This article is a response to “Game Journalists are Responsible for the Pokémon Uranium Shutdown”, published on GameSkinny on 15 August by Angelina Bonilla.
I read your recent article with some interest – and it took me a while to gather my thoughts.
Like you, I’m a freelance games journalist and an enthusiast for fan projects. I spent many happy years as a regular on Starmen.net, after discovering the Mother series through the wonderful fan translation of Mother 3. I was also a big fan of Psycho Waluigi, a game which remains stubbornly available in the face of Nintendo’s tendency for copyright claims.
If GameSkinny is a sardine compared to Polygon, Cubed Gamers is a single-celled aquatic bacterium. But were we bigger, we would still have wanted to report on Pokémon Uranium, as we still plan to do. This is not out of any desire to kill a game which has undeniably had thousands of hours and an unprecedented amount of love put into it – but precisely because of those things.
The trigger-happy attitude of major publishers to fan works is a huge obstacle for creative work. Nobody with any sense believes Pokémon Uranium threatened Nintendo sales, or that Chrono Trigger: Resurrection would harm Square Enix. But as you say, they have the right to defend their intellectual property.
That, in my view, makes it ever more imperative that against the backdrop of global corporations bringing the kosh down on what is legally theirs, the story is told of nine years of effort against the odds to bring joy and fulfillment to enthusiasts.
This is in a way the same “how are they going to become popular?” attitude you identify among games journalists. But this is also where we part ways. I do not believe that in this world of social media, there was any realistic prospect of keeping Pokémon Uranium from Nintendo’s attention for any length of time. Indeed, it was through a friend’s Facebook post that I learned of the game in the first place.
And because of this same tendency for the internet to spread things like wildfire, it is no real impediment to playing Pokémon Uranium. A cursory Google search would alert potential players to at least one mirror site already up and running, and this is unlikely to become more difficult as time goes on.
There is also a question of good journalistic practice. By all relatively objective criteria, Pokémon Uranium is newsworthy – it has an unusual history, is the product of a nontraditional development process and is entirely the work of volunteer fans. It would be a failure in our role as journalists if this game was not covered (though I of course respect the right for individual journalists not to cover whatever they choose).
We are not in the business of picking winners, and we should not in general aim to be ‘actors’ in the disputes between industry and fans – at least, not in our news coverage. You speak of Uranium being a fan game, with fan love put into it. By our coverage, the lifespan of the game through ‘official’ channels may be half or a third what it would have been, but that love still lives, and can now be shared by hundreds and thousands more than would have been able to experience it previously. This is not popularity for the developers’ sake – though for the record I would give them a medal for dedication – but for the players, those whom we serve.
I’m reminded in this discussion of the old poem by Edna St. Vincent Millay:
My candle burns at both ends;
It will not last the night;
But ah, my foes, and oh, my friends—
It gives a lovely light!
Maybe if she’d used nuclear power, the light would have lasted longer. Pokémon Uranium will shine for a long time yet.