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[With 2013 looming before us, it's the time of year that the AWESOMEoutof10 office gets a touch of nostalgia. Join us every day this week for a look back at the defining aspects of 2012.]
There are no secrets in cyberspace. Secrets do not sell; we cannot abide them. They are dangerous, suspect, even threatening. We thrive, instead, on information, and few industries are as saturated on this front as video game journalism. One glance at the average video game website inundates the viewer with visual and aural stimulation. The Digital Age is often referred to as the Information Age for a reason. Data has become an extremely cheap commodity, and given the rate of its consumption in the video game world, genuinely revelatory news is hard to come by. When I look back on 2012, I'm struck by how rarely I was genuinely surprised by game news.
The phenomenon of information saturation is fairly new, beginning largely with the development of new media like radio and television and reaching its current zenith with computers. Data processing in the Digital Age has been the subject of countless studies, prompting critical and cultural discussion among scholars and celebrities alike, from James Gleick to George Takei. Since so many media outlets (television, radio, all them internets) compete for our attention, data has transformed into something more like sustenance than privilege. So what does this mean for gaming journalism? To put it bluntly, this overabundance of information is damaging to publisher, to developers, to journalists, and to readers.
It may seem like I'm shooting myself in the journalistic foot by positing that there's too much game news, but over the last year I've encountered teaser trailers for teaser trailers, news blurbs about upcoming news, and so many industry leaks that I'm starting to believe we need a new industry dam. But it did not hit me until the weeks leading up to E3 this June how detrimental this type of overblown journalism can be.
I always looked forward to E3 with the same eagerness that a football enthusiast anticipates the NFL draft. I love the announcements, the energy, the big three trying to outdo one another, and, of course, hours and hours of new videos of the games we are all anticipating, but this year, the anticipation was undercut by the very people who want to sell us their products.
Weeks before the conference began, the hype train had already crashed through computer screen and run me over with game announcements. News and rumors about God of War Ascension, Hitman: Absolution, Dishonored, Call of Duty: Black Ops 2, and the Wii U rammed into the front page of every game website and publication I visited with clockwork regularity. The big announcements mean for large stage shows and excited audiences were relegated to news on websites, lessening the impact of our first viewings of some of the most eagerly awaited games of the year. When I finally saw the gameplay footage of God of War: Ascension, I should have been wowed; instead, knowing full well to expect the game, I settled for impressed.
This sentiment persisted as the rest of the show unfolded in some type of tired pantomime. Nintendo thawed out Miyamoto to try to sell me on the Wii U (where the hell is the Smash Bros. I was told about a year ago?). Microsoft attempted to convince me that Kinect can provide valuable gameplay experiences and then ended on Black Ops 2 trailer that surprised all of no one. Sony showed me the Vita again. And numerous others showed off gameplay footage we've come to expect, and, barring the impressive showing of Watch Dogs, I cannot recall a single moment of authentic surprise. Based on my readings of several articles from journalists who actually attended the event, I'm not alone.
After E3, I began to pay attention more closely to the rate at which gaming news hit the internet rather than the news itself, and it did not take me long to get overwhelmed. News blurbs rolled onto front pages at a rate that would make William Randolph Hearst cringe, and what wasn't news took the form of fluff pieces written to build anticipation for upcoming news. By the time the reviews released, they offered little in terms of new information about the games that had been so well-covered leading up to their release. For every provocative editorial or informative news article, a host of filler posts lobby for our attention.
This type of information model is not unexpected when the industry's followers are so ravenous. Outlets fulfill a need created by a demanding fanbase. It's a Maxwellian ecosystem that creates an endless stream of information publication and consumption, and it happens at a rate so quickly and in such quantity that the impact of news diminishes. But perhaps more problematic is that fact that, in the words of James Gleick, "When information is cheap, attention becomes expensive." Churning out news at this rate is infantilizing, turning its readership into a group of Oliver Twists begging for our next scoop of gruel.
But what if we got the switch instead of the bowl? That is, what if developers and journalists did not give into our demands and withheld information? Well, we'd probably revolt at first, but cutting the previews for previews would open the door for better, thought-provoking articles. Maybe, something like E3 could become the surprise-soaked blowout it once was. Restoring the mystery surrounding the games we anticipate would help alleviate the problem of empty news blurbs that exist simply to curb the perpetual hunger of fans.
Reflecting on 2012 reifies my position that gaming journalism still does not know what it wants to be yet. Media saturation may just be growing pains of an industry that depends on flux and change. Game journalists need to find a balance between keeping fans abreast of important developments in the industry and churning out every bit of information just to take up space on the front page. Developers and publishers, too, should carefully evaluate when to release information to the public in order to build anticipation without revealing enough to lesson their games' impact at launch (or at events like E3). Journalists could then pursue deeper, more critical pieces about the industry instead of simply meeting a demand.
Next year could be a great year for video game journalism. As games grow in popularity, so too grows the need for journalists who understand intimately the close relationship between gaming's media presence and its target audience. Media saturation is potentially dangerous, but it's a problem that can be remedied clearly and cleanly by limiting filler news articles. The benefits of more room for intelligent, critical articles and more opportunity for surprising game releases far outweigh the demands of ravenous fans like myself. I look forward to 2013 and all it has to offer; I just hope I don't know too much about it before it gets here.
Please check out my other writings and those of the rest of the team at awesomeoutof10.com.