The New Polygon Trailer Makes Me Sad

Twitter pretty much exploded this week when the folks behind the new Polygon gaming site launched a trailer for a documentary they’re taking part in. The series is supposed to chronicle how this group of forward thinking video game journalists have joined forces to create a new type of site and a new angle to cover video games from. Watching the trailer though, I couldn’t help but feel that this group of people is a shining example of what is wrong with video game journalism today.

Personally, I don’t believe there is such a thing as video game journalism. I prefer the term “enthusiast press.” People who get paid to write about games are, in most cases, people who play a lot of video games and spend a great deal of time discussing them, because they are passionate about their hobby (or at least they started that way). They may be good writers, and they may have some interesting things to say about games that other gamers enjoy reading and hearing about. For many of us, being able to write about games and get paid for it would be a dream come true.

I was lucky enough to be a member of the enthusiast press for a couple of years, and it was a great experience. But as cool as it was to gain early access to games, or get free review copies, or attend press events, I never once forgot my place in the grand scheme of things. I was the guy talking about something that someone else had made. And I really think that’s a perspective that a lot of people in the enthusiast press have lost sight of in the current era of game coverage. For many, it has become more about them than the games they are covering. It’s about them as a writer, or their unique “take” on something. It’s become about proving how superior they are because they can point out the technical flaws in a game, or how the writing is sub par, or whatever. It’s become more about building oneself into a personality as a game “journalist” than about covering the games themselves.

And as someone who loves games, I hate how the state of game coverage has changed the way we all talk about the hobby we supposedly love. And I’m ashamed of the way the gaming community treats the people who make game for us. People who spend years of their life toiling away on a project, only to hear about how their level design sucked, or how “texture pop-in” somehow ruins the experience of playing their game. We have become pretentious, spoiled brats when it comes to the hobby we love, and the way video games are covered by much of the enthusiast press has perpetuated that type of discourse.

So that’s why watching the trailer from the Polygon guys pretty much made me sick to my stomach. I wonder what people who are working their tails off making games right now thought about that, and about the current state of game coverage in general. I feel sorry for them.

I love games, and even the most technically flawed, story-challenged games still have something awesome to offer. There was a time when most games were technically flawed and had not story whatsoever. They’re the games I grew up playing, and they are the main reason I still love games today. It would be nice to see a group of the enthusiast press get together and create a site that focused on what’s great about games, and covered games that weren’t AAA titles, and found the great things about bad games and wrote about why those experiences are worth having. The closest thing I can find to that now is the current 1Up, but I fear for how long they’ll be able to keep their current direction without either getting swallowed up or being forced to conform.

In what I think is quite an ironic twist, the cynical, dismissive gaming community that the enthusiast press has helped create is the same one that is lashing back against the Polygon trailer right now. Here is one example:

Garnett Lee of Shacknews (formerly of 1Up), perhaps put it best in his Twitter response to the trailer: “IT’S NOT ABOUT YOU. It’s about the games, their art, their creators, their passion. Exactly what we’ve all been struggling to better portray.”

Maybe at some point we can go back to enjoying games and talking about the things we love. And if I’m wrong, and Polygon turns out to be a celebration of all that is great about games large and small, then I apologize to the people behind the site .Everybody makes mistakes. I hope that’s all the Polygon trailer was.