So, what is the point of games journalists anyhow?

A mid-write crisis

So, what is the point of games journalists anyhow?
Welcome to the latest in our series of Pocket Gamer columns. We're taking the best games writers in the industry and giving them a platform. Veteran journalist Jon Jordan is here each week examining the trends shaping your mobile games scene. Today he's pondering his existence.

Not that journalists need another opportunity to study their navels, but recent days have got me thinking, really, what is the point of game journalists?

Maybe it’s an impending milestone. At the end of the year, I will have been writing about games for 20 years. Not that the duration itself is particularly impressive. The likes of Keith Stuart and Steve Boxer are way ahead of me, while no doubt in the US there are OAPs whose first professional review was Space Wars.

Indeed, rather than anything to celebrate, for me being a game journalist has always been more about the lack of any other plan than a strategic decision to forge a career.

Nevertheless, 20 years is a milestone and one my rough reckoning has generated 10,000 articles and 5 million words. Only a handful of those (articles or words) have been significant in-and-of themselves, of course, yet my concern about the point of it all is less about whether I’ve been wasting my own life and more fundamentally about the place of the game journalist in what’s become a $100 billion a year business.

Terms of communication

Over the years, this is not something I’ve really thought about. Personally, I’m driven by a compulsion to tell the world what I think and at one point I hooked into games, so I now tell the world what I think about games.

But if we imagine a thought experiment by taking a leaf out of Frank Capra’s It’s a Wonderful Life, would the games industry be much different if there weren’t any game journalists?

People would still buy and play games, probably still the same ones that journalists have and do recommend. Similarly, I’m not sure the words we write - our very didactic approach - is very useful, and it’s certainly not as clever as we typically think.

This thought resurfaced recently as I had the opportunity to take my supposed 20-year experience and tell some real mobile game developers what I thought about their alpha titles to hopefully improve them.

Basically I was reviewing pre-released games but the process proved to be quite unsettling.

Reviewing a released game gives you the opportunity to stamp your definitive mark on someone else’s work, but when you’re interacting with something that’s not finished, you quickly realise this isn’t about you being smart and definitive.

Instead you need to be very precise and helpful in terms of the advice you give. And not being a game designer, you - or at least I - quickly realised how little advice I could actually provide.

A shallow well

I had a similar experience as part of a judging panel for some mobile game awards. I was the only journalist and sitting alongside me were company CEOs, art directors, game designers and the like.

As tends to be the case, there was broad agreement in terms of selecting the good and not-so-good games, but the arguments for doing so were divergent.

Again, it quickly became clear to me that as a journalist, I was making strong judgemental statements based on personal preference whereas the others’ specialisms enabled them to much more precise. As you’d expect, the art designer spoke with expertism about the quality of the 3D artwork or colour tones, while the game designer discussed pacing, narrative arcs and the detail of gameplay mechanics.

Now, this isn’t to say game journalists have no purpose and the industry would be better off without them. I’m not a nihilist.

I do think, however, we often get ahead of ourselves when it comes to our expertise and our importance. Sometimes a bit of humility can go along away.

Still, that’s enough time on the psychiatrist's couch. Normal bombastic service will be restored next week!

If this column has given you food for thought, share your comments below and bookmark this page for more of the same next Monday. Remember to also check out words of wisdom and mirth from experienced games journalists Susan Arendt and Harry Slater each week.