I went to GamesCom in Cologne this year and was pleased to see it turn out better than my last two visits. This time I knew people, my way around and where all the good parties were. I had bookings back to back and they were all interesting. Best of all, I didn’t end up stranded in the same industrial wasteland I got stuck in two years ago – the one populated only by vodka and prostitutes.
One thing I did notice though was an abundance of unusually young people with press badges, often moving in groups of three as they nervously navigated the business centre. At first I thought I was just being getting old and judgemental; then I got chatting to one group and discovered that they were bloggers.
Bloggers was how they described themselves (in fractured English) and it was immediately clear before they explained further that they weren’t from Kotaku or Joystiq or anything of that scale. To be honest, I was a little stunned that they’d even been able to get themselves press passes, as they had the impression of not knowing what to do with what they had.
I’ll admit that a part of me bristled at the situation – I’ve been doing this job professionally for five years and yet this group had greater presence at the show than Dennis Publishing (or Future, by the looks of it) and were being taken with matching seriousness. I’ve tried to shove this bitterness aside however, as it’s unfair to judge without knowing more.
Instead, what interests me is the distinction between a ‘blogger’ and a ‘games journalist’ and the connotations each title has. To me ‘blogger’ implies an informal tone and approach, often to the extent that posts might not be spell-checked and that the content is tabloidesque; unresearched quote-grabs, for example. I imagine blogs as a detached limb of the marketing machine, flailing trailers and screenshots onto the internet for those who like their media with minimal commentary.
Games journalist implies the opposite; professional tone, standardised approach – someone who plays a long game, rather than grabbing at single chances. It implies a site with a very different presentation and a staff with a matching approach and wider considerations.
Drawing this distinction is snobby of me and is obviously inconsistent. There are sites which look like blogs but which have journalistic standards, just as there are professional sites with no standards whatsoever.
Take Gaming Daily and Kotaku, for example. Gaming Daily describes itself as a ‘PC Gaming Blog’ and the tone is definitely informal, but there’s no marketing fluff cluttering the pages. Founder Craig Lager is one of the most through writers I’ve worked with, demanding professionalism even though blogging is a side-project for him. Craig doesn’t describe himself as either a journalist or a blogger though, preferring to be regarded simply as a games critic.
Kotaku, on the other hand, has all the benefits of traditional journalism (budget, professional staff, offices, infrastructure) and comes from an established media company. It would seem like it is closer to traditional journalism, except the scope is poorly defined to the point that it sometimes seems more about Japan than games.
The current top article on Gaming Daily (the PC Gaming Blog) is a retrospective on Deus Ex: Invisible War. On Kotaku (the Gaming Guide run by a professional publisher)? ‘These Japanese Schoolgirls Hate Nuclear Power with a cute song‘.
There is something wrong here.
Personally, I’ve always described myself as a games journalist and I’ve done so because I feel it’s important to take my work seriously and to recognise the responsibilities of being a journalist. The specific and stated role of journalists is to provide reliable information and informed opinion or assessment to readers, while the role of a blogger is just to write whatever they feel like. I’ll still make jokes and don a shield of satire or anarchic wit when it’s suitable, but I’ll do so as a journalist – rather than using the phrase ‘I’m just a blogger‘ to weedle out of justified criticism.