Is there a videogame equivalent of ‘required reading’?

Playing Yakuza 3 earlier today, my eye was drawn to the vast tower of unplayed titles gradually taking over the left-hand-side of our TV cabinet. My game collection is constantly increasing in size, and being the kind of person that rarely plays a game more than once (unless it’s something I particularly love), and as space is at a premium in this house, I feel like I should at least be considering getting shot of a fair portion of it. It’s not as if I have any great attachment to a lot of these games – many of them are promos or debug copies, which aren’t exactly something you can look at on a shelf and smile with pride or reminisce about.

But some of these games are regarded as modern classics, and a few remain tantalisingly unfinished – often because I’ve perhaps not enjoyed them as much as others. In truth, they’ll probably stay that way – there’s always something to stop me from playing the final third of Bioshock, for example, so why should I hang onto it?

It’s partly the sense that the critical acclaim for these games suggests I should give them another chance; perhaps when I’m older and wiser and my tastes have changed or matured slightly. But I also definitely feel that, as a journalist, these are games I should play, whether I enjoy them or not. It’s almost as if I feel that I’m not really doing my job by leaving Fallout 3 or Metal Gear Solid 4 unfinished (the latter has barely seen an hour’s play from me). Heck, at times, I even think about adding to my collection – can people take me seriously without me having played Deus Ex, or World of Warcraft? Does it make me a bit of a fraud that my videogame experience isn’t as broad as it could be?

I imagine I’m not the only person to feel this way. But videogames are so time-consuming and games journalists are so poorly paid that sinking between 10 and 30 hours of your own free time (or what little you have left of it after the extended work hours required to get your job done) in a game you’re not necessarily enjoying in a vain attempt to make yourself feel more educated or relevant seems like a grotesque waste of the short time we all have on this rock.

So I’m sorry, Rapture, you’ll have to wait for now. I’ve got some Japanese men in sharp suits to beat up.



  1. I’m commenting as it’s easier than traversing the Twitter reply system.

    I think in order to have a stronger knowledge of games, which may help you reflect on new titles, then you owe it to yourself to play as many titles as possible. Obviously this is within reason, if WoW is going to soak up too many hours and get in the way then it just isn’t possible. Everyone has a pile of shame and perhaps you just need to find a little time to chip away at it?

    You mention BioShock and MGS4, these are easier games I would say, both of which are important in our industry. Particularly the ending sequence of BioShock.

    I look on this like any other job, it’s a form of training, of learning. If you were an insurance agent you would have to research laws and previous cases. It’s no different (crap analogy, I know) to that. You are improving your opinions on future games by playing important titles that you have missed.

    Much like other industries we have landmark pieces of work and they each deserve to be played. Obviously we have less time in gaming as the works are much longer than movies or albums, but if you only play one game a fortnight or similar, you can experience more and will learn a great deal from it.

  2. But the thing is, you can still research games and learn about them without playing them. I know the Bioshock twist because I was with someone else while they played through it. So I know how it goes and I know how it plays from the few hours I’ve had with it.

    I’ll always research for my reviews, often extensively. If I’m called upon to cover a game in a series I’m not familiar with (which admittedly isn’t often), I’ll always try to play one of the earlier games, and if that’s not possible I’ll gather as many opinions about said game, watch videos, read FAQs etc. to get relevant background.

    Is playing certain games *essential* to becoming a good games journalist? That’s the question I’m asking, really.

  3. The Squadron of Shame ( and I have discussed this matter several times at great length. It’s difficult to say what is the “canon” of great games, but there are definitely games out there that get so much right. Often, too, these are games which have passed the mainstream by.

    Take titles like Planescape: Torment and The Longest Journey – both absolute masterpieces of storytelling which your average “I only play CoD, Halo and FIFA” person won’t have heard of. These games are important to me personally because I’m interesting in gaming as a storytelling medium, but they are of little consequence to the “mainstream” (for want of a better word) gamer.

    I do think that a lot of gamers would be surprised how much good stuff there really is a little off the beaten track – particularly on the PS2 and in the world of independent games.

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