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: