How Much Basic Knowledge and Dignity Does the Gaming Press Have?

by Jed Pressgrove

I am still stunned by the stupidity I witnessed yesterday when numerous readers and gaming press members suggested that Hellblade: Senua’s Sacrifice was remarkably different for including the possibility of one having to start the entire game over if one died a certain amount of times.

Turns out, the game didn’t include that possibility, as reported here. This revelation in and of itself points to an embarrassment shared by both readers who had never played Hellblade and gaming press members who didn’t know what they were talking about despite having early access to Hellblade.

Amazing. (Let me say that once more before I go to the next point: Amazing!) But here’s the thing: even if Hellblade had actually included the possibility of one having to start the entire game over after dying a certain amount of times, there would be no compelling reason for surprise in the “online gaming community.” This situation raises significant questions about the basic video-game knowledge of many, particularly some members of a condescending gaming press that needs to set a higher standard for dialogue.

An obvious point is that, for decades, some games have featured the idea of lost progress after a Game Over (trendily called “permadeath”). Look at classic arcade games like Donkey Kong, look at old console games like Super Mario Bros., look at handheld games like Contra 4 (released only a decade ago), look at recent independent games like Downwell. There are plenty of examples of this phenomenon, yet if you visited, say, Twitter yesterday morning, it was as if all of these examples didn’t exist. Many gamers wanted something to be outraged about, for whatever reason.

But surely any member of the gaming press would know that to play into such outrage is immature and misleading, not to mention flatout stupid. When it came out that Hellblade doesn’t have “permadeath,” you could almost see the egg on the faces of the people who said otherwise.

Yet today, it’s back to business as usual. I don’t see many writers or editors talking about standards, whether related to basic gaming knowledge or journalism, the latter of which should be philosophically opposed to hearsay, rumor, and treating your readers like cattle.

And to think, some people act surprised when they hear of gaming press outlets closing down.





  1. I’m actually kind of upset that they didn’t go through with the permadeath system. Would’ve made each play a little more harrowing, really get you invested in making your way through as best you can while minimizing deaths.

  2. In fairness: (1) permadeath would be a pretty unusual gameplay element for something with Hellblade’s (yeesh, game titles) production values and (2) this was an intentional deception on the part of the developers. However, even among lengthy AAA games permadeath is not unheard of: both Nier games feature optional endings that erase the entire save file. Also, *voluntary* permadeath runs of AAA games (Far Cry 2, Breath of the Wild) have been a fan staple for several years now.

    From the few things I heard about this controversy the mechanic sounded like it would resonate with the story in an interesting way. I’m actually kind of sad that Ninja Theory were bluffing.

    1. Thanks for dropping in, Michael! I’d like to share my two cents on both of your points:

      (1) For modern bigger-budget games, you are right: this element is far from the norm. Yet some of the biggest games of the past did include it. I could understand the surprise more if, from a historical perspective, this element were only present in, say, cult hits.

      (2) I am playing Hellblade now, and while I can see why some were deceived, thus far I don’t understand why anyone was that concerned. I’ll see if my feelings change as I progress through the game.

  3. The big problem here is the asumption that the game press is interested in games themselves. Most of them aren’t, they have myriads of problems: Herd mentality, hype culture, and overall, non-criticism… This is just the latest example on a press that cares more about the amount of clicks than having respect for its readers. Thankfully, not all the press is like that, thanks Jed.

    1. Thank you for sharing your thoughts, mecharri. I differ some on this point. While I do think the focus of the gaming press can be scattershot, I believe it does care about games. It’s just that, as you said, the perspective is not always critical or concerned with serving readers in the best possible way.

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