I’ve been writing about video games professionally – that is to say for major news publications – for 14 years now, yet this week marks the first time I’m attending the Electronic Entertainment Expo. Why? Well, on the few occasions where I’ve asked my employer at the time to fund a trip down to Los Angeles to cover the event, I’ve received blank stares at best and laughter at worst.
It’s a big double-standard that exists among the majority of mainstream media. Getting funding to cover the annual Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas is usually not a problem, while most newspapers and broadcasters will also send reporters to television and film junkets. But video games? Come on, that’s kids’ stuff. Maybe some freelancers will get tossed a couple bucks for a story or two, but E3 and video games in general are a far cry from being taken as seriously as other areas of technology and entertainment.
As such, I know a few staffers and freelancers who’d like to be going to E3, but they can’t make the ends meet. I decided months ago that I’d go regardless of whether I recouped a nickel – fortunately I’ll be providing coverage for MSN.ca and won’t be losing a whack of money (be sure to check it out!).
Truth be told, this is one of the reasons I left the CBC. Somewhere about 10 years ago, my friend and former boss Ian Johnson started up a video game site for the Globe and Mail while he was technology editor there. I was only too happy to contribute and, in those days, probably wrote about five or six reviews a week for no extra pay. I just enjoyed doing it. Along with a couple other brave souls, we managed to drag the Globe kicking and screaming into covering games, a tradition ably continued today by the likes of Chad Sapieha.
Fast forward to last year, where Ian and I tried to do the same at the CBC. The result was Pushing Buttons, a fantastic series pulled together by CBC employees from all platforms – online, TV and radio – that looked at every aspect of games, from economic to social to cultural to historical. It’s an absolutely great website that I’m very proud to have been part of – nothing like it has ever been done before, to my knowledge.
In the run-up to that series, I proposed to higher-ups on several occasions the creation of a new position – a sort of “video game beat reporter” whose job it would be to cover games across all of the CBC’s platforms. With video games a larger industry than the movie business, with the vast majority of Canadians – young and old – playing games and with Canada occupying a rare global leadership position in their design, it seemed almost criminal how little attention the national broadcaster was paying to them. It would have been a dream job for me or whoever else got it, of course, but as with those E3 travel requests over the years, the only response I received was silence.
When I left in the fall, several editors agreed that CBC needed to build off the momentum of Pushing Buttons, so I was enlisted to write games columns and reviews on a freelance basis. I always suspected the axe would come down on that from above eventually, which in fact it did a few weeks ago. Alas, regular games coverage at the CBC is no more.
A couple reporters in the mainstream – such as Steve Tilley at Sun/Canoe and Raju Mudhar at the Toronto Star – are either lucky enough to work for brass who do take games seriously, or they have fought hard enough to get them taken as such. Hats off to those guys, who I’m sure I’ll be seeing at E3 this week. I have no doubts that the rest of the mainstream, including the CBC, will some day take games as seriously as they do TV, movies or technology. It probably won’t happen until people from my generation are in charge at every level, though.