lowbrowculture

collects stories and ideas from John Kelly

Joe Griffin Must Be Stopped

Look, I really, really don’t want this to descend into a personal attack on someone I don’t even know, so let me just start off by saying that I don’t have a problem with Joe Griffin in general. I think that when he sticks to writing about things he genuinely seems to know something about, like movies, he’s absolutely fine. Check out his blog, Moviedrome. As personal movie blogs go, it’s not terrible. I really wanted to hate it, but the best I can muster is a profound indifference.

What I don’t like is when he steps outside of his comfort zone and starts writing about videogames. Which he does every Friday as part of the Irish Times’ ‘The Ticket’ culture/entertainment supplement. He’s clearly out of his depth and represents everything I hate about the way videogames are covered by traditional media. For example, take a look at his recent review of Portal 2, which is somewhere between a hot mess and a 300-word syntactic nightmare. Here’s my favourite line of the entire thing:

This is a clever, captivating and sometimes hilarious sci-fi game, with compulsive gameplay. Here’s hoping I don’t have nightmares about GLaDos.

While you’re reading this review, please bear in mind that the Irish Times is supposed to be Ireland’s ‘newspaper of record’. Can you imagine if it treated all of its arts coverage this way? Can you imagine if their review of There Will Be Blood ended with “I hope I don’t have nightmares about Daniel Plainview.” It’s ridiculous.

Now, it’s completely possible that Joe is merely writing within a set of constraints set by the Irish Times. It may well be that Madam Editor called Joe into her office, sat him down and said ‘Listen, Joe, we still think videogames are for children, so we want 300 words written in the same tone you’d use if you were reviewing a Richard Scarry book.” I suppose this is possible, but why, then, does their other videogames correspondent, Ciara O’Brien, do such a better job?

The other thing that makes me say that Joe Griffin is out of his depth writing about videogames is the amount of times he has gotten the facts wrong. Just basic factual details that he’s either deliberately or carelessly missed. For example, in his editorial about videogame adaptations of literature from Friday, April 22nd 2011, he writes (emphasis mine):

There was some excitement this year when the Great Gatsby videogame resurfaced online. Originally an 8-bit title for the old Nintendo, the game is a platform adventure in which Nick Carraway fends off malevolent butlers and hobos.

First, since we’re on it: ‘old Nintendo’? There have been four consoles since the original NES. Any one of them could be referred to as ‘old Nintendo’. I remember talking to someone and they used ‘old Nintendo’ to refer to the Nintendo 64 (God, did that make me feel old). But this is all beside the point. One quick google search for “Great Gatsby NES” and you’ll see the first result is the game itself and the rest of the results are links to that game, with each one explaining how the game is a modern creation made to look like an old NES game. It’s a retcon, a fake artifact from a “parallel reality”. The Escapist explains it well:

In reality, Hoey created the game on a whim after creating an 8-bit tribute to the classic novel’s cover. They simply couldn’t stop, and eventually ended up with 4 levels of Gatsby-themed glory. The game includes several characters, places, and lines from the book, and even has a few short cut-scenes.

Know how much I get paid to write this blog? Nothing. Know how much I get paid to write about videogames at all? Not a penny. Know how many people read this blog? I don’t actually keep track, but it’s safe to say it’s statistically insignificant compared to the number that read The Irish Times. How hard would it be for Joe to just either (a) keep on top of the subject he’s getting paid to write about, or (b) do one quick google search before banging out an article?

Onwards and downwards.

Friday, May 6th, 2011 > PORTAL 2 HAS been the subject of some rave reviews, but one innovation seems to have escaped critics: the villain’s voice is American and one of the sympathetic voices is English. This is very rare.

Reading his Portal 2 review, I thought “you know, this is all just fluffy bullshit that you could extrapolate from reading the back of the box - I don’t think this guy has actually finished the game.” This article, which appeared a week after his review, clinched it for me. I would bet cash money that Joe has not actually finished the 8-hour game he has been paid to write about. Actually, forget about ‘finishing’ the game, I would bet he hasn’t actually played the game for more than 4 hoursDoes anyone have his Xbox Gamertag or Steam/PSN account name? It would be easy to tell how much of the game he’s finished from any of these.. Why do I say this? Because if you do play the game for that long, you’d realise that there’s a glaring error with Joe’s statement. There’s a second-act twist, which happens roughly three-to-four hours in, and he is completely oblivious to.

I’m not saying that reviewers need to finish all games to completion before reviewing them. This is completely unworkable. How would anyone ever review something like World of Warcraft which, in effect, has no ending? But I think it’s a genuine disgrace when someone can’t be bothered to finish a short game like Portal 2 – or even to play it for four hours – but will happily accept money to review it. It’s like a restaurant reviewer saying “Well, technically, I didn’t eat there, but I looked in the window and it seemed nice enough.”

Again, I just want to reiterate that I don’t want this to be a personal attack on Joe Griffin. I’m sure he’s a lovely bloke and, like I said, when he’s writing about movies, he’s fine. I’ve even heard him talk about movies on Arena and I thought he was one of the better guests they’ve had on there. He was well-informed and articulate.

It’s just a shame that he can’t be the same when he’s writing about videogames. It’s even more of a shame given the amount of genuinely talented Irish people who are writing passionately and thoughtfully about videogames (e.g. the guys at Games Toaster or Shoryuken) and who would gladly write for free to get their stuff in The Irish Times.

Article updated at 21:43GMT+1 to tone down some things that were a little too mean