Do Video Game Journalists Need to be Good at Video Games? – Gamers vs. Journalists


I used to be fascinated with gaming journalism. Back when I was a pre-teen, I didn’t have access to the internet, so my source for gaming news was special programs that aired on particular channels. Today, I can open Twitter and get all the gaming news my gamer heart desires. Anyone can write articles and reviews on the internet (hence why I started my blog). What I started noticing, though, is that members of major gaming news outlets seem out of touch with video game culture.  I’m sure my readers have a few examples in their mind as to what I’m referring to, but for the sake of professionalism, I will refrain from naming particular cases, and focus on the subject as a whole. Do video game journalists need to be good at video games?

First: why the stigma?

It isn’t easy to watch a video where a reviewer is desperately trying to get over a seemingly simple hurdle, only to falter for five minutes. Isn’t it this person’s job to explore the game? Why are they getting stuck so easily? Is this the first video game they played? Heck, it is entirely possible that some of my readers have seen a GIF in one of my reviews and thought the same thing. I believe that the stigma lies with the fact that these individuals are supposed to be exposed to all different kinds of video games, hence why they should know the inner workings of said game. Inevitably if someone spends so much time with video games, they know how they generally work, right? What I feel people forget, though, is that most of these reviewers are writers and not professional gamers.

In defense of journalists.

With this point, I feel like I’m playing the devil’s advocate, but here goes. I mentioned that most reviewers belonging to gaming news outlets are writers first and foremost. It does stand to reason that writing about video games, and playing video games are entirely different skill sets. The former requires, at the very least, some form of mastery of the pertaining language’s grammar rules and an engaging writing style. I wouldn’t be surprised if publications hired their staff on writing skills alone. The main goal for most news sites is to get readers to click on their website and generate ad revenue. While being someone who posts game reviews myself, I do understand the need for readers (after all, that is what keeps a site alive). However, I feel gaming news and reviews website needs to account for the integrity of its content. Which brings me to my next point…

Why the harsh criticism of a journalist’s gaming skill?

Let me put things in perspective: say I tune in to a weather report. Being Canadian, I am used to significant amounts of snowfall in the wintertime (five centimeters [two inches] of snow being light snowfall). The Canadian meteorologist then proceeds to panic over an announcement of two centimeters [less than an inch] of snow. At that point, I would seriously wonder if they ever experienced a typical Canadian winter. The same goes for game journalists that can’t make it past a simple tutorial. The expectation is that the journalist has, at the very least, some rudimentary understanding of how to play video games in general. One could argue that a tutorial might be complicated (like with Elite Dangerous, for example), and granted some games have a complex set of controls. Where the problem lies is when a tutorial is self-explanatory (like in Cuphead’s case). When the journalist falters this badly, it makes me wonder if they ever picked up a controller before. I don’t think the issue is with the journalist or reviewer’s skill per se; I think it’s more along the lines of the person being out of their element, making people wonder why they cover video games in the first place.

The battle between gamers and journalists.

When cases like these pop-up, it’s easy for the gaming public to call out journalists for their apparent lack of understanding of how video games work. On the other hand, there are always a select few that take things too far, prompting journalists to write rebuttal articles in the vein of “gamers are entitled.” This debate has only gotten more ferocious as the years go on. I do feel like each side needs to consider the perspective of the other to understand why there is so much criticism of gaming journalists and gaming culture in the first place. 

Where do I stand?

I do respect the work that goes into writing an engaging article for readers (heck I’m writing one right now), but at the same time, it feels like some of these articles are disingenuous. More often than not, I see a lot of posts that have an alluring headline leading to a halfhearted article flooded with ads. Worse yet, some of those headlines outright lie to people, making readers much more skeptical of gaming news outlets in general. Gamers have gotten much more critical of the kind of gaming media they consume, with some of them being exceptionally vocal with their own opinion. While I’m not in the mindset of silencing anybody for their take on games (as doing so would be hypocritical), I do feel like a journalist, or a reviewer’s piece would feel more poignant if they demonstrated at least some form of understanding when writing about video games. I’m not asking them to be experts; I’m just highly recommending getting people who can write a decent article, while also having played more than one video game in their lifetime.

As mentioned, this article’s purpose isn’t to insult anyone in particular. It is to, hopefully, share both the gaming public and the journalists’ perspective on what to expect from one another. It’s easy to make snap judgments on a group of people simply because one member made the group look bad. I’m just trying to shed some light on both sides. That said, it is everyone’s right to criticize anyone’s article or review, so long as we do so respectfully and politely.  

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