I've been considering this at least warm topic, the new games journalism, for the past week, going through the archives both tangible and in my head. I've come to a conclusion about why it's so hard to pin down the genre: It doesn't exist. Or if it did exist, it actually was the advent of reviews, previews and the like (screenshots!), the same material someone has mistakenly labeled "old games journalism". What we are calling the new games journalism is actually the old, original form of the art.
When the arcade craze came on strong in the West, journalists -- writers, essayists, monologists, memoirists, what have you -- were writing about the experience of playing games. They were not reviewing them. There were no stars or points or thumbs up or down. No breakdown of performance in graphics, sound and control. This all came later. Even when the early consoles found their way into homes, the literature of the phenomenon was about the the experience, the joy, the frustration, the addiction, of playing video games.
The interpretative journalism came first; the rigidity of categorization, the taxonomy of play, this was the result of assimilation into society and commerce. Perhaps this is true of all nascent art forms. Perhaps. Music and literature go back so far I can't fairly consider them without doing some postgraduate work. Even motion pictures, invented so long ago, they are as common to me as novels and piano sonatas. Still the history of film journalism is at least approachable. Not suprisingly, there was no Roger Ebert analog camped out in the balcony at the dawn of movies. The early chronicle of film as art is all about the experience. Some of it surely leans to condemning that mechanism of the devil to hellfire and rubble, but indeed that was the experience of those writers, fearful of something entirely new and salaciously wonderful beyond compare. There's a lot of that going around about games today.
If we are rushing into this order of journalism with visions of being first explorers, we will all be Scotts at the South Pole. When novelist Martin Amis wrote in 1982's Invasion of the Space Invaders, "I knew instantly that this was something different, something special. Cinematic melodrama blazing on the screen..." he did not at the end of his book include a rating or musings over whether such a short, repetitive game really deserved to be released in its own cabinet. Why has not Amis been accused of founding this new games journalism a quarter of a century ago? And there were others before him. This route of game writing, lately earned its falsely erudite moniker, has been with us about as long as the games. It is the forefather of all games journalism.
I suppose everything old is new again someday. But in the span of the lifetime of game writing, I think it's a bit soon for rediscovering the beginning and calling it the future.