GamerGate; Why Today’s Gaming Journalism is Broken Beyond Repair
As you may have noticed in recent days, something awful has been happening in gaming. Attack articles on gamers have gone up, Twitter and other social networks have turned into battlegrounds over videogames and political beliefs, and there have been many, many calls for journalists at sites like Kotaku to resign for the good of the medium.
This is all down, to what some people are calling ‘Gamergate’. A crisis best described as a sort of civil war between gaming media and the gamers themselves, it’s caused utter chaos online, with gaming and non gaming websites everyone going into utter collapse due the events.
And so, in the name of fairness and honesty, here are my thoughts on Gamergate, the events behind it and the future of gaming journalism in general. Just be warned, we side with the gamers…
Above: Us at Nintendo 3DS Daily and Community go against the corrupt gaming journalists.
What Happened (the story)
Basically, an article was published (by someone related to a gaming figure called Zoe Quinn), that talked about her past and history of… how do we say this… having relationships with videogame journalists as a way to promote her work. Basically, it said that she slept with indie game developers and gaming journalists as a sleazy way to promote her writing and indie games on sites like Kotaku. It was pretty plausible as a theory, and got a fair amount of popularity rather quickly.
So people started calling out the gaming press for well, their lack of ethical standards, since promoting the work of people you’re in a personal relationship with is seen as a conflict of interest. Which is a fair point, in the same way that a forum or site owner giving extra privileges to friends and family is also a conflict of interest and unfair on the other site users.
And well, to say the press didn’t like this criticism was the understatement of the century. To put no finer point on it, they pretty much tried to shut down all discussion of the affair and their own corruption by mass banning and attacking those who criticised them. The results (as anyone who’s seen the internet react to censorship knows), were not pretty.
What then happened, can best be described as ‘cartel behaviour’ at its finest. Sites that were fine with everything from legally question adult content taken from hacked accounts and Wikileaks posts started actually removing all discussion of the affair, as if those involved had infiltrate even the oldest and most powerful communities on the internet. In other words, Reddit and 4chan started banning people for discussing this situation. Yeah, the sites run by trolls and pretty much designed to fight ‘censorship’… turned to censoring their own users on behalf of the gaming press.
Things then just got worse with rumours that fake DMCA notices were sent to sites that dared post about the story. Charities and positive organisations like the Fine Young Capitalists were intentionally sabotaged by individuals like Zoe Quinn because they didn’t agree with their viewpoints.
Youtube celebrities like TotalBiscuit covered the controversy and had fraudulent take down notices sent to them over the videos, as well as personal attacks against them in the media for what apparently amounted to ‘supporting the enemy’.
And so what widespread disdain of the gaming media turned to war. And so soon, everyone pretty much went completely insane. There were flame wars on sites like Twitter over the issue, people in the gaming media attacked their audience with article after article of pointless hate and comments that ‘gamers are dead’. And extreme lunatics on both sides started sending threats to people and crossed the line from disagreeing to actively bullying and harassing their opponents.
It’s not been a good time for anyone involved in the gaming community.
What factors contributed to the outcry?
Well, it’s been known for years that the gaming media is ridiculously corrupt. And it’s been at least… hinted at that a certain amount of the gaming industry seem to have a ridiculous amount of disdain for their customers (just ask anyone who saw the original Xbox One!)
Add some notable stories about both social justice warriors forcing their beliefs on unwilling crowds, and others about gaming journalists getting free stuff from publishers in exchange for better reviews, and the situation was kind of tense at the time. Or as someone on TV Tropes wisely said:
Zoe Quinn is the Archduke Franz Ferdinand of Gamergate…the fuel is already there, built up for a LONG time, she just added the spark to light it…
In other words, corruption plus anti gamer resentment had already caused a lot of aminosity between gamers and the gaming industry/media, and the latest revelations just caused it to explode in a spectacular fashion.
So why is this a big deal?
Because it proves that gaming journalists do not act in the best interests of gamers. It proves that they’ve become ivory tower elitists who do not represent gamers and that they absolutely hate the one group that keeps them in business.
As Sean Malstrom says:
you must relate to the mainstream. We want our game journalists to share our tastes otherwise they have no value to us. The Zoe Quinn episode is a freak parade that is revealing that these people are nothing like you.
And gamers are very much right to be annoyed at that. Imagine if it happened in any other field. Imagine the outcry if the Daily Mail repeatedly attacked it’s conservative readerbase in its own articles, or The Guardian started defending David Cameron and the Tory Party at the expense of its more left leaning readers. Or on an even more comparative level, if magazines about football, cars and certain religions were being authored by people who constantly brought up how much they hate the fans or followers of those things and who repeatedly criticised them on shaky grounds. Yeah, there would be quite the fallout, wouldn’t there?
But isn’t this all misogynistic?
No. Criticising the actions of a press (and a female individual involved in said press) is not misogynism. Being part of a minority group (any group) does not make immune to criticism in regards to your own actions.
Are there some sexist idiots in this movement? Yes, but a significant amount would be equally critical if it turned out a male video game developer was using his personal relationships to promote his work and shut down criticism of his own actions. The misogyny comments are an attempt at PR from an industry trying ever so desperately to cover its own back and divert attention away from the issue. Indeed, there’s actually been a few people who’ve noticed the involvement of PR agencies and groups within this ‘gamergate’ scandal, as if someone is trying to move the issue towards one they can control people’s perceptions of.
So what does Anita Sarkeesian have to do with this?
Honestly? Pretty much nothing. The only thing she actually did here was come to the defence of one of the people involved in the scandal, fanning the flames even more.
What is the media reporting like on the matter then?
Well, I kind of gave it away in the earlier answers really. Basically, they’re trying their hardest to paint gamers as trolls and bullies and pretending that the serious concerns about their journalistic ethics don’t exist.
Or more precisely, that’s what the mainstream journalists are doing. A more accurate breakdown of journalist reactions to this incident can be summed up as follows:
- IGN: Is staying clear of absolutely everything related to the matter.
- Nintendo/Company Specific Gaming Sites: Mostly trying to ignore the issue, in an attempt to maintain some level of neutrality.
- Gamasutra/GamesIndustry (and gaming industry sites): Attacking gamers twice a day with obvious propoganda pieces that paint even relatively calm internet celebrities as ‘evil’. If you ever need proof the games industry has an unhealthy contempt for its customers, see these sites.
- Mainstream gaming media (like Kotaku): Attacks gamers as trolls while keeping quiet about its lack of ethics and obvious bias.
- Smaller gaming sites: They talk about the controvery with Internet Aristocrat’s video as the main source of evidence.
- Individual gaming critics (like Sean Malstrom): Defend gamers, attack the gaming press as biased.
- Non Gaming Media: Try to cover the issues in a more neutral way, with their side being roughly based on their political leanings (‘liberal’ media tends to side with the gaming journalists, ‘conservative’ media with the gamers).
TLDR: Gaming media tries to shift the issue to ‘attacks’ on female videogame writers in an attempt to portray gamers as evil or dead or irrelevant, less popular media actually covers the controversy in a more neutral way, critics use it as evidence of their favorite talking points and game industry publications go into meltdown.
Did anything like this happen before?
Well, to an extent, this has a lot of similarities to the anti videogames rhetoric given by Jack Thompson a couple of years ago, when the mainstream media tried to portray gamers as violent sociopaths driven to violence by too many rounds of Call of Duty and Grand Theft Auto.
The difference is, the attackers then were white Christian republicans, so both gamers and press went straight on the counter offensive and shut them down near enough immediately. Now that the haters are supposedly young people with left wing political views? The media immediately jumps to their defence against the gaming population, despite the exact same criticisms and controversies being brought up in both cases. And despite both groups of attackers being known for not doing their research properly beforehand.
So yes, something like this did happen before. It’s just that the outsiders had political beliefs that gaming journalists DIDN’T agree with. Which is kind of a problem with people in general, they tend to only support freedom of speech and thought when it applies to other people they like or agree with.
Also, note something else. When gamers made games attacking the likes of Thompson, no one batted an eyelid:
Above: Yet a flash game portraying a certain feminist in the same way caused an uproar. Hmm…
And what about the conspiracy theories springing up around this saga?
Well, they exist. So in the same way that some lunatics like to believe NASA faked the moon landing or a government group assassinated JFK (or that mind controlling reptilians and the illuminati want to bring up the one world order), a similar group of obsessives are now saying that Zoe Quinn is associated with one of the richest families in America and that they’d using their personal control of American law enforcement to shut down criticism as a way to reinforce the interests of the 1%. Or something, it’s hard to follow at this point.
Either way, it’s all a bit far fetched. And will probably end up a point of discussion on sites like Above Top Secret and the James Randi Educational Foundation for years to come!
So why are the gaming media doing this?
Because to put it bluntly, they know they’re becoming irrelevant and are doing everything possible to pretend they’ve still got a future. They’re trying to scare people away from competing with them, by making out the internet hordes as evil bullies and trolls destroying humanity. Kind of like how the old media acts like the internet and social media is responsible for the downfall of human society.
They do this because practically speaking, they know their days are numbered. With Nintendo Direct and other such presentations, as well as the increased access to information provided by the internet and social media, gaming journalists are really nothing more than a relic going on borrowed time.
Yes this is the case with pretty much all writing related jobs (just see the newspaper industry crumble to the ground as we speak, or the markets for comics hurtle downwards for yet another year in a row). But gaming journalists are unique here. Unlike writers of fiction, no one reads their ‘work’ for creativity. They have no ‘unique’ angle to differentiate themselves on. Unlike real journalists (aka newspaper ones), it’s not particularly difficult or risky (no visiting active war zones for gaming journalists!) and relies on information than just about anyone can get their hands on. And unlike just about everyone else, the very industry they rely on is just about undercutting them (and killing off the middlemen) in every way possible, aiming their communications directly at the public and giving people less and less of a reason to tune into the gaming mass media.
And as you may have guessed, they don’t like this. They don’t like the possibility that their jobs aren’t going to be secure for very much longer. The idea that a crowdsourced alternative (or just gamer friendly service in general) could replace them and their industry altogether. So they’ve turned to absolutely hating their audience, almost blaming them for their own issues and seeing them with nothing more than contempt.
Above: What gaming journalists fear most
Unfortunately for them, this won’t work. They are merely accelerating their own demise by attacking the very audience they rely on to stay in business. If these issues in the industry and its attitude aren’t fixed, it will crash and burn hard.
And why are so many suspiciously positive articles about Quinn and co appearing recently?
No ones know, but it seems likely a PR or reputation campaign is going on behind the scenes. This is way, way too organised to be the work of a bunch of ‘friends’ or people who merely have the same opinion.
In other words, it’s an obvious astro turfing campaign, similar to the types run by companies like Walmart and Microsoft. What’s more, it’s well funded enough that even the likes of Cracked.com has sold out to the organisation. No, I’m not kidding.
So how should this all be resolved?
Simple, like this:
1. Everyone who had a conflict of interest should be fired. Simple as. That means everyone involved in a relationship with a member of the gaming industry (which hasn’t been disclosed in articles related to that game or series), anyone who takes bribes or incentives for good reviews and anyone involved in similar issues should be permanently disbarred from the industry for breaching what should be considered standard journalism ethics.
2. Embargoes should be banned. Just make it so journalists cannot ever accept an embargo or non disclosure agreement, consequences be damned. They should be like in other forms of media, where they do their own research and publish what’s important, regardless of company opinions.
3. Review copies should be banned, as should free event tickets, exclusive events for press, etc. Basically, the press should be like the public, with the exact same rules and practices for getting and reviewing games. That way, there’s no incentive to give biased reviews, they’ve had to spend their own money on games and hence know the real value of the product they’re writing about.
4. All gamer bashing journalists should be gotten rid of. It’s simple, if you hate your audience, then you do not deserve to be writing for them.
5. Regulations for competition and fair practices should be brought in and enforced harshly in the industry. For example, did you know Microsoft can’t advertise Destiny for the Xbox One because Sony made a deal with Bungie to block it? Yeah. In any other industry, the legal system and regulators would come down hard in cases like this, because it’s clearly anti competitive business practices being used to gain an unfair advantage in the marketplace. Similarly, laws exist mandating disclosure in regards to sponsorship and behind the scene incentives. These should be enforced within the gaming media in the same way they are on TV or radio, complete with potential fines and prison sentences if necessary.
6. A formal investigation into corruption and cartel style behaviour within the gaming press should be launched. Cause fact is, the fact all these different sites were willing to agree and shut down criticism as a single group shows a disturbing lack of competition within the industry, and it shows a type of behaviour that is very, very worrying in general.
7. Investigate and deal with the troublemakers on both sides, the types that bully and harass other people online. It’s not like it’s never been done before, people in the UK have actually be arrested for sending threats and stuff on sites like Twitter. And in this case, there are people on both sides of the argument (aka both the gaming journalist and gamer sides) who have likely crossed the lines of what’s actually legal to say or do online.
It sounds drastic, but to be honest… it’s what the industry needs if it’s to continue and gain back a decent reputation. The current media needs to be torn down and rebuilt from the ground up, the gaming industry in general needs to be held to account for some of its more sleazy practices (see, many free to play games and their psychological manipulation, or the endless cycles of ‘crunch’ destroying people’s lives) and I think that everyone needs to realise that no one side is completely right here.
But those gamers are bullies and unfair and [gaming journalist complaints here]!
Don’t respond to the trolls and bullies. Report them, file any necessary police reports, stop talking to them or communicating with them in any way. This is basically community management 101.
But don’t ever make generalised attacks on your audience. In fact, let me ask you one question about all this:
If you attacked your customers in another job, would you still be employed at the end of the day/week?
For that matter, if you worked in a shop (or a bar, or any other customer service industry) and got into a swearing match with the people in the shop or premises, how long do you think your employment would last?
Not very long I guess, and for good reason. And don’t think that being a journalist makes you immune to all this. If someone working for a big newspaper posted a long, hateful rant about the people their paper was targeted at, they probably wouldn’t be working there for very much longer.
If you can’t see the issue here, then you are simply delusional. End of.
But other journalism has similar problems?
No, not really. Oh sure, there are problems with corruption and obvious political bias in non gaming publications (just ask anyone who’s watched Fox News or read the Daily Mail!), but the big differences are as follows:
1. People actually get punished for breaching both journalistic ethics and the law. Remember the phone hacking scandal in the UK, the one that shut down the News of the World paper? The people involved in that were arrested and (in a few cases) jailed for two or so years for it. Why aren’t legal issues and such in gaming journalism dealt with in the same way?
2. There’s a whole spectrum of opinions in ‘real’ journalism. Papers like the Daily Mail and Telegraph and what not offer a right wing view of the world and current events, and papers like the Guardian offer a left wing view of the world and current events. Basically, whatever the event is, the real world media will provide at least one publication supporting every possible side. If there’s a disagreement or conflict, you will find that certain papers are backing one group or individual and certain papers are backing other groups and individuals. That’s the advantage of a free press, the media aren’t propoganda machines writing along with the wishes of the state.
Fact is, if gaming media wasn’t broken, this issue would be tackled from both sides. We’d have some gaming journalists backing Quinn and Fish and whoever else, and some backing the online gamers like Internet Aristocrat. Like how when political matters come up (like fixing the economy, stopping crime or handling immigration), there’s always at least one party who handles the matter from a left wing perspective, and another who handles it from a right wing one.
The way that only one side is represented by the media shows a significant problem with how gaming media works, and proves that the field is pretty much beyond saving at this point. It’s like if the media was ONLY made up of people sharing the Daily Mail’s viewpoint, or was ONLY made up of people who agree with the Guardian’s more ‘liberal’ politics.
Different opinions and different publications holding them are part of a free press.
So what happens if things don’t change?
Put simply, I foresee the gaming media losing more and more relevance at an alarming speed. I see a new competitor or ten springing up from the very people they called bigots, bullies and trolls, which will take away most of their audience.
And sadly (for them especially), it’s likely that anyone who will succeed in this climate, will not have even remotely ‘progressive’ views about diversity and ‘social justice’. Because it always happens. The media or political group ignore the views of their audience/constituents, and then an extremist comes in and offers to listen to them, gaining a huge amount of popularity in the process.
It’s kind of what’s happening in Europe at the moment, with all the right wing and eurosceptic political parties. UKIP are complete and utter jerks in just about every way, but they gained a lot of ground over here in the UK by making a big deal about an issue that the major political parties completely failed to address and attacked their followers for talking about. If you worry about some of the people associated with gamergate now… well, compared to the people in some European far right political parties, they’re virtually saints.
What’s more, a gaming audience/website shift towards the right wing has already happened in many quarters. 2ch and other Japanese otaku gaming news sources are heavily conservative leaning, with beliefs that would be more representative of Fox News if in the US.
And this is not good for anyone. We need less sexism and racism and whatever else in the games industry. We need less harassment of individuals by all sides in the debate. But the Gamergate events could end up doing the opposite and making these repellant views the ‘norm’. Again, like how recent political events in Europe have given far right extremists a popular platform to spout their philosophies, as well as the illusion of ‘credibility’. We could end up with a gaming population so disatisfied with left wing proproganda and hatred from left wing journalists that they end up supporting their equally terrible right wing rivals and their own awful political views. To put it bluntly, we could end up with a gaming media equivalent of UKIP or the Tea Party.
That’s not good for anyone.
Finally, what can you do to help end this ‘war’?
Simple. Boycott any sites that attack gamers, and support the ones run by decent individuals. So blacklist sites like Gamasutra, Games Industry, Rock Paper Shotgun, Kotaku, etc and refuse to give them any publicity for their actions. Heck, having trouble staying away from the attack articles? Then just open up your windows host file and redirect the known ‘anti gamer’ sites to localhost. That way, whenever you load their site you’ll just redirected to a blank page (or whatever is installed on your machine, if you’re running a local web server).
As for the sites to support, well, here’s a good list of sites I consider decent and run by people who actually have respect for their audience:
Player Essence: Not only called out the Gamergate scandal by posting Internet Aristocrat’s video, but also posts about the bias the mass media has against Nintendo.
Good Gamers: A site launched to provide good gaming coverage without the biased social justice stuff and political crap.
GenGame: Run by Zelda Dungeon’s staff, this general gaming site offers just good old gaming news coverage and articles, with any kind of political bias kept to a bare minimum (at least from what I can see). Also, support them cause they’re one of our affiliates!
Gamnesia: Another great general gaming site, this time run by Zelda Informer. Also non biased, and also an affiliate of ours.
Well, most of them to be honest, the Nintendo fan sites approached this issue in a fair and mostly discreet way. But if you don’t already visit, GoNintendo is a great place to get your gaming news, with both a nice community and near constant coverage of important Nintendo news.
Other major Nintendo sites are good here too, with sites like Serebii.net, Bulbagarden, Zelda Universe, Zelda Dungeon, Mario Party Legacy and many, many others offering great news coverage and handling any criticism in a mature and respectful way. You should definitely give these people your time and attention, as well as whatever financial help you can give.
Basically, if you want to show real support, visit and use the sites run by people passionate about the subject. Those who don’t try and force their ideas on others, and who realise that their audience are the people they should be respecting most.
And that pretty much sums up everything. I’ve tried to be as neutral and impersonal as possible here, to avoid any kind of war breaking out over the article, but hey, this was always going to be a somewhat touchy subject that needed to be handled carefully.
If you want to read more about the issues presented, here are some links from those willing to destroy the gaming media’s narrative:
A petition to get Nintendo to support the gamers instead of the journalists:
P.S. As far as we know, all facts mentioned above are correct, and absolutely nothing is written as a personal attack against any one individual. We’re hoping to give people a slightly more gamer centric, generally neutral overview of the scenario without the hateful and bitter attacks that have become so common in recent yers.
We also do not link to anyone posting hateful content or personally attacking others, regardless of what side of the debate they’re on.