I need to go on a little rant
here, nothing serious, but this is something that has been mildly irritating me for
several months now.
I'm sure that most readers are aware of the tech news site Slashdot. Indeed, many of you probably first became aware
of E2 through Slashdot's links to this site. We're all accustomed to Slashdot's slightly fast-and-loose editorial
policy, knowing that on a typical day it's a good source for juicy stories and interesting diversions from office
drudgery, even if the stories occassionally come around more than once. And that's all well and good.
Then one day, Slashdot decided that it would be a really neat idea to have seperate games section, to cover
happenings in the wacky world of computer and video games (and to a lesser extent, paper RPGs, board games and other
things that are not really of any great interest to the section of the population that has moved out of their
parents' basements.). After all, they reasoned, we like games, and our readers do too - this'll practically write
itself! How hard can it be?
As it turned out, of course, it was considerably harder than they had anticipated. Slashdot Games is currently under
the stewardship of a Mr. Michael Zenke, known on the site by the handle 'Zonk' (and on E2 as Dialogue). His area of
expertise seems to be resolutely centred on MMORPGs. As far as I'm aware he hasn't had any professional involvement in either journalism or game development before. I don't want to make this a character assassination of
Zonk, as I'm sure he's a perfectly normal and well-intentioned guy*. But it's abundantly clear that he either doesn't
have the expertise or the time required to make a proper fist of editing Slashdot Games.
Let's look at the last 10 or so stories that have been posted in Slashdot Games. (All posted by Zonk, coincidentally.)
Kid Named After Everquest Character - OK, fairly straightforward coverage of a SOE publicity stunt/coup. I've no problem with this kind of thing, in moderation.
Your Rights Online: 3D Games Patent Threatens Industry? - An interesting story, although I'm not sure why it's tagged 'YRO', unless that's a catch-all for any stories featuring litigation of some kind.
Bungie Unveils New Halo 2 Maps - Again, no problem here. Although you'd expect Slashdot of all places to point out the assholery of Microsoft charging for patches and minor content updates.
Tribes Franchise Quietly Strangled - Apart from the absurd headline, pretty good. (Damn, I picked the wrong day to do this.) The story submitter seems to want to turn the issue of Tribes being dropped into an 'us vs. them' of the armies of loyal Tribes fans (who bought literally dozens of copies of Tribes: Vengeance...) against the evil publishers. But I'd still question the editorial decision to run this without comment.
G4TV To Preview Half-Life 2 Expansion - Ah-ha. You'd think from the headline that this was going to be about the forthcoming expansion pack for Half-Life 2, the one where you're likely-as-not going to be playing as Alyx Vance, right? Whereas, the story is actually about G4TV doing a show about the 'Lost Coast' map, which was announced on Steam weeks ago. The confusion between 'Steam' and 'Source' is Zonk's addition. Also, note that this is fourth-hand news: G4 to Planet Half-Life to Voodoo Extreme to Slashdot (to me, to you).
News Media Links Shooting To Games - Now, this is an issue that certainly should be covered. As I've previously mentioned, I absolutely reject the idea that responsibility for violent crimes should be pinned on artists and entertainers who use violent themes. But actually reading the interview (with a Dr. Katherine Newman, who Zonk fails to actually attribute the quote to, but hey, it's just some crazy old psychologist chick, right?) reveals that neither interviewer or interviewee are blaming games for Michael Weise's actions. Only the sensationalist headline makes a link. The interview is, in fact, primarily about a violent Macromedia Flash animation that the killer made. The piece taken as a whole is uncharacteristically even-handed and perceptive - something that we should surely be encouraging the American news media to do more of. Slashdot Games jumping to the wrong conclusion about them is just as bad as the news media jumping to the wrong conclusion about games.
24 Hours In The Matrix - OK, drive through.
Soul No Longer Burns on Xbox, GC - At least they corrected the spelling of 'Calibur' this time.
PSP Launch Coverage - Doesn't mention it's the US launch, but that's a minor quibble.
The PSP's Birthday Party - But, huh? Didn't it just launch?
Well, that (completely live, remember) experiment was only partially successful. So let's have a look at some general trends:
Rumour, rumour and more rumour. There have been times when the whole page has just been a bunch of playground-quality (or worse, scanned from American magazines) rumours, usually about the capabilities of the next wave of consoles, all of them utterly baseless. These just serve to piss people off, as they're not news, and they're not interesting outside of the heads of whichever highly gullible Ralph Wiggum-alike submitted the story.
The 'middle class football fan' mangling of bits of semi-obscure terminology. ("Earthbound/Earthdawn", "Voodoo Extreme/Voodoo Express", etc.) I'm not expecting an intimate knowledge of every single obscure mecha game released in Japan over the last 20 years, but it's pretty obvious that there are some big gaps in Zonk's knowledge outside of the MMO sector.
The 'reviews' that are basically just a fucking feature list, with a non-commital comment at the end.
The constant racial slurs.
You're probably getting sick of this by now, but this is basically what it's like, all the time.
Why am I getting fired up about this? After all, there is no shortage of alternative news sources about games that
are quicker, more in-depth and more accurate than Slashdot Games. (The news aggregator www.gametab.com gives a good
cross-section**.) My concern is that a lot of the Slashdot readership (especially those who have come for the News
for Nerds first, and only have a passing interest in games) will take the crap they spew out at face value,
propogating myths, re-inforcing stereotypes and generally poisoning the atmosphere. It's tabloid journalism, and I
think that it's probably doing more harm than good. (Although it could be argued that more widely-read and still
awful games sites such as Spong, GameSpy and IGN are a bigger problem in the scheme of things.)
So the point of this rant, if there is one, is to urge Slashdot and Zonk to take stock of the state that their games
section is in, and hopefully do something about it. The options available are to employ more clued-up editors or
scrap the channel. Meanwhile, Slashdot readers should keep calling out bad and broken news stories - even if the
editors don't take a blind bit of notice (which invariably seems to be the case), at least some of the other readers can benefit from having the facts
*I'd also like to apologise for the snotty comments that I've left a few times on /. when his perceived foul-ups have
irked me. These are usually posted before I've had my morning coffee.
**Further up the chain there's also gamespress.com, gamesindustry.biz and trade mags such as MCV. A lot of the news
sites source much of their news from Games Press.