Monday, January 17, 2005

Game Journalism and The Wisdom of Crowds

I received several more e-mails over the weekend about Trip's Scarlet Letter, and here's one thing I didn't mention because I thought it was a given: gaming journalism is generally poor. Not all gaming journalism, mind you, but the average is somewhere around junior high school fanzine quality. It's particularly bad in the video game magazines, with the only exception (to some degree) being Play. The computer gaming magazines are much better, and I think Computer Gaming World, in particular, has become very solid since Jeff Green became editor. Overall, though, gaming journalism is spotty, at best.

There's an easy explanation for that. Writing about games is not about studying journalism in school and working your way up. There's no certification process or apprenticeship. The barriers to entry are very low. Actually, there really aren't any barriers at all.

The downside of low barriers to entry is that there are a bunch of really crappy writers doing game reviews. The upside, though, is that there are some very talented, unique voices who would never have been heard through a conventional process. Thom Moyles at is one excellent example. And because the content constraints are so loosely-defined, some gamers at gaming sites just write about life, like David Alpern at Gamer Dad. David is a terrific writer, and if you haven't read any of his stuff go to and look for the "Balancing Act" link under the "Columns" heading in the left-hand frame on the front page. His columns are very funny and absolutely top quality.

The low barriers to entry also means that there are some unique, interesting websites out there that wouldn't have existed in a conventional environment--places like and I'm more than willing to wade through the refuse to find those kinds of sites.

I also mentioned on Friday that while I generally didn't trust single reviews, I do put more stock in them in aggregate and use quite frequently. If you're wondering how individuals lacking in assessment skills can, as a group, be more perceptive, check out The Wisdom of Crowds by James Surowiecki. Come on, you have time--there's nothing to play this month anyway! Here's the short version: large groups of people with limited knowledge are superior at solving some types of problems than a small group of experts. The explanation of why makes for excellent reading.

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