July 3, 2022

I’m A Gamer; I’m Dead And Loving It!

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…

Kami

I'm the big cheese here. Comment, subscribe, direct waves of hate at me - all the same. Just hope you've had some partial enjoyment here!

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5 thoughts on “I’m A Gamer; I’m Dead And Loving It!

  1. I respect Ms.Quinn as a developer and spokeswomen but even so I'm too surprised to hear about her past scandals (really I don't a single living being does not have more than one thing they'll want to hide or wish never happened). At first it was a moral debate before esculating like dominos (as most things do online) and became an outlet for abusive behaviour.

    The worst part is, these people are probably not like that in the real world but heyho the web is essentially like A lord of the Flies simulator at times; the law can't touch you online (unless you're a hacker, then the whole government chasese you down). This online abuse does not have anything to do with whether or not a person plays games or not, gaming culture is closely link to net culture because most gamers do participate in a lot of online activities (as do people who don't play games but harness other interests). Even with all the questionably violent games out there not one encourages vitoral and clearly the devs are not behind this kind of abusive culture.

    It's completely sane to be annoyed and even angry at the fact that games journalists are corrupting the system. Frankly as long as human being are typing words there will be secrets behind them. You may not like what some people are doing in their private lives but you can still look at their work subjectively (Was the content about game a and b compelling to read, was the facts mentioned truthful? Is the opinions grounded?). If people did that maybe then they'll know what write-ups to trust or not.

    Heck even if Grayson or some other journo did some shady things (which let me clarify is not professional and should be condemned if we wish the gaming journlism industry to move forward) I'd still probably read their work and try out their recommendations (Depression quest has been on my list for a while and is freeware so I'd hardly feel cheated) if what they've written is actual quality.

    A lesson for readers and gamers: guage many people's opinions and make your own judgement of an article (the don't believe everything on the net rule applies), and be considerate or else you'll lose reason and respect. Critising the industry is a must do for a consumer because it helps it improve, but throwing abuse around and using it to display your hatred for social groups is not progressive nor constructive.

    A lesson for devs/journos: people like honesty so if they find out about that shady stuff you're screwed. I'm just glad that this industry isn't doing things like exploiting human rights laws or child labour but I don't want it to die out because of these scandals. Reading articles online and in magazines helped me get out of an irrational annoyance for English class, they improved my writing and gave me an insight to a lot of things (not just gaming related). So please don't dig your own graves. Same goes for bloggers, when money is involved that's not an immediate sign to go corrupted, it just makes no sense in the long term.

    Well it's true that there's a lot of different ways for gamers to get their daily feeds/views (i.e video streams) there's still a place for writing and discussions about games. We're a diverse bunch (as you put it Kami) after all so we should not be branded as obnoxious people, there are plenty who stand up to the abuse from everyone involved in games and are capable of civil discussion. I'm happy to have fallen into the gaming community because it made me aware of many voices and care about representation, social media and such. I would have just been a person who's apathetic about this stuff otherwise.

    1. Indeed. It's not that we're dead; just that change is often inelegant, exposing the dark underbelly can bring out the worst in people (I lost so much respect for some people the last few weeks). Change is hard. But change happens, will happen, and you adapt or die. Evolution is a brutal mistress. It takes no prisoners.

      That said, actively burning bridges is a silly concept. Whether the press and/or the industry and/or Social Justice Warriors like to admit it or not, the main demographic for games is predominantly male. Nintendo recently revealed its own stats; 90% of its consoles connected online, 93% of its eShop users are male, and of those, the age demographics split down as; 18-24 – 33%, 25-34 – 46%, 35+ – 14%.

      And that's NINTENDO! The Wii U. The console people dismiss as "for the kids". 60% of its userbase is over the age of 25. And again, 93% of that entire userbase is male.

      I of course want variety; I don't like games which cater explicitly to a male audience – they tend to be generic shouty swear-fests. But obviously, that's a market that is not going to disappear just because the gaming press wants to declare them dead. The press itself may have to come to terms that at least half of its current userbase is male. Insulting them to earn brownie points with the girls is bot just going to cause problems, to me it's inherently sexist and makes them hypocrites. Inclusion is finding a way to INCLUDE women into the equation. Throwing away your old demographic is, to me, a ludicrous notion. It makes no sense!

      I believe in diversity, in inclusion, in expanding our borders. I think that's my biggest criticism with the industry at the moment; there's a bit too much reliance on old successes, remasters, remakes and genre-tropes. It seems unable or unaware of the necessity of change right now.

      But as much as it's great to find new demographics and sub-cultures to explore and exploit, woe betide those who neglect their core audiences. Because, as much as I know it's hard to accept, on most forums and sites and communities (note I said "most", not "all") the predominant audience is… and let's whisper it… *likely to be men*

      I don't want articles about who has the best jugs in video games. We're maturing and evolving. Give us some credit. That said… "Why men suck and why you should feel ashamed about how women get treated in games!" is a dumb argument now. We, the gamers, are buying what is sold. The onus is on the wrong side of the coin; we can only buy what is being sold, after all.

      But yeah, it's kind of becoming "our fault". How's this for a beautiful setup; convince guys to stop buying broshooters and games where we "save the princess". Watch as studios and publishers crumble financially, and we get far less games and much more unemployment globally.

      Problems need solutions, Markets will need somewhere to emigrate to. This is business logic. In all the ideology of rainbows and unicorns, we might have to come to a sort of uneasy truce that yes, we can encourage change for the better. But you'll still have to provide content for the masses already firmly entrenched. Maybe at some stage the scales will tip in favour of this strange new breed of games.

      But it won't happen overnight. And it sure as hell won't happen by constantly arguing over the problem. Some change needs time, time for the old guard to die out and the new generation to grow into it.

      Impatience isn't going to make this happen any faster… and it's only going to end the same way we've seen the last few weeks. Messy, nasty, convoluted… and ultimately getting us nowhere.

  2. Despite that gaming's demographic is starting to change and in fact is more diverse than some think (especially that games have become a much popular hobby then it ever was). No matter how small you think a demographic is there's no reason to not welcome them whether is through the community or through the games content (people think is silly to make games for blind people but I think is great and innovative: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/technology-28757186, you bring a smile to people that usually gets negelected).

    The industry does need to make money but there's no way it can rely on the same old clutch; new ideas are fundmental ingredience to growth and success. Plus is about time companies realise the myth that games won't sell if it isn't full of killing and pin-up girls, is a myth. Even if is something little like adding diverse playable characters (I'm playing inazuma eleven go right now and it joys me that I can recruit female players based on different racial bacgrounds, as a football enthusiast myself) is a welcoming little touch.

    p.s. I'd like to note that one thing I respect about Nintendo is that despite their demographic data, they actively encourage women to work in games (or more specifically at Nintendo: http://www.wired.com/2014/03/animal-crossing-direhttp://www.nintendolife.com/news/2013/07/monolith_softs_working_environment_and_development_culture_emerge) The talk of expanding to core audiences is on the tip of their tongue but I doubt they'll start making sweary shooters, or else my streetpass plaza might end up looking very differently.

    1. 100% agreed that no matter how small a demographic, inclusion is a good thing. It's important because even small markets can be profitable if you know how to work things.

      I'm just wondering if we've got it all wrong. Yes yes. I believe women have for some years been unfairly portrayed in video games (Capcom, bastions of that old-fashioned attitude, today revealed Resident Evil: Revelations 2 will not just have one kidnapped woman on a prison island fighting for her life, but TWO of them! Oh my gosh! And yes, one of them is Claire. Again.) – however, we do have women in the gaming market and they have always been there.

      Thing is, saying that the main bulk of the market is male, most forums posters/commentators are male etc. isn't sexist, it's just pointing out the statistical relevance. It is this way I believe because the industry – and the press – has kind of kept it that way for some time. I am reminded of the reaction to Jade Reymond at UbiSoft in 2009 (not that long ago) and the press led the charge with, "Hey chaps, look! Hot woman running the show, doesn't that turn you on?"

      For the market to change, the onus is not on us as the market, as the consumers. Blaming us whilst simultaneously feeding those tired old tropes into the market is at best hypocritical. The primary drivers of this are those who create the content – ergo, the developers – and the people who create and push the agenda and discussion, r.e. the gaming press. Once those two work together, you'll probably see quite large strides in a very short space of time, and the gaming market will adapt as it always has done.

      But that change is hard when the industry is clutching at straws desperately, trying to make money doing as little as possible for the maximum possible return. The sad part is the gaming press has, in some cases, gone too far the other way – it's run off and the disconnect between the angle of the press and the realities of the industry is alarming, and that's me being nice about it!

      The long and short of it is; it's a bloody mess, that's what it is. The industry has got itself snagged on many myths in recent years and now, afraid of going back, are stubbornly refusing to change. Because I believe they feel if they go back to the kind of nice level sort of content field we had in the PS2 era, they'd be accused of a retreat. Heck, Nintendo is being accused of "doing a Gamecube".

      We have many myths to crack. But the press needs to debunk them; and the industry needs to listen. If they aren't listening to dwindling financial returns and lower-than-predicted sales figures, it may take some time before we can corral them towards the right track overall…

    2. The main thing is the issue of gender inequality largely ties into a much wider industry problem; the developers and publishers aren't listening, the press aren't helping either side and the consumers are largely getting it in the neck from both the industry itself and the gaming press for everything that's going on.

      That's really it in a nutshell.

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