Or; Games Journalists may have just committed professional suicide in the fevered grasp for relevance…
I’m dead. If you’re reading this, you’re probably dead too. We’re dead because of a couple of weeks of horrible things happening on Twitter, Reddit, Facebook. We’re dead because a small subsection of society deems us too loud, too obnoxious, too extreme to control, and no longer think we can be corralled.
The Zoe Quinn thing – shocking, but ultimately not my problem, or our problem even. That’s between her and her conscience, and the fuss created over that particular sordid exposé was ultimately a whole lot of hot air. Ditto with the Anita Sarkeesian thing; look, she knows what she’s doing. I don’t dislike her topic – I think healthy discourse is good, but I think she’s a poor journalist and critic and is not the best representative for her given subject. I’m sure there are a hundred women who could do it better. A thousand, even. But Anita Sarkeesian – well, hate to say it, but she’s extremely clever. Almost too much so now. The anger, the insults, the threats – I am near as makes no difference convinced that she’s playing people for the fools they are. And those fools react. And she gets more coverage and fuel for her work. It’s funny how it works, no? Because if we’re to take her actual work on merit, it’s hardly watertight…
And this week, GamerGate. The press, overall, bandied together to decry that, “Gamers Are Dead!” We’re no longer a market; we’re a problem, a mob, and we deserve all we get. There is no differentiation, we’re all collectively awful, all of us, every one. Man, woman and child. We’re wrong. We’re horrible. We’re nasty. We’re a stain on modern life and we’re going to die alone, the sad pathetic creatures we are. Quite a strong thing, isn’t it? We’re dead because the media says so.
Except, we’re not.
David Auerbach over at Slate.com reminded me of one thing; markets don’t tend to die, they just find a new crack to peep out of. The gist of his fine article is that actually, games journalists have alienated their audience completely, and at the worst possible time too; with the rise of YouTube stars like PewDiePie, The Cynical Brit and more entrenched figures like Jim Sterling and Ben “Yahtzee” Croshaw becoming ever more relevant, it is their own death knell they are sounding.
Why? Well, it goes back to the Zoe Quinn debacle. As horrid as it was, someone pointed out that an affair with a Games Journalist may have damaged the credibility of games journalism as a whole.
Actually, it’s not strictly true, because journalism often requires research and critical thought; something many “games journalists” have been almost dead-set against for many years. Going back a couple of years to “Doritos and Mountain Dew”, when Robert Florence exposed on his Eurogamer column the dark underbelly of the industry he worked in, where a PR agent could moonlight as a games journalist. The storm of putrescence that caused was similar to the recent flood of smelly bran-candy that we’ve had to endure, because ultimately a fundamental truth was exposed – that the gaming press often enjoyed a very close relationship with the industry that it was supposed to be holding to account, and in some instances, the companies themselves were finding ways to control the press for their own benefit. So they could, in turn, manipulate and control us.
The PR Agent was the first of many examples; last year, we enjoyed the fallout of Aliens: Colonial Marines, and watched in horrified silence as many of the press who were reviewing it – and had got copies early – were unable to communicate to their readers exactly how rank and vile and horrific and lazy and stupid the end product was, because Sega and/or Gearbox (it’s never been clear whom gave the order!) put a review embargo on the product, ensuring that no bad things could be said until, ultimately, all those snazzy pre-orders had been fulfilled and people were confronted with one of the worst games of a generation (although, as we found out, it wasn’t the worst game of the year… Ride to Hell: Retribution made damned certain of that, and then Square-Enix sealed the deal with All The Bravest). Any decent person might have sounded the alarms early, given consumers warning that we were about to step into a big pile of smelly poop in videogame form. They didn’t. So we did. And a little more trust was lost.
The latest debacles – Zoe Quinn, wanting critique of Anita Sarkeesian as a professional and not as a woman, GamerGate attacking ‘gamers’ as a collective unit – all contribute to a growing hostility that has been building up against the old-style gaming press. Gamers simply don’t know who to trust, which outlet is worse, whom is going to be honest with them or who represents them. The end result is what you’ve seen recently. Anarchy has taken hold, because no-one is being held to account and the huge market that is the Gamer market (which, incidentally, is still predicted to grow to a $100 billion market in the next few years) has no trust in anyone. Companies have cheated them. The gaming press either seems too cozy with those it is meant to hold to account, or too scared to do so for fear of losing advertising revenue and potential review copies to keep up with others in the gaming press. This is a terrible combination, and ultimately the consequences are no matter how much you try to keep order, if the mob can’t and won’t respect your order, it is ultimately meaningless. Real-life examples in America have recently shown us this. It’s not limited to “gamers” – it’s a natural inflection of us as a species. We don’t listen to those we can’t respect.
Recently, I’ve been quiet because I didn’t feel like being involved in this. Why? No-one was going to win those arguments. It was all silly and overbaked. Antagonists from all sides made it worse. But ultimately, the press only covered the bits it felt would “benefit” them more; rather than deal with questions of integrity, honesty, openness and real equality and representation for all, it chose to attack the very people it needs to survive, the community in which it requires to generate advertising revenue and traffic.
This was, in no uncertain terms, what we call “A Very Stupid Move”.
Look at recent news for evidence of this; YouTube revenue streams are rising. Twitch was bought by Amazon for a total of $1.1 billion. Blog traffics are rising, and more people are consuming their content from amateur streams. Indeed, even the games industry is moving into this new realm of possibilities, with lucrative deals being made to those who have spent time and effort in cultivating an audience on these fronts. We use Twitter far more than ever before too; getting the message out there something is good or bad has never been easier. The way we consume this information has changed, and some people haven’t quite realised how profound those changes are.
Meanwhile, we still see more traditional outlets spewing the same tired press releases, the same boring lies, the same turgid garbage. Rather than criticise UbiSoft for releasing crummy Nintendo games of late, it sided with UbiSoft. “Yeah, Nintendo is awful.” So awful the growing indie scene can’t get enough of Nintendo now it appears. Boo-hoo. Consumers can’t and won’t buy badly-crafted crap. Sorry UbiSoft, there’s a hard truth the gaming journalists should have hammered into your skulls a LONG time ago! Enjoy losing millions of dollars on your Wii U port of Watch_Dogs, which by the way was nothing special to begin with. Now we know that, it’s kind of hard to take a wait for the Wii U version seriously.
That’s the kind of critical thought we want to see; we want to see the hubris, the ego, the asinine decisions of the industry exposed, investigated and laid bare. We want critical analysis of how these companies work, and why they work that way. Games reviews are ten a penny nowadays. If you’re not watching a review, you’re likely to have sat down to watch a stream of a game instead, to work out if you want it. Technical analysis of games hasn’t worked; it’s either too late to the party to convince people, or it misses the point. Or, in some cases, it goes, “Yeah, this game is stupid and terrible and horrible and all that… oh, but we still love playing it.” It says very little of meaning to most gamers; just adding fuel to console wars and people desiring a crutch to rest on.
The line between a mediums Journalist and a Shill is very fine. We’re seeing a breakdown of communication; a press completely at odds with an audience that is tired of feeling like they are getting the short end of the stick in the relationship, tired of being made to feel guilty for things beyond their control or remit. The new avenues will no doubt have growing pains, as we watch to see how these new faces adapt to an industry that both wants them and wants to control them simultaneously. But traditional mediums will have to shape up in order to compete against this wave of change. They’ll have to fight these new faces by standing up for people, for exposing the discrepancies in company logic, for defending people and critically analysing news stories for new angles. They have to prepare news, investigate news, create news; towing company lines can no longer sate people. We’re beyond that now.
But with so many declaring us dead, they may as well be. We’re not going away – although admittedly, we need better means of communication than everyone throwing stupid words into the large vacuous void of space that is Twitter – so it’s silly to say otherwise. We’ll change and adapt; gamers always do, every generation, and it’s not always the prettiest or most smooth of changes, but we do change. We always have done. I’ve been gaming since the mid-80’s. I’ve seen so much change, and changed with it so many times. Some of those who are “gamers” today are loudmouth, obnoxious and cruel. But I still think that’s a result of social media and a lack of learning good socio-political skills growing up. It’s not a “gamer” issue – it’s a people issue, it’s an issue that we as a society will have to deal with. A growing trend of people with the social skills of a concrete block. Which they’re more likely to throw than anything else.
We’ll move on. Where this leads us, I cannot be sure. But it’s a place we’ve been led to by a gaming press that has struggled far too long to create a solid identity for itself, with no-one but its consumers to answer to when there are accusations of foul play. Had the press been better, stronger, more willing in some cases to tackle issues head-on, rather than pussy-foot around for fear of offending someone or being labelled a “Misogynist” or “Social Justice Warrior” (both overused terms of late) we probably wouldn’t be in this place, and Twitch would not have been worth over a billion dollars. It’s a press that has struggled to differentiate what is paid content, and what is opinion (again, recently some unique advertorials masquerading as demos have been appearing on certain sites). And it’s a gaming press which is sadly exhibiting a growing contempt for the very life-blood that sustains them.
I still don’t care about the events of the last couple of weeks. Primarily because, ultimately, they should have been handled better by the very people who are declaring us a dead demographic. Instead of that, however, we’re here. And ultimately, most of us are moving on quietly to new pastures, new sources for our news, new places to discuss with like-minded people. The gaming press hasn’t spoken for people like me for a long time; people who want a fair and balanced market, where companies who exhibit such contempt for their audience are exposed for that, and where stupid business decisions are reported, discussed and dropped like a microphone after a really good little rant.
And I don’t hate anyone by the way. Not the press, not Ms. Quinn or Ms. Sarkeesian, not anyone of late. Hate. It’s so much effort. Seriously. Be a gamer; look at what’s going on, shrug, think they’re all a bunch of muppets and then load up something you’ve been meaning to play and/or finish for a while. And do that instead. I’ve been breeding Pokémon of late. Tepigs, Mudkips, Torchics and a host of other exotica for X and Y, sent in to the ethereal void of Wonder Trade. Sometimes I get back a Charmander. Sometimes I get a Chatot instead. Please don’t send Chatots. It’s just sad. It makes me sad. I can make lovely strong baby Pokémon for people. Breed me something nice. It takes about ten minutes. Use a Litwick to speed up the hatching process. Don’t be stingy.
The basic line from me is this; gamers play video games. Ultimately, that’s the definition. Everything else is projecting of the most incredible kind in order to justify an already poorly-founded stance that we’re all the same, and we can all be tarred with the same brush. So let’s ignore them. Don’t give them what they want. Let’s play video games! Let’s trade, let’s co-operate, let’s explore and create. Let us play. We’re gamers. That’s what we do. Every gamer is different. But we play video games. Let’s unite in that one common cause. And whenever silly stuff like this rears it’s head – laugh, sigh, shrug, whatever. Then put something on and remind yourself that we’re here for the video games.
Leave the drama for those into amateur dramatics. Who may in some cases be “gamers”. But they don’t represent everyone. It’s like saying every American is a fat idiot. Or every French person is a cheese-eating surrender monkey. We can do better than these pathetic stereotypes now. Gamers are young and old. We straddle gender boundaries of all kinds; all sexual politics, all creeds and nationalities.
So maybe it’s time to stop over-simplifying. We’re a diverse bunch. I mean, after all, have you seen the amount of sub-genres and sub-cultures we have in gaming?!
It’s enough to blow the minds of most metalheads…