My Guilty Secret: The Games I Haven't Played
Posted on 17th Mar 2009 at 13:20 by Joe Martin with 30 comments
Well, obviously. There are lots of things I haven’t played; awful tat like Imagine: Petz and so on. What I’m explicitly talking about here though are the reputedly great games out there which I’m expected to have played, but haven’t. Things like Diablo 2, for example.
It doesn’t sound like a huge issue, but it actually is. There’s a huge assumption out there that as a games journalist I should have played every game, ever – or at the very least I should’ve played every game that’s scored a 7/10 or more. There’s a consensus among readers and peers that a qualification for being allowed to review something is that a familiarity with every game like it. How can I write a story about Tomb Raider: Underworld if I skipped from Tomb Raider 2 straight to Legend and never even finished the first two games?
Well, because I’m judging the game on its own merits and because good reviewing practice isn’t driven solely by increasingly out-dated comparisons, obviously. Whether or not Resident Evil 5 is any good has very little to do with Code: Veronica. That’s an argument that doesn’t always work though, especially with fanboys, despite the fact that if I’m missing out on particularly relevant experience then I can still delegate the work. I make sure that I only write about things I feel I can judge knowledgeably and fairly, which is why I’ll never review a Gran Turismo game.
Reviewing practice aside though, I often still worry about my lack of classic gaming credentials. Did you know I never played GoldenEye 64? Hell, I never even owned a console until the original Xbox. I’ve never touched StarCraft or Diablo or EVE: Online. I never even finished Ocarina of Time! There are definite strengths in my gaming history – especially when the focus moves away from strategy and retro consoles, but a lot of people don’t want to hear about them. They don’t want to hear anything from a man who’s not played Silent Hill 2. Or at least that’s how it feels.
The crux of this issue is, I think, qualification. You don’t need any qualifications to be a games journalist – something highlighted excellently in a recent article by Simon Byron about the problems with Metacritic. Contrary to assumption, a journalism degree isn’t required to be a journalist – it’s actually pretty damn rare to find someone with one, to be honest. The scholarly achievements of the new bit-tech / CustomPC team prove that; there are people here who are practically doctors and people who never even considered university.
The only qualification anyone in games journalism really has is how widely briefed they are in games, and arguably how well their opinions align with the popular consensus. I’m convinced that I literally only have this job because I didn’t assert the honestly-held but somewhat controversial belief that Ocarina of Time owes more to nostalgia than actual quality when compared to, say, System Shock 2.
A lot of this was thrown up for me recently when, in my last blog post, I asked readers to suggest an old game for me to play. There were some suggestions that came out that I worried about saying I hadn’t played before, like Diablo 2, which is the game I’ve ultimately elected to play out of those suggestions. My career depends on my reputation to a large degree, which I feared could be put at risk if I admitted that I never played Syndicate Wars. I didn’t want to become a bit-tech laughing stock and face derision just because I’d not been given pocket money as a child.
Since then some things have become obvious. Firstly, this might all just be in my head. Secondly, I can’t (and shouldn’t) hide this. Thirdly, the only solution is to either play all those games or to accept and disclose the fact that, actually, I have no real interest in creating a Level 70 WoW character. The only path then is to write a blog post about it and tell you all.
If it is in my head then you can tell me. If it isn’t then you can suggest some games that you think are actually required reading for a games journalist. In the meantime, I’ll just nervously sit here and await your thoughts.