This is not an exit

What’s the truth behind Vox Games? Here’s my take

In Uncategorized on January 5, 2012 at 12:00 pm

Do the names Brian Crecente, Chris Grant, Justin McElroy and Russ Pitts mean anything to you? Well, to a number of video game enthusiasts, these are the men who publish the information they crave. Not just that, but they’re pioneers in a profession I’ve dreamed of breaking into since I can remember.

These men, along with three others, have started a new video game site, known for now as Vox Games. They come to the project from various backgrounds and under different circumstances. For some it was a breath of fresh air in an industry that’s still coming into its own. For others it was a life raft that came along just as a ship started sinking. It’s an endeavor that carries with it immense risk but could possibly hold the greatest reward of all: a continued reputation as forerunners in the realm of video game journalism.

To give you a bit of perspective on why this project has me so excited, let me take you back to September 2004 (If you graduated McMinnville High School between 2005 and 2009 you probably already know this story.)

It was the summer before my senior year of high school. My friends and I had just wrapped up a game of Frisbee in a field adjacent to the freshmen’s campus. From what I can remember of the weather, it was one of those days where everything felt just right. It wasn’t too warm or too cold. The sun was just about to set, which meant it was right around 8 p.m. (Right? I guess it doesn’t really matter.) My friend Graham had been fired by our high school newspaper adviser from the chief position because of a prank he and his managing editor pulled just before summer began. They had given a couple of senior girls underwear as going-away presents and when our teacher found out, they got the axe. What followed was a flurry of litigation, hurt feelings and mutterings of mutiny (although nobody ended up quitting the paper.)

All of that culminated in this moment in the twilight. Graham asked another of our friends to join us next to his mauve Volvo station wagon. Everyone else was busy gathering their wallets, keys and shoes from the grass. It was here that he told us there was no way he could get his job as editor back. Ultimately, our adviser had hiring/firing power and could dismiss any member of the staff at her discretion. But instead of taking the situation at face value and focusing on another extracurricular during his and our final year of high school, Graham asked if we wanted to help him establish a newspaper. What he offered us was the opportunity to cover material deemed taboo by our adviser and the principal, who could pull an article based on its contents. We could write about stuff like sex, drugs and religion. Now who could say no to that, especially at the age of 17?

Over the next several weeks we started planning our first issue. It was a rush sitting in Graham’s living room surrounded by the cream of the crop from our high school newspaper and a handful of other friends. When it came time to name the publication, we all threw out a bevy of ideas but settled on the one with the most idiotic origin. Remember the Tahj Mowry sitcom Smart Guy? The one where he plays a “10-year old wiz-kid bustin’ high school”? Yes, the precocious little shorty with a 1,000 IQ. Remember what he called his independent newspaper? Well, we followed suit and for four issues, we were The Veritas.

The whole ordeal, from Graham’s firing to The Veritas’ inception, was kind of a big deal (he had his story covered by the Poynter Institute, after all.) Even if these events have faded into obscurity for those in the industry and some of the paper’s staff, I will never forget the genesis of that project. We pulled our heads together to think of how we’d fund printing, who would be in charge of ad sales, design, fonts, editorial guidelines, everything. We knew there was something missing in the way student journalism worked in McMinnville and with a bold leader, we ventured forth to fix that.

This is what I believe is happening at Vox Games. I think the guys behind the project know there’s something amiss in games journalism, both in how the news is approached and in how it’s presented. These people have a chance at shaking things up, to really change the way news about video games is gathered and presented. They see an opportunity to pioneer a new course.

I could be totally wrong. These seven guys may have been bought up by some new media conglomerate looking to grab a piece of that profitable pie. That could be the case, but I don’t believe it is. I’ll get into the specifics of why I look up to Brian Crecente in another post, but this man’s participation in the project — and his writing on that decision — more than anything else has got me convinced that this is, more than anything, an effort to set a new course for an industry plagued with a lack of direction. This is a solution. These guys all helped establish a line of work I could only dream possible when I was sitting around with the rest of the Veritas staff and they’re adopting that same shake-it-up mentality.

It’s a profession I’m easing into in my role at DualShockers. The guys I work for are talented, tenacious, ambitious and enterprising, which are all traits that come to mind when I read the blog posts by each new member of Vox Games. These seven men are in positions I’m working toward. But for now I’m more than happy paying my dues with a gifted staff while I learn the ropes. Years studying journalism has taught me to view developments like this with skepticism. Trust me, I have my doubts about what kind of media outlet Vox Games can and will be, but I can’t help but remain optimistic. If you’ve followed games journalism for the last decade you know this is one stellar group, The Avengers of video game reporting, if you will.

Take a quick look at the comments sections of any site these guys came from and you’ll see what followers of the profession believe. Kotaku is sensationalist and lacks credibility. Joystiq panders to the casual crowd and censors comments they disagree with. You can trace most of these gripes to both sites from the day they launched but they became increasingly frequent as both outlets grew in popularity. As readership ballooned, so did the need to extend coverage outside of pure games news and that’s where you get dissent and nit-picky readers. Now I’m not saying those are inherently bad things, but after a certain point, you’re too big to make many changes in the way you interact with your readers and address their concerns. Or you get stuck with dated models of reporting and publishing that don’t allow you the freedom to evolve as your readers’ tastes do.

Just as in any other area of journalism, video game reporters have had it rough lately, from the closure of Electronic Gaming Monthly a few years ago to GamePro shuttering in November. Most news reporters working today have survived by embracing multimedia, learning their way around a DSLR and writing their own personal blogs in addition to filing articles for their publications. But what are games journos to do? Most of them have been doing this from the get-go. The only thing to do now is seek new ways to use those platforms and spur creativity among their contemporaries.

Like the group of kids conspiring to tackle high school journalism on Fleishauer Street in McMinnville so long ago, the men behind Vox Games have the potential to change things for the better. I hope the site brings new ways to interact with its authors. I bet they’ll innovate on content delivery in a way organizations with smaller budgets and more novice staffs are incapable. I’m looking forward to seeing how these guys work together after so many years of competition. Most of all, I want to know if these old dogs really have what it takes to be a guiding light for the industry or if people like my fellow DualShockers and me will have to step up to the plate sooner.

No matter which way you cut it, It’s a great time to be a games journalist. That much is for sure.

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