Cuphead Reignites the “Game Journalists Should Be Good at Games” Debate

Mostly everyone who has played Cuphead has mentioned its high level of difficulty. A side-scrolling run and gun game, it occupies a genre built to challenge the player, throwing waves of enemies at them and forcing them to think on their toes. It's a game that requires the player to be fully engaged with it, exhibiting quick reaction times and multi-tasking between jumping across platforms, avoiding both the enemies and their gunfire.

A video uploaded by the tech website VentureBeat shows one of its employees struggling to do just that. Taken from Cuphead's Gamescom 2017 demo, the video sees GamesBeat lead writer Dean Takahashi struggling with just about everything the game throws at him: he experiences difficulty in attempting to jump onto a high platform in the opening tutorial; he routinely bumps into enemies running towards him; he falls down a hole to his death. The resulting footage is hilarious, playing out like a 26-minute slapstick comedy sketch in which poor Cuphead is forced to meet his demise over and over again.

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But rather than being viewed as a funny half-hour struggle experienced by one writer, the video has instead been used to undermine games journalism as a whole. The end result has seen both trolls and prominent personalities surrounding the games industry vilify Takahashi, who has worked in tech and games journalism for 25 years, even though the article accompanying the video saw him poking fun at his own lack of ability during the play session. His feature, titled 'My 26 minutes of shame with an old-time cartoon game,' even begins with the sentence: "I suck at Cuphead. Let’s get this out of the way." It's not as if Takahashi was in charge of producing an extensive guide on how to defeat the game; he simply attended its booth at Gamescom, and emerged with some unfortunate gameplay footage to upload to VentureBeat's YouTube channel.

Despite Takahashi never presenting the footage as an adept Cuphead preview, the criticisms came pouring in. On Twitter, The Daily Caller journalist Ian Miles Cheong clipped the opening segment of the video and included the caption: "Game journalists are incredibly bad at video games. It's painful to watch this. How do they think they're qualified to write about games?" The post received over 30,000 interactions, including a plethora of comments also condemning games journalism on the whole. "Easy, they watch Youtube gaming videos & write bs without ever playing the game," popular YouTuber Keemstar replied. "Game journalists are a joke," another user added.

I have a couple of takeaways from this reaction: firstly, as Ian Miles Cheong is a game journalist himself, writing about games for the likes of Heat Street and The Sun, his decision to make a sweeping generalisation of his own career is a curious one; secondly, how is one video recorded by one game journalist featuring one video game classed as evidence that game journalists are "incredibly bad" at playing games?

Takahashi's Cuphead video, much like the infamous Polygon DOOM video before it, is a comedy of errors. Takahashi knows it should be laughed at, which is why he made a post specifically detailing his failures with the game. It's perfectly reasonable to find the footage funny, because it is funny — people failing at mundane tasks is humor that we can all get behind, and such videos probably account for roughly 50% of YouTube's uploads anyway. But what isn't reasonable is using a smattering of examples of journalists failing to adequately play a video game, as an excuse to somehow suggest that game journalists on the whole are incapable of doing their jobs correctly.

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Last year I attended a Star Wars event that allowed me to get hands-on with Star Wars Battlefront's single-player mode, which at that point wasn't due out for another few months. I had played Battlefront a reasonable amount around its launch, but hadn't played it much at all prior to heading to the event, so I was rusty. That, coupled with the naturally anxiety-inducing situation that is playing a video game while one of its lead developers watches over your shoulder, made the end result not one of my proudest moments. I died multiple times, barely killing any of the AI Stormtroopers and causing the developer to ask if I wanted the difficulty lowered from medium to easy. I powered on regardless, safe in the knowledge that the memory of my dreadful Battlefront experience would remain within those four walls. But what if footage from that play session would have been made public? Should it have been used as an example of how ALL game journalists are terrible at playing Battlefront or, more reasonably, as evidence that I was terrible at playing Battlefront during that one particular event?

While Takahashi's playthrough of Cuphead may have been spectacularly bad, whose to say he didn't experience similar circumstances to mine while demoing it at Gamescom? Or maybe he was just having an off day? Or, as he himself admitted, maybe he's just very bad at Cuphead — what does it matter, and why is it being used to reflect the entire field of games journalism? If one plumber accidentally f***s up your taps, do you never hire another plumber? It's a shame that one funny, unfortunate video is being used to slam an entire industry of hard-working people, and it's equally disappointing that one writer's lengthy career is being mocked due to him committing the cardinal sin of being bad at a video game.