Dean Takahashi, a games journalist for VentureBeat, and his horrendous experience with the upcoming Microsoft exclusive, Cuphead. While it wasn’t the first case of a games journalist uploading footage of a game they clearly had a difficult time with – including Polygon’s hands-on time with Doom – it reignited the debate of whether games journalists should actually be good at games. Welcome to a new series I’d like to call To The Point, a weekly dissection of any controversial or otherwise widely debated issues and topics in the gaming industry. The question today is, should games journalists actually be competent with playing video games? Let’s get to the point.

Firstly, I don’t like to consider this a debate at all. Games journalists should, without a doubt, be good at playing video games. While I don’t mean that they should be professionals or speedrun record holders of any kind, I still think that a level of understanding in how a game works should be synonymous with actually being able to play it. I’m not personally taking a shot at Dean Takahashi here as there have been countless occasions where games journalists in the past have been called out on their performance in a particular game. Media outlets such as IGN, GameSpot, and Polygon have all been called out at some point for delivering less-than-stellar gameplay of their experiences, which isn’t a fair judgment on the game as a whole.

After spending a relatively decent time as a games journalist myself, I understand how the system works in regards to reviewing games; not everybody is good at everything. This is a well-known fact. This same level of expectancy cannot be applied to games journalists, as a large majority of them only work on the games they feel the most comfortable with. I, for one, am not the best judge when it comes to racing or strategy games as I have had trouble with them, but I will admit that me playing a racing game and uploading it for the world to see would certainly be a bad experience on my end and not an accurate grasp or criticism of the game itself. One could chalk up Dean Takahashi’s gameplay demonstration as him not actually being familiar with side-scrollers, but here lies a few complications.

It’s easier for me to write off Polygon’s Doom gameplay as merely the journalist being bad at first-person shooters, but Takahashi’s gameplay of Cuphead is a lot more basic than that. The journalist showcased an inability to follow pretty simple instructions in the tutorial, which took him all of about one and a half minutes to pull off a jump and dash move. Doom pretty much thrusts you head-first into battling enemies and doesn’t present any tutorial except for a room full of low-level demons to get the hang of the shooting mechanics, but Cuphead’s instructions in the tutorial were pretty clear-cut to begin with. Again, I’m not defending either side here, but I’m noting the differences in designs of each game and how that could affect a first-time player.

Takahashi’s gameplay goes on for over 20 minutes. Eventually, he does succeed in passing the tutorial, but when it came to the first level, Takahashi continued to struggle in getting a grasp on the mechanics. By the end of it, he didn’t seem to learn anything either or overcome the challenges of grasping the controls. This obviously lead to the “should games journalists be good at games” debacle – a “debate” that nobody should have an excuse for. If you work in the field of gaming journalism, there’s a level of competency one has to have in playing games. In essence, your experience in playing games should balance out your theoretical understanding of games. One can acquire an Honor’s Degree in gaming or journalism, but an extensive library of knowledge without the actual experience on hand simply means you aren’t completing the quota for what is, realistically, a job that demands you to play games for a majority of your life.

Dean Takahashi has had over 20 years of experience in the gaming industry, but after the Cuphead gameplay, one has to question if all of his criticisms in the past were completely valid or trustworthy sources of opinions on games. After all, if he can’t play games, why listen to his opinion on games, right?

To get to the point, the answer is quite simply yes, games journalists should be good at games – it’s a requirement. In an age where games are tailored best to your preferred style of gaming, such as changing difficulty levels or having auto-assists on, it makes it difficult to judge which opinions from games journalists are trustworthy these days, including ours at Screen Critics. It’s opened up a can of worms that has caused the public to now view games journalism as a whole with furrowed brows. It makes it difficult to prove yourself as a games journalist these days when your experience doesn’t measure up to your qualifications or theoretical knowledge of gaming – which may sound like a lot, but rest assured, understanding games is quite simple if you’re passionate enough for it. But, to call a spade a spade, a games journalist who’s bad at certain games has no right to judge those games on a fair or professional level…

You can watch Dean Takahashi’s full gameplay of Cuphead below:

1 Comment

1 Comment

  1. CeeBee

    September 17, 2017 at 11:22 am

    Video games are a medium; they’re not a genre. Video games have genres within them. Being bad at one game, doesn’t make one bad at all games. Moreover, one can be good at one type of video game, such as a strategy, or fps, and bad at 2d scrollers. They employ different input methods, different skills, timing, and have a different mindset when playing. So I’m wondering why the blanket statement seems to be ‘he can’t play games’ like in your article. He can’t play 2d scrollers, this much is clear. He also doesn’t like them, and is bad at them. And he probably shouldn’t review them. That’s it. He’s not ‘bad at games,’ necessarily. But it can also be lack of attention, laziness, etc, for a game he isn’t interested in and shouldn’t be reviewing. However, its his job to review it. So he tried it. I personally don’t really like 2d scrollers at all, and I could still review the above game. I can tell that it’s a neat little game, even while really disliking personally playing it– I can tell fans of the genre will really like it.

    That’s what makes a good journalist. Something that appears lacking over here at Screen Critics, from what I have just read.

    ‘Eventually he does succeed in passing the tutorial,’ yes, this part is painful. But it’s 2 minutes of a 20 minute video. It’s not ‘eventually,’ it takes up very little. It feels longer because he’s really not applying himself, but again, this can be explained as a myriad of things– distraction, laziness, dislike, etc.

    Secondly, this is a game the vast majority haven’t played yet, as it was a demo. To say that the fact he’s bad at it is all on him, and its not hard– we don’t know as we don’t have most people’s first captures playing the game. Most of us don’t know about the controls, or anything else related to the game. Perhaps it’s trickier than it appears.

    Secondly, to act as if the first play though of ANY game should be impeccable is disingenuous. People don’t start off fantastic at a genre of game, and when they are fantastic, like esport gamers, it doesn’t mean they can easily flit between all genres of games. Most top-down MOBA pros aren’t going to be FPS pros necessarily, or puzzle pros, or fighting game pros. Each genre of game comes with its own skill set which varies between the people playing it. Not only that, a lot of times, pro gamers only stick to ONE game. For example, the top 10 Street Fighter players aren’t automatically the best fighting game players in general, because all games are different. So I’m wondering why people are holding 20 minutes of a demo game from one particular dude to this impossibly high standard.

    Also, ‘understanding games’ is not necessarily being good at games, and should not be conflated. If his last 2d scroller was Mario (as in fact, he was trying to fight Mario-style in the clip) then that actually works against him, as it confuses him when playing a similar genre.

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