Bad journalism pays the bills, that much is certain, and video games journalism is broken. None of that really pinpoints the specific reactions in this case. Past the pursuit of money, though, I think we can improve this whole situation by really pinpointing the issue. Well, I mean there’s a problem other than that they’d lack a job. I mean in the deeper sense of “why, exactly, do video games journalists seem so hostile all of a sudden, especially the ones related to said political agendas?” Why do they react to any kind of criticism as if it were the end of the world? Could it solely rely on money?
A Conflict of Interest
I think I can state, without much controversy, that there’s been a large trend of people refusing to debate or discuss the issues they promote. Instead, they (being the “social justice warrior” segment, however derogatory that may sound) immediately dismiss any and all disagreement as problematic, and that they will not give a platform to any contrary opinion. When actual genuine criticism of a failure of journalistic duty comes up, they hide behind a wall of attributing those criticisms to the anti-SJW league, give them a sort of “get out of jail free” card. I can’t let that stand.
The conflation of these issues is simply maddening, but here’s the real problem. You can’t be a journalist and a product reviewer at the same time. You must choose one or the other. The conflict of interest, or even the possibility as such, is far too great. but they don’t bother. It’s the pompous smug arrogance that gets to me as if this Zoe Quinn, Patricia Hernandez, or IGF (take your pick, really) situation doesn’t display a conflict of interest, and we’re really just misogynists for thinking otherwise. Other blogs have recorded such issues as well. There’s absolutely NO reason to defend this sort of behavior, and yet they do; social issues become an easy way to hand-wave criticisms of completely different issues. It is, often, a problem of conflating different terminologies to mask separate issues.
That’s not even to point out the more obvious problems far removed from the indie scene. Larger games journalism outfits are, more often than not, in bed with their corporate overlords; the division between journalist and the stories they cover gets blurred. Have you read IGN lately? Half the time, I learn nothing about the game, save for that it will be popular in the near future (due to, surprise, IGN). Only the more obscure games get more than glowing reviews, and those tend to be the games where I can clearly identify the author as having PLAYED the game. More than likely, any opposition to corporate interest WILL get them fired on the spot – not exactly a friendly work environment, all said, and I feel less anger here than pity.
That goes for indie developers as well; just because you’re not a company or beholden to one does not mean you somehow avoid the same scrutiny. How can I trust a source that would hand-wave these situations, rather than just admit its wrong? Why not use this as an opportunity to establish harsher standards so that journalists and independent developers do not appear (literally) in bed with one another? Why not take criticism, negative or positive, and take it into consideration? Why bite the hand that feeds from either direction?
How can a journalist donate Patreon money to someone’s project and then report on it without saying anything? How does donating to a Kickstarter really differ from donating to Patreon? Instead of making themselves beyond reproach, they take the “damage control” route instead, insisting their version of the facts contradicts the Internet’s version. How does that provoke anything but controversy, or click-bait? Their intentions seem less noble than you might think. I would like to believe Mr. Totilo on face value, but they’re burned people too many times at this point. I just don’t expect anything but ephemeral reporting, and that’s a sad state of affairs. Of course, maybe even the more progressive sites exist on the same exact corporate wave-length, albeit unintentionally, but somebody already speculated as much.
And, I guess, you could say we sorta expect this kind of reporting from video games journalism anyway, but isn’t that just sadder?
It all wraps back to the old media mindset still in control without a an old media standard. You knew, even reading the New York Times, that the story was well-researched and objectively reported, albeit with the writer’s own biases in store. That was part of the game: to report meant not getting involved as much as you could, regardless of your personal feelings toward the subject. They recused themselves, and if they didn’t, at least they sought to correct it. Yes, the New York Times does not often lean to the right side of the political spectrum, but that’s really no secret; you could still learn a lot if you came into it with that mindset. Reporters who violated the separation of church and state, between story and reporter, would face massive repercussions; even a hint of possible bias on the part of the reporter towards the story meant you needed to recuse. That’s just standard practice to uphold integrity and honesty in the reporting. Even if journalists, in some sense, are creating a narrative and meaning, that doesn’t mean you cannot glean anything from the article in question.
And, let’s say without a doubt that if your press forms close relationships with developers, then that’s a problem. Whether it’s corporate or indie, the effect is the same in rendering their criticism to outside scrutiny. Heck, it doesn’t even matter if they’re making valid points or not; if you’re not beyond reproach in this line of work, then you should seriously consider what kinds of perks you expected. Greg Kasavin, back before Bastion, used to force GameSpot reviewers to buy the games that they reviewed. This not only encourages said editors to understand the hit on consumer’s wallets, but also to dedicate their time and effort to something they paid for out of pocket. That’s a far cry from the digital age of reviews codes plastered everywhere, bundles galore, and press events in fancy hotels with catering that could influence review scores in the long run. Every form of journalism ever has had to deal with this problem; now, it seems #GamerGate has forced their hand.