Latest posts by Guest Contributor (see all)
- The Difference Between Gamification and Serious Games - November 26, 2015
- The Rise of Korean Online Games - May 14, 2015
- Ethics In Games Journalism Sounds Ridiculous – It Isn’t - February 1, 2015
The following is an opinion piece by guest writer Jimmy Adeco. It does not necessarily reflect the views of GamesNosh and its staff.
When the GamerGate movement began defining its focus as being about “ethics in games journalism” they inevitably invited the mockery and dismissiveness such a highfalutin turn of phrase deserved. Stephen Colbert merely had to utter the words out loud to elicit a laugh from his studio audience, before quickly comparing games journalism to TMZ’s gossip-level nonsense.
Using the term ‘ethics’ outside of academia is a pretty sure sign of pretension at the best of times, invoking as it does heavy questions about morality and the principles by which people should live. Describing whether some scruffy dude on the west coast gives the latest Assassin’s Creed game a 7 or a 7.5 as ‘journalism’ borders on the surreal. In short, it’s a term that feels too self-regarding and pompous to be used for mere games; to be something people should care about.
As ridiculous as it sounds however, it is accurate, and what it describes is important; and there are two very big reasons why.
It’s about consumer advocacy
There are billions of dollars being pumped into gaming. People are spending more on gaming than movies and music combined, making it one of the fastest growing industries of the past 10 years. There’s a heck of a lot at stake in the gaming industry on a purely financial level.
Despite this, the most overwhelming sentiment about games journalism is: Who cares? Who could possibly give a shit about those by-the-numbers review scores and editorials posted on some ad-ridden site?
Well, EA cares. Ubisoft cares. Activision cares. Every developer with a financial investment in their game cares.
They care about whether that scruffy dude wakes up feeling like their game is a 7 or an 8, because that translates into millions of dollars of profit or loss to them. They care about whether he’s invested in their marketing campaign and approaches their game with the right ‘mindset’. They care if he has a full understanding of the mechanics before he even gets the game. They care if he’s the kind of guy willing to downplay flaws. Because what looks like an inept, limp-dicked dork to us, is worth his weight in gold to these large corporations. They need him to translate their stuffy boardroom visions into something innocent and authentic enough for gamers to ingest.
It’s in the interests of many publishers to have games journalists who are easily-swayed (but convinced they’re not); to have journalists be at the beck and call of PR messengers (whilst thinking they’re actually ‘in the loop’); and to have them possess more than a little sense of superiority and separation from grass-roots gamers.
After all, just look at all that journalists have done for them already. Over the past 10 years gamers have endured a barrage of hostile anti-consumer practices invented by the industry like evermore complex torture devices for our wallets. From over-priced DLC to games that were broken upon release. From games that were virtually unplayable on certain consoles to products built around the concept of micro-transactions.
Yet during the industry’s great push for larger profits games journalists could hardly care to represent the interests of consumers. At no point was the industry taken to task for pushing the boundaries of consumer tolerance, even though they possessed the powerful tools of review scores and coverage. A good journalist would never have let an immensely buggy game like Assassin’s Creed: Unity achieve a 7 out of 10 score. A good journalist would have saved PS3 users many headaches by outlining Skyrim’s problems on the system. A good journalist would have been on the ball about Halo: The Master Chief Collection’s problems before it sold like hotcakes.
Instead, it was the gaming community themselves who had to fight for consumer rights. Galvanised by YouTubers, and brought together on open platforms like forums and twitter they pushed Microsoft away from their always-online dystopia. Likewise, it was a community outrage (a sometimes overly-aggressive one) that forced Bioware to address their lazy, written-on-a-napkin ending to the Mass Effect trilogy, while journalists mumbled out a half-baked ‘sense of entitlement’ narrative.
GamerGate was a long time coming, and as much as detractors focus on the self-proclaimed victims, it was never really about them. The attitudes and actions of their social clique were merely the catalyst for a discontent that had been brewing for years.
It’s about artistic development
The phrase ‘games are a young medium’, isn’t really accurate, but the sentiment of games evolving and diversifying is undeniable. Whilst movies deal with many of the same themes and stylistic tones they were addressing 20 years ago; and while books are still written and distributed within genres much as they always have been (there are exceptions to this of course); games are vibrant and rich with constantly different, new, innovative experiences.
In an artform that extends from Papers, Please to Street Fighter; by way of GTA, adult visual novels, Candy Crush and Portal; occasionally diverging into choose your own adventures, MMOs, and JRPGs; the only problem with the term ‘gamer’ is that it’s too loose-fitting.
Even more importantly, the potential for games as an artform only seems to have been mildly tapped. In the past few years alone we’ve seen good virtual reality become a reality, Kickstarter projects of every shape and size come to fruition, and the slow plod of mobile gaming developing into something more than ported flash games. This year alone will likely see the invention of whole new game mechanics, of original themes being invited into gaming, of more boundaries being pushed.
Such an awesome and exciting artform deserves insightful, intelligent, and responsible critics.
Roger Ebert was not the world’s most famous critic just because he was a good one; he earned his rep by being there during the period of New Hollywood, playing a contributing role and providing a potent counterpoint as greats like Scorcese, Kubrick, Ford Coppola, and Scott created their most iconic works. The early 20th Century’s constant flux of art movements was tempered and shaped by critics who were as smart and as opinionated as the artists themselves. Music writers played integral roles in the creation and development of that artform’s aesthetics, subcultures, and mythologies.
Where is our equivalent in games journalism?
There’s an irony here at best – hypocrisy at worst – that the same outlets decrying the current state of gender and minority representations in games are the same ones who for years never sincerely analysed and deconstructed games for falling into a pattern of being sausage fests with similar mechanics and scenarios. Yet the same journalists who gobbled up whatever was presented to them in ad-filled packaging, ignorant of the dubious politics and pandering themes are now claiming a moral high ground in which they recognise so many flaws.
Where were the opinionated critiques on triple A gaming’s lack of diversity back then? Where were the impassioned calls for more nuanced gameplay beyond violence back then? Where are the low scores that were given to games as a result of their tired themes and manipulative tropes? I’m sure there were some, possibly sidled conveniently between a regurgitated press release and a trailer. (And where, incidentally, is all the diversity, of both opinion and culture, within the games media itself? Is there a group more unnecessarily homogenous than games journalists?)
If there are problems with sexism, racism, and ‘toxicity’ within games, then a lot of the fault lies with the journalists, who did as little as possible to analyse, consider, and discuss games as properly as they deserved to be. Now we’re left with an arrogant scene of critics desperately trying to play catch-up and feign their opinions of games and gaming culture as something academic.
It’s about the power of words
If, in 2015, sites like Gamespot, IGN, and Eurogamer should decide to hand every flight simulator a 10 out of 10 rating, then you can bet that 2016 would be a ‘Year of the Flight Simulator’.
That kind of influence, over consumer decisions amounting to millions of dollars, and over the artistic growth of the most exciting medium of our time, is powerful. Too powerful to be held by a few people who seem to be having a lovely time maintaining the status quo.
We need fiercely intelligent critics willing to shred apart games – regardless of status – in the name of making them better. Ones who aren’t afraid of reactions from gamers and developers alike. We need articulate, principled voices to fight for our corner as consumers, just as much as they fight for the artistic rights of developers. We need a diverse group of journalists who represent gaming cultures from around the world, with enough wit to diffuse arbitrary arguments, enough talent to offer readers whole new perspectives, enough love for games that they can present thought-provoking ideas. Finally, we need writers who themselves can handle criticism, and won’t declare the death of a culture just for disagreeing with their politics.
But for now, I’ll just settle with some ethics.