@Lamer, More Like

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Memo to Best Buy: YOU ARE DUMB.

I play a lot of video games. This means I buy a lot of video games. This means I do the Best Buy Reward Zone thing, because as bad as Best Buy is, everyone else manages to be worse. I don't know how they do it, but they do. It's one of the universe's great mysteries - why can nobody make a store that's just like Best Buy, only without the sucking?

Anyway, part of the Reward Zone thing is the Gamer's Club thing. And last month, instead of the $20 gift certificate they should have been sending me without my resorting to yelling at them repeatedly in e-mail, they sent me a free promotional issue of their brand new dead-tree video game magazine, @Gamer. And now all I can hope is that Best Buy releases its time travel technology to the public, because @Gamer has been somehow pulled from 1996.

First of all, it's a video game magazine printed on paper. Which means it kills trees, makes them glossy with chemicals, and paints them with possibly toxic inks in order to tell us things we were bored with three weeks ago because we read them on the Internet three weeks and two days ago. I could see the magazine format for other hobbies, like butter-churning, 8-track collecting, and mammoth hunting - hobbies where the participants might not be as connected or tech-aware.

But Best Buy has got a magazine for gamers, who, in order to participate in the hobby at all, own at least one device that connects to the Internet in at least one way. And they're pushing it out to the people in the Reward Zone, which you can sort of do in an offline, paper-only way, I guess, but there are so many artificial delays Best Buy has built into the reward program in the first place, it seems ridiculous to add a few more weeks to print and mail physical gift certificates.

But it's not just the concept that's so last-millennium. The design is straight out of the Playstation era. Lots of random geometric shapes, rows of triangles, stripes, callouts... it's like an Adobe Illustrator template merged with Skynet and decided that it just wanted to annoy mankind. I mean, the very first page has little cartoon avatars of the staff. At least none of them go by nicknames or aliases.

The first section is... wait for it... a news section! Which, in true videogame tradition, has no real clue whatsoever what the difference is between a news item that breathlessly and uncritically promotes an as-yet-unreleased game, and a "preview" that breathlessly and uncritically promotes an as-yet-unreleased game. I think the official distinction is that a preview has four extra paragraphs, eight extra screenshots, and a minimum of one additional callout box with bullet-points that tell you stuff that's also in the paragraphs and screenshots.

Oh, hey, a top five list. With Red Dead Redemption on it. Be still my beating heart.

Then they do a feature on iPad games, a subject near and dear to my heart. And I'm pretty sure all 18 games on their list were out in the first month of the iPad's release, which means they were old when I got MY iPad. And they're telling me about them three months after that. Genius!

Then there's thirty pages of previews, containing roughly six pages of text, which is par for the course. Each preview is granted one, count it, one sentence of reservations, marked by a little C with an X in it, labeled "What's Not So Great". It's paired, of course, with "What's Great", where the X is a little heart, and the text allowance is doubled. It's like Fox News, only Fox News pretends it's not a wholly owned subsidiary of a corporation.

Which, in a perfect segue I totally planned, brings us to their reviews. They score on a five point scale, which means they score on a three point scale. Truly great games and really big-selling games get 5/5. Mediocre games with flaws get 4/5, and sucky games get 3/5 and a visible struggle to say enough nice things about, say, shitty extreme football game "Backbreaker" to warrant the 3/5. For example, Backbreaker gets three out of five because... ACTUAL QUOTE TIME!

"Coming out before Madden gives Backbreaker a chance to get in front of some gamers."

Yes, ladies and gentlemen, buy Backbreaker today, because you won't be able to buy a better football game for ten whole weeks! I mean, video game magazines have always spent a fair amount of time on their backs, staring at the ceiling and waiting until they can count the money on the nightstand, but @Gamer seems to be trying really hard to appear in an HBO documentary.

And, of course, it wouldn't be a game magazine without the obligatory three-page, random-placement thread of non-game tech toys and electronics, AKA the "pretend Maxim and SkyMall had a baby" section. High-end graphics cards! In a magazine whose most ambitious PC game is "Sims 3: Ambitions". Giant space headsets with wireless base stations you'll mistake for your router! Big external hard drives, because nothing screams hot, cutting edge tech like a one terabyte hard drive posed at a ten degree angle. EXTREEEEME!

And just to complete our fifteen year trip backwards in time, there's a last page where a guy tries to be funny and fails. @Gamer is like Small Wonder on DVD. You think you're nostalgic for those halcyon days, but when it's actually staring you in the face, daring you to consume it, you realize it's just a steaming pile of crap.