Throughout my years in the video game industry, there’s one question that has always lurked just beneath the surface. While it’s been on my mind, I haven’t taken much time to thoroughly consider it. But now it’s gotten to the point where I simply can’t ignore it anymore. The specific question that tends to plague the industry, as well as the minds of consumers, is this: Do video game journalists have to be good at playing video games? I’d wager that question can even expand to include creators within the video game industry. But let’s focus on the former.
Do video game journalists have to be good at games? On the one side, some argue that such journalists are merely required to write about and be knowledgeable on the subject at hand. I think this inherently includes playing (and to some degree) being good at said games. There is something to be said about the validity of the argument however. Some video game journalists simply write news. If you’re going to take press releases and other sources and re-format/write them for your own site, you probably don’t need to be good at playing video games. You don’t even really need to play them at all, if your entire job is just being good at writing.
This thought process changes drastically in my mind when we start talking about anything past that. When it comes to opinions, reviews, previews, and especially game guides, you need to have some level of skill. Let’s start with the bottom of this scale, opinions. If a journalist is writing about opinions based in the video game industry as a whole, such as the business and creation of games, they probably still don’t need to be that good at playing. Someone who’s going to talk about how good the Switch sold over the Wii U needs to be good at analyzing data, rather than good at playing Mario Kart . The same could also be considered somewhat true of those talking about the creation of games. These opinions are going to draw from facts stated by creators within the industry, which (again) technically has nothing to do with playing games.
Let’s switch gears to the types of articles that I absolutely believe require journalists to have some skill: reviews and previews. These are cases where having some skill at games is going to be important. At the very least, you have to be good at games so you can play as much of a game as you can in the time you have with it. Reviewers sometimes only have a day or two to play a game before they review it. (Previews usually allow for even less playtime.), They need to get some distance through the game as quickly as possible. This of course requires skill, and if the reviewer doesn’t get very far in the game, it’s hard to say whether their review will be accurate. There is of course also a bigger matter at hand here. The person reviewing a game has to be decent at playing them in order to correctly rate the difficulty of the game, gameplay mechanics, ease of controls, etc. Think of it this way, someone who sucks at first-person shooters is going to have a hard time playing and enjoying the game. This could very well lead to them saying that controls were clunky, and that tainting their final score.
Another really great point to bring up, as far as game journalists needing to be good at their topic of choice, is game guides. Would you want to watch a tutorial, or follow a guide created by someone who wasn’t any good at what they were doing? Take this cringe-worthy and awful fake tutorial someone made for Cuphead based on a video of a game journalist failing at the tutorial. This would be a terrible way to walk someone through the basics of a game! As a side-note, anyone who can’t get past the very beginning steps of a tutorial needs to just give up. But I digress. Game guides absolutely require the creator to be good at video games, there’s just no ifs, ands, or buts about it.
So all in all, I believe that video game journalists should definitely have some skill at playing video games. This is especially crucial if they’re going to be writing reviews, previews, or game guides. Those that are sticking to just writing news probably don’t need to be that good, but it could lead to some embarrassing moments for them down the line. These are just my opinions though, what do you think readers? Let me know your thoughts in the comments!