Appraisal comes in many forms, yet most assume it only applies to particular works and products. Services alone can be examined and judged, specifically because said labors retain their own sets of standards and regularities. Despite every journalist fancying themselves as a definite individual, publications are not exempt from possessing common conditions that all of their writers embrace together. Video game journalism, to put it simply, is a product like any other.
With that, one can only wonder why the professional sector of criticism is presumably excluded from examination. After all, many public organizations that gauge quality (FDA, EPA, etc.) are faced with inspections of their own.
Therefore, regarding journalism and criticism as a whole, a review of a professional and well-funded site like Polygon is not only fitting, it also reveals many consistent flaws. The site considers itself a unique take on the world of video game journalism, though it’s anything but.
Compensation – a new fragrance by Internet Explorer
From riches to riches
Polygon’s story doesn’t begin in that humble, inspirational sort of way. This wasn’t some ragtag bunch of writers who started with practically nothing in a dingy studio, à la sites such as Giant Bomb. Not only did Polygon come out of the gate running, they were given a cushy handicap in the form of cash sponsorship and pre-production time.
Inherently, this isn’t a bad thing. In fact, what it allowed the site to do was launch in a relatively stable state and with some decent production values attached to it. Most gaming sites launch as a “work in progress” because they need to produce content in order to attract readers, and therefore advertisers, as early as possible. This is usually why so many of them retain baggage in the form of dated and broken features. Polygon, as an exception, was opened to the public with glossy floors, crown molding, and artsy touches that sometimes made the general public think, “Uh…that’s neat, I guess.”
The only concern attached to this is precisely HOW they achieved it all: endorsements. One sponsorship that has raised several brows comes straight from Microsoft — $750,000 for Polygon to make their ever-so-modest and ironically named “Press Reset” documentary.
To clarify, advertising has been a common factor in game journalism since print, despite it ushering in concerns of its own. The distinction between this and Polygon’s sponsorship is that advertisers directly consider a site’s/magazine’s readership. A billion-dollar company like Microsoft typically won’t care about ad space unless they know several eyes are going to see it.
It’s likely that Polygon’s parent company, Vox Media, utilized the numbers from its active publications (The Verge and SB Nation) to entice such a sponsorship. Nonetheless, an unlaunched and unproven outlet obtaining nearly a million dollars from one of the game industry’s top hardware manufacturers does plant a significant seed of doubt regarding the entire site’s integrity.
To be fair, though, any direct evidence of bias has been meager and remains as pure speculation.
If only she tattooed a runic charm that bestowed the power of humility.
If style were a person with schizophrenia
The aesthetic direction of Polygon is pretty in the sense of a Tarsem Singh film: It incorporates design that glistens in its own right, yet does very little to compliment the overall source material, and even distracts from it at times.
Their core philosophy (despite being at the mercy of Vox’s digital publishing platform “Chorus”) is to mimic the sense of style that has been prevalent in the variable layouts of print. Magazines have always been fancy and elegant in all of their CMYK glory, and so Polygon has attempted to digitally imitate them, but with some odd results.
Everyone calls these things “web pages” for a reason: They retain type, illustration, and other sorts of information in set chunks and sections. When you turn the page, you receive completely new material in all featured forms. This seems like common sense, however Polygon jumbles the order by having one source of information shift while another remains persistent. As you’re scrolling down an article, text retains its structure, whereas background imagery cuts away and renews. To call this conflicting would be an understatement.
Things become progressively worse when article backgrounds animate frame-by-frame with every little turn of your mouse wheel. If you introduced this concept to a layout designer for an actual magazine, their reaction would likely be, “What in the cinnamon-swirled Christ is this for? What does it add?”
Deviation and alteration for their own sake does not intrinsically equal quality. Even today’s magazines have adopted the more subdued forms of digital media’s graphic designs. Polygon needs to keep things simple and stop piling material onto the composition. It’s obnoxious and diverts attention from what matters most: the writing.
See how I’m separating sections with imagery alone? This is how secondary information compliments the material instead of clashes with it. Simple.
A break in the clouds
Change is better served with purpose, and certain aspects of Polygon’s anecdotal pieces retain a sense of reason that is at the heart of traditional journalism, yet ever-absent from that of video games. To be blunt: The site’s features are sometimes pleasantly fantastic.
Articles are headed by Russ Pitts, former editor-in-chief of The Escapist, who has shown to be quite an overt softie. Pitts is actively empathetic, typically in the sense of acknowledging and attempting to understand other presences in the video game industry. What this has resulted in is the “Human Angle,” an investigative column that spotlights individuals in the game industry whom would normally go unnoticed.
Even better, these articles remain solely about the people and their stories, and nary does the focus ever shift toward anything impertinent. The writers involved with these pieces have expressed a tendency to force their subjective views in other areas, yet such an unnecessary habit remains absent from their work on Human Angle stories. This tells me that a strict philosophy of “It’s about them, not you” is perpetual within this column. These are simply pleasant tales from inside a veiled industry, which should always be a welcomed addition. Hats off.
Nothing is indeed perfect, though. Certain moments do see Polygon writers falling flat on their faces in a tepid attempt to express an understanding of specific aspects of the industry. These failures are enhanced when it becomes blatant that such sermons are being derived from nothing substantial, but rather mere personal regard and inward conviction. Understandably, this is usually what happens when you give anyone a microphone. On the handle is printed the phrase: “Guide us.”
Nonetheless, Polygon does have a lot of great anecdotal content. If you’re blindly driven to ignore everything on this site simply because of its other prevalent faults, you really are missing out on some admirable stuff.
With the necessary resources, any journalist should aspire to write this sort of content.
“You’re kind of an asshole.”
And now for the exaggerated death scene at the end of this particular drama: Polygon’s sense of “purpose.” Despite the quality of some of the site’s content, it’s still painfully apparent that they don’t quite regard their work as the service it should be. The word “agenda” is a common criticism aimed toward all sources of reporting, and it’s often the bane of traditional journalism. Polygon, unfortunately, has obdurately expressed that they are OK with this, even in their own community guidelines. Essentially, they were given oysters, knowing full well how to eat them, yet they still balked with, “Screw your mastication, I’m shoving this delicacy up my ass.”
I’ve expressed countless examples of why this sort of reporting is stifling and disregards the craft in the crudest of ways. As a result of such self-righteousness, sites like Polygon care more about control than illumination or discussion, and it provides almost no distinction from the other one million blogs and content farms in the ether of cyberspace.
Think of Polygon’s ideological drive of reporting and critique like that of a Christian publication (if one existed in the game industry). Based on belief alone, they’d be inclined to rate violent, sexual, and vulgar content negatively, while showing praise toward anything that compliments or reinforces their belief system. And, much like Polygon, they could ignore any form of dissension based solely on an arrogant notion of absolute truth and morality. Of course, a plethora of detractors would bemoan such views toward violence and vulgarity, but, much like with Polygon’s views toward “representation,” who are any of you to question their beliefs?
As a result, the proverbial whip is cracked. Not only has Polygon boorishly labeled detractors in the most callow of ways, they’ve also unabashedly ignored dissenting feedback via disabling comment sections and even deleting individual responses that question or oppose the views expressed. And how do they personally justify this? In the same tired and disingenuous way of designating all criticism aimed back at them as “trolling.” If you can present yourself as a product of senseless accusation, in any case, it’s somehow justified to toss aside all manner of integrity.
The bulk of the site seems too self-centered to realize this, but a significant portion of their readership (and respect) is driven away by such things. People have little need to hear others blatantly express a sense of superiority over them. And, of course, Polygon has little reason to care about any of this — they retain a sustainable following and an immovable sense of right and wrong.
What a shame, because they essentially had a blank slate to work with, yet did practically nothing different with it.
If you can only be bothered to listen to yourselves, just get rid of the damn comments section already.
The definition of insanity
The critical world has little problem with pointing out a million-dollar game’s lack of originality, and so a publication is no exception. Ironically, even with a seven-figure budget, Polygon is marginally distinct from the competition.
But, in the end, what truly matters is the execution of said similarities. Sadly, Polygon falters much like the peers it so haughtily attempted to better. It’s not uncommon for enthusiastic journalists to assume they’re going to “fix game journalism,” but so little evidence exists to suggest that any one person or group has the clout, means, and guts to ignore the baggage that this facet of the industry is so accustomed to.
Much like certain AAA games, this site is a tragic waste of resources. It’s littered with baffling and eye-watering design choices. Despite some quality writing, the bulk of its content consists of uneducated, careless intuition. And, no matter the editors’ obvious doublespeak, the forcefully pleasant environment itself is a controlled and regulated echo chamber meant to bounce around singular viewpoints. It’s a place where matters of opinion reign supreme, and all forms of objection (even matters of fact) are suppressed, so as to say, “We can criticize, but you cannot.”
Polygon boastfully claimed they were pressing the ”reset” button, but it’s obvious they ignored it. They ignored the hell out of it.
Final score: one eyebrow piercing out of five.
Will revise the score once Polygon updates their logo.
Then again when they update their layout.
Then again when they fix everything else.