An open letter to Games Journalism
I am 32 years old. I am married. My child will turn one year old in a month. I also play a lot of video games. I started as a small child, saving up pennies for an NES. Since then, I've owned most consoles, several handhelds, built my own pc, you name it.
A few days ago, nearly a dozen gaming websites have decided to label me a misogynist because I like to play video games.
Now, the last two weeks could be described as an online war. We all know how it started, and we all know where we stand. Unfortunately, the gaming press seems to have drawn a line in the sand and said "If you aren't with us, you're against us." They keep trying to frame this conflict as being one about hating women, or Zoe Quinn specifically. Anyone that tries to start a debate about journalism ethics (or lack thereof) in the gaming press will not get acknowledged. Despite the last two weeks of gamers pointing out the corruption in games journalism, the few sites that weighed in did so with articles saying the whole conflict is about misogynists hating a woman for making a game. This is a deliberate distortion of the truth, intended to misinform people that have not become aware of the whole debacle.
Now, I'm with you when you say harassment should stop. Threats of rape and murder, doxxing, account hacking, all that jazz? It's pretty shitty stuff, and people that do it should have no place in the discussion. The overwhelming majority of gamers haven't done this though, and what I've seen lately is that when someone tries to move the discussion away from Zoe, and focus more on games journalists and loose ethics, you guys just bring it right back to her. You are using her as a shield against criticism. Someone points out your conflicts of interest, you activate your "Zoe got harassed" trap card and all debate stops in its tracks. You lump in people trying to have a serious debate about how to improve the industry with the people making threats. How can anything positive come from this? Not only does the discussion we all NEED to have get delayed, but you only piss off the innocent people you are marginalizing and labeling. You also fuel speculation that you're trying to cover up bad behavior.
Perhaps you just think you can hold out, and this will all blow over eventually. You just need to weather the storm, right? Well, that's just not happening.
When the Zoe Quinn story came out, to many it was just the straw that broke the camel's back. There really isn't much more to say about her, she's no longer relevant to the larger story. Gamers have just had enough of the press being such cozy bedfellows (figuratively, and I guess literally) with the people they are supposed to objectively report on and critique. Naturally, gamers wanted to talk about what had happened, but websites all over decided to shut down all discourse. Websites that had no problem printing stories about Max Temkin's rape accusations now wanted to prevent anyone from discussing potential problems with Zoe Quinn's behavior. You all tried to kill the story by denying it air. You tried to censor everyone. Thousands of posts deleted on Reddit, by a moderator that was openly talking to Quinn on Twitter, and with Patrick Klepek, another close friend of Quinn. Rock/Paper/Shotgun threatened to ban anyone that tried to talk about it. Most other websites followed, you claimed Quinn was not relevant, her actions not newsworthy, and that no conflict of interest takes place in the industry, shut up and go play your damn video games you nerds. It's like you guys never heard of the Streisand Effect.
After about a week and a half, I think you all realized your mistake. Instead of several small fires spread out among all gaming sites, everyone went to the only site where discussion was allowed, 4chan, resulting in a huge bonfire. Sites and communities that normally hate each other started working together. I'm not sure what year you guys think you live in, but it's actually 2014. You cannot control information anymore. It's harder than ever to censor anything. In trying to do so, you let 4chan control the dialogue about what had happened for over a week. You also refused to acknowledge the work of The Fine Young Capitalists and deny it any press coverage on your sites, all because of a tangential connection to Quinn. Reporting about TFYC would lead people down the trail of the larger story, and you couldn't have that. In doing so, you tried to suffocate a group of people that were trying to do something legitimately good for women in games.
I believe this is also why almost a dozen gaming websites published nearly identical panic-button pieces, just hours apart, about the 'death of the gamer' and how we're all misogynist assholes whom hate women and just want to play games in our parent's basement in peace. They mock us for playing games, call us nerds, and insist that we're all upset because of women in the industry. All to redirect attention away from the ethics discussion and towards misogyny, at the expense of insulting anyone that calls themselves gamer. You guys literally tried to tie the word 'gamer' to 'sexist.'
This is blatant contempt for your own fucking audience. The people you are supposed to be writing for, your actual demographic, mind you. The people you cover games for, you now actively denigrate. You do this while still refusing to enter the debate about corruption in games journalism. You keep trying to spin the conversation back to Zoe Quinn being harassed. How long do you think that's going to work? Even outsiders like Adam Baldwin are taking notice of your bullshit.
Gamers are intent on removing corrupt journalists right now. We don't care about Zoe anymore. We care about Nathan Grayson being unable to be professional. He writes 'news' stories about people he's such close friends with that they hug when they meet. We care about Patricia Hernandez writing 'news' articles promoting Anna Anthropy and Christine Love and their works, because it turns out they were her room mate and partner, respectively. (Totilo still hasn't commented on this, he incorrectly thinks we'll forget about this and it will go away) We care about journalists making donations to indie developers' patreons. We care about journalists who share rooms with developers on trips, or go out for drinks and get drunk together, or even crash at each other's homes.
These are all blatant conflicts of interest, and they are all being ignored by the people that insist they are journalists, and not just bloggers.
The problem is, if you want to call yourself a journalist, you MUST adhere to some standards. Reuters -minimum- standard for journalists states you cannot become close friends with your subject. Acquaintances, yes, friends, no. Whether you like it or not, being someone's friend will leave you unable to objectively report on them, you will be biased.
A few sites made a small step in the right direction by banning their contributors from donating to a person's Patreon. Some people have expressed bewilderment at this move, saying donating to a developer can't possibly leave one open to bias. This screams 'willful ignorance' to me. If your friendship with someone is close enough that you have decided to financially support this person on a monthly basis, then congratulations, you're too close to the subject. It is NOT the same a buying a game from that person. You aren't getting a product by donating to their patreon. You are just supporting the person.
You want to be friends with developers and hype their games for them? That's fine. Join their marketing team, or be a freelance marketer for indies. Become an advertiser. Get a job in their PR department. You just can't be a journalist anymore. Journalists have to make sacrifices, they cannot get close to their subject. It sucks, but hey, that's why journalists require integrity.
A journalist has several responsibilities. They have a DUTY, to protect and objectively inform their readers, in this case, the consumer. They do NOT have a duty to protect their subject, in this case, game developers and publishers. A game journalist is supposed to look out for the best interests of the consumer. That's all you need to do. You do not work for the game publishers or developers, you work for your audience, the game-buying public. You should not have to worry about pissing off a publisher or developer, they are not your boss. WE are your boss, and we have been unhappy with your performance for some years.
It's easy to point out the obvious lapses in ethics, for example Jeff Gerstmann got fired for giving a review for a game. That one was almost impossible to ignore, and websites ensured us all that marketing departments had no contact with editorial staff, so that shit wouldn't happen again. The more damaging kind of corruption is the stuff that's much harder to spot. Doritogate springs to mind, a woman reviewing Square-Enix games, and giving them coverage, while not disclosing she used to work for Square-Enix. A man wrote an article about this, she threatened to sue for libel. Jobs were lost, articles censored, and gamers were once again left with a bad taste in their mouth in regards to journalists.
The recent articles written about how 'gamers' are going extinct contained a particular kind of malice that reminded me of another event from 2012, and that was the critical reception of Mass Effect 3. If you look up ME3 on Metacritic, you will see a vast chasm between the critical score, and the user review scores. I'm sure you all remember what it was all about, but let's recap:
The Mass Effect series was touted as one that would let you make choices that would -matter.- Your choices would carry over and effect the next game, and eventually the ending of the trilogy. When the game came out, you guys gave the game high scores across the board, a fucking masterpiece, you assured us. People bought it and played it, and what did they find? Nearly every choice you made in the previous two games either got invalidated, or in some cases changed for you, and the rest ended up not making any sort of difference to the story. The ending, which Bioware specifically stated would NOT just be a case of picking ending A, B or C, turned out to be EXACTLY THAT.
Did you save the council or let them die? Didn't change a thing. Who did you choose to be the human on the council? Didn't change a thing, and they even swapped your choice of Anderson for you in ME3, all to get everyone on the same page. Kill the Racchni Queen? Didn't matter, still had Racchni in ME3. Whom did you save, Ashley or Kaiden? Well it didn't matter, they ended up having the exact same story through the series, they both doubt Shepard in ME2, and they both go through the exact same event in ME3. The only difference is that one character has a penis, and the other has a bigger penis. Did you save the Collector ship? Didn't make a difference. Saving Wrex ended up being the only thing that made a slight difference in ME3. The ending to the series was so bad that it retroactively ruined the previous games for myself and many others.
So we complained. Bioware dropped a bomb on us, and it didn't even come close to meeting some very specific promises they had made, and you guys lauded it as a masterpiece. We wanted them to fix it, we wanted them to try harder, because we believed in the vision. We were the consumer, they were the producer. We were the customer. We decided what was good and what was bad.
The gaming press, that's supposed to represent OUR interests? Well, you called us entitled. You called us many names, actually. You called us crybabies and misrepresented our argument as 'wanting a happy ending' when in fact we wanted an ending that wasn't spewing shit from every orifice and actually reflected choices we had made through the series. But no, you guys defended the subject you're supposed to critique and called the consumers, your readers, idiots.
Only in video games can the consumer say a product is bad, only to be reprimanded by the journalists in that industry, saying the consumer is at fault for not liking the product. The gap between the critic reviews and the user reviews showed us all that your loyalties lie on the wrong side. It's hard to believe you guys had our best interests in mind when handing out those 9's and 10's. You guys are not journalists. You are marketers in sheep's clothing, and you made it so obvious.
These last two weeks? They haven't been the death-throes of the gamer. The articles calling us all fat neckbeards were written by the ones that are actually dying. This is what it looks like when games journalists are dying. You are no longer relevant, you are no longer needed. You are a relic from a bygone era where we needed you to write about games in a magazine because the internet wasn't there yet. I understand that it's hard for you to deal with, your job normally consists of just regurgitating a press release from a publisher onto your site, and maybe a review here and there. Every site has the same press releases though, so I get it, you have to make up bullshit to fill the gaps, invent new content or controversy where it doesn't exist. You need to bait clicks.
However, developers and publishers have their own official youtube accounts, they can announce and show games whenever they want, without you. Youtubers and Twitch streamers can show people what a game is actually like. They do not need your reviews. You just aren't needed anymore, and gamers are sick of pretend-journalists that are exchanging backrubs with their developer friends. We don't need you editorializing in every news story, putting your own personal agenda/politics/spin on some innocuous comment made by David Jaffe. Your world is going away, and there is nothing you can do about it. We will boycott your sites, we will inform your advertisers that you insult your own demographic. We will go where we are respected, and we will support the journalists that do their job, looking out for the consumer's interests.
So you can suffer your slow death through obscurity. The rest of us that just enjoy playing games don't need to put up with your bullshit about how we're sexist assholes that throw tantrums because a woman is in our sandbox. I don't need to visit sites that call me a pedophile for liking the art style in Dragon's Crown. I don't need to go to sites that talk down to me for being a straight white male. I don't need to go to sites that say they love video games, but anyone that calls themselves a gamer is a fat neckbeard that's scared of women.
Ten years ago, you guys fought tooth and nail against Jack Thompson and his allegations that violent video games led to violent people. You fought against him with evidence, studies, crime statistic and the like. You even got him disbarred for his bullshit. You loved video games and you fought for them, and you won. These days, Anita Sarkeesian does the exact same shit, saying sexism in games will make sexist people. She does so with cherry picked 'evidence' and disallows counterclaims by disabling comments. Do you stand up to point out her mistakes? No, you swallow them wholesale, because you're too damned cowardly to criticize a woman, even when they're blatantly lying about your hobby and the people that enjoy it. You co-opt her narrative, and call gamers sexists, misogynists, and certain games and art styles become 'problematic.' You then claim there are no good counterarguments against Anita, and ignore anyone that points them out.
Somewhere along the line, you lost your passion for games. You replaced it with contempt for people whom still held that passion. You've filled that void by attacking people who just like to play video games without having them corrupted by someone's politics or social agenda.
You guys drew the line, and I think you'll be surprised how few people are going to be left standing on your side. We tried to tell you that you weren't meeting our standards, and you told us we were worse than ISIS. We've asked time and time again to have this discussion about fixing your broken system, and you refuse to engage.
When your bosses told you they weren't satisfied with your work, you ignored them, then you censored them, then you mocked them. Don't act bewildered when you get your pink slip.