Friday, May 16, 2008

screwed by the New York Times culture department

After eight years as the New York Times' video game reviewer, I have been unceremoniously dumped as of one month from now. The reason given is that the Culture Department, a.k.a. Arts & Entertainment, convinced the powers that be that video game reviews should be in their section rather than in Circuits, which is part of the Business section.

This infuriates me, because at one point my column was in Culture and the editors treated me like shit.

I was in Circuits for years, but when it stopped being its own section and was made a part of Business I was tossed to Culture. I ran on Fridays in Arts & Entertainment. Arts & Entertainment was, and probably still is, in two sections, the top section, with movies and TV, and the other section with opera, classical music and restaurant reviews. Culture put my column on the back page of the second section, right beside the restaurant review. That pretty much guaranteed it was going to be ignored, but that's what they did.

But I kept writing, occasionally sending email questions and requests to an editor who absolutely never replied (and who, when I started, told me how he was determined to make the Times as important to video games as it was to Broadway).

Then one day I was told that I was being transferred to the Sports section where my column would be paired with one on poker.

That's right, Culture, which just took my job because they had to have video game reviews for themselves, once had video game reviews and tossed them away.

Sports hated me even more than Culture. On the website they never even bothered to tout my column. There would be a tout for the poker column describing what it was about, and then below that a link that just said "video game column." Then the poker column was canceled, because WHO THE FUCK WANTS TO READ A POKER COLUMN, and thankfully, I was transferred back to Circuits, where I had a few more good years.

I think the problem is that Culture didn't want me, they wanted Seth Schiesel, because he's their guy. Seth is a good reporter, but is he as good a columnist as I am? Circuits didn't think so; he was one of the applicants for the game review position and they hired me (and Peter Olafson, with whom I alternated the column until it was turned biweekly and Peter was let go) rather than him. I'll admit I'm biased, but compare my review of God of War II with Seth's and decide for yourself.

So what's in my future? Fuck if I know. If anyone knows of any openings for video game reviewers, or, for that matter, television or movie reviewers (which is what I wanted to be years ago before I ever played video games), let me know.

Maybe I should just finally sit down and write that book on storytelling in video games I've been talking about for the last 9 years?


  1. Sorry to hear about your bad luck, Charles. It sound like the NYT is confused about how to situate the industry in general. Do you think this is an ideological debate between editors, not knowing whether to categorize gaming as business or art? Or does it have more to do with the exigencies of publishing?

    Regardless, your reviews are a bright spot in a dismal review industry. Hopefully we'll have a chance to hear your thoughts on game storytelling soon.

  2. The question of where to put video game reviews seems to be an issue in a lot of newspapers. It can wind up in tech, business or arts depending on who is making the decisions. The real issue is the people in charge are generally not gamers, and usually not of the gaming generation, so they don't see how video games are closer to movies than to MP3 players. This will change as the gaming generation begins to take over.

  3. Not to mention once most game columns stop sounding like reviews for mp3 players! I worry that this won't even change with the gamer generation, unless the industry starts giving narrative the same attention as gameplay. Hard to do when most games are penned by programmers or technical writers.

  4. This comes late but I'm very sorry to hear about the bad treatment you received from the Times. I miss your column -- if not the fits the NYT gave me trying to find it every other week. For what it's worth, of all the folks that have been axed at both the Times and the W Post (my local paper) lately I'll miss yours the most.

    Best wishes and good luck going forward. I'll keep an eye on your blog and will look for your any future writing from you with interest.

  5. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.