Monday, July 27, 2009

Game Journalism and Audience Expansion


If you took the time to watch the video above, I'm sure that Seth Schiesel (the last guy to talk) said something that perked your ears up. If that wasn't the case then let me tell you, that's exactly what he did to me. The overall conversation was about game journalism and its importance. The part that really got me was when Seth was talking about the Wii and audience expansion.

I have been a gamer most of my life and I worked in the retail part of the industry for a few years. School wise I earned my degree in multimedia and I spent most of my time in a very technical environment. Recently I started writing reviews and even closer I finally broke down and decided to do what I can to get into game journalism. You're probably thinking; "Lighty what are you getting at here?" What I'm getting at is the fact that, I'm not speaking out of my hind side when I'm talking about a serious topic concerning the industry. More importantly I have a lot of experience observing elements of the industry.

For years, the industry has catered to one demographic, 18-24 year old Caucasian males. As much as many of you would like to debate that; that fact for many years was true. I can truly say that it has only been as recent as the last generation of game consoles that a lot of game developers and publishers have decided to take different ethnic backgrounds seriously. There was still a problem. While the racial barrier was partially broken the gender barrier was still pretty strong. The industry moved from 18-24 year old Caucasian males to 18-24 year old African American males for games that portrayed the traditional stereotypes and 18-24 year old Caucasian males for everything else. It was obvious that games like the EA Sports titles, Grand Theft Auto, 50 Cent Bulletproof and the Def Jam series were huge money makers from the "urban" gamer. While that may be the case, I as well as many other non stereotypical African American gamers saw a growing problem. Where were the positive, African American game characters? I'm not talking about the Token black guy you get, to keep our mouths shut. Where was my black male or female who was kicking butt and saving the day? The person of color who could proudly be displayed on the front of the box with the game's logo or title.

As much as many of you might want to deny it, the fact remains that positive characters of color are few and far in between, in the game industry. Its not just Black America, I can say the same about Latin America as well. Lets be honest, as cool and as funny as the game "Total Overdose" (PS2 & X-Box) was; the main character was in no way the best representation of Latin America. Asian Americans might have it a bit easier, considering that, a good majority of game companies are located in Japan. Back to the video. Audience expansion is important but it needs to be done in a proper way. Many "hardcore" gamers are complaining that Nintendo is bringing too many casuals to gaming. In no way is this a bad thing. Who are these "casual" gamers? First off a good majority are serious gamers who probably didn't know how serious they were. One demographic that developers constantly forgot about, was that of female gamers. At one time I read that female gamers make up almost half of the gaming population, yet they were constantly under-represented. While male gamers like to lump most female gamers into the casual audience, there are plenty of females who take their gaming serious.

The most important thing that Nintendo did right, was market the Wii and DS brands as something for everyone. They clearly showed features that applied to some facet of every person's life. It did not matter if you were the elderly couple using the Forecast Channel to check the weather; the young mother buying tickets with the Opera web browser; the little girl trading messages to her friends with the Message Board or the boy blasting away baddies in The Conduit; there was something for everyone. If we as members of the gaming industry, expect to be taken seriously, we need to get our heads out our rear ends and realize that there is a whole world of new users. Gaming is something that needs to be shared with everyone.

Its not all gloom and doom. some developers are coming around. As much as Ubisoft gets slack for "games that end with a 'Z'" or the "Imagine" games, I am proud of them for taking such a leap to appease female gamers. EA is very close behind with their new games marketed to the same demographic and THQ even has a few titles. The expanded audience is here to stay and whether the "hardcore" likes it or not, that audience is the savior of our industry. Right now the industry needs to do any and everything it can to keep from being looked at as a huge joke. There are still people who don't give gaming a second look because they feel excluded. Developers need to take the time to start making games that cater to people of all kinds, creating positive characters that relate to everyone. Nintendo has been leading the charge for years and now other companies are following. This belief in audience expansion does not only apply to developers and publishers. The same can be said to journalist.

As journalist it is our responsibility to tell the truth. Granted, that in a industry like gaming we will all have our favorites. While that may be true it is up to us to set aside what bias we might have and give every game fair publicity. We warn our readers of quick cash-ins and products that are not worthy to be played. That does not mean that every game that falls into a certain category, casual or hardcore will not be worth playing. We all need to re-evaluate the way we go about reviewing games. our reviews need to reflect that there is a new type of audience and they might not always care about what's flashy or what type of television the game looks good on. Our planet is changing and so will our industry. For all of you who are stuck in your ways, get over it! Things will never be the same again. For those of you who welcome this new era with open arms, get ready for a wild and amazing ride!

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