Games journalists and The New Games

The review of Flow by Richard Leadbetter on Eurogamer made me think. I’ll start by quoting the last line of the article:

If you’re looking for something more like a conventional game, I’d lop off a mark or two from the final score.

That score being 7 out of 10.

The largest part of the article describes the mechanics of Flow. In terms of objective, avatars, attacks, moves and levels. When it finally arrives at talking about the aesthetics of the experience, it calls the game a tech demo and goes on about HDR, HD and THX as norms to judge beauty by.

I have not played Flow on the PS3. But I have played the Flash version, seen some video footage and read about several players’ experiences with the game. It is quite clear that Flow is not a game like most. That its focus is not on gameplay as such but on a different kind of interactive experience, an experience that inspired its title. I’m happy that games websites report on products like this because I think they are extremely important for the future of the industry. But after reading the review, I’m starting to doubt whether games journalists should be the ones doing this job.

It’s a bit like having sports commentators criticizing a fine art exhibition. Not that I want to make a big issue about Flow being art or something. But it does seem to be designed with different purposes and require a different attitude than that of a games journalist (or a gamer for that matter). Not necessarily so these kinds of games could get better scores. But because their scores might be better motivated. Now it seems too much like judging an opera performance based on the cut of the dress of the soprano. It might be an ugly dress, but that’s hardly the point.

On the other hand, there is a lesson here for us, designers interested in new forms of games. Electroplankton is a similar game with one big difference: it has no traditional gameplay to speak of. Perhaps as a result of this, it doesn’t get criticized quite so negatively as Flow might. Perhaps, games journalists realize that a “pointless” experience like Electroplankton completely escapes their grasp.

This seems like a smart strategy. Stay away from gameplay. Don’t give them anything that would allow your game to be compared to Mario or World of Warcraft. Concentrate on what your game is really about. And leave out the redundant stuff. Even Richard Leadbetter can’t help but admit how good such a thing can be.

It’s disappointingly bereft of content, but I can’t help but like it for what it is, and its mere presence on the XMB often makes me load it up as a distraction during my working day.

They are not made out of stone. They are people. They can be moved.

I hope the future brings us journalists who can actually write a review about that side of their experience. Aren’t there supposed to be “New Games Journalists”? Or has that fad faded? Maybe the New Games Journalists should talk about the New Games. Makes sense to me.