Gamergate, Game Journalism, and the Discussion that Needs to happen through the Rage

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.

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8 Comments

  1. It’s TotalBiscuit, not Totalbiscuit or Total Biscuit. The man is rather adamant about it :)

    I think Escapist is on the right track. It is sad that the rest of the lot refuses to listen to reason. In the long term they are only hurting themselves. Maybe we need this purge, maybe it is required. Once we are done with it, hopefully those who remain will be passionate about the games. Most of the people that run the show called “game journalism” seem to be passionate about everything BUT games.

    It is a problem when those reporting on the games don’t want more games, and greater diversity among them. Instead they actively push in the direction of specific games, with specific design in mind, and then lament how industry is ignoring the gamers and continues to do the same thing. It is despicable. They seem to have appointed themselves as the curators of good taste.

    Reality check is in order. The only function they ever had was reporting on quality control. That does not mean if game is any good, but instead if game functions properly. This is what made them relevant in the first place. Once they abandon this, they have no actual worth, as they demonstrated in these past weeks. Because we all have our opinions, and as shown, we don’t really much care for theirs.

    Reply
    • Ah, well, that’s a minor change, I’ll do that for now and see if he responds.

      As a note, speaking as journalist myself, we are required to evaluate games beyond a mere checklist of quality in order to determine if they meet the promises made of them and the expectations they have – or exceed them. We’re required to discuss our own experiences with a game in order to make an objective review, and why those experiences are relevant. Like it or not, we have to include and explain our own experiences with the game and others of its kind, and analyze them alongside discussions of technical quality and general solidity. Running through a checklist of all the required buttons and only that means that innovations and outliers are ignored, and that’s important. We’re writing something that tells people whether or not something is worth the money to buy, after all – that’s how I see the point of reviews. And we’re not merely writing for people who are already dedicated to the genre or style in question – other people read these and will want to know if a game presents a change that will interest them in buying it.

      I do agree that game journalists can be too specialized and focused on their preferred genres. Experience is a factor in writing a review, along with objectivity, journalistic methodology, and passion. Journalists tend to focus on issues they’re most passionate about, in all fields, and tend to draw upon their past findings and experiences. In game journalism, we’re seeing instances where people focus on one small area or style they’ve come to consider the best, and they pitch those ideas, write about them, and direct their attention towards them. The pool of games journalists is relatively small, and many trained journalists don’t go into the field because that wasn’t why they became a journalist, or because they have no knowledge of the genre and are drawn elsewhere.

      These aren’t meant to be excuses, merely explanations of my own experiences and knowledge of the system. Dialogue is a core part of new journalism, as is disclosure upon request and trust.

      Reply
      • I understand your position. I understand that what you write is influenced by who you are. That is something we cannot avoid no matter how much anyone of us tries. That said, I do not want to see in every review of the game how the main character is once again white male with brown hair. I don’t want to see questions why is there no black people, or why is there no female character. These questions are always irrelevant to the game. The difference between what pertains to the game being reviewed, and what is just a white noise of the writer that made it into the review can be quite stark in comparison. I also resent the fact that when these questions are forced into a review the immediate implication is you either agree with it, or are horrible human being. It is this sort of behaviour that I do not want to see in a review.

        I understand that some people might want to change the world, that they want to fight injustice and all that. I respect that. But marking a game as sexist, or its developers as misogynists doesn’t help anyone. It’s this constant call for war nobody ever asked for that annoys me personally. I consider games as the next form of art. As such, they are subject to criticism, but are and should be above censorship. And when a reviewer calls for no more games of particular genre just because s/he finds it offencive, then that journalist in my opinion lost the focus of what s/he should be doing in the first place. If they want to fight against some injustice, they can do it on their own. No need to drag their own personal agendas in our hobby.

        The notion that because we are all equal, we should also push for more equality in games is laughable. Games are not reality. They should not be treated as reality, games do not create the reality. Games tell stories, let us experience stories. Game developers know best what is good for their game. So when I see a journalist doing everything BUT his job, I see that as a problem. The journalist is not there to give a social commentary on how the game is repressing women, because the protagonist is a black guy.

        Playing games is a hobby. One which in many cases starts as a form of escapism from grim reality of our own world. We explore all these worlds where we actually matter, where we can actually achieve change, where we succeed. And then, instead of telling us about the actual game, the reviewer goes on the long irrelevant rant how it is totally unthinkable that s/he can’t make his/her character wear a plate bikini, and how that is ultimately sexist because s/he cannot express who his/her character really is. I know, it’s bad example but we’ve all seen such behaviour.

        If the game developers are making games you find offencive, you don’t play them. As simple as that. You don’t call for the heads of the developers. Or state that such game should never exist. This is letting too much of a personal bias into review. As Grayson showed in his interview with Browder, you should focus on the game at hand, not push with your head against the wall and then wonder, why doesn’t the wall budge. Such behaviour only shows that the journalist is living in his own little world, disconnected both from the audience, and the reality of game development.

      • I’ve just read the Grayson article, and yeah, it’s bad. He’s loading his questions, and drawing conclusions before he asks and beyond the answers given. It’s not particularly informative and its something he could easily have done as a seperate, dedicated article. It derailed the interview needlessly.

        That aside, if a game presents sexist or misogynistic depictions or racist depictions, shouldn’t that be reported and discussed? It’s been proven that people of colour and women, transgendered individuals, and many other groups play games. If there is a glaringly offensive portrayal in a game, that will affect their enjoyment, and if I reviewer picks that up, shouldn’t they report on that so that people know what kind of game they’re picking up?

        What I do agree with is that the review shouldn’t be used for calling for changes in the industry based on that instance. That’s what editorials are for; it’s easy enough to post an editorial after you’ve written a review.

  2. Hackenslash

     /  September 9, 2014

    Why is a white male not entitled to a role in determining gender and racial policies?

    Reply
    • Two reasons.

      Firstly, gender and race aren’t part of the issue of corrupt game journalism and gamers – they’re a separate issue that have been mixed in due to threats and association, and angry reprisal. So I don’t really want to distract from analyzing game journalism and gamers.

      Second, being a white male doesn’t guarantee you’re qualified to define racial and gender politics and certainly doesn’t give them the right to dictate it. I am not an Authority on issues of race and gender, I do not consider myself qualified to hold forth on those matters with authority. So for disclosure I stated where I stand on there, so that I don’t seem like I’m telling people of colour or LGBT people how they should be viewed.

      Reply
  3. WyrmTongue

     /  September 22, 2014

    Astalnar, your requirement that game journalists report strictly on functionality is short-sighted, at best. Consider the analogous situation of film criticism. If all film criticism did was assess function, all you’d have to ask would be “does light show up on the screen? It does? All done then.”

    Games are more than just control schemes and graphics resolution. They are also stories, reflecting and sometimes creating, the culture that produces and consumes them. Noting when art, any art, is promoting a particular message is part of a critic’s job too. If that message is a bad one, that’s a problem. And no amount of graphical resolution makes that problem go away.

    Reply
  4. vraydar

     /  October 12, 2014

    Given the Escapists comment, this is a little ironic: https://twitter.com/TheQuinnspiracy/status/521357384682586112

    Also, if we’re going to get into ethics, how about huge YouTubers who accept money and gifts in exchange for playing/reviewing a game. Many live in countries where they are under no obligation to disclose the relationship…and the ones that do bury this fact as a footnote under a wall of text in the description box. TotalBiscuit isn’t completely innocent in regards to this himself.
    http://www.gamasutra.com/view/news/219671/Pay_for_Play_The_ethics_of_paying_for_YouTuber_coverage.php
    http://www.rockpapershotgun.com/2014/10/03/steam-curators/?utm_source=feedburner&utm_medium=feed&utm_campaign=Feed%3A+RockPaperShotgun+(Rock%2C+Paper%2C+Shotgun)
    http://www.gamasutra.com/view/news/226249/Analysis_Can_The_Curators_solve_Steams_discoverability_issues.php

    Reply

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