Jokers get serious about journalism

By Luke Wilusz

Jerry Holkins and Mike Krahulik, the minds behind the popular webcomic Penny Arcade, launched the journalistic arm of their website this week called the Penny Arcade Report. The site’s mission statement argues that video game journalism is broken and makes the claim that “we can do better.” In the effort to do better, Penny Arcade Inc. has hired Ben Kuchera, Ars Technica’s former games editor, as the senior editor for the PAR.

Kuchera will spearhead the Report with a focus on “longer form journalism with in-depth research, interviews and data, highlighting aspects of the gaming lifestyle that many would miss at first glance,” in addition to aggregating a curated list of what the Penny Arcade team considers to be the best game writing from around the Web. Without the constraints of the hourly update cycle typical of gaming blogs, the Report will theoretically be able to focus more on quality rather than quantity and immediacy. Kuchera will also ideally be able to cut through the fog of PR puppetry and promotional pressure that has become the status quo in game journalism.

This is a bold move for Penny Arcade. Holkins and Krahulik have made a reputation for themselves as acerbic critics of every aspect of the gaming industry, including the press, since they started the comic in 1998. Since then, the company has become a small media empire, spawning several online video series, books and video games, not to mention a gaming convention and an international charity. However, the Report is their first venture into serious editorial content, and Holkins and Krahulik could wind up looking like hypocrites if it lapses into the kinds of practices they’ve lambasted in the past.

The good news for serious gamers is that Holkins and Krahulik don’t seem likely to compromise the ideals of the site, even if it means angering industry executives and losing advertisers. They’ve never shied away from controversy, taking on public battles with notorious anti-game attorney Jack Thompson and sparking long-lasting feuds with game developers over trenchant comments in comic strips or blog posts.

Moreover, they stick to their guns when it comes to things they’re passionate about, especially advancing and promoting gaming culture. They started the Child’s Play children’s charity in 2003 in response to a newspaper column condemning gamers as violent, antisocial slackers and founded their Penny Arcade Expo in 2004 in order to create a convention that focused more on fans than press and publicity. So when they say their next project is an attempt to fix game journalism, I’m inclined to believe them.

I don’t know if they can pull it off, but I’m confident that they’ll make an honest effort. And between the PAR, the culturally-focused Kill Screen magazine and the upcoming game site from Vox Media, I’m looking forward to seeing a group of strong new voices trying to make things right and bring integrity back to the way we discuss video games.