Penny Arcade and Punchlines
I’m sure you’re all up to speed with the rumours surrounding the departure of a Gamespot editor last week. If not, pop over here for helpful rundown and commentary on the ‘story’ so far.
The ‘news’ of Gerstmann’s firing was initially spread by absurdly popular webcomic Penny Arcade – a weekly, 3-panel strip that provides commentary on the videogame industry and its subcultures.
While the comic receives over 2 million visitors a day (according to Wikipedia) opinion is split over its quality and worth.
One poster over at forumopolis, who apparently worked on the Kane and Lynch advertising campaign upon which the Gamespot controversy pivots, is clearly a big fan:
I worked on the K&L ads personally, and I had a front-row seat to the whole debacle.
The ads were originally supposed to point to the GS review page, as they sometimes do. When the review came out, Eidos was understandably upset, and yes — they did threaten to pull the whole campaign — but they eventually simmered down and kept the campaign. They had us change the clickthrough URL from the GS review to the official site, but other than that little changed…
I think the whole thing is likely a combination of factors, the biggest being poor timing. Gerst gets canned just two weeks after the K&L incident, so people blame it on that (especially when backed by PA, the gaming journalism equivalent to The Daily Show).
Woah there! Videogame journalism’s equivalent to The Daily Show?!
I don’t read Penny Arcade other than when it’s linked to in forum posts etc. When I do happen to see it, it’s always a disappointment.
Penny Arcade seems to me to be afflicted by a problem common to many comedians/ satirists who work in small niches solely for the audience within that niche: their humour is based on people recognising the thing to which they are referring, not on an actual joke.
It’s nod, nod, wink, wink, ‘did-you-notice-that-thing-in-that-game-well-wasn’t-that-funny!’ stuff. Readers enjoy it because they feel like they are in the know, because ‘Yes, I DID notice-that-thing-in-that-game-and-wasn’t-that-funny LOL!’
Sure, it’s tough to provide incisive or perspicacious commentary on a news event in three short panels AND to provide the funny but Penny Arcade rarely manages either, existing instead as a kind of broad brush stroke thematic shorthand for gamers devoid of their own thoughts or ideas to cut and paste into forum threads.
Apologists might say you need to read the accompanying blog post to get the meaning, or you would have had to be reading the strip religiously to understand it (despite the fact Penny Arcade doesn’t really do meta-narratives). But these are weak excuses for what is a weak strip designed to make kids feel like part of a big club of cognoscenti rather than to effectively satirise or comment on the videogames industry.
Comic strips based on current events should still be accessible and enjoyable to people who don’t necessarily know the issue or story intimately.
I’m sure that a mean-spirited but witty commentator could perform a kind of Marmaduke-explained style website that pulls the strips apart for what they are.
Then again, as CNET is finding out, 2 million angry Internet kids bound together by the solidarity of indignation are, on reflection, probably not worth the hassle.