A Rant (okay fine, a MANIFESTO) Concerning Video Game Journalism

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I have no real personal stake involved with the act of writing about video games – My family will not go hungry if no one reads my thoughts on Mega Man 6 – I do this purely for my own edification. I have nothing to lose or gain and I have no horse in this race. With that basic qualifier out of the way, lend me you ear:

We are all biased in one regard or another, it’s an immutable fact of the human condition, but the honest amongst us own up to our biases – in fact, I wear my goddamned heart of my sleeve and shout my bias from a mountaintop. I do not kowtow and I feel no need to ever try and hide the fact of who I am or what I feel. The reason I’m able to do this is precisely due to the above mentioned fact; I’m not beholden to anyone to supplant my livelihood. I have a regular full-time job that has nothing to do with this website – this is purely, 100% hobby for me and I receive no compensation or reward for writing a single word upon this filthy little corner of the web you’re currently visiting. Enough stroking my own ego though, let’s jump beyond my back-patting, boring opening salvo and get into what this post is REALLY about – the overwhelming bias in contemporary game’s journalism.

Now, personal ‘fan-boy’ bias wherein you personally prefer one system or company over another is completely natural and should not be something people are ashamed to admit to in mixed company. However, if the very function of your job is to report fairly upon an industry – not a single company or product, then wilful deceit at the service of special interests is another matter entirely and one which should not be abided by anyone, whether their views align with those who deceive or not.

To put it in familiar terms; this is the gaming world’s journalistic equivalent of Fox News – sure, crazy right-wing republicans like it because it repetitiously forwards simple refrains which echo their own personal ideologies, yet they “like” it only out of the knee-jerk human desire for confirmation bias. It’s a soft handcuff chaining them to a form of cognitive dissonance which allows them to have a driving social purpose and a perceived position of some superiority in a world far out of their control. (Holy christ, I swear my plan was to make this short and simple and now I feel like I’m writing a fucking thesis).

ANYWAY –

This feeling of being ‘in the right’ justifies their abhorrent behavior in the social sphere. The analogy is germane to the gaming industry in that, once the consumer invests X amount of dollars into a console they want to feel as though they made the “correct” investment and that their decisions are justified by some form of demonstrable ‘superiority’ over any other brand or product they could have chosen to support.

It is all part of a larger narrative where the true plot is played out inside ledger books in gilded towers far from any kids sitting in their homes with a controller in their hands. Video games have blossomed into a multi-billion dollar industry and as such, much like any other industry which becomes a world-wide economic force, it has been infested with people and companies hungry to secure their own financial success with nothing but cynical opportunism as their endgame. In short, they’ve taken another successful industry into the dark wood of relentless corporate capitalism where they begin existing solely to facilitate the growth of special interest groups controlling a crafted narrative which is then espoused to the consumers of said business product in order to maintain a brand identity at all cost. This in turn inevitably brings about the ruination of the ethical portions of the industry by rewarding those who are most willing to follow and support the subverted narrative.

Which brings me to the point of all this droning verbosity:

Within the past week it seems as though the veneer has slipped due to a certain level of frenzy surrounding the new console launches and a certain company has finally succumbed to the barrage of months of bad news which has now culminated in proof positive, real-world examples of those months of disastrous and vocally denied “rumors”. Yes, all coyness aside, Microsoft, and their Xbox One product has been troubled from the start and now every terrible, hushed rumor you’ve heard about the poor design, insincere company focus and outright dishonest product perception turns out to be (mostly) true.

Microsoft has really gone into damage control and basically declared martial law and called all hands on deck. Many people who previously seemed fair at best (in regards to their ethical commitment to their jobs), have started to reveal they are anything but. Lines have clearly started to appear in the sand and certain people with widely listened to voices in the industry press have begun to, for lack of a better phrase, spin for corporate interests (like a record, baby, right round). These people who have most publicly responded to this call have become unhinged, nasty, and volatile in their dealings with a public more and more aware of the now blatant problems with Microsoft’s new console.

Let me be fair and say this – for all the technical problems The Xbox One seems to be saddled with, this is the least of my concern. These things can be forgiven if a console has good games and other mitigating factors are in place to justify purchasing it. The problem lies in how journalists try to obfuscate these facts and misrepresent them to the public. The Xbox One could be a great console in a year’s time – I don’t care either way. I still play my SNES so obviously I have things I rank above raw performance power to justify a console’s worth. The onus of the negativity in regards to what the Xbox One is or isn’t is directly related to how this information is delivered to us all by gaming journalists – not on whether it can hit 60fps or not.

These “journalists” who have been vocally indignant at anyone who dare question Microsoft’s intentions or PR babble throughout this shitstorm have shown their true nature as nothing more than an extension of these PR mouthpieces for corporate conglomerates. Their interests clearly lie within themselves and they should not in any way shape or form be regarded as journalists, or be given the benefit of the doubt when it comes to any form of ethics or integrity in the field of reporting un-biased news. We should not allow ourselves to accept embargoed, late reviews which land after the retail release of a game, half-truth bullshots and controlled environment reviews.

This past weekend proved that passive aggressive, attention-whoring tweets are not only lame for the obvious reasons, but doubly lame because what these allusions really boil down to is the authors being cowards who are afraid to speak their minds in fear of angering any corporate interests, while still managing to infer that one company is doing something wrong and deceitful to change the focus away from the true problems at hand. They walk this feigned line of insult and adoration between two companies in order to continue to parasitically suck at the teet of free games/systems/swag. They’d rather be pampered than to come right out and take one of these companies to task for underhanded or disingenuous practices.

They’ve displayed such obvious and blatant obfuscation of facts and stand as nothing more than cynical and worthless advertisements for corporate interests. They’ve shamelessly perpetuated what amounts to fraud upon the audience they are supposed to represent the best interests of – this is unforgivable and wholly unethical in every logical regard. They unwittingly cast off the auspice of “journalist” when they buy into the cult-of personality and place the focus on promoting themselves (or the public persona they’ve crafted of themselves) over reporting news, facts or covering events. The downtrodden finally grow up and find an audience who will treat them like rock stars and these silly twats play out their neurotic savior-complexes with all the subtlety and decorum inherent in the act of killing an ant with a sledgehammer. They grow into comfortable, passive outlets for crafted information to be channeled through.

My blacklist of the major gaming sites I choose to boycott after these last few weeks stands as follows:

  • Polygon
  • Kotaku
  • IGN
  • Rev3 Games
  • Gamespot
  • Game Trailers

I do not trust, enjoy or give these sites a single modicum of respect – I hold them in complete contempt and I charge them with the ruination of decent games journalism in every regard. I won’t go into specifics about individuals or the entities they currently are employed by, but suffice it to say – just read everything I wrote preceding this list and apply it liberally and with a wide brush to the names written.

Corporations do not care about you – Microsoft or any other. Do not play into their game of becoming their somnambulistic defense force at the sake of your own logic and gut-feelings. You do not need to justify to anyone why you feel you should spend $500 of your own disposable income on a video game system – if you want to enjoy it you will. You create your own meaning and can find peace within yourself through honesty and empathy for others. Enjoy what you enjoy and leave the shameless whoring to the professionals so it is easy to spot who you should ignore.

Now – feel free to attack me in the comments below.

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3 responses »

  1. When I look at the gaming community, I don’t find it too hard to understand why game journalism is such a mess. It’s two sides of the same coin. The love affair with Microsoft among game journalists is not that much worse than the blind rage against Microsoft among the gaming community.
    For the record, I still prefer the PS4 to the Xbox One, but I do have to give Microsoft a little credit. After the backlash, they actually listened to what we as gamers had to say, and reversed many of the unpopular policies. They did exactly what we asked of them, and how did we, the gaming community respond? Like total douche bags. A lot of people continued to hate Microsoft for even daring to propose such policies in the first place, while others seemed to oppose the new changes just for the sake of being assholes about it. I even saw a petition demanding that Microsoft reinstate all the DRM in the Xbox One that people were so outraged over.
    The take away from all this? Microsoft is damned if they do and damned if they don’t. We find reason to hate them either way. So everybody who’s watching the Xbox One saga is going to learn the wrong lesson, which is that they may as well stick with unpopular policies and just endure the backlash because gamers are going to bitch about it either way. So if you’re Microsoft, what’s the next step?
    When the gaming community reacts in such an irrationally negative way to such a major concession, what’s left for them to do? Try to get some favorable coverage in the press of course, which for better or for worse, can be bought. I agree with much of what this article is saying, but while it’s easy to find flaw with game journalism, I think it’s also important to take a look at how we got here.

    • Let’s put that in context though – Microsoft didn’t do the 180 because they ‘listened to what gamer’s wanted’ – they did it because the pre-order numbers were absolutely abysmal. For once gamer’s actually voted with their wallets and Microsoft were forced to change policies. Microsoft is a publicly traded company, lest we forget.

      That’s what it always comes down to – sales. They or any other company are not learning any lessons and this will not affect their future policies in any way. The one lesson that whole ordeal can teach – is that we consumers do have the power to make corporations change policy if we refuse to support those companies.

      • It’s the same thing though. The pre-order numbers were bad BECAUSE gamers didn’t like what they were being offered. The idea of the 180 was to improve sales numbers by making it more appealing to gamers. This is exactly the kind of thing that I’m talking about. We got what we wanted, yet still everybody tries to spin it as some kind of negative because Microsoft only did it to make money. Duh, that’s what every company is trying to do, it doesn’t make Microsoft the bad guy. I don’t know why we can’t just be satisfied with getting our way, rather than continuing to try and punish Microsoft.

        Consumers have the power, but we ought to try to use it responsibly, lest we fritter it away. If we just blindly refuse to support Microsoft regardless of the policies they actually end up going with, we don’t create any incentive at all for them to go with the more favorable policies. Other companies are watching this too, so it’s not just Microsoft. EA, Sony, all the others are going to see what happens. I’m not saying everybody has to run out and buy an Xbox One, but just for one moment, can we recognize and appreciate a win, and maybe give Microsoft and the Xbox One another chance, at least look at it with an open mind?

        Any lesson that we try to teach these companies is muted if we simply react negatively to everything, or if one bad idea means that we hold a grudge against them forever regardless of attempts to make amends. To be effective, not only should we refuse to support companies that make bad decisions, we need to support companies that try to make it right.

        This is lost on a lot of people, but Microsoft’s 180 is a pretty rare thing to do. How many other companies of that size have made such a big change in response to consumer protest? Other big companies like EA, Apple, Sony, Google, etc. have never done anything like that. And like I said, they’re never going to because they’re seeing now that it’s not going to get bitter gamers back on their side. And that’s a bad thing, because companies changing bad policies in response to disgruntled consumers is exactly what we should want to see a lot more of.

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