Sour Gripes: E3, the AAAs, and the Journos

"It's like if all the movie reviews in the local newspaper were written by film studies professors who only like Atom Egoyan and stuff like that but were paid to pretend to be excited for the new Transformers movie." --TheHuss

The "indie" press (for lack of a better term: Kotaku, Polygon, Gamasutra, and a slew of lesser outfits) have been unhappy with the E3. Gamergate hasn't been quite the focus, but it's been an undercurrent. Christian Nutt's focus on Gamergate in the E3 coverage ( may seem perplexing. Why badger the ESA head now, ten months after Gamergate began, about why the ESA won't speak about GG? Especially when he clearly is Not Going to Say Anything?

There has been an undercurrent of rage from the non-mainstream gaming press toward the AAAs and the AAA press over the AAA refusal to rail against Gamergate and demonize its members. The adoption of ethics policies by IGN also smacked of appeasement to them. Over the months of coverage, there's been repeated sniping from all the journalists and many indie devs that the AAAs are just standing back and letting Gamergate happen, they're enabling the harassment, etc. (I'll just use "journos" to refer to that particular unhappy segment of the "indie" gaming press so I can stop typing "indie" in quotes.")

This rage is mostly impotent frustration. The journos wanted to use Gamergate as a lever for greater influence over the AAAs and to be included at the table for industry discussions. And given that the journos and their allies were increasingly out of sync with the majority of gamers, AAA support was their best bet for pushing their vision of what gaming should be, and, more baldly, for gaining influence. So if the AAAs were to say, "Gamergate is terrible, what can we do?", the journos could pipe up and say, "Glad you asked! Listen to us! Change your games like we say! Become art!" But the AAAs never asked. Despite the attempts of the journos to spin every AAA mention of harassment as a specific condemnation of Gamergate, the journos have continued to complain that the AAAs don't care about Gamergate.

The thing is, the journos are pretty much right. The AAAs *are* supporting Gamergate, at least tacitly. They don't want the journos to gain any more influence (or to stop losing influence), and they loathe this pseudo-academic "critique" stuff just as much as your average gamer. The thought of having to kiss the ass of some PhD in order to gain an Indie or Social Justice imprimatur is insulting to them. They've got money to make. So by remaining silent on Gamergate and having IGN do the pageantry of adopting an ethics policy (no skin off their nose), the AAAs signalled that they were not in alignment with the journos. And they aren't. They are happy to see Gamergate take these people on--and that enrages the journos all the more. This wasn't a planned strategy on behalf of the AAAs, but it was an easy call to make once Gamergate was in play.

It's also important to understand the difference between amateur and professional corruption. If you talk to service workers at restaurants, they'll generally tell you that the worst treatment usually comes from small independent restaurants. Corporate chains and franchises tend to establish standards in order to ameliorate the possibility of lawsuits and to keep the corporate name's reputation intact. While treatment may not be great, there's an HR department ready to crack down if any one person gets out of hand. In a small restaurant, however, some crazy chef can be as much of a jerk as he wants, and no one can stop him as long as the place is successful. I can tell you horror stories. Capitalism is venal and heartless but it does tend to exert a smoothing effect with scale; excesses both positive and negative get ironed out and professionalized in the pursuit of making money efficiently. Albert O. Hirschman's The Passions and the Interests: Political Arguments for Capitalism Before Its Triumph is a fantastic little book about the early theorizing of capitalism and how its proponents argued that financial interest was a much more predictable and much less harmful motive than most other motives that people ever acted on. Hirschman was pretty left and very smart:

And it is fortunate for men to be in a situation in which, though their passions may prompt them to be wicked, they have nevertheless an interest in not being so.

Which is to say, corporate corruption is *professional*. The journos and their favored devs made such easy targets for Gamergate because their corruption was absurdly inept. The AAAs and mouthpieces like IGN and GameInformer and PCGamer run a professional outfit: sure, it's all a big PR con job, but they aren't going to have journalists reviewing games by people they're publicly friends with (or if called out on it, they'll apologize, add disclosures, blah blah), and they eventually realize to cut out the Doritos nonsense, even if a bit too late. Moreover, they aren't going to be dumb enough to run a bunch of articles on the death of gamers. (That would be the "passions" trumping the "interests.") As far as incompetent corruption goes, the journos were the low-hanging fruit. Investigation into AAA corruption would take boots on the ground that Gamergate doesn't have. The journos made it easy. Indie scenes have always celebrated themselves, but they usually don't make themselves targets to quite this extent.

So Gamergate has been pretty convenient for the AAAs. Gamergate is doing the dirty work of distracting, annoying, and quieting a chronic irritation for the AAAs, and the AAAs just have to sit back and keep quiet. This drives the journos crazy, but there's not much they can do about it, short of politely griping in articles like Nutt's (or impolitely griping on Twitter). Meanwhile, the AAAs are cutting off Kotaku and Polygon even as gamers stop paying attention to them. The journos' strategy has backfired. There must have been some collective delusion that they thought their influence could actually pull some weight with the AAAs, even with Gamergate as a potential lever. As I've said before, I don't know what they were thinking. They ragequit their audience.

"We really did wind up on an elitist 'strategy' for whatever strategy existed, which was none. What makes it elitist? Well, we never actually bothered to try and convince the gaming public along the way. The end result was this split we can now see: Most gamers hated all this shit."
--LoadingReadyRun poster

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