‘Elden Ring’ just exposed a huge problem in gaming journalism – here’s how to fix it
Most Legacy News outlets don’t know how to cover video games. It’s not really breaking news, but it became all too obvious on April 13, when The New York Times published a puzzle piece attributing the success of FromSoftware’s hit Ring of Elden to “the difficulties and disappointment of the pandemic”. This caused a flood of derision, spittingand Speech with capital D among journalists and video game enthusiasts on social networks.
There are a variety of reasons for the backlash. First the Time describes FromSoftware’s Dark Souls series as a “modest success”, seemingly oblivious to the fact that it’s probably the most influential and imitated video game franchise of the past decade. It spawned a whole subgenre of action games – the Soulslike. And by May 2020, the series had sold over 27 million copies. That’s a lot, although it’s true that it’s not as much as Grand Theft Auto V (160 million) or the Pokémon series (380 million). But everyone defines success differently, I guess.
Other elements of the Time article do not lend themselves as well to Obi-Wan Kenobi’s “certain point of view” logic. Specifically, I’m talking about this part: “It’s hard to imagine Ring of Elden have that kind of cultural cachet from another era.
Where to start? Ring of Elden was the most anticipated game in the known universe for about two years. That’s partly because of Dark Souls’ formidable reputation, and also because of the much-vaunted — albeit totally vague — creative contributions of George RR Martin, whose Song of Ice and Fire novels inspired HBO’s novels. The iron Throne.
It was never a niche business or a happy accident. Ring of Elden could have gotten mediocre reviews and still sold a million copies. (Cyberpunk 2077the industry’s most spectacular bombshell in recent memory, has sold over 17 million copies since the end of 2020.) Instead, Ring of Elden exceeded the highest critical expectations and sold over 12 million copies in just 17 days after its February launch.
What else, Ring of Elden accomplished a very rare feat that only a few games (usually those made by Nintendo) achieve. It crossed paths – attracting ‘normal people’ into the ‘dominant culture’. Everybody talks about it ! People can’t get enough of it!
That is why The New York Times found itself reluctantly forced to cover the biggest game of 2022, six full weeks after its release. And yet, The Gray Lady (as Time is sometimes called) has a palpable distaste for that shit. This is evident in the article’s aging compulsion to define what a “boss” is, even though the term has been widely used in popular culture ever since Mario started kicking turtles with his butt in the middle. 1980s. But don’t blame the writer — it’s poor editorial judgment and complete ignorance of how this story would inevitably land.
The hand of a squeamish editor, stripping paragraphs of unsightly nerd lingo to ensure the piece remains tastefully on-brand, is all too evident here. But it’s no secret that The Gray Lady has been under a lot of pressure lately to expand beyond an aging subscriber base, so she’s holding her nose and throwing the pigs at them. Elden Ring-fragrant slop.
Even though these are the biggest punching bags of the moment, the Time isn’t alone in its hokey approach to game coverage. Axios’ Megan Farokhmanesh gave a full rundown of why this is happening in so-called traditional newsrooms on April 11. All of this is worth reading, but this passage is particularly relevant:
Old media outlets and media heads unfamiliar with the field often have stereotypical ideas about who plays games, and therefore why they matter. Mainstream publications like to mention how much money the gaming industry makes because there’s a lingering idea you need to prove games matter, and big numbers are the easiest way to do that. .
It is, unfortunately, spot on. I used to work in a (generously defined) legacy outlet where senior management constantly complained that game coverage “wasn’t a good look for the brand”. And even after the gaming boom of 2020, it’s a beat that’s still relegated to the children’s table in many newsrooms.
So what’s the solution for The Gray Lady? It’s not rocket science. Recognize the value of subject matter expertise in the game, as you would with other beats. Hire editors and writers who have it – in full-time positions, with benefits. It really is that simple.