Five crap games sites
Posted at 00:09 on 17th August 2007 - permalink

Of course we can’t have a list of five good games sites without some kind of counterbalance, so here I present five games sites that aren’t worth your time, beyond the time taken to laugh at them. As with the ‘good’ list, inclusion isn’t based purely on overall quality: All of these sites have a special something, each following some badly reasoned credo that affords them untold levels of annoyance that can’t be achieved by conventional stupidness. And yes, I feel mean-spirited and faintly disappointed in myself for having spent time on this.


The reason this update has taken so long is that I kept putting 1UP first on the list, visiting it, becoming engrossed by the seemingly inexhaustible parade of failings and allowing the length of this writeup to balloon even further.

There are three major American games portals, Gamespot (CNet), IGN (Murdoch) and (Ziff Davis). All three cover the same news-reviews-and-media remit and are generally seen as being a bit impersonal and corporate. IGN traditionally gets the most stick due to the generally poor quality of it’s editorial, which often reads as if sourced from unpaid teenage volunteers. Gamespot comes across as being somewhat more professionally put together (applying review standards pretty consistently, except during console launches) but somewhat nerdy and bland. And then there’s the newcomer, 1UP. It’s the same formula as the others, with the main difference being that it’s created by people who desperately want to be seen as ‘cool’ in the eyes of an audience of dimwitted MySpace drones. It makes for painful reading.

A typical 1UP review will consist of one of their interchangeable hipster staff rambling conversationally about a given game, in some cases proudly admitting that it’s one they’re not interested in or qualified to discuss. The reader comes away no wiser about the game than if they’d just read the back of the box, the game’s metacritic score is very slightly tarnished, and 1UP’s staff go back to giving each other high-fives and making tiresome 1980s pop culture references until the next game lands on their desks. They’ve previously employed geniuses like Luke Smith and Jane Pinckard, which should give an idea of the bar that’s been set here. 1UP attracts (or perhaps seeks out) irritating writers who seem to think that stuffing their copy with low rent Kevin Smith-esque ‘attitude’ can make up for the howling expertise vacuum.

What’s worse than any amount of junk review copy is 1UP’s extremely dubious blurring of games publisher PR and editorial. They routinely treat marketing reps as industry luminaries, players in an improbable soap opera where the likes of Peter Moore are presented as creative masterminds guiding the direction of the industry. Outspoken developers occasionally get a cameo, such as creepy b-list fighting game director Tomonobu Itagaki. 1UP readily bought into the PR-concocted fantasy of Itagaki being a “rockstar developer”. (Just look at this nonsense.)

All the silly buzzwords and clumsy bits of spin cooked up by the console hardware manufacturers are taken at face value by 1UP’s guileless hacks. (If 1UP had been around ten years ago they’d no doubt be singing the praises of blast processing and the virtues of the Atari Jaguar’s greater number of bits.) It reads like nothing so much as writers using the site as a platform to get headhunted by publishers’ PR departments (which has happened on more than one occasion).

I’m told that the various video and audio programmes produced by the site are actually quite professionally produced, and that’s great, but it’s not primarily what I visit games sites for. I’m certainly not going to stick around long enough to make the time investment when the textual portion of the site is determined to annoy me with a cluttered layout and interstitial ads.

But that’s the only positive I can come up with. 1UP is subtly and insidiously degrading the quality of discourse about games with it’s narrow-mindedness, sloppiness and cynicism. The site’s community features (where you can give postings a “thumbs up”, but not a thumbs down) seem designed to encourage back-slapping groupthink. It’s annoying to think that there are new gamers who are going to stumble across 1UP through no fault of their own and think that this is the best games writing they can expect. Avoid.

2. Kotaku (and Joystiq, and Destructoid)

All three sites are pretty much the same thing: ad-driven blogs serving unremarkable games news cut with implausible, baseless rumours to generate traffic. Their continued survival suggests there is a market for such things, in the same way as there must be a market for those trashy gossip magazines sold in supermarkets. It’s strange that these ‘blogs’, run as commercial interests with extensive staff of (presumably paid) contributors, somehow manage to frequently post articles so biased, inaccurate, unprofessional, self-referential or simply devoid of content that they would never make the cut on blogs run by private individuals, let alone on the news pages of legitimate games sites. They’re a fun indulgence in moderation but they’re not exactly journalism.

3. Wagner James Au*

Wagner James Au was an occasional target for mockery back in the days of Old Man Murray. His current schtick is that he’s an embedded reporter in Second Life (I believe he works for or has worked for Linden Labs in the past), and is currently riding the wave of interest in mainstream media and venture capital circles around online communities, user generated content, social networking and other Web 2.0 buzzwords.

So far so innocuous, but what makes James Au peculiar is that his pro-virtual worlds standpoint is frequently accompanied by a streak of irrational anti-games vitriol. Any time anyone does something that brings electronic entertainment to audiences that previously struggled with the technology or weren’t interested in the thematic content is seen by James Au as another nail in the coffin for more sophisticated, deeper games that reward time investment for people who want more intellectual stimulation than a quick round of Bejeweled or Wii Play.

It’s almost as if he was beaten really badly at (or received a heinous wedgie while playing) Mortal Kombat fifteen years ago and is now poised to wreak his revenge on dumb old ‘traditional’ gamers, who he dubs “Lost Boys”. Mix in some wacky predictions (“The Nintendo DS is popular, waffles have been popular for decades… JOIN THE DOTS PEOPLE”) and you have the Wagner James Au experience.

*I’ve not linked to his personal site, as it’s full of hideous Second Life screenshots and is frankly a bit unsettling.

4. Tim Rogers*

Tim Rogers is a Japanophilic American games journalist who writes extremely lengthy and self-indulgent stream of consciousness articles for various websites (and similar things, edited into coherence, in the odd print mag). He’s mildly amusing and even occasionally (by sheer dint of exhausting every other possible thing he could think to write in a given period) insightful.

Unfortunately, he’s gained a following in the US among equally affected and pedantic games nerds who (thanks to American games mags being universally dreadful) have never been exposed to decent games writing and assume that because Rogers doesn’t divide his reviews up under ‘Graphics’, ‘Sound’, ‘Gameplay’ and ‘Value for Money’ subheadings, he’s some kind of revolutionary genius, rather than the journalistic equivalent of Wesley Willis. He is skilfully parodied on Something Awful as Tomithy Rempers.

*Most of his recent games-related dipshittery is concentrated on the linked site, but his rampant logorrhoea spreads to numerous others.

5. Ram Raider

“The RAM Raider” is an anonymous blogger who claims to be a UK games journalist (presumably a fairly unknown one, as most of the ones with anything notable to say have onymous web presences already). He writes (or as he’d unconvincingly have it, “they write”) a blog which seeks to uncover the truth about the lamentable state of most of the UK’s games magazines. The problem is of course that this wasn’t exactly a secret to begin with: writing for mags doesn’t pay very well, and the majority of punters prefer to read about games online anyway, so there’s little incentive for improving them beyond trying to appease old duffers who haven’t moved on.

You can’t really blame someone for trying to inject a bit of drama into their working life, at least, unless they persist in being so tremendously pompous about it. ‘Rammy’ also tends to swear a lot in that awkward and humourless way common to people unused to swearing but who have a dim awareness from reading Irvine Welsh or Charlie Brooker that it can be funny. Their invective is typically aimed at soft, vague populist targets like EA, Sony, Future and… well, only those three. Ever.

They also went through a phase of writing extraordinarily obsequious profiles of popular (and internet-active) games journalists, provoking responses ranging from fear to mockery, and posing questions about exactly how closely involved the author could be with magazine journalism if they seemingly didn’t know any of these people socially. Without any apparent irony, they also indulged in bitter anti-intellectual rants on the pages of MCV, howling with dismay at the idea that cleverer writers (including their idols) could condone anything other than grimly functional games writing.

That the RAM Raider has managed to remain anonymous for over two years is a good yardstick of their relevance.

Runners up included Spong (who have been fading out of sight for a while now), Alice Taylor (the personification of why I fear for the future of the BBC’s involvement with games), Andre Vrignaud (for the cardinal sin of preaching the company line through their personal blog), Jane Pinckard (we get it, you’re female), and John Tynes (for conclusively demonstrating why pen and paper RPG guys shouldn’t be allowed to talk about computer games with this incredibly prophetic article).

All my favourite good and bad games sites are listed here.

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