Read before you write - an essential practice
I'll touch on the ice cream sandwich soon enough.
Most of us would probably agree that game journalism in general is not quite where it should be. Some might even say it's mostly bad. I know I would. But if we more or less agree on the problem, could we come together on a solution?
If I were to abridge my suggestion to improve the culture surrounding video game writing as much as possible, it would sound something like this: "Read before you write".
Too many times I've seen articles go completely unchallenged or ignored altogether. If a person replies, that person will quite often reply to elements of the text, or maybe just the title or the first paragraph, and care very little about examining or trying to understand the arguments of the text.
In no instance is this more apparent than when you encounter a title phrased as a question on N4G. To make use of a rather dull example, say you decided to browse the comments section of an article titled "Do videogames make us violent?". I'd be willing to be the first comments are something like:
"No." (which of course, earns the author of the comment a "well said")
"Most boring question ever. Move on already."
"I play video games and I turned out just fine."
Granted, it is a tired old question, but let's do a thought experiment. Say that this article was based on some breakthrough research showing a distinct link between violent behaviour and violent video games. Wouldn't that at least be worth discussing in greater detail?
I really think critical enquiries and well-researched opinion pieces would be more common in game journalism if writers and readers alike spent less time writing/commenting and more time reading. In many cases, the article will make the person who comments's point for him/her, and in other cases the article will tackle that exact point.
However, if the article really is just the same tired old story, or if it can be proven false, then no comment carries greater weight than the one that deals with the article on factual basis.
Imagine a world in which you wrote a piece called "How game X copied game Y", and you weren't just met with angry comments and arguments that you've already tackled in your article, but actual responses that prove your arguments and reasoning to be flawed. You look at them, politely phrased as they are, and have to admit that this time around you really should have done your research better.
Ignorant and angry comments, on the other hand, are likely to make you feel like you have a point. Sure, you'll be annoyed, but that's because you feel like you're not getting your message through to the public. Further down the page there's a completely valid criticism of your article, but who reads through 23 comments of hatred and stupidity to get to that one? No, you go on to writing another article like you wrote the first one.
I think, and I don't have much more than personal experience to back this up with, that polite, precise and well-informed feedback is the best antidote to bad writing. A collective display of hate might upset the writer, it MIGHT even scare the writer away, but most likely it'll only harden him/her, and make him/her care less about feedback in the future.
Qualitative reading furthers qualitative writing. Not just in the case of well-informed feedback repelling ill-informed writing, but in the case of a well-read writer being a writer with more to write about.
So why don't we read? Are we all uneducated barbarians?
Well, no. Not entirely.
The Internet as a format carries quite a lot of the blame. If you have everything competing for your attention at the click of a button, surely there are better things to do than read an article about video games?
Also, anyone can be a writer on the Internet. And with the power of N4G they can even be given a fairly loud voice. Some of the articles racking up 100s or 1000s of degrees on this site are written by people who apparently do not have any knowledge of what it means to be a journalist. They give (false) information without sources, or even worse, provide no information to back up their claims at all. Also, the grammar and spelling is often anything but inviting (This is a blog, so that's my excuse for not proofreading).
I won't encourage you to criticise the crap out of these people. Some of them don't have english as their native language, some are twelve-year-olds aspiring to be writers. Let's not scare these people away from writing for eternity, but: In business, there's this thing called a "compliment sandwich" (illustrated well by Family Guy: http://www.youtube.com/watc... it's a little sleazy and obnoxious, but I find it often gets the job done. I suggest we make more of these sandwiches.
Here's the recipe:
Read the article. Acknowledge what's wrong and what's good (in some cases I'll even resort to "I appreciate the article"), pack it in nicely, and you've got a piece of delicious constructive criticism ready to post.
As a writer, and a human being in general, I find it much more easy to take criticism from someone who adresses you in a nice way and who can prove that they've at least read the article. Being wrong can be painful, and many (completely grown-up people, as well) will find it extremely difficult to admit that they're wrong to someone with no tact or no. It is, however, not as painful to be wrong if you also did something right. Yeah, you thought Sonic Heroes came out in 2012, but a least your language was good. So you keep the good and trash the bad.
The problem with my proposal: It's a bottom-up plan. It demands that people read this, which in itself is quite ironic, and that they absorb the message - agree to it, and decide to spread the word. What are the odds that this sparks any real change? Slim. But I thought it was a message worth putting on paper.
Be patient - read carefully, and if you don't have the time to read - don't take the time to comment.