Reality is never accessed in the raw, but is always represented.
This line above, this single truth has been the bane of gaming journalism in the modern gaming age. There is a system of power that dominates our access to gaming media, a system that often represents itself as ‘transparent’ and ‘credible’. Specifically, this system of power is made up of many components – developers, publishers, gaming press, and users. First, developers are the laborers, indeed the hands that create the material we play. They have direct power over material. Second, publishers have power over developers to ensure financial sustainability. If they mandate the inclusion or exclusion of particular aspects of a game, the developer is hard pressed to argue. Third, gaming press has a power over publishers in that they are the outlets in which we access videogame media - they represent reality for and to us. This is the piece of the system I am most interested in as I think it is (thanks to the wild success of Nintendo Direct) the most fragile and in need of serious renovation. Lastly, users have power over all three previous powers, but are often (always) shaped and molded by the representations provided by gaming press. Let’s talk specifically about the power of gaming press.
GameTrailers – IGN – Gamespot – G4TV – Kotaku – Destructoid – 1up – GamesRadar – the Escapist – Joystiq – Giant Bomb
You all have your favorite sites/sights to visit and see. Many gaming sites pride themselves on different strengths in order to garner specific audiences. All, however, do the same thing – they represent the reality of gaming for and to us. They are the insiders who have the most direct access to gaming media. They form relationships with publishers and fight for exclusive game reveals and information and reviews to demonstrate superiority in news-craft. To demonstrate this concept (skip it if you find it uninteresting), I’m going to analyze a brief IGN video that revealed the new “Legendary” difficulty emblem in Halo 4: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mn61qe9UNqw
- The video is advertised as a “daily fix,” demonstrating its short, accessible nature (as opposed to in-depth and thorough).
- It advertises an “exclusive Halo 4″ reveal, one of the most anticipated games of 2012, but does not specify the nature of the exclusive. IGN now has power over Halo 4 fans with this statement.
- “Excited for Halo 4?” the announcer queries. “Well we certainly are…” Immediately the talking head is put on the same level as the audience. This is accessible material meant for easy consumption.
- “…and don’t be shocked, but some things are changing this time around.” – the head speaks as if the following will be shocking news. We are prepared to be shocked.
- “So lets head over to [insert experts here] for more info” – these are the people who are informed and know. We trust their knowledge.
- THE ACTUAL NEWS: Halo 4 has a new Legendary Crest that depicts a human’s head instead of an Elite’s head. They highlight the “first look,” and they show an image to demonstrate their knowledge. Credibility, trustworthiness, and payoff.
- What follows is perhaps most important: They frame the argument.
- They know this means that there will be a legendary difficulty
- They frame the news positively and hypothesize that it points to a special ending for those who complete legendary difficulty similar to those found in Halo 1 and 3.
- They frame the news negatively and wonder how people with the old legendary symbol tattoo’d to their body will react.
- We are transferred back to the first head who frames the news differently – she likes the changes Cortana has made. More framing.
- Finally, the head promises more exclusive information and hand-on in the future… just in case you were worried they had run out.
Reality is never accessed in the raw, but is always represented.
What has happened here in that last 1:30 clip held power over us and relied on the past to frame the present, which then depicts the future in a particular way. The new Legendary icon is either good or bad, but it is also a new reason to discuss the game in particular ways. IGN frames the way we talk about it via “a new super special ending”, or through a renegotiation of “tattoos”. Either way, you are left with an opinion on all of these things and ready to intelligently articulate them to the world. IGN gave you that power of engagement and knowledge through their own power of representation.
One publisher where you will rarely, or perhaps never again, see exclusive content about is Nintendo. They have recently provided a new outlet for users to access news media – directly through Nintendo themselves. This was likely a long time coming as Nintendo is often framed negatively by gaming press and most likely wanted a way to speak directly to their audience without game sites re-representing their announcements.
What is important here (for me), however, is that we gamers have one fewer source of power in a system of power that dominates how and what we think about videogames. Indeed, Nintendo’s most recent Nintendo Direct allowed users to hear messages directly from developers. In fact, all of the information came directly from the PRESIDENT of Nintendo – a full half-hour of direct information from the mouth that informs and powers the company. On top of this, Iwata has added “Iwata Asks” which allow even more access to the development process at Nintendo and other studios. While this does not mean that gaming media goes un-mediated (it is always represented), it does mean that we can create more varied reactions to Nintendo’s announcements rather than the dichotomous “good vs. bad” approach popular gaming sites (representers) will often (always) make.
The most recent Nintendo Direct is representative of this process.
With the Nintendo Direct, users were left with a broad variety of topics to discuss, including the individual elements shown by each trailer with only Nintendo’s filter and our own past opinions and dogmas (we all have them) as a guide. For gaming media, however, there was a level of disconnect between announcing these games themselves and not having the ability to frame their birth. Each site is now RUSHING to frame each and every game, and perhaps most interestingly, to frame the entire Nintendo Direct as a whole.
- IGN: Wii U Strikes Back
- EDGE: Promises, promises
- Screen Digest: Nintendo behind the next-gen curve
- Gamespot: Is Nintendo Trapped By Its Legacy?
Each of these present a good/bad scenario in terms of the “broader” picture of the Nintendo Direct. Each one presents age-old arguments about Nintendo, but recirculated for a new time, a new event, a new sight. These are easy arguments that are apparent to us because we are framed and accustomed to seeing them. While they are based in a material reality, they are nothing more than a limiting view of the world that constricts our possible discussion avenues. We talk about whether Nintendo is “trapped,” “only promising,” and “behind the times” because they tell us to.
What is so interesting about this, however, is that credibility and transparency are dissolved from this process beyond simply “trusting the source” or “agreeing with the opinion.” Starved of exclusive reveals and information, these gaming sites will likely rely more and more on these types of “framing” pieces, each more controversial than the last, until their transparency is all but mud. Indeed, if other publishers begin representing their materials directly to fans, there will be no “need” for game sites, but rather bloggers to follow and enjoy. Perhaps this will require gaming sites to put more thought and time into their articles beyond regurgitating old arguments for new events. Perhaps actual journalism will be required that looks at a realm of possibility beyond a dichotomous outcome. That is my hope.
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