Full Circle Episode 1: Tomb Raider, Sim City and LEGO City: Underground

By Jill Scharr and Victor Kalogiannis

Welcome to the NY Videogame Critics Circle’s newest feature: a videoblog recapping the week’s games journo news. This isn’t more videogame news–our members have that covered. Rather, this feature will focus on the journalists, particularly East coasters and members of the Circle. We’ll compare coverage, reporting styles, and approaches to games journalism, as well as anything else relevant to games journalists and those interested in the field.

Script below:

Welcome to the NY Videogame Critics Circle’s newest feature: a videoblog recapping the week’s games journo news. This isn’t more videogame news–our members have that covered. Rather, this feature will focus on the journalists, particularly East coasters and members of the Circle. We’ll compare coverage, reporting styles, and approaches to games journalism, as well as anything else relevant to games journalists and those interested in the field.

We’re here at Two-Bits Retro Arcade and Bar on the Lower East Side to film the first installment of Full Circle, the official videoblog of the New York Videogame Critics’ Circle.
The purpose of this videoblog isn’t to have a conversation about videogames–our target audience pretty much have that covered on their news sites, blogs, Twitter feeds, and more.
Instead, we’ll be talking about–check it–[puts on glasses] the talking about videogames.
So meta.
Let’s start with a conversation that’s been making front-page games journalism news since that disastrous “you’ll want to protect her!” developer interview last summer: the Tomb Raider reboot, out earlier this month. How have games journos been reviewing and writing about Tomb Raider?
Apparently, it doesn’t look so good from the outside. Buzzfeed ran an article called Two Decades of Breathtakingly Sexist Writing about Tomb Raider that includes quotes from reviews of the most recent title. While in some ways this piece is unfair–Evan Narcisse’s comment was taken out of context–it also shows what videogames writing looks like to someone who’s not necessarily plugged in to it 24/7.
Within the videogame community though, most journalists seem to feel that Tomb Raider has acquitted itself from last summer’s PR nightmare. Gameplay, graphics, and sidequests are all reviewed very highly, and Lara herself is being praised as an empowering and fun to play main character.
All in all, many journalists had negative or dubious feelings about Tomb Raider up until its release, but once we were able to judge the game on its own merits instead of its frequently awkward and disturbing commercials and marketing, our opinions did a 180. But some journalists still have lingering concerns. At Forbes, Dave Thier found the first hour of the game to be excessively violent and voyeuristic. At Kotaku, Evan Narcisse writes: “Even if you know nothing about the earlier controversies that swirled around this game last year, it’s impossible to play 2013 Tomb Raider and not breathe in all the subtext in its atmosphere. It’s irresistibly ripe for interpretation. …. On its face, Tomb Raider doesn’t appear to be about the portrayals of female characters in popular entertainment. But it’s certainly ready to be read that way.”
There’s an uncertainty, maybe even an anxiety, in many of these reviews about how to discuss Tomb Raider. How much should we talk about the fact that the main character is female? Should we even talk about it? After all, we don’t talk about how Nathan Drake is male. Does that make us sexist? Is Tomb Raider sexist? Is it up to games journalists to decide that?
We don’t have the answers to those questions, but it’s exciting to see our community consider them in all the great writing The Circle’s members are doing.
If you’ve been online at all in the past week or so, you’ve definitely heard someone complain about Sim City. Chances are you’ve done some complaining yourself.
The gaming community is in crisis over the newest title in this landmark city-building series and its game-breaking server issues. And game journalists are having a bit of a crisis themselves, about how to review a game that keeps changing.
Alex Navarro from Giant Bomb played Sim City before the public release on EA’s review servers. He had his critiques of the game, but had no connectivity or server issues, and gave the game a positive review. After the game went public, though, the servers quickly overloaded, and problems that weren’t apparent in the review version made the game literally unplayable.
At Polygon, Russ Pitts gave the game a 9.5 out of 10 based on his advanced playthrough. When news of the server problems broke, they dropped their review to an 8. It currently stands at 4/10. If the servers improve, Polygon says, they’ll raise the score again, but we’re pretty sure there’s no chance of it hitting that 9.5 again.
This begs the question—is it okay for a reviewer to change their rating? With games, it’s becoming more and more unavoidable.
Polygon defended their decision to change their score, arguing that games are constantly changing now, with patches, updates, DLC, and new versions. When the game changes, they say, the review should change.
In this model of games writing, the journalism is just as iterative as the games themselves. It’s also a powerful case for the superiority of digital journalism over print. After all, don’t you feel bad for anyone who bought Sim City based on a magazine review that was printed before the game went public?

That’s all for this week! Next time, Full Circle is already going downhill, as we’ll be moving from the greatest city in the world to Boston, for PAX East.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s