Title: Interview: The J-Word, For Venter
Posted: October 14, 2006 (08:04 PM)
'Video game journalism' is a questionable phrase at best and a lambasted term at worst. Criticisms that this novel brand of writing lacks the investigative story-chasing of hard journalism have come from both inside and outside the gaming circle. The majority of gaming media, print or online, anchor on consumer-oriented reviews and immediate coverage on press releases from game publishers and developers. Even Jason Venter, 27 - a freelance reviewer for Hardcore Gamer Magazine and the founder of the independent website, honestgamers.com - did not sit entirely well with the term.
"I think it's as good a term as any, though I know some people who laugh when they hear it," he alleged. "Game journalism doesn't have the same credibility you'd expect from a plain, old-fashioned journalist. I'm writing about games, not covering wars or social issues."
As most entertainment journalists, Venter weaved into the field almost by accident, and what was just a passing hobby became an eight-year career as a video game journalist.
"When I was young, I think the first thing I wanted to be was Santa Claus, according to my parents," he remembered. "I grew out of that and graduated with the desire to be an artist." But throughout his life, video games were always a passionate side interest. "The first games I played were on the Apple IIe computer at school. My cousin told me about Super Mario Bros. and the NES. Owning [a NES] became my obsession before I'd played one."
"I don't think there was a single [key] moment, but I know it involved Nintendo Power," Venter said, recalling how he became a writer for video games. "I'd come home from school every day, hoping the latest issue had arrived. I had a link to the world that entertained me. As I grew older and thought seriously about careers, I knew I wanted to be a part of that link for future gamers."
The gaming industry, which grosses more than twice the film industry, has a powerful influence on the public. Greg Kasavin, editor-in-chief for GameSpot, one of the leading gaming news websites, believes that since new releases of video games cost $50, gaming criticism has more impact than film and television criticism. On that note, Venter not only agreed that "video game criticism" was a more suitable expression, but that it also has more than a causal impression on its audience.
"I feel like I have more in common with Roger Ebert than I do with some guy writing for The New York Times," he affirmed. "[But] I think someone's more willing to take a risk with a $20 movie. The reasons are obvious. Gaming criticism is important because of that. Short of a rental, a review is the best way to know if the game is worth your money."
However, the ethical practices and impartiality of video game criticism have been reasonably called into question. Game publishers and developers frequently invite game critics to their studio for private showings and parties, and advertise their games on the websites of their guests. "A reviewer should remember that he's not reviewing the company as a whole when he talks about a game," Venter stated, emphasizing that the potential of stepping over the line of objectivity exists.
"Some people who are starting up sites make the mistake of believing that if they don't praise every game they get, the gravy train will stop," he declared. "In my experience, that's just ignorant. If you review a game accurately and support your opinions, you'll do just fine. Being the first to review a game isn't as important as being the first to review it correctly."
Integrity, especially on the Internet, is essential to the future of video game journalism, a medium in which websites allow for downloadable material, live feed, and easier access than print media. Venter clarified, "How many people have you talked to who don't subscribe to game magazines because they can get their news and previews faster online? Print magazines have their place, though, and I'm glad to contribute to one. Personally, I'd hate to see either format disappear."
Even after eight years of writing within the volatile environment of video game journalism - questionable term or not - and needing to hold a 9-to-5 job as service writer to compensate for his relatively low salary, Venter remains steadfast.
"If I'm lucky, I'll be in about the same place five years from now, only not checking sick computers into a computer service center. Writing about games is every bit as much fun as you think it is. People that say otherwise are fibbing."
Posted: October 14, 2006 (10:48 PM)