Wednesday, March 04, 2015

Want To Write About Games? Books and Tips

Reviewing The Geek Spot stats this week, I was intrigued to see a growth of site hits in the postings regarding game reviews. More specifically, the topics such as So, You Can Study Game Journalism In School? and Do You Have to Play Video Games Well to Be a Good Reviewer?

This prompted an idea. I want to bring up a few books and websites to help start you on your path to being a game journalist.

While I don't consider myself an expert by any stretch of the imagination, you all know by now that I have been doing the "game blog" thing for quite a while. A few of my articles have ended up on Destructoid and Critical Distance. I'm not a stranger to controversy for content I have posted. Being a journalist is difficult in the grand scheme of things. The fallout from the controversy with Brian Williams of NBC's Nightly News is an example of just how important integrity and truth are to news reports. Video game content tends to be more laxed, 'tis true. But the need for accuracy in reporting is just as important. Gamers will flame the writer if we post the wrong FPS.

I have a lot of knowledge obtained over the years, and a library full of books that helped me along the way. There will be differing opinions in regards to the list, but they give a general idea of what to look for when it comes to being a gaming critic; because if you're going to write about video games, you'll end up being a critic.

  • Critical Path: How to Review Video Games For A Living. I'm suggesting this book as a basic primer into the spectrum of reviewing games. It was written by Dan Amrich, who has served as editor for XBox Magazine, GamePro, GamesRadar, and a slew of other gaming magazines. His words are blunt. You're going to get paid crap. You may not get health insurance. He gives a real-world view of what it's like to write about video games, which is refreshing. Typically we're given flowery views about job prospects. Amrich tells you the cold truth.
  • First Person: Media As Story. I hate this book. I read this in college during my Masters and thought it was terrible. Noah Wardrip-Fruin and Pat Harrigan can't tell the difference between Pac-Man and Boo (Mario). But! Their book does provide a beginner's guide to critical theory for video games. And it is one of the better ones to this regards. If you're going to write about video games, it's good to have a theory background. Which leads me into the next book...
  • Unit Operations: An Approach to Video Game Criticism. If you have the previous book as a basic guide, you can make it through Ian Bogost's words. If you don't, be prepared to have a thesarus handy. This is higher level critical thinking that pushes the envelope on what game writing can be. Much of the theory proposed in this book can be found through simple Google searches if you haven't had a media class in school (high school or other). So don't worry about being overwhelmed. It can be a lot to take on. Go one page at a time and really discet the language. You'll be amazed at how much your writing improves after.
  • How to Be A Writer. This is more of a practicality book. If you want to write you need to do it. A lot. And there are a number of great writing scenarios to put yourself through to help hit your creative spark. That's what this book is for.
  • Like Gamasutra, they maintain an Advice section with general tips on how to write reviews for video games. The feature is updated at least once a month, but come with great ideas for new commers and veterans alike.
And now comes a few of my own personal tips:

  • Write. Write some more. Write even more then that. Keep writing. Write so much that you're sick of it, but keep your fingers moving on the keyboard. The only way you'll improve is if you do.
  • Take a college course on journalism. It helps out immensely, as most game magazines follow the same rules regarding writing and ethics as traditional news media outlets. Not to mention you'll learn the fun grammar tricks. Oh, the many fun things you can do with grammar.
  • You don't have to be great at playing video games to write a review...but it couldn't hurt. I suck at sports games. I don't review them often, but when I do, I'm able to provide a unique perspective that few others dare to consider. So it's okay if you're not great at games. You still like them, right?
  • By the way, you're going to hate games every now and then. It comes with the territory of playing and writing about them all day. It happens to everyone. Sorry.
  • Change the game. Don't be afraid to be bold with your reviews. Be unexpected. Write about games your way. Ultimately they are your words on the website. How do you want them presented? (Note: If you plan on working for a traditional gaming magazine, not the best idea. But personal blog? Have at it. That's how you'll get noticed by the independent gaming sites.)

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