What is game writing’s obligation to its readers?

Leigh Alexander’s column today in Gamasutra bites off a lot — games literacy, game awards, and the evolution of game writing. It’s hard to disagree, though, with the argument that holds the piece together: gaming culture doesn’t properly distinguish between vastly different quantities (casual gaming and hardcore gaming; enthusiast writing and journalism, etc.), and this causes a lot of heartburn.

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The crux:

It’s when we start trying to hold an incredibly diverse game industry and an incredibly diverse array of voices to the same uncompromising standards we run into problems — especially…because the standards are still relatively little-understood in a rapidly-changing landscape.

Alexander’s point is well-taken, and everyone that thinks about games would do well to remember it. What I think the pieces misses, however, is the extent to which commercial pressures and personal preferences create a mix of enthusiast writing and journalism within the same publications. Take Kotaku. It’s a wonderful website that breaks news regularly, runs thoughtful columns and features really good service journalism. It also never misses a “story” about Japanese sex games and features panting “new trailer check it out” posts and weekly fanboyish exegeses on the state of the JRPG.

How is a casual reader, not steeped in gaming culture and the myriad high-low East-West casual-hardcore polarities, to parse this mix (which is of course not limited to Kotaku, and which I choose as an example purely because of its reach)? This is, paradoxicaly, where we game writers might find a bit of comfort: we aren’t alone. The problems of infotainment and enthusiast writing and sensationalism are hardly game journalism’s alone. Perhaps it is our opportunity, in a field where the tensions between commerce and objectivity are so apparent, to start finding solutions, to start making our various missions clear to the people we serve, the readers.

Extra reading: Robert Florence’s piece yesterday in Eurogamer, excoriating swag-craving game journalists, is apparently his last for that site.