14 things you should never say to a games journalist

I’d be lying if I said being a games journalist was a miserable experience.

Yes, the money’s usually shit and it can be quite stressful at times (more on that in a bit), but there’s still no denying that being able to cover a hobby you love is a wonderful thing. It’s the reason I’m still doing it after nearly 13 years.

That said, there’s still one thing about the job that can be pretty frustrating: human interaction. Don’t get me wrong, it’s often great to engage with readers and discuss this wonderful medium with like-minded, enthusiastic folk.

But sometimes you end up talking to a wanker instead. Or rather, being ‘talked at’ by one.

The wonder of the internet is that some people fancy themselves as amateur Charlie Brookers, and like nothing more than traipsing around from site to site trying to puncture credibilities with sharp-witted remarks that let us all know that we may fool other people but not them: they’re onto us.

The difference, of course, is that Charlie Brooker is genuinely clever and funny, whereas these young chaps (and they usually are young chaps, let’s face it) are instead boring and unoriginal.

Us games journalists can be a dangerous bunch, as you can tell by my nifty ‘future of law enforcement’ uniform here

Inevitably, this lack of originality results in games journalists being fed the same boring lines on a regular basis by cocky pricks who think they’re bringing us down a peg or two but are, in reality, as edgy as a football.

How can you make sure you’re not one of these tragic scrotums? Well, yer man Scullion is here to help you out. Having endured my fair share of abuse over the past 13 years (after all, don’t forget Tired Old Hack was even named after a particularly insulting email I was once sent), I’ve decided to share some of the more common – and therefore boring and ineffective – shite that’s been slung my way over the years.

Healthy debate is all well and good, but if you want to make sure a games journalist pays the slightest bit of attention to the point you’re trying to make, take my advice: never use any of the below lines or you’ll be shunned pronto.

(Note: this article uses harsh language and sweary bits for comedic effect. I’m not actually this angry in real life, so please spare me the “how dare you talk to your readers like that” mock outrage this may attract if the article ends up being shared around among people who aren’t aware of my work. I do genuinely dislike all the examples I’ve given below, but please do understand that when I ask offending commenters to walk into the ocean and keep walking until they succumb to the salty brine, I’m not actually advocating that.)

“Slow news day?”

Yes, it probably is, actually.

The never-ending nature of the internet means if you’re a news site you really do need to have new articles up every single day. There’s no such thing as a day where literally no news happens.

Sometimes, though, the news that happens on a particular day is simply less momentous. Gamers these days tend to be impatient sorts, and if there’s a bombshell new game announcement on a Tuesday, by the Wednesday afternoon they’ll have forgotten it and will be looking for something new to talk about.

So yes, we’re sorry that Shenmue III can’t be announced every day, or that EA can’t lay off another 200 employees every week (though that’s becoming more likely). Sometimes the stars align (or fail to, I suppose) and there are days when nobody’s ready to make any big announcements.

Sometimes the biggest news of the day is something like a game getting a much-requested gameplay patch, or a new set of DLC skins, or a port of a small indie game coming to Switch. They aren’t groundbreaking stories, but they’ll mean something to someone.

When FIFA 19 launched you could score overhead kicks with ridiculously common frequency: it annoyed the piss out of me. EA later changed it in a patch and made the game far better to play. Let’s face it, that isn’t big news in the grand scheme of things, but for FIFA fans like me it was still great to hear.

Believe it or not, games journalists aren’t necessarily pumped to write about patches, but it’s their job to at least write something: it’s pretty unlikely that a boss or head publisher is going to accept “there’s no big news today” as the reason the front page looks exactly the same today as it did yesterday.

So yes, sometimes you have to just work with the hand you’re dealt, even if it’s not a very exciting one. Which makes it all the more irritating when some clever dick strolls into the comments asking: “Slow news day?”

There are two reasons this is wanky. Firstly, if a journalist is already demotivated enough as it is to be writing about something they frankly don’t care about, someone snarkily pointing out the low value of the story in question is like a supporter wandering into a dressing room after a football team’s been beaten and saying: “well lads, that didn’t go too well.” Piss off.

Secondly, as I’ve said, one gamer’s throwaway non-story is another gamer’s much-anticipated news (like that FIFA patch). If you dismiss a story as a load of shit, you’re telling the people who care about it – most of whom are the ones who clicked the link in the first place – that they like the ‘wrong’ games and their interests mean less than yours. And that’s just cock chat.

“You forgot…”

Here’s a secret I’m going to let you in on: list features are just a bit of fun. We aren’t trying to create the ten commandments or a definitive, comprehensive list (unless it’s one of my obscenely long ‘Complete History’ articles).

Most lists come in one of two forms: ‘The X best/worst something or other’ and ‘X examples of something’. This very article you’re currently reading is the latter, obviously.

Whichever type of list it is, one thing remains the same: the writer has spent some time thinking about that list and figuring out what should and shouldn’t have made the cut.

So when someone traipses into the comments and says “you forgot [game X]”, there is nothing said writer would rather do than pin them to the ground and punch them in the face repeatedly until their knuckles are just smacking against wet concrete.

No, I didn’t forget it. I chose not to include it. I decided on a certain number of items in my list, a number which meant that some contenders would have to be left out. That’s how lists work.

Taj here would be great at writing list articles, because he never forgets either.

Let’s be clear: I have no issue with people saying which games they’d include in their own personal lists. These articles are created to provoke exactly that sort of discussion: comments along the likes of “one of my favourites is X” are completely fine.

It’s the ones who claim that when something isn’t on your list, it’s down to a mental error on your part, rather than the fact that you just didn’t fancy adding it.

There are two types of “you forgot” pricks, both of which I hate. There are the ones who cite massive, well-known games that I couldn’t possibly have forgotten.

The best multiplayer games on SNES? “You forgot Super Mario World: it has a two-player mode.” Yes, I know it does, and it’s shite. I didn’t forget it, I chose to leave it out.

Then there are the ones I hate even more: the ones who cite extremely obscure, usually foreign games, as if me ‘forgetting’ them is some sort of obvious error.

“What’s that? The 15 best puzzle games? You forgot Chibi Maruko-chan no Taisen Pazurudama on the Sega Saturn.”

Congratulations. You’ve heard of a Japanese game. Or, more likely, you’ve Googled one to sound smart. Now fuck off.

“How much did [publisher] pay you to write that?”

Ah, the classic “games journalism is corrupt” angle.

Did a game get a higher score than you expected it to? Then clearly the journalist is in the publisher’s back pocket. It couldn’t be that, you know, they liked it or anything.

Me, after giving any game a 9 (allegedly)

It couldn’t possibly be that someone has a different opinion than you, the person who probably didn’t even play the game and yet are somehow still stunned that it did better than you thought it would.

No, there’s absolutely no way I enjoyed myself with a game that I felt it was worth recommending. The developer almost certainly has my bank account number and sort code on file.

I’m sure you’re picturing me tucking into an enormous hog roast at home – with a wee apple in its mouth and everything, like in cartoons – and using £10 notes to wipe my mouth instead of napkins, just because I gave Go Vacation an 8.

Let me just calculate how much money I’ve been paid by publishers for positive scores over the past 13 years.

Hold on… let me round it up, just so it doesn’t look like I’m trying to hide anything.

Here we go. Ah, that’s right, the grand total is precisely fuck all, mate.

“Clearly [publisher] didn’t pay you enough for a good score.”

So, we’ve already established that any time we give a good score it’s because we’ve been given a bloody big payoff by the publisher.

But what happens when a game scores worse than expected? How are the tinfoil brigade possibly going to interpret such a curious situation?

Why, it’s simple: the journalist was so offended at the small amount of money offered that they decided to mark the game down out of spite.

Curse you for not funding a diving board for my money pit, Activision. Looks like Call Of Duty scores are about to hit a convenient turning point

Yes, that totally makes sense. When I reviewed Iron Man on the Wii back when I was at Official Nintendo Magazine, I was disgusted at the fact that Sega merely invited me on a press trip to New York to visit the Marvel Comics headquarters and that’s the only reason I gave the game 15%.

It definitely wasn’t because I went on and enjoyed the press trip (which I did) but also had a strong mutual understanding with the PR that we’re both professionals and both still have to do our jobs at the end of the day.

It definitely wasn’t because, when the final game turned up at the office a month or two after the press trip, I pretended the press trip never happened and reviewed the game on its own merits.

And it absolutely, definitely, wasn’t because Iron Man on Wii is a steaming bucket of arse. No, the reason the game got 15% was because a press trip to New York clearly wasn’t enough of a ‘bribe’ and I wanted to teach Sega a lesson that next time they should have flown me first class too.

Jam your tinfoil hat arse-ways.

“Finally, an honest review.”

It isn’t just insults and insinuations that can annoy a journalist, you know. Sometimes, strange as it sounds, praise can be irritating too.

This is most obvious when the praise in question is a slightly snidey compliment that gives with one hand (“I agreed with your review”) and takes away with the other (“the rest of the entire games media industry consists of liars”).

The “honest review” comment usually appears when a certain set of criteria are met. It’s usually when a game is getting praise across the board, and almost every publication is giving it 8s and 9s.

A games journalist prepares to explain that they found Breath Of The Wild a bit boring

The Metacritic score is shining a pleasant shade of green, the critics liked it, the fans are excited and looking forward to playing it, everyone’s happy in the world.

Then one reviewer decides they didn’t like the game so much (which is absolutely fine), and gives it, say, a 6. Suddenly, out from a hole in the ground comes a little creature, who scurries over to the nearest laptop and uses its claws to scratch out: “Finally, an honest review.”

What this actually means is “I hate Nintendo / Xbox / PlayStation / this particular game series, and even though 95% of gamers like it I don’t accept that my opinion may be in the minority. Therefore, anyone who says they like it must surely be lying.”

So no, thanking me for giving a game an “honest” review is not going to get a thumbs up from me in return. Because next week I’m going to give a score you don’t like, and suddenly someone else is going to be the one who wrote the “honest review” and I’m going to be a liar again. So jam your honest reviews up your shite chute, mate.

“It must be easy getting paid to play games all day.”

This one doesn’t make me angry, just a little frustrated.

Look, like I’ve already said, being a games journalist is certainly A Good Thing™, otherwise I’d have packed it in a long time ago (especially now I also have a ‘normal’ 9-to-5 job that pays half-decent money).

But – and I fully appreciate this is going to sound like whining – it really isn’t the walk in the park most people think it is.

I’ve lost count how many people I’ve met in real life who, when they find out I’m a games journalist, reply with: “So you just get paid to sit around playing games all day?”

Usually I just smile and say “yup” because I can’t be bothered explaining the reality: this can be a massively stressful job that almost always pays very little.

I still get stressed when I see shit like this

Being a games journalist isn’t just playing games. You have to write reviews. Write previews. Write news. Write features. Travel around doing interviews. Record podcasts. Capture footage and screenshots. Juggle countless email chains with umpteen PRs. Keep an up-to-date calendar and make sure your records of the industry’s ever-changing release dates and embargoes remain correct.

When there are only 40 hours in a working day, some of this inevitably has to carry over into your personal life. And inevitably, that tends to be the actual playing of the games themselves.

Yes, it’s great playing games for a living. But I’d imagine there are some nights when you can’t be arsed playing games and just want to watch TV, or read a book, or go out for a drink, or just waste four hours going down a YouTube rabbit hole. If you’re reviewing a game – especially a long one – you don’t often get that choice. You need to play the game. And sometimes it’s a shit game.

To be completely honest, when your hobby becomes your work, it does remove some of the fun somewhat. It’s pretty much ruined my enjoyment of RPGs: I’ll almost never choose to play one in my spare time now, because I mentally associate them with stress (since they usually take the longest to play through, meaning they often come with tight deadlines).

So no, it isn’t always easy being paid to play games all day. Sometimes it is, of course. But often it isn’t just playing all day: it’s playing all night, and writing all the next day. It’s pretty full-on, essentially.

Much like a parent, then, this one doesn’t make me mad: just disappointed.

Calling an article ‘clickbait’ when that isn’t what clickbait actually is

The internet is a brilliant tool for unoriginal people who need to be told what to think.

Remember when everyone suddenly decided the Nintendo Switch Online service was a waste of money purely because your cloud saves were allegedly removed when your subscription ended?

Turns out that wasn’t the case anyway, but it didn’t stop far too many people (including many who didn’t even have a Switch) citing it as the reason the entire service was a failure: even though, let’s face it, the vast majority probably didn’t even care.

My point is that a lot of people online pick up on certain arguments on social media and the like and decide to adopt them for themselves, without any consideration given to whether they’re actually using those arguments accurately.

Case in point: clickbait. There are a number of definitions of clickbait, but the main one (in my eyes, at least) is a headline or link to an article that specifically tries to tease – and trick – the reader into clicking, usually ending with disappointing results.

This is a great example of clickbait. The story was a lie: NASA said the asteroid wouldn’t get any closer until 2070

A certain site (which will remain nameless) regularly includes headlines like ‘When is the next Nintendo Direct?’, and it’s only once you’ve clicked the link and read through to the bottom of the article you realise the answer is “we don’t know yet, nobody does”. That’s clickbait.

What isn’t clickbait is something like a list article. Or a tweet saying: “Did we like Game X? Read our review and find out.” Or a headline like “Game X release date revealed.” Yes, they’re making you click the article to find the answer, but that’s how the business works. If they gave all the answers in the headlines you wouldn’t click on any of the articles and the site would eventually go bankrupt.

Technically, yes, they’re trying to encourage you to click. But they aren’t really ‘clickbait’, in the sense that they aren’t trying to trick you into clicking the link and then not giving you the information you need, something you don’t realise is happening until it’s too late.

So the next time you find a list feature that runs over three pages, please don’t moan in the comments about how it’s clickbait. It may be shit design and not very user-friendly, but it isn’t clickbait: you still know what you’re getting in advance and it still delivers, even if it’s delivered in a clunky way.

“Why did you give that game an 8 but you only gave another game 6?”

At first glance the answer to this one is obvious: “Because I liked that one better, now fuck directly off.”

However, there’s a specific subset of this comment that’s even more annoying, and that’s when the commenter fails to realise that publications aren’t a hivemind.

Yes, if a single reviewer gives one game a high score and another game a low score there’s an obvious direct comparison there, and at that point the argument is whether you agreed with their judgement.

But often the person who reviewed one game is completely different from the person who reviewed the other, and the simple fact is they don’t answer to that person.

What’s that? I gave the Switch version of Hyrule Warriors an 8 but someone writing for the same publication only gave the Wii U version a 6 a few years earlier?

Couldn’t give a twelfth of a fuck, mate. Most good reviewers score games based on their own opinion, rather than adjust that opinion to suit legacy scores other writers had given in the past.

Opinions are like arseholes: everybody’s got one, and if I believe mine is squeaky clean, I can’t be held responsible if someone else’s stinks.

Um… or something.

“Only a 7? But what about [thing that was addressed in the review]?”

I hate review scores. It’s the reason you won’t find any in Tired Old Hack.

That said, sometimes I write freelance reviews for other publications who require scores, and in those situations I’m still happy to provide them: it’s part of the job, after all.

The main reason I dislike them is because they give readers an excuse to ignore the words you’ve written and simply look at the score.

“What? You want me to READ the review? Fuck that noise”

Now, often there’s no way of proving that. It could be argued that’s a bit of an easy way out of criticism, by suggesting “pffft, you didn’t even read the review, you’re just focusing on the score” when it’s perfectly possible the reader did indeed read your words.

But sometimes the reader helps out by making it clear they scrolled straight to the number, usually by asking about something the review already covers.

“I can’t believe you gave this game an 8. Apparently it’s a buggy mess, how can give something like that a score so high?” they ask, somehow not noticing the entire paragraph that addresses the game’s bugs and explains that they aren’t intrusive enough to ruin the overall experience.

“What? Only a 4? But what about that clever new gameplay mechanic the developers were hyping up?”

Mate, I spent 200 words of my review explaining that the mechanic in question was a bucket of old arse: at least make some sort of attempt. I know some folk find reading boring but those people are scum.

Don’t worry, it’s okay for me to say that. We’re 3,400 words into this article: I doubt they’ll ever see it.

“Oh, you’re going to be reviewing [Game X]? Is it any good?”

This is another one I feel bad about bringing up because the person does really mean well.

Occasionally, when I make it known on Twitter that I’m playing a game for review and the review will be up in the coming days, I get people asking “is it any good?” or “do you think it’s worth getting?”.

Now, obviously this is a very different situation from someone being a prick or being overly-critical. After all, this is a situation in which the person legitimately respects my opinion enough that they want my verdict on something.

But the thing is… I’m not going to tell you if I think it’s any good yet. If I wanted to, I’d just say in my tweet. There are two potential reasons for this.

This happens far more often than you’d expect

The review could be under embargo, which means if I tell anyone whether I think the game’s worth buying before the embargo lifts I could get my arse booted on a technicality.

More importantly on a personal level, though, I want you to read my review. That’s why I tweeted that my review was coming: not so you could ask me to summarise the review and save you the hassle of reading it.

Long story short, if I tell you my review’s coming and you ask me if the game’s any good, I’m either going to ignore you or ask you politely to wait for the review. But inside I’m thinking “fucking hell pal, I’m obviously not going to tell you, and now I might look like a dick if I have a go.”

When a novelist announces that their new book is due out soon, you wouldn’t ask them how it ends. I appreciate reviews are far smaller, but the same principle applies: support our work by reading it when it’s published, not by asking us to give a summary in advance so you don’t need to bother with it.

“I haven’t played this yet, but your score is too high/low.”

Any time someone criticises a review score when the review’s based on something that isn’t even out yet, it’s more or less a given that the moany prick hasn’t even played the game yet.

However, there’s a special level of knobbery when it comes to people who explicitly admit in their comment that they have zero experience with the game, yet still take issue with my opinion.

I’m assuming it goes without saying, but just to spell it out: when I’ve played a game to completion and you haven’t even seen the title screen, my opinion is worth more.

Now, let’s not misinterpret that as me having an ego and saying I’m better than you. If when the game comes out, you play through it and still don’t agree with me, that’s a different story: our opinions are equally valid, and they just happen to differ.

But when I can cite a bunch of reasons I like or dislike a game based on numerous hours of hands-on experience, and your arguments are based on nothing more than a hunch or a simple desire for the game to end up being good (or bad), then with the very greatest of respect, fucking sit doon.

“You’re bias. Why do games journalists never write objective reviews?”

First of all, it’s ‘biased’. I have no idea why so many people struggle with that one.

Secondly, I’m glad you’ve learned a fancy new word and feel like a big boy but the reality is there’s no such thing as an objective review.

And now you know.

By their very nature, reviews are subjective: they’re the writer’s own verdict on whether you should buy the product in question. Their opinion is the review bit.

Because of this, objective reviews aren’t possible. An objective review would have to include no opinion whatsoever and essentially just list the game’s features with no commentary.

That isn’t a review, it’s a press release. And it would be dull as fuck. Every site would have exactly the same ‘review’, and people would still be none the wiser as to whether or not a game having 20 levels is a good thing. Are they well-designed? Can’t tell you that: it’s supposed to be objective.

It appears that what you really mean (but just can’t articulate properly) is that the writer has an inherent prejudice and shows favouritism – or discrimination – to a specific company, and because of this their games should be reviewed by someone impartial instread.

To which my response is: can you prove it? No? Fuck up then.

“Why didn’t you mention [obscure feature nobody cares about]?”

Video games are wonderful, beautiful, complex pieces of entertainment. These days, more than ever, they’re made up of countless separate parts and elements, all of which come together to make one glorious whole.

Some of these elements are a little more important than others. Which ones these are is obviously subjective, but for the most part you could argue that, say, a game’s art style or the tightness of its controls are more important than whether it has an option to adjust the gamma levels.

Because reviews generally aren’t extremely long (unless I’m writing them), it makes sense that writers will prioritise which features to discuss and which to leave out.

This usually means they’ll address the generally accepted ‘main’ ones – graphics, sound, how fun it is to play and the like – and leave out the ‘lesser’ ones like whether there’s a Sound Test option.

“What’s that? Sonic Mania has one? Ah, why didn’t I know, I’d have pre-ordered the special edition”

Obviously, there are exceptions to this, usually when a normally humdrum feature is unusual for whatever reason: the subtitles being too small, or something like that. For the most part though, the important stuff takes priority.

So please don’t complain in the comments if a review doesn’t touch on an extremely minor thing that you may care about but, frankly, hardly anyone else will.

Nobody will read to the end of a 15,000 word review that discusses every single element of a game, so don’t act outraged if you wanted to know whether you could change the colour of your crosshair and the review doesn’t say so.

Feel free to politely ask in the comments if you want, but don’t get pissed off if the writer doesn’t reply.

For many of us, game reviews are a conveyor belt: once we’ve finished reviewing one game we’re straight onto the next one, so we can’t be arsed reloading a game (or re-downloading it if we’ve already uninstalled it to save space) just to check for you whether if there’s a Greek language option. Γαμήσου.

“Games ‘journalist'”

And so we finally come to the worst one of the lot, the most pathetic thing you can ever say to a games journalist.

If you don’t find our profession credible, at least have the decency to actually say so. Don’t just refer to us as a games ‘journalist’ in inverted commas and continue on with your actual point, as if we aren’t going to notice you were just acting the clever fuck.

Here’s the thing. Journalism takes on countless different forms. Just because in your head you only associate it with Watergate-style investigative journalism, doesn’t mean all other types are somehow invalid.

I appreciate that by covering video games I’m not exactly reporting on wars or exposing the criminal deeds of evil corporations. But I’m still providing a service to a subset of people – those who love video games – and so I still meet a need, even if it’s a more niche one.

Look, I promise I’m still a proper journalist. This old 2007 photo changes nothing

The word is literal: everything we write contributes to a journal that, in the future, can be looked back on as a record of attitudes towards certain industry themes and topics at the time: women in gaming, loot boxes, games as a service and the like.

On a personal level, I have a BA (Hons) degree in Journalism, which I spent four years of my life achieving. I learned the craft, I got my media ethics and media law training, I put the work in. I could have gone down the ‘proper’ newspaper journalism route, but I didn’t want to: I went to university with the sole purpose of becoming a games journalist.

That’s not to belittle any of my peers who don’t have a degree in journalism. Many of them entered the industry through various other routes, but they all developed their skills over time in their own ways and went on to provide a similarly high quality service.

My point is a simple one: I couldn’t care less if your definition of journalism doesn’t include us. If that’s the case, that’s fine: our definition of readership doesn’t include you either.

It’s an easy deal in this industry: treat us with respect and decency and you’ll be treated the same way.

Alternatively, say any of the 13 phrases listed in this article instead, and all you’ll get for your trouble is a blunt reminder that you’re a fuckhead.


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