Monday, June 1, 2015

Be Not So Fearful



I can't stand traditional videogame reviews anymore.

Neither do I have faith in the fact that I will ever be able to love them again as they are.

It used to be a relatively simple exercise with clear borders and charted topics to address. Now it's almost a chore in some way for the same reasons, plus so many aspects that have to be taken into consideration once you start getting interested in them. Business model issues, development issues, platform issues, representation issues... The experience of the game isn't enough anymore when you write about it as a consumer, a journalist and a player altoghether. Should you choose to focus on one side of the story, it'll always get back to you, unless no one cares about the game you've reviewed - it rarely happens, fortunately. As someone who tends to write for himself first but enjoys relevant feedback and criticism on his work, it has become a kind of sadomasochistic pleasure to explore the comments a few minutes/hours/days after each notable publication.

Don't get me wrong, I'm not nostalgic at all and I'll never blame people for saying plainly what they like or not, get or not in a review ; that's the whole point of having a comment section, even when it's sometimes closer to a mine field than a welcoming dojo. If I didn't want my opinions to be challenged, I wouldn't publish them online. The real trouble with a lot of reviews, mine included, is that they don't really challenge anything at all. Not the reader's expectation, not the writer's invention, nor the developer's production. They're just bland information, wrapped in fancy words at best. A drop of unharmful thoughts in a paraphrased digital booklet - maybe that's why so many videogame publishers don't bother to print those anymore. Of course, you also get nicely crafted texts without any concrete explanation about the game and a lot of shallow terms used to describe why it's an overlooked diamond or an overrated turd.

Every avid consumer can be angry or happy that way with some comfort food for thought to quickly chew on. Every busy journalist can make the content wheel spin faster to make a living out of it, hoping that he/she'll still be relevant when readers won't be able to distinguish his reviews from hazy brand content and catchy native advertising. Every confident player can keep on denigrating or ignoring professional reviews, preferring to trust his/her/other players instincts after having taken a few early fans impressions and seen some gameplay videos on Twitch or Youtube. "Everything is cool when you're part of a team", right ?

Little is required, on a personnal level, to change this state of dullness. Even if I'm convinced they could be skipped easily, we don't even need to get rid of scores, which are basically a decoy for the real problems of most videogame reviews. The important thing is to make sure a review teaches more than the game it describes could just by playing it. Or gives the reader a new perspective on his/her first experience, even if it ends up in disagreement. Additional knowledge and contrasting views are more likely to change people than redundant words and old conventions.

"Stand tall and shake the heavens." That Xenogears tagline wasn't so bad, after all.

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"I want to live where the traffic controllers are ballet dancers."












Friday, July 4, 2014

Fourth Time Around



E3 was here. E3 is gone. Almost.

It's already been two weeks since the opening of this edition and it's still giving me things to work on. Mostly about guys that I interviewed during the show, to be accurate. I guess that's the price to pay when you're a slow writer who saw too many games and people in two and a half day !

Big events like these aren't the best place to play games and have thoughtful discussions about them, even if you get to talk with really cool people. In 2012 and 2013, I had the chance to chat with Hideki Konno, one of the main creators of Mario Kart and Yoshi's Island. A few month later in Cologne, action and trolling expert Hideki Kamiya told me funny things about Satoru Iwata (#Bananas). Earlier this month, Tomonobu Itagaki came to Los Angeles with a few anecdotes about Devil's Third and his passion for single-board microcontrollers. These are definitely cool memories among a pile of others from the houses where we stayed with a band of crazy dudes. Nonetheless, I might skip covering E3, gamescom or Tokyo Game Show on the field again, not in a classic way at least, because I can't really keep up with the pace and have interesting things to say about short demos, even when they're playable ones.

I'm always amazed at the amount of good writing produced by some experienced writers during those jamborees, where my chameleon nature catches so many contradictory thoughts and numbers that I can hardly focus on my keyboard. Even after so many years of duty, they find new angles, polished formulas or insightful explanations about games that didn't seem very interesting in the first place. Voodoo power, for sure. Maybe one day, I'll see the matrix too. For now, I'll stick to news, reviews and some longer forms with a different style, while taking a day off each week to get back to my wannabe Construct game. If something playable comes out before the end of the year, that'll be great. But I think writing about games won't get easier until I can nail my own feelings and words about them.

Might as well try to find them in English !

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"Your charts and graphs don't mean a thing to me / In your nation with its worthless currency"