This last couple of weeks there's been a storm in a teacup that seems to have culminated in the gaming community doing a sea cucumber and eviscerating itself, turning itself inside out and ejecting all it's internal organs as a defense mechanism. You can follow the 'story' on the social media under the hashtag GamerGate. We won't go into the specifics of how this kicked off because the spark that lit the part of the fire we're interested in is sort of irrelevant. The short version is that some pretty strong evidence has come to light reminding us once again of the rampant cronyism and amateurism within games journalism. The funny thing is that what may or may not have happened to kick this off is almost completely by the by. In between the feminists, the white knights, the trolls, the griefers, the journalists and the developers all rallying to four or five different calls and fighting with each other, some are using the #GamerGate to call for clearer transparency and ethics amongst game journalists, an ugly beast that occasionally rears its head. It's just there's never been a hashtag for it before.
Our issue is that expecting games journalists to conform or to act in a certain way is verging on pointless because aside from a few organs of repute, most games journalists are nothing of the sort. Here's a bulleted list.
- Games Journalists Aren't Professionals. We've seen our fair share of job adverts for 'journalists' for various outlets over the years from Rock Paper Shotgun to the Official Nintendo Magazine. Our interest piqued, we've made enquiries (because professional industries never, you know, list a salary or rights and benefits for a job with the advert right? If there even is an advert...) to have received responses like; 'If you're asking about pay, it's not the role for you' or just not hearing anything back at all about the job, the role, the pay, the ha ha ha pension. Much like the games industry that apes a proper industry by mimicking them from it's cage, 'games journalism' parodies proper journalism by using words like news, exclusive, feature and sometimes even calling themselves journalists but it's just a bunch of people who write about games.
- There's No Association Or Accreditation For Games Journalists. Well there may be one or two but I've never encountered them. Anyone can (and does) write about games for a website. But unlike the proper press there's no way to lodge complaints or issues aside from emailing the author, who can and will in all likelihood ban you, tell you to fuck off and then subtweet about you. They may then adapt, delete or rewrite offending content and they may or may not flag or make transparent that they've done so. And why should they? They've got nothing to lose. They're people who get paid (sometimes) to write about games. Nothing more. Go ahead, find a list of 'approved' games journalists.
- Anyone Can Be A Games Journalist. Seriously. I have a couple of Internet acquaintances who do just this. Try it. Find the right distribution list to get yourself on as a 'journalist' and voila, you'll get free games, get taken on press junkets, sent free junk and invited to 'conferences'. Publishers don't care. They barely check credentials and again, why should they? Send out a bunch of games to outlets and they'll write about your game. If your game is shit you can 'embargo' reviews but the only threat from breaking embargo is you won't get sent review copies from that publisher in the future.
- But The Websites Look Legit. They Have Ads For Games On Them. I really think that this confuses people. Having ad banners from the latest blockbuster is in no way an indication of legitimacy, in fact it's probably the opposite. Again, think about it. There isn't someone at EA or Activision who goes through a list of websites they could run their ads through, screening for journalisti integrity. If anything it's a popularity contest not a discerning process at all.
- The Lines Are Blurred. We can all agree that the following aren't journalists; Youtubers, people with Twitch channels, Redditors, most posters on NeoGaf. We're all fine with that. So why would you expect some sort of higher behaviour from people whose only qualification is they upload content to a website? Even more worrying are websites like Kotaku who used to have a ban policy on comments telling them their articles aren't news. That's not really a part of journalism.
- Some Game Companies Don't Bother Anymore. Nintendo is a great example of this. By releasing their announcements, interviews and trailers [direct to you] through 3DS and Wii-U they bypass the 'gaming press' altogether. You wouldn''t interpret Nintendo's content as journalism right? It's marketing. So then why oh why are you surprised that your sacred journalists are the same people who fight over themselves to live tweet and report the information you can go and see for yourself first hand and in many cases they barely interpret it. They're just churning out the marketing but on their URL. And you and I know this practice is rife. Press release goes out and like a row of dominoes the websites report the release sometimes illustrated or edited, sometimes almost unchanged. Rarely is it labelled ADVERTORIAL or PRESS RELEASE.
- There's No Such Thing As Investigative Games Journalism. We all know that there are many many ills with the games industry. Dodgy practices, poor finances, sweatshop sourcing, abysmal job security, lacking basic employment rights, unsustainable hardware, dodgy trading not to mention the games which employ the same tactics as highly addictive gambling machines. Even worse many 'games journalism' sites don't even pay their writers or in the case of one Official Magazine in the UK get under-age writers to contribute to their content in return for the 'privilege' of writing for them and the odd exclusive access to conferences and expos. Yet I'd be hard pressed to find a single genuine piece of journalism investigating any of this. Sourcing 'quotes' from 'anonymous' 'unconfirmed' 'leakers' doesn't fucking count either. Where's your journalists now?
These are just a few points that have sprung to mind during this whole #GamerGate affair. Expecting 'game journalists' to maintain a baseline code of ethics or practice is ridiculous. Yes they're all mates, yes it seems ridiculously easy to segue from writing about games to making, consulting on or writing games and back again. Yes, they may have a press pass but in reality it should take a lot more to fool you into believing you are accessing content that is in any way different to losers like us writing here or worse, it's agenda driven content. Content to get more clicks. Content to squeeze more 'exclusive' content from game makers. Content to earn enough to pay the 'journalists' employed. I can understand the anger from many gamers but at the same time we can't all be that naive right? As for what we can do to change the situation, we'll see if #GamerGate starts the ball rolling to inject some accountability within, so called, games journalism. And if they're smart about it, 'journalists' could use the opportunity to professionalise the field they work in and distinguish themselves from hobbyists who make content on the Internet.
GROUCHCLAIMER. Yes there are some exceptions and there are some great writers but from the grubbiest of websites (Escapist) to the heady heights of EDGE it all smacks of an exploitative and 'grey area' industry far too often.