Yes, it’s April 29 once again, which means that I am a year older — 39 this time around — and so is MoeGamer!
Yep, this happy little nook tucked away in a corner of the Internet is six years old today, and over the course of those six years it’s been a gradual process of learning, growing, changing and adapting until you have what you see before you today. And doubtless the next six years will continue to see gradual change and evolution here without undermining the fundamental mission of the site: to celebrate our fantastic hobby of gaming, and particularly those parts of it that go overlooked or underappreciated.
For those interested in the story of how the site came to be in the first place, I invite you to enjoy this retrospective that I penned on the site’s third birthday. For today, some musings on why I do what I do, and why I feel independent creators like me continue to do important work.
I’ve told this story a few times — particularly on the Atari A to Z video series — but my whole family was involved with writing about computers and games from the earliest days of the Atari 8-bit home computers. As a young child, I was fascinated by the things I could do with a computer — not just gaming — and I eagerly read issues of Page 6, Atari User, Atari ST User, ST Action, ST Format and numerous others from cover to cover, dreaming that one day I might be able to do the same.
My brother John left home for a job instead of going to university; it was a great opportunity that he didn’t want to pass up. He helped to launch the UK’s first weekly games magazine, Games-X (which, in keeping with the publication’s irreverent humour, was deliberately named to both be an anagram of Sex Mag and sound a bit like “gay sex”) and subsequently went on to help launch two of Maverick Magazines’ titles: Mega Drive Advanced Gaming and the gorgeously classy but sadly short-lived PC Player, the latter of which I miss immensely for its unique, specialised focus.
I’m ten years younger than my brother, but I found the fact he’d been able to make use of the skills he’d learned contributing Atari ST reviews to Page 6 magazine enormously inspirational. I wished and hoped that I could do the same. On a few occasions during my teens, I actually had the opportunity to pen some articles — mostly walkthroughs, which no-one liked doing, but which I rather enjoyed — for both PC Zone and The UK Official Nintendo Magazine. And, since this was back in the days when just a single article could net a plucky freelancer £500, I was fortunate enough to have a fair bit of disposable money to spend on video games when I was still at school.
It was during this time — in gaming generation terms, it was the PS1/N64 era — that I first developed my interest in overlooked and underappreciated games. Having recently developed a passion for RPGs thanks to my enthusiasm for the original Final Fantasy VII, I was keen to seek out more experiences like it, so I eagerly jumped on any RPGs that made it to European shores. Distressingly, this did not include a bunch of Square Enix classics such as Brave Fencer Musashi, Final Fantasy Tactics, Xenogears and Parasite Eve, but chipping a PlayStation in those days was a simple matter of sending it off to some dodgy bloke that your mate knew, and then you could play all the pira– I mean, import games you wanted to.
(I joke, but I actually never indulged in the piracy aspect in this era; I liked the look of those original boxes on my shelves too much, so all I used my chipped PS1 for was playing American titles we didn’t get over here.)
What I found interesting even back then was that a lot of these games that I was exploring simply because they looked interesting were either not getting reviewed all that well — or not at all in some cases. I didn’t really think much about it at the time, but in retrospect it was a symptom of a problem that persists to this day in the commercial press: the fact that a limited staff of paid, regular writers only have so much time in the day, and there are so many games that it’s literally impossible to be able to cover them in the detail that they deserve.
When I think of the realities of this situation, I think back to the time that my brother was running Electronic Gaming Monthly and the Official PlayStation Magazine in the United States — he’d been headhunted from his successful editorial positions over here in the UK by publisher Ziff-Davis. I had the good fortune to be able to visit the Ziff-Davis offices on more than one occasion, and even appear on a couple of 1up.com podcasts.
One thing in particular stuck with me from talking to my brother and his coworkers at that time: the fact that, where possible, writers were expected to have played a game through from start to finish before writing a review of it. Indeed, I recall helping my brother with this by playing through Legacy of Kain: Soul Reaver for him in his office while he was getting on with other editorial things; although he wasn’t actually playing, he was able to see how I was responding to it and get a feel for the game as a whole, rather than just a short slice of it.
On paper, this simple requirement seems eminently sensible, of course, and one might question why it doesn’t appear to be common practice today. The answer is the time issue I just mentioned: given that the games media now runs on a daily Internet-based cycle rather than a monthly magazine-centric process, it’s hard to see how staffers at big sites would have the time and opportunity to play something as massive as Persona 5 or Xenoblade Chronicles through to completion.
I’m not defending this, mind; I continue to be of the belief that when covering story-centric games in particular, one should have a complete familiarity with it before even attempting to analyse it, and likewise one should also be sure one has encountered and explored all the game’s mechanical features before talking about “how it plays”. This is, in short, why I adopted the Cover Game and MegaFeature formats here: they allow me the time to get through a game or series I want to cover in detail, and explore each of their important aspects one at a time rather than attempting to cram everything into a thousand words or less.
I have to give some specific props to Nintendo Life here, for whom I’ve done a few freelance articles in the past few months — check out my reviews of Prison Princess, Dead or School, NinNinDays and Disaster Report 4! There are a couple of specific reasons for this: firstly, they recognised that their coverage of particular types of game (most notably smaller-scale stuff from Japanese devs and publishers) was somewhat lacking and not providing what a portion of their audience wanted — and secondly, by hiring freelance specialists to cover not only the stuff I’ve written about, but also niche-interest genres such as arcade shoot ’em ups, they’re providing much more informative coverage from writers who have the time, subject knowledge and inclination to give these games the analysis they deserve before committing comments to paper.
Unfortunately, not every commercial publication out there is as forward-thinking, which is why we still get reviews that read like the writer hasn’t spent more than about half an hour with the game at most — and indeed, we have been for a surprisingly long time when you look back.
When researching Atelier Iris 3 the other day, I was surprised to discover reviews from back in 2007 that simply missed the point, got facts about the game wrong, or gave so few details that it was questionable as to how long the reviewer had given the game before settling down to bash out a quick thousand words dismissing it as a generic RPG. And, worse, several of these were by widely lauded writers who, at the time, were believed to be pushing games journalism forwards with the quality of their work on more high-profile titles.
I’ve long argued the case for publications to make use of more specialist writers with a narrow but deep focus, because there are a lot of games both old and new that are done a great disservice by a quick, low-effort write-up slapped with a mediocre score on Metacritic, and these instances were prime examples of the fact that just because someone is a good writer, they’re not necessarily good at writing about everything.
Not every “gamer” likes the same things; not everyone is interested in the biggest blockbusters — much like in any other medium, some people are into the artistic side of things. Some people are into titles that demonstrate technical proficiency or mastery; others are into things that are just offbeat, creative or otherwise unusual. The “one size fits all” approach doesn’t really work any more — and we’ve seen plenty of examples over the years where initial reviewers got things “wrong”, only for people to come along a few years later, give something with a mediocre score a chance and find it’s actually rather wonderful.
Probably the best example of this is Taro Yoko’s original Nier, which was all but dismissed as forgettable mediocrity by reviewers at the time of its original release, but which is regarded by a significant number of people today as a modern, artistic masterpiece. But there are smaller scale examples, too; the original Hyperdimension Neptunia, for example, was panned by pretty much every Western publication out there, but nevertheless managed to garner enough of a following in both the East and the West to keep the series relevant, entertaining, highly creative and beloved by fans for a decade.
So what do we do about these games that don’t get done particularly good justice by their release-day reviews? What about those games that don’t get talked about at all — many of which are peppered throughout this article as screenshots with convenient links to their Hub Pages in the captions?
Should we just forget about them and write yet another retrospective about how Super Mario Bros. 3 is apparently the most important game that ever existed?
Should we hell.
The advent of the Internet as a self-publishing platform means that everyone has the opportunity to wax lyrical about the things that are important to them. Yes, getting noticed can be difficult — particularly with all the noise that this amount of freedom tends to lead to — but just getting some thoughts, facts, knowledge and analysis out there into the void is an important first step. If you’re the only person who has written something informative, interesting and thoughtful about a particular game, you have the opportunity to help people discover it for themselves — and perhaps discover some interesting new tastes or aspects of themselves in the process.
Thinking about this is why I tend to take the approach I do here on MoeGamer. I don’t think of what I do as “reviews”, though I do offer critique on aspects of the experience where appropriate. Rather, I approach what I do with something of a “show and tell” approach: here’s something interesting you might want to check out; here are the reasons I like it; here’s what you can expect to experience if you try it for yourself. I specifically try and avoid negativity and dismissal of something (or, worse, its audience) and also deliberately try to look at things on their own terms, rather than in comparison to other things.
For me, this style of commentary ages a lot better than “this is good/this is bad” reviews — because not only is not everyone going to agree on such subjective evaluations, collective opinions tend to change over time, as we’ve seen in a number of cases over the years.
I’ve always wanted this site to be a resource that people can browse at their leisure at any time and discover some interesting things about games from a variety of different generations. That’s why I created the All Games index, the Hub Pages for each game, the Cover Game features and the MegaFeatures. I have little to no interest in providing timely, day-by-day news because not only are there are already commercial outlets that have that clickbait side of things stitched up, it immediately dates your work and makes it all but irrelevant within 24 hours.
Offer something distinctive and timeless, though, and people will keep coming back to read more. I’m delighted to say that this is very much the case with MoeGamer; the site has been showing gradual but steady growth over the course of the last few years, and I’ve had numerous messages of gratitude and support from readers, developers and publishers alike. Which makes me think I’m doing something right!
MoeGamer is never going to be a huge commercial site that everyone has heard of and I’m 100% fine with that; I’m filling a niche, and it seems I’m filling it to a lot of people’s satisfaction — including my own. After all, who else is bonkers enough to try and play through all the Western-released Atelier games in sequence, writing about them as he goes along?
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