Deathbed Recommendations

I had to go to the hospital a few weeks ago, so a doctor could put a camera up my urethra. There was a very small chance that what he found was going to be the death of me…

This was written in December, 2013, the month before Ari was conceived. I found it in a pile of drafts. It’s worth noting, since this, that I’ve had several more hospital experiences that threatened to be fatal. Luckily, none have.

I don’t know if this is just me.

I was getting morbid. I had to go to the hospital a few weeks ago, so a doctor could put a camera up my urethra. There was a very small chance that what he found was going to be the death of me. So, I went a bit Luzhin in the shower before the event, and started following consequence chains as far as I could.

I thought about freezing some sperm, because it’s likely that if the Docs find something bad, the remedy will remove my ability to reproduce. Then I thought about not getting to see any resulting children grow up. And thought about recording messages to them, and then a yearly message, so (like DeTamble in the Time Traveller’s Wife) I’d be with them, fresh, for each year of their life.

Then I got to thinking about how I’d do it. Genial, wise monologues straight to camera is hackneyed but works. And then I thought about what I’d say. I’d recommend my favourite philosophy, my favourite fiction, the strange old books I’ve happened across which will give that otherworldly edge: Lacfadio Hearn, Kipling, Laurence Sterne, Mikhail Bulgakov, Erskine Childers, Olaf Stapledon and so on. An education by proxy, skipping me, back to the formative years of each medium. I even thought about a few movies I’d recommend: The Princess Bride, Duck Soup, Groundhog Day, Fight Club, Yojimbo, and so on. Light themes but with rich philosophy behind it.

A Book, Spoiled
Yet. I couldn’t think of any games I could honestly say a child of mine should spend time on. Time that would be educative, entertaining and efficient. That irks me a bit. Spelunky? No, too wasteful of time. DOTA? Ditto and too repetitive. A shooting game? Hell, no. Planescape Torment? Good, but the interface is awful – you’re probably better off reading Fafhrd and the Grey Mouser, the Ur-text for witty rogue worlds. Deus Ex? No, disappointing linearity – read SnowCrash. Mario? Repetitive, brand oriented… no.

(One thing positive I can say of many great games is that they teach you how to learn an imperfect ruleset rapidly. I think of the Reiner Knizia design ethos, which seems to consist of attempting to maximin incompatible-but-overlaid number sets, and I think that’s something valuable for realworld. But that’s something from these games in general, not from any individual game.)

What was wrong with all these games? Not one of them could I point to and say, unreservedly, that is a clean, good, efficient experience which also offers the open edges of a book. Risk of Rain is a perfect action-shooter, with the random drops comboing neatly to force different play styles on you – but I can’t say that I value the compulsion loop of an unlock-based game, especially not for a child, nor can I say that it’s improved me as a human being.

Moving Closer
Is there a game that combines the combined-toolset gameplay of Spelunky with a top-notch scripted experience that still allows the world to have the fuzzy edges a growing imagination needs? I suppose the nearest are Morrowind, Ultima 7, King of Dragon Pass.

An alternative is the Inform and Twine games, the old text adventures, like Violet and Slouching Towards Bedlam. These are near-to-perfection but they waste the player’s time with endless failstates and replays (something the otherwise-light Fable 2 is notable for avoiding). Unless they’re enjoying and learning anew from each failstate, you’re wasting their time. Horse Master is better, in that you carry on to an enjoyably strange ending, no matter what. But a bad text adventure is a short story, spoiled.

This year has seen a few games that have got closer, mingling that Inform experience with production values. Gone Home? Linear, but we’re getting there with the atmosphere, storyline and lack of failstate. Papers Please? Good – linearity concealed behind a clever, shifting toolset and political nous. The problem with these two, like Dear Esther, is that they’re just not all that much fun. The protean joy of the Stanley Parable might be the only modern game I could recommend.

I don’t think I’ve fallen out of love with games. I’ve just recognised that the other media are still superior in what I’d want my kid to input, especially for a peak quality experience.

Interview: Jesse Schell on gaming, the social sciences, identity loss and behavioural shaping.

Previously Creative Director of the Disney Imagineering Virtual Reality Studio, Jesse Schell thinks hard about the future of games; he’s worked on Toontown Online and teaches game design at Carnegie Mellon university. You can see his amazing DICE talk on the future of gaming here. This interview was conducted for a PC Gamer piece on Social Gaming about a year ago.

To the tune of: Björk – Human Behaviour

Previously Creative Director of the Disney Imagineering Virtual Reality Studio, Jesse Schell thinks hard about the future of games; he’s worked on Toontown Online and teaches game design at Carnegie Mellon university. You can see his amazing DICE talk on the future of gaming here. This interview was conducted for a PC Gamer piece on Social Gaming about a year ago.

Jesse is very small.

You’ve posited that social gaming, or at least the tools developed for it, will become the backbone to how technology integrates with our lives. Your vision, in particular, focussed on direct ‘nudge marketing’ and how, if done crudely, it could become invasive. Do you honestly believe this will happen?
I think you are asking whether there will be annoying kinds of advertising related to games. Have you been on Facebook? Yes! Totally! There will be LOTS and LOTS and LOTS of annoying marketing games, in shapes and forms we can only start to imagine. “Buy a 24 pack of coca-cola, and get 100 free gold in World of Warcraft!” “Tweet about NBC TV shows five times this week, and get 20 farmcash, and a coupon for MacDonalds!” And on, and on, and on…

Is it a good thing? (Use your own moral code here, class).
Is it a good thing? I would say that no, mostly advances in annoying advertising are not good. I mean, a lot of cool and weird game experiments will show up because of this, and that’s good, but for every cool one, there will be twenty that are just irritating.

Will you be pushing this in your own projects (no matter, whether you think it’s good or bad)?
Well, part of what we’re doing at Schell Games are facebook games and other social network games. And for those to succeed, they have to be viral. And to be viral, you have to risk being annoying sometimes. Taking that risk goes with the territory.

Most of us get our happiness from others – so in social games, relationships should be first, content second. So few of them feature any real relationships at all, though, and very little content. How do they get away with this?
I wondered who took my happiness! It was you!

It’s not true when you say they don’t feature real relationships. If that was true, facebook games would work just as well with strangers as they do with your real friends. But they don’t. We don’t want to be ashamed in front of our real friends, and we want to feel equal, or superior, to our real friends, and so, there are powerful forces at work that make us want to succeed at games when our real friends are involved. So, real relationships are at the fore. The games don’t develop these relationships, but they do use them. And as for “very little content”, since when do games require “lots of content”? Where is the “content” in chess? Or draughts (yeah, I’m in my UK groove!)? or football? All a good game needs is a simple interaction with someone whose opinion I care about.

Is this just another consequence of our more efficient living – work has got more efficient, but instead of saving us time we’ve ended doing more than ever. Now we’re saving time on socialising too. The ultimate form of socialising is to feel the long-lasting happiness from being social in the shortest time.
Definitely, part of the appeal of social networks is to be able to socialize efficiently. That’s not a bad thing, historically, that’s what letter writing was for — a way to stay in touch that didn’t involve having to make a journey. Now we just have methods that are 100x more efficient than letter writing. How you choose to use them is up to you.

What are the great unanswered questions in social sciences that gaming could help answer?
One of them is surely this: Exactly what do people find rewarding? The social gaming universe right now is Darwinian experiment, evolving at 100x the speed of traditional videogaming, to find out what people find it rewarding to play, and to spend money on.

Are the major social gaming companies being short-sighted? The way they used playgen payment models, the way their systems don’t merely utilise social networks but almost abuse them – they’re driving the public away. At the moment, they’re still growing quickly enough no-one notices how many are dropping out, but if it ever gets to the stage that it becomes harder to drop out…
Some techniques definitely will gain money and players in the short term, and lose them in the long term. Is it crazy to use these techniques? It’s crazy to use them in the long-term, but in the short term, it will get you money and players, so it would be crazy not to use them! You can always change techniques later — in fact, you definitely will, since players, games, and technology are all changing so fast. None of us know what this stuff really looks like in the long term, so, yeah, a lot of companies are focused on the short term right now.

Is this technology repeatedly top-slicing our society, splicing off those who know how to access and manipulate these new information sources, and leaving them in a position of power over the rest of us?
No — it’s doing the opposite. Wasting the time and money of those who understand the most — which gives everyone else a chance to catch up!

Normally our value systems are inculcated in us through a combination of school and parental behavioural shaping, and a hint of own personality depending on how troublesome we prove. How are these things going to compete with relentless personalised marketing?
It’s a fascinating question! Does personalized marketing change us, or make us more like ourselves? Given the choice between the impersonal marketing that dominated the 20th century, and the freeform, personal marketing of the 21st century, I guess I prefer the latter. But to your question — in the 21st century, people will have an unprecedented freedom to become what they want to become — which means if you don’t like yourself, it’s your own fault.

This behavioural shaping isn’t good in another way – it only reinforces certain acquisitive behaviour. Will moral institutions (religions, humanists, illuminati) have to reorganise as digital lobbyists for the human soul, shifting their millions away from lobbying government for laws to shape behaviour to building their own incentive structures and social networks?
Yes, this is starting to happen now. There are countless grants to try to create videogames to encourage positive behavior of all kinds — better health habits, better learning habits, better environmental habits. It’s a tough battle though — for how can the government afford better games than the junk food, entertainment, and manufacturing industries?

Science fiction writers have been positing a total corporate societal takeover for years, but it hasn’t happened yet (I think). It won’t happen with this either, will it?
You mean like in Jennifer Government, where you need to have a credit card ready when you call an ambulance (everyone should read Jennifer Government, by the way! It would make a great movie, but I don’t think Hollywood has the guts to put out a movie where Nike is the villain)? No, corporations won’t take over the government through games, but they will nibble away at our identities with them, bit by bit.

Back to social gaming. The market’s not matured yet, in any way. Is this still the Wild West? Rife with Red Indies, and the big corporations laying railroads down and trying to tame a land they don’t yet understand?
Yes, mostly.

Facebook has established itself as the premium platform for social games. Do you think that was the only mistake World of Warcraft made – not establishing itself as a platform in it’s own right, when it had such a huge userbase. Do you see Facebook ever being superceded?
“Ever” is a long time. I will say that I believe that Facebook will be the dominant social network five years from now.

Evony – the advertising scandal and Gifford’s admission, in court, of being a liar for marketing purposes-  shouldn’t detract from them having made a passable strategy game. Can marketing and game design continue to be separated like this?
No comment on this question — I don’t know enough about the situation.

Most social games aren’t really games – just addictive mechanics designed to elicit cash. Also not really fun. In fact, in that they keep you from your friends and waste your time, are they completely invidious?
If they weren’t games, and they weren’t engaging, people wouldn’t keep playing them. And sometimes people don’t keep playing them. But when people do play them, and pay to play them, it’s because they are engaging. Remember, games don’t have to be “fun” all the time, they just have to be engaging.

If you were going to make a social game that appealed only to hardcore gamers, what would you do?
We have that! It’s called multiplayer FPS! Remember, it doesn’t have to be on facebook to be a social game!

On CyberWar

To the Tune of: Jeff Wayne;Richard Burton;Justin Hayward – The Eve Of The War

This is the longer draft of a short piece I did for the just-released Delayed Gratification. Before the Wikileaks stuff happened incidentally, so I was prescient about 4Chan.

Undersea Cable

Missile weapons, phalanxes, military organisation, artillery, ironclads, dreadnoughts, machine guns, submarines, and finally nuclear weapons. These are all shifts of technology that led to shifts in international power, making the ultimate weapons of their time obsolete. Rifled guns eradicated knights, ironclads wiped out galleons, like lightning against tin hats.

Cyberwarfare is the latest technological shift. Simply put, it’s an aggressive action using computer technology. It’s mostly a threat to networked devices, so an obvious defense would seem to be to not connect your machines to the Internet, especially not important ones. Yet, the two biggest infections of recent years (this year’s Stuxnet attack on Iran and 2008’s total infection of the US Central Command) were both started by USB sticks. Moreover, as we’ll see, aside from isolating your computers, the physical infrastructure of the Internet is itself vulnerable to everything from fires to enthusiastic hoeing.

The UK government thinks Cyber attacks are such a huge threat that, even in the midst of the biggest public service retrenchment since Henry VIII burnt half his cabinet, they’ve just allocated an extra £650 million to defending against it, and rated it as a Tier 1 threat – that means we should be more scared of it than nuclear, chemical, biological or radiological attacks. Meanwhile, the US government has admitted that hackers steal enough data from US agencies, businesses and universities to fill the library of congress many times over.

The varieties of cyberwarfare range from the brute force, such as the ‘DDOS’ (distributed denial of service) employed by Russian bot-nets and angry forum users, to national networks such as the Chinese Titan Rain hacking system or Russian Moonlight Maze, to the highly targeted Stuxnet (the culprit of which is unlikely to be known until we accidentally hack whoever it was back). You can see from this that normal governmental cyberwarfare is not qualitatively different from normal hacking and virus-creation – Stuxnet is only thought to be governmental because of the use of rare, valuable vulnerabilities.

Stanislav Petrov

Who are the great powers in the world of cyberwarfare? An anonymous industry expert we contacted pointed to “nation states, organised criminal organisations and (defensively) some large organisations (especially in financial services)” as the major actors. Unlike economics, where a company or country can use a small number of experts to dominate a market, or a small lobbying firm to distort a market, what’s required to be a major power is large numbers of committed technical experts. So cyberwarfare gives disproportionate power to mass movements that include technical types, for example cyber vigilantes like Wikileaks or the huge, juvenile anarchist community 4chan.

Despite its apparent technological expertise, most of the United States’ technology production and know-how was long ago outsourced to the Far East; so compared to its dominance in almost every other field (it spends 45% of the world’s total military spending), it has been relatively weak in Cyberwarfare. So how do they plan to defend against it? Former US Homeland Security secretary Michael Chertoff suggested in October that Cyberwarfare is best opposed by open protocols, similar to but not quite at the level of mutually-assured destruction (MAD); “…it’s important to define when and how it might be appropriate to respond,” explained Chertoff. “Everyone needs to understand the rules of the game.”

Sadly, as our expert points out, it’s very easy to establish protocols, but there are three major problems. Firstly, this is such a mutable field, that these protocols would either have to be really wide-ranging, or very vague to deal with the rate of technological change. Secondly, there are so many ongoing attacks (with more than 100 foreign intelligence agencies trying to hack into US military digital networks, and over 1000 attacks a month) that determining which ones justify a response isn’t clear. “Any attack needs to cause (or be about to cause) real world damage.” If that could be established a response would then follow existing international treaties.

Sadly, the third problem is the biggest. “The fundamental difficulty at the moment in establishing a cyber response doctrine is the difficulty of definitive attribution of any cyber attack (including intelligence gathering operations).” says our source. “At a very recent conference I attended there was strand of thought developing that attribution might always be largely impossible without fundamental changes to the structure to the Internet, with detailed monitoring of any cross-border traffic.” Without such a change, no government can attack on good faith – data is faked so easily, that “Any web-based attack can be launched from computers all over the world.” Still, Chertoff talked of attacking anyway to remove the node the attack was coming through – even if that node was blameless.

Sub-saharan Undersea Cables in 2012

Even if all that’s solved, you have to rely on the protocols being carried out – as the case of Stanislav Petrov shows. He was a Russian bunker commander in 1983 when his (broken) systems told him that nuclear war had broken out; he thankfully, refused to launch his missiles, against the doctrine of MAD, but undermining the whole point of the protocol. A protocol that’s not carried out is worthless – and neither men nor machines can be relied upon.

So what defenses do we have? Well, less advanced nations have a slight advantage. As William Lynn, US Undersecretary of Defense, pointed out recently, dispersed, complicated and messy systems, like the US power grid, are protected by their complexity and lack of connection. Conversely, anything with remote, internet-based design built-in is really asking for trouble. However, as our expert says “If you know a previously undiscovered vulnerability and/or you can socially engineer a victim into clicking on a link or opening an email then you will always get in.” Undiscovered vulnerabilities are rare in the wild – that was, until Stuxnet used four of them.

That said, computing is still entirely a physical medium – the Internet has not evanesced or apotheosized to exist entirely in the air (yet). “It’s safe to assume that security of the physical infrastructure is a key part of any cyber warfare planning.” says our expert. Key elements of the net exist in the unlikeliest locations; favourite locations for server farms (the great data stores of the internet) are deep, unused mines, and other cold, dry areas. Meanwhile, much of the world’s data is carried through thin undersea cables that are vulnerable to boats anchors and cluster as they come ashore in very few locations – New York, Cornwall, Rio, Singapore, and Mumbai (see image, right.) An still-unexplained accident in 2008 meant that 80 million people across India and the Middle East lost connection.

That’s not the whole story. As Lynn points out, the substrate of the Internet can be compromised too – “The risk of compromise in the manufacturing process is very real and is perhaps the least understood cyber threat.” Back doors and kill switches can be built into software and hardware, not being activated until necessary. If all else fails, seven people worldwide (including one from Bath, Somerset) have been entrusted with keys that reset the internet – assuming that at least five of them can make it to Texas to do it!

The 360-Degree View: Documentaries.

(Panning montage of serious-looking people talking, national institutions, angry fingers being pointed, people walking around and behind things.)

(Tenor voice-over).
“It’s a blight on the national psyche, an easy way out for hundreds of people who want easy answers. Politicians condemn it, Doctors say it destroys lives. But what does documentary-making really do to Britain? And is there any way out for the unfortunate addicts who make these programmes – the dealers who consume their own supply?”

“So, what sort of people get into badly-researched, scare-mongering journalism? We spoke to Barry (not his real name), who worked in the field for ten years.

(Silhouetted figure sat in front of a cardboard picture of Big Ben.)”
“I had no self-respect, was doing badly at school and was basically bored. So I got into… into investigative journalism. At first, I was only writing the occasional reviews column for the local newspaper, but it spiralled out of control. Before I knew it I was working on shoddily-researched documentaries, desperately trying to simplify the story to make it easy to understand – but we weren’t talking down to the public, we genuinely had no idea ourselves what we were on about.
At one point, I was presenting a late night news show, a crappy quiz show, a true crime show… I just couldn’t help myself. That’s when my family intervened… I’m so glad they did.  I knew if I kept on, I’d end up presenting a daytime talk show or QVC.”

(Tenor voice over)
(Another silhouette, this time huge, oddly like John Simpson wearing a Burkha.)
“John (not his fake name) is a current documentary maker.”

“I used to respect myself, wear suits and ties, look smart and make news. But gradually, I wanted to be more like the people I talked to, started wearing knackered t-shirts or ethnic clothing ‘to blend in’. God, I’d doorstep perfectly innocent people, just to make them look confused and upset when I asked them pushy questions while they were picking up their milk. I’m not proud of what I did. You know, making insinuating remarks, giving damaged people an out, so they could blame someone else for their problems. Documentary-making, it’s corrosive on the soul, y’know. I can’t stop – think of the children. I think I’ve got it under control now.”

(Tenor voice over)
“We spoke to a specialist in the field, who’s treated many addicts.”
(Picture of a woman in a white lab coat and glasses who sounds as if she’s never heard the words she’s saying before).

“If you’ve got an addictive personality, you should stay away from documentaries. There’s a visceral thrill in trying to cram all the relevant information into a 30-minute time slot, but gradually they all give in to temptation. They simplify, they excise relevant facts, they pander to their own prejudices. After a while, they’re not making documentaries any more, they’re making opinion pieces with a veneer of respectability provided mainly by how much they frown and nod – but they can’t stop themselves. Eventually, we bring them here.”

(Cuts to long shot of a chaotic ward of people, variously wearing backless nightgowns, suits and ethnic garb, all nodding, pointing toy microphones and frowning.)

(Tenor voice over)
“So there you have it, documentaries kill babies and play into the hands of radical Islam. I’m been a man with a reassuringly English name and deep voice. Good night. ”

Next week: something relevant to current affairs, maybe? Like should women have the vote?

Fuck Provenance

To the tune of: The Durutti Column – Trust The Art Not The Artist

Fuck provenance. The joy of many modern critics seems to lie in the attribution of intention to the auteur, or at least cause to the auteur, focusing on the backstory more than the object of study; the importance of something is thus pushed back, the homunculus raised to the point of key importance, and credit or blame ascribed to this new creation instead of the creator or the piece, and so on, ad infinitum. The homunculus is to blame, no it’s the sense of ego, no it’s the neuroticism in that ego, etc. Value drains out of the object and down this chain of blame or praise.

What does this hunting for origins add to the enjoyment of the piece? What does knowing where Jeunet grew up add to the value of Jules et Jim, or even knowing Jeunet made it? Provenance is not mandatory knowledge for the appreciation of a good. As if a single billionaire could tell the difference between a identical diamond dug out of the ground in Africa and one compressed in a Russian machine, but they pay the price for the story. It’s the placebo effect, carried over to appreciation; oh, this was Nabokov’s cap, my look at the lining, that must be his sweat staining the hat-band, my, I’m enjoying this hat so much more. This steak was cut from Wagyu beef; not grown in Japan, no, nor of the same breed, nor subject to the possibly-mythical abuse/massage, but it’s Wagyu despite the lack of relevant attributes. If the sense data is the same, what matters the origin?

Much of this painting's quality is from the canvas's texture; whether that was intended or not is unknowable and doesn't matter.

This approach is used in food, increasingly, and I was with Delia in her kickback against the snobbery of food provenance; some of the most interesting food I’ve eaten has been cheap, or canned, or frozen, (though the mediocrity of source matters as little as the quality, of course, and inverted snobbery is as bad as the original.) In the arts (movies, games, paintings), we ask what the intention of the author is, as if that’s relevant to the finished product. Yet intention does not imply result, especially where silver-tongued auteurs are involved, and correlation does not imply causation. I judge Gaugin on his skill levels and the general quality of his works (occasionally good texturing, great colour range, poor penmanship/perspective); I judge his artwork on its own merits.

Again, if you’re a subconscious determinist, you might argue for the creator’s story being important irrespective of what he actually intended, the act of creation being valuable whether or not the direction was accurate. I, personally, don’t understand this. I have no problem with you appreciating a story; but it should not impinge on the important aesthetic judgement, that comes from you irrespective of history. The way cut glass grates against your incisor; the satisfaction in the predictable kickback of Bioshock’s shotgun; the richness of colour I’m told raw meat and Van Gogh’s paintings possess; the surprising toxicity of lead-based paints eating away at your reason. These are the raw materials for your judgement, not the supposed intentions of a fellow human black box, not that the water of this distillery flows through peat bogs; I just love the scent of smoke from that glass, and I don’t need to know why it’s there to appreciate it.

Fuck provenance. Fuck intention. Fuck origins. Taste is personal, value is visceral; move away from that and you’re just lying to yourself.

Games Journalism By Any Other Name

Games journalism isn’t that clear. Some people don’t think it’s journalism, and they think that using the word ‘journalism’ in combination with games is bad for communication, as it weakens the acuity of the language, and especially bad for journalism, as it associates journalism with something distasteful. It’s something I’ve heard repeatedly over the years, but I heard it most recently in reference to Pat Garratt’s polemic on the games news business.


Words convey ideas that we associate, from experience of general use, with those words. So we know the word table and call a table a table because we’ve associated it through long experience with other people using the word table to refer to that table thing. (Thanks for attending linguistics 101.)

Some things aren’t that clear. Games journalism isn’t that clear. Some people don’t think it’s journalism, and they think that using the word ‘journalism’ in combination with games is bad for communication, as it weakens the acuity of the language, and especially bad for journalism, as it associates journalism with something distasteful. It’s something I’ve heard repeatedly over the years, but I heard it most recently in reference to Pat Garratt’s polemic on the games news business.

Post-man Pat Transforming Gaming News

Here’s the definition of journalist given by the Devil’s Dictionary (X), started by Ambrose Bierce, vanished Ur-father of modern columnists:

1. a writer who writes about sensational occurrences long after they happen and even longer after they are interesting.

2. a writer who uses marketing in lieu of judgement, appetite in place of taste, and style as proxy for skill.

3. an anti-romantic; a naturalist with a day job.

Not so useful, but quite funny. Here’s the dictionary definition:

1. the occupation of reporting, writing, editing, photographing, or broadcasting news or of conducting any news organization as a business.

writing that reflects superficial thought and research, a popular slant, and hurried composition, conceived of as exemplifying topical newspaper or popular magazine writing as distinguished from scholarly writing

So it’s not scholarly – well that’s for sure. It seems to mostly fit the first definition – but is there an implication of anything honest or creative in journalism? Well, the word news is key; strictly speaking it means “information about important or interesting recent events”. Does that information have to be accurate? Well, inaccurate information isn’t really information – it’s noise. So, yes. there’s an implication of truth – journalists attempt to convey information that they have a justified belief to be true. Not fact-checking when you could, fabricating facts, or deliberately putting out information that can be mis-interpreted – all these seriously undermine an individual’s claim to be a journalist.

Pat et al *do* occasionally take quotes out of context, and report rumours (labelled as such), but they’re careful to apologise if they screw up and they mostly report accurately – even with those rumours. I’m less pleased with tabloid headlines, especially when they’re misleading, which all the news sites regularly indulge in – the red in tooth and claw nature of internet news is an explanation, but it can’t serve as a justification, especially not for established sites like C&VG or VG247. Moreover, as most of these sites share in the general games industry plea to the outside world to ” treat gamers like grown-ups”, one might think they had a moral responsibility to behave like adults.

However, most of the time, news sites are reporting the stuff that the PRs want them to – what they’ve been fed, the assets and information that’s timed to be released now, and so on. Is this journalism? Well, yes. Even if it isn’t creative, it’s still putting the interesting news out there, still acting as a filter for the audience of the messaging coming from companies (I’m betting a suprising amount is filtered out by these sites) and mingling it with the information coming from the world at large, still editorialising the message. Who judges what’s interesting? Well, the journalist tries and, if he succeeds, he gets the readers. They both judge in other words, and good journalists get to keep working.

So I’m going to say that. Journalism doesn’t have to be good writing; it doesn’t have to be creative writing; it just has to be accurate and not misleading. Games reportage fills that remit, so why not call it journalism? Just because it’s mostly fed by PRs, just because it’s often things that snootier people would want to call pettifogging rubbish, not fit to be called news, doesn’t mean it’s not information that someone out there wants to read – and the games journalist does his job by conveying it.

Creating Brand You

His brand is clear

To the tune of: Morecambe & Wise – Me And My Shadow

I wrote this:

“You might not realise it yet, but you’re a brand. All this time you’ve been walking and talking and posting on the internet, thinking you were a person, when you’ve been a brand all along. Who’d have thought it? All of your activities have been contributing to the brand, building a profile for it and even advertising it.

Why is it important to think of yourself as a brand? Because as information about individuals becomes increasingly available online, you want to make sure that information is not only accurate but also positive and succinct.”