The Problem With Games Writing – An Open Response To The IGN And Boomstick Controversy

I’m sure you are well aware of the controversy: game giants IGN reviewed the indie game Dead Cells. It was revealed later that the review was plagiarized from a small independent YouTube channel known as Boomstick Gaming.

The channel exposed the giant with a comparison video of both reviews side by side. This resulted in people grabbing pitchforks and flaming torches in the dead of night, ready to hunt down this behemoth who prayed on a helpless mortal man – the pitchfork-wielding community vowing never to trust the giant again.

One thing is for certain, the review was extremely similar, enough for the plagiarism claim leading to the writer’s dismissal, forcing IGN to make a public apology to their audience, Boomstick and the developer in the hopes that just some of the pitchforks will be lowered.

The mob of us

No one except the writer can say with 100% certainty if it was copied knowingly in the hopes that he would get away with it, if he maliciously copied the review due to some internal crazed cosmic justice, if he was frightened of missing a deadline out of fear and panic copied the review, or if he watched or read several reviews and subconsciously copied the review; for the later you only have to look at the genius of the George Harrison plagiarism claim on his iconic track “My Sweet Lord”.

The timescales for any review are daunting; I know that from my own experience working a full-time job and with a review to be completed in a reasonable amount of time on a regular basis.

As some of you may not be aware, a lot of developers or publishers provide you with a code for the game and expect the review to be uploaded in a timely manner (usually within a week); this is usually completing the game, writing, maybe rewriting parts of the review and then publishing it.

Now you are probably thinking, ‘this guy’s full-time job is to write review pieces’ and you’d be right, but this wouldn’t have been the only piece he was working on. By all means, this is not me defending plagiarism, it’s merely an understanding of what variables are in place that may have caused such an endeavour.

My personal favourite Beatles member

To meet developer or publisher timescales for a review is crucial for any game news/review outlet, failing to do so can have lasting repercussions if a review is not met within a professional timely manner; review codes or copies usually are not distributed to you from that point.

Again, I’m not saying timescales and deadlines are bad, they are very good things that motivate us, however; with the ever-increasing length of games and these timescales presented to game journalists, they can contribute to ‘misunderstood games’. How can anyone confidently critique 100-hour experience in the space of a week?

We only need to see reviews of the first Nier to see how games do not always get correctly represented. Unfortunately, this will never change as there are too many forces at play; the developers and publishers want it published efficiently, the outlet requires the piece to be published as early as possible to generate the traffic that helps advertisement and funding.

But the above isn’t the major issue within this controversy, that is just the machine cogs turning. The problem with games writing is the writing itself. Most games journalism/writing is, in my personal opinion, boring. What a review tends to be is a list of mechanics, what it looks like, what it sounds like and an overview with a few fancy words thrown in for good measure so the writer feels credible. In short, it’s a glamorised laundry list devoid of any emotion, personality or creativity.

Very few reviews go into the deeper themes of the game, analyse it or represent games other than a product and not a mature piece of a medium that can be and is art. I want games to be viewed in a positive light, yet we don’t talk about them in any capacity to represent that, in the end, it’s the same old list with different words.

I’m not saying I’m the god of video game writing, nor am I the best writer out there, I am far away from that and I to, fall in the very laundry list trappings, but I try to add as much emotion, personality or creativity in my pieces.

So, Boomstick was plagiarised. Should it have happened? No. Could it have been avoided? Yes.

Write in a way that is your own, do something different, write in a way that can’t be plagiarised. It’s our responsibility to tell people what a great, joyous and inspiring medium video games is; how it has helped people view depression, how it can educate children, how these emotional journeys can offer more than any piece of literature, TV show or movie because these are video games, and they mean something to us.

Or as Neil Gaiman once said:

“Mean it. Whatever you have to say, mean it”.