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Gamer Gatekeepers: Video Game Journalism and You


So, I see this whole Gamergate thing is still happening, against all odds. In a way it’s kind of amazing to see people this dedicated to a cause. Hope for the future, you know? A future, that is, where a group of people with that much time on their hands can overcome their own myopia and actually turn all of this energy and attention towards a cause worthy of it and change society for the better just once instead of settling for threatening women with rape and murder online in the name of journalistic ethics. Hey, a guy can dream.

But instead here we are some two months after some dude constructed a blog to out his girlfriend for cheating on him with video game journalists, who then allegedly went on to publicize her free indie game, thus setting the entire internet on fire with a shitstorm of hacking, doxing, death threats, and endless sarcastic meme wars. All of this over video games? Not even actual video games, but the people who are paid to report on them and any female indie game devs they happen to bang? What is this crap? Is there no way to police corrupt gaming journalism that isn’t a much more deplorable crime in and of itself?

Yeah, I know it’s a few out of many perpetuating the cyberterrorism, but the fact that this level of intensity has been reached at all by anyone speaks volumes about how screwed up peoples’ priorities are. And then there’s the observation that the targets of the nastiest of these attacks are not the male gaming journalists whose ethics are in question, but the female devs who are making actual video games.

brianna death threat

“Nothing worthwhile with your life”…the irony. Also, does Jezebel publish corpse photos?

Usually when you hear about death threats in journalism, it’s people exposing corrupt governments and oppressive regimes who actually harm people and stuff who receive them. You know, people doing worthwhile endeavors and being oppressed by deplorable monsters. Video games? Sorry, doesn’t rate on the same scale. And I say that as someone who has almost certainly been gaming longer than you. I bought Double Dragon on the NES. Don’t tell me shit about hype and disappointment.

Call me a hipster, but I’ve never put much stock in journalism and professional opinions to begin with and I’ve never understood why other gamers think of them as gatekeepers of the industry. They do not represent some boundary you must pass before you’re allowed to play video games. They’re just people doing their jobs who sometimes use that job to declare that gamers are dead in childish retaliation to their values being called into question. As if we need their permission to exist. Move along, nothing to see here.

Let’s compare gaming to some other forms of media. We’ve laughed at the stereotype of middle-aged housewives who base their entire existence on the words of talk show hosts and fawn all over them like they’re the second coming every time they are paid millions to give “free” stuff away to their guests and audience, but is spending all day on IGN, Kotaku, and Metacritic or streaming E3 presentation while taking every single thing you see, read, and hear there at face value any different? And why do you need those losers anyway when you have Gamemoir?

There’s probably more money flowing towards the game industry right now than any other branch of entertainment and journalism represents the old adage of “those who can’t do, teach”. People from within the scene who lack the technical and creative skills and especially people from without who want to latch on to the biggest thing in popular culture find it simple to report on the goings on within the industry and get a piece of that pie in lieu of actually making games. It’s the same in every industry and it means that every article on every site should be approached with due caution, particularly as gamer culture becomes increasingly prone to trend-chasing.

gaming journalism comic

I miss you, 1990’s.

But let’s put signs of the times aside for now. Game companies are making it their business to release canned “gameplay” videos to make their games look better than they are, journalists are endlessly reporting that every new thing from every major developer is the most amazing thing ever (although sexist and racist), and gamers have become more and more disillusioned as a result. It’s almost like these professionals who rely on webpage hits, advertisements, relationships in the industry, and hype to put money in their pockets have some sort of vested interest. Weird.

By the time I’d played a few really cool games that got massacred in reviews or were ignored completely in favor of another typical by-the-numbers shooter or whatever and started noticing that negative reviews were inevitably crammed with meaningless complaints about being “repetitive” and other terms that can easily be applied across the entire medium I was pretty sure that gaming journalism was not going to be the focus of my relationship with my hobby.

Due to its relative youth, it took a few decades longer than windbag political pundits, desperately self-indulgent music reporters, and film critics who are forced to watch and form opinions on movies they shouldn’t be allowed anywhere near before video game journalism became as predictably putrid and meaningless as that which came before. But here we are, and the difference is that music and film fans have been around long enough to laugh about Rolling Stone’s preposterously inept reviews of classic Rush and Led Zeppelin albums and the legendary Roger Ebert’s bass-ackwards take on A Clockwork Orange and use them as cautionary tales about the unnecessariness of professional opinions in relation to grassroots fandoms. But gamers are still taking their branch of journalism seriously for some reason.

And like all that which came before, it’s not going anywhere. No amount of violent threats against women, children, and families is going to make video game reporting the way you want it to be, which is to say telling every single individual exactly what they want to hear and having it always be 100% objectively and subjectively true to every single person who reads it. At the end of the day, it’s people doing their jobs and trying to crank something out for you to read, usually in exchange for some form of monetary compensation. And if you don’t want to read it, that’s not a difficult objective to accomplish.

gamers gaming

These three are doing it right now, displaying just one of many alternate activities for spending free time.

Is the idea here is that gaming can’t exist without somebody telling you what to play? That’s bullshit and you know it. People didn’t start making and playing video games because some stranger on the internet told them to any more than people started making and enjoying music and films because Rolling Stone magazine and Roger Ebert said it was cool. They did it because they love it and that does not have to change. Has anyone considered maybe seeking out the games that look awesome to them instead of relying on other peoples’ opinions to make their purchasing decisions and then being angry when it’s not for them?

I haven’t deliberately listened to the radio in decades because almost all new music that gets played is garbage and corporate entities decide what gets airtime based on what’s already being played with zero regard for artistic merit or quality. There’s not much room for creativity or risk-taking when that much money is being thrown around. And look at the list of movies at your local cinema. You know how they almost all look like crap and you can find a million better independent films that never saw the inside of a theater on Netflix, yet shitty big-budget comedies and bland “thrillers” are being shoved in your face all the time? It was only a matter of time before we got to this point, fellow gamers.

bsg all has happened beforeHow to fight back? Besides making gamers look like complete shitbags by acting like an idiot on Twitter and any given message board, I mean. Well, you know how we guys like to tell women that if they want games to be more like they want them to be they should start making their own games and supporting the things they love instead of just trying to tear down everyone else’s shit? Yeah. That. It is not gender-specific advice. If you think gaming journalism is crap, how’s about you stop telling other people what to do and SHOW them?

People’ve been raging at “social justice warriors” for using online intimidation tactics to bully people into complying with their ideal view of the world without once getting off their asses to help make the changes themselves in the places it matters. Yet here are gamergaters putting that shoe on the other foot as clumsily as possible. Irony is apparently not a thing anymore.

But if all of these people blowing up the internet with allegations of journalistic corruption (boo!) and wanton sex orgies (yay!) got together and created an alternative for like-minded individuals, that would be a start. If nothing else, it would prove they aren’t just a bunch of twelve year old trolls chasing girls on the digital playground to pull their pigtails and occasionally threaten to rape and kill them.

I’ve said it before and again: there’s room for everybody. I’m always going to be more likely to pick a cheapy game based on a strong premise and list of features one can usually get right off of the box or digital download menu rather than pre-ordering some supposed blockbuster based entirely on the generalized observations of some person I don’t know from a hole in the wall that were posted online just to fill space and generate bandwagon hype. But that’s me. If you’re happy chasing the flock, I wouldn’t tell you to stop; and if you are making actual games, you win the internet.

If your hobby is no longer enjoyable for you, it’s probably you who needs to change; either find a new approach to it that pleases you or find something else entirely. Nobody else is going to shoulder the responsibility of your personal happiness, whether you’re a pissed-off feminist or a gamergater. We’ve all got our own problems to deal with. It’s a big world and if you hate everything about it, the odds of it changing itself to better suit your mood like Rob Thomas is pretty goddamn slim. You ain’t that smooth.gamergate

Journalists don’t necessarily know what you want to read or what you are thinking. It’s their job to put something up there based on their own ideas and observations that can hopefully give readers some insight or something to discuss, but they aren’t the gatekeepers to the industry in any way shape or form unless you make them so in your own mind. If you want into the gaming community, you don’t need their permission or their input. We make the scene. How and what we game is up to us, the gamers.

And no amount of articles that are declaring the death of gamers will make it happen. Our money is the lifeblood of the industry, we provide the pageviews journalists rely on; we have the power. If you think journalism is corrupt and needs to change or die, then the fastest way to do that is ignore the corrupt and create and foster whatever your version of good journalism is.

If some of us could maybe take a step back every now and then and take a longer view of the situation instead of personally investing ourselves in issues that require no personal investment instead of hurling hate in whatever direction your favorite online message board tells you to at the drop of a hat, I feel like our community would improve dramatically overnight. Video games are meant to be played and enjoyed, not used as an excuse for endless gender warfare and conspiracy theories. We are gamers. Can’t we better define and represent ourselves by gaming instead of throwing extended public online hissy fits? How about it?

About Nick Verboon

I am a guy on the internet who writes stuff sometimes. Try and keep up. I used to write reviews Amazon and other sites under the moniker trashcanman before semi-retiring from my unpaid career for a while. But now I'm back in action writing columns for Unreality and Gamemoir. Enjoy. I

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