So, things seem to have come to a head in the field of gaming journalism, such as it is.
“Gamergate”, people challenging the integrity of video-game journalism and those in the field, people threatening female developers and advocates for better representation of women, transgendered people, and people of colour, developers and journalists expressing staggering contempt for ‘gamers’ as a whole and dismissing the movement as motivated by said misogyny and bigotry. The arguments have slipped straight into tinfoil hat(e) territory, with accusations of conspiracies and plotlines that would fit in the Young and the Restless if it were doing a crossover episode with the Big Bang Theory.
Perhaps this isn’t the best time to joke. The events regarding game journalism and the industry and the gamers that call themselves a part of it are up in the air and it’s unclear if any impact or change will be made (Penny Arcade’s creators seem to think it will amount to nothing). Historically, things don’t often change drastically, but I’m not certain this is so much about something actually changing, as it’s about long-stewing issues coming to a rather hateful head.
Firstly, a bit of full disclosure: I am taking the weak path and staying in the middle as much as I can. You can judge for yourself whether or not my writing in fact reflects that intent or whether I fall on either side, but I see little benefit as a game journalist or as a gamer in becoming fiercely embroiled in trench warfare where both sides have mixed legitimate concern with hatred, bigotry, and bitterness. I am using the term ‘gamer’, rather than ‘player’, which the publication I’ve written for prefers, because a word only has as much power as you put into it, and I see it as a person who enjoyed video games and takes a heavy interest in them.
As a white, cis-gendered male who has little business dictating gender or racial policy, I will try to avoid making too many proclamations on those matters, other than I see no reason to dismiss claims of misogyny in the game industry and see no harm in encouraging more and better representations of sexuality, gender identity, and racial groups.
I am also personally insignificant in the scope of this argument. I don’t know Zoe Quinn or Anita Sarkeesian; I went to high school with one person associated with the controversy, over a decade ago, and haven’t spoken with them since. I consider the threats towards them deplorable, and utterly destructive, and that’s all I have to say about that. I publish free-lance for a small independent magazine in Toronto, that focuses on the art aspects of video games. My career is by no means stellar, and that somewhat liberates me to be frank, but it also means I have little sway in the matter. Seeing as this blog rarely gets updated, I will simply add my opinions and thoughts on the matter as an aspiring professional game journalist and as a gaming enthusiast, or gamer.
For me, the major point of interest in this discussion is the role of games journalism in the game industry, and the relationship between gamers, their hobby, the companies, and their journalists. This is an important bit of discussion that deserves to be picked up and discussed.
Accusations of corruption in game journalism are nothing new, and the gamer community has shown it has little faith in its journalists. Concerns have been raised regarding the objectivity of game reviews – the true heart of gaming journalism, in my opinion, as the entire industry is based around the development and purchase of games – as well as the relationships between journalists and developers, and publishers, and public relations officials.
And really? This is a legitimate avenue of criticism. Consumers of media should be able to engage with their journalists, and should feel that they are able to ask questions and present concerns about the publications. Journalists, of course, are free to respond to this and should very well present their defence should they be challenged. Naive as a I am, I believe there’s merit to discussion and that it will not simply result in the kind of binary debate I’ve come to see put forth in debating practices (because our obsession with ‘weakness’ and proving our superiority should only go so far).
It’s clear to me that gamers have lost faith in their journalists. Amid the painfully sexist remarks and bitter contempt on both sides, there are people who feel that the relationship journalists have with the companies prevents them from being objective, and colours their reviews (press events, free stuff and ‘bought reviews’ come up). One particularly interesting development in this issue are newly posted guidelines regarding a journalists’ interaction with Kickstarters: http://www.escapistmagazine.com/articles/view/video-games/editorials/12224-The-Official-Ethics-Policy-of-The-Escapist.
As someone who has donated to Kickstarters for games I have reviewed, I don’t feel that it affects my objectivity to do so. But that people feel that it is an issue is something that has to be discussed; Kickstarters, like preorders, present a tremendous issue for gaming, because it means that people become invested in a game before it is possible to have a review of the game. It’s a topic that should be discussed.
The key word is ‘discussed’. The industry has its quirks and navigating it requires certain practices. As reviewers and as article-writers, we need to keep in mind the companies want their game to succeed, and that they hold power over our writing because they hold access to games. Review copies are necessary to putting out reviews as early as possible, and without them, game journalism becomes expensive. Press embargoes prevent reviews before game launch, let preorders allow companies to sell games based on hype alone, fueled by previews and articles by journalists that inadvertently draw in sales. It’s gambling with money, so that gamers put down money without being able to read reviews describing the product’s merits and faults and whether it lives up to the claims its creators’ make.
I think that this discussion has degraded in the last few years. Journalism has changed, and gaming journalists have fallen out of touch with their readers, and readers have fallen out of touch with their journalists. The entrenchment surrounding Gamergate and Quinnspiracy, where gamers and the media/developers have entered into binary war with each other, is doing tremendous damage to an already problem-laden system.
Public relations officials work on behalf of the companies that hire them. Journalists work on behalf of the people who read their work – in this case, gamers. If they are upset, then it behooves us to listen to them and figure out what the problem is and address it. If the individual is being hurtful or their argument is problematic, then we address that, but we have to keep our ears out to the people we work for the benefit for. Zoe Quinn doesn’t have that obligation, as she’s not a game journalism; she’s not really someone who should the burden. The journalists, however, have an obligation, and if we’re not hearing our readers, something must be done.
As a final note, I will link TotalBiscuit, who puts forward an intelligent and well-argued opinion and is something we should definitely consider:
He talks about a wide variety of things, including preorder culture, the role of games’ journalism, and the importance of dialogue. Listen to it, and perhaps discount my opinion because it’s very similar to this, but that’s fine.
I’m here for criticism, after all. If there are any errors in this blog post on my opinion, please, comment and tell me and I will consider them.