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The Devil's Advocate: Games Journalism

Column By Victor Barreiro Jr. on August 09, 2013

I’ve spent the evening stalling, trying to figure out the right combination of words in my head to make this relate better the MMORPG.com readers. I still have no idea what’s going to come out onto the page when I start writing this. At the same time, I am either already late for the deadline or have less than 45 minutes to go (I always mess up DST timezones), so I suppose I can worry about that later and just say what’s on my mind.

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Writing About Games

Sometimes, when I tell people that I have two jobs, people ask me what I do. I tell them that my regular job is as a technology reporter for the news website Rappler, and I am paid to write columns and game-specific content for MMORPG.com.

That second bit is something people latch onto really quickly. Some of them say, “So you play video games and write reviews? That sounds like easy money.” Some others say, “OMG! So you play video games and write reviews? I love video games, I wish I could do that too!” I smile and nod, but sometimes I just want to grab them by shoulders, look them in the eyes, and explain how, like any form of writing, games journalism is never as easy as playing a game and writing about it.

Struggle, Realities

Every human being struggles with something. To cease to struggle is to die, either inside the self or at that final bit of consciousness before death. Writers struggle with the words they want to say and the reality of the world as they see it.

Those who actually conquer the struggle to write then have to contend with the fear of others’ adverse reaction to what they’ve written. They also contend with what the world (and their editors) thinks of the things they’ve said and does with the stuff they’ve written. Then, if they are strong enough in this digital age, they read the comments.

The reason I’m writing this today is because I recently found out about Sebastian Moss of PlayStation Lifestyle. He has two columns I read through that made me want to cringe, because I understood the two sides being presented in both his essays.

On August 6, Moss put up an Editor’s Letter about a certain practice that sometimes happens in the games journalism industry: poor sourcing. Simply put, Moss and VG237 writer Brenna Hillier had a brief discussion about a bit of news Moss put up, but that Hillier had sourced to a different site, despite having a source link on that site sourced by Hillier. Eventually, the differing opinion of Hillier and Moss led to Hillier ending the discussion being held on Twitter.

For gamers who only want the news, this might seem like a little thing to have a discussion about, but it is important to note that proper sourcing is a journalistic practice. Proper sourcing aids in a news outlet’s legitimacy and credibility, establishes a site’s authority (a search engine optimization term)  on searches, and generally is the right and decent thing to do since someone did a good bit of the work already.

I don’t know the whole story, but I’ve had enough experience in games journalism to know that sometimes, even if you wanted to change something, internal policies can sometimes force people to do things they’d rather not do.

That said, it connects to another article of Moss and Dan Oravasaari on games journalism and why one probably shouldn’t try it. It’s a sobering read and one that basically lays out some of the realities of games journalism that they’ve had to deal with (mediocre pay, lack of job security, etc.). It is not always the best job in the world. Sometimes, the competitive nature of games journalism can also be detrimental to one’s view of decency or general journalistic niceness.

Crafting Words and the Great Gig

Justin McElroy of Polygon saw the post as well and, while agreeing with some points, pointed out on Twitter that, “It's hard, really hard, to succeed. But that applies to basically any great gig.” The struggle is what makes the job worth it in the end. While some of it might be based on your LCK statistic, such as maybe reading an ad looking for writers when you’re looking for a job, most of it has got to come from your abilities and skills used at the right place and time.

The ability to craft words to bring meaning, stir emotions, and inform: all writers have these. It’s the ones who are doggedly persistent at mastering its use and timing as well as other aspects of the journalistic profession (interviewing, note taking, research, fact-checking) that make them great journalists, whether it be in the games sector or in any other field of journalism.

What does that have to do with you, dear MMORPG.com reader? Perhaps nothing, but perhaps also everything. Some of you may be playing games, wondering how games writing could be so hard... I tell you now, games writing is easy. Good games writing is a test. Great games writing is a struggle.

As I wrote in a piece for Rappler two weeks after I started with them, “The struggle for journalism is for its practitioners to want to struggle to be journalists every day.”

Watch us as we struggle, if you would be so kind. It would mean the world to us, and if we struggle well, you will have great things to read from like-minded writers in the future.

Victor Barreiro Jr. / Victor Barreiro Jr. maintains The Devil’s Advocate and ArcheAge columns for MMORPG.com. He also writes for news website Rappler as a technology reporter. You can find more of his writings on Games and Geekery and on Twitter at @vbarreirojr.


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Victor Barreiro Jr. / Victor Barreiro Jr. maintains the the Landmark/Everquest Next and Final Fantasy XIV: A Realm Reborn columns for MMORPG.com. He also writes for news website Rappler as a technology reporter. You can also find him on Twitter at @vbarreirojr.

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