#GamerGate, or How Do You Fix Video Games Journalism? Part 3

 False Dichotomies

But, of course, all of this actual discussion is completely ignored by the games media. The central issue gets obscured, and the image issues persist instead. Hey, just like real journalists! I think we can make the claim, quite easily, that journalism in general has suffered from social media and a new culture of Shut Up. Video games journalism has its own version of two factions fighting a war for supremacy with words, death threats, and the usual stuff. It’s almost Fox News versus MSNBC/CNN in scope, only not really! For whatever reason, we’ve got two sides, as least as I can vaguely identify – neo-feminist social justice warriors, and hyper masculine “gamer” fratboys with a side of dumb trolls for good measure. They speak to each other, but they do not speak to us, the guys and gals that actually bother to, you know, play video games and enjoy them. The silent majority of the middle barely gets any say, simply because a narrative war is there to be won. You’ve got to be on the “right” side of history, after all! It’s either us or them, and we’ll win the war by any means necessary! Those “gamers” will surely lose the cultural war, right? And those “feminists” will ruin gaming forever unless we do something, right?

These false dichotomies create what I like to call “Internet echo chambers” – social media allows us to filter any and all information that comes to our eyeballs. Liking anything will make Facebook provide you with more of the same; Twitter will provide “similar suggestions”. We do not get to discuss things, simply because we’ve lost the ability to humanize those who disagree. We form groups, and then attack them for being different – doing it in reverse because you’re oppressed in the first place does make it something we can understand, but not right. They’re the faceless enemy hordes trampling upon our most sacred beliefs…about video games.

I wish I were making this up, but there’s far too much evidence to say otherwise. Psychology says we will act this way if given a chance, recreating tribal warfare over the most silly and banal of subject matters in a quest for righteous fury, being “right”, or even legitimacy (which seems to be the clarion call of the video game journalist). You will try to actively avoid information that you don’t like, and instead portray them as monsters. Although we cannot solve the problem of human nature (and sin…well, I leave that to Jesus’ department, given Theology Gaming’s Christian ties), and human institutions are naturally broken, we can at least recognize it, try to fight against it, and improve things in our passionate hobbies just a little bit! The first problem remains in creating any space for A conversation, and not just a narrative of “social justice” or “women are taking away my games”.

We need to actually TALK about this, and not distort the realities of life to our own personal flavor. People are different; just take a look around you. The same goes for people who remain passionate about video games as much as anyone else. Some people will like violent video games, and some will not. Some people will relate and empathize with Depression Quest, and some people will see it as a waste of time. Even if I do think that way myself, that doesn’t mean I will not talk to you about it, nor will I shut the dialogue down just because we disagree. That is not Christian by any means. We need to prevent all obstructions to conversation, all histronic responses to perceived offense, and just listen without jumping to some horrible conclusion about the other people. We must focus on the real crux of the issues – it’s got absolutely nothing to do with the personal lives of journalist, game developers, or otherwise (although clearly everyone wants to frame it that way so they can be correct!).

So what’s at question here, then? The integrity of the video game news press, pretty much. It’s ok for them to have a bias and an opinion, but when they say WE ARE RIGHT, and YOU ARE WRONG without disclosing conflicts of interest or considering other opinions, that’s not something I’ve ever seen in many professional news organizations! Some of them are even tweeting insults to the #GamerGate people, because that’s a surefire way to solve problems based on the actions of a few, right? They’ve not handled interaction with their primary audience very well, and this taints their view of things from the outset. They are “thought leaders” in name only, and there’s only one way to show them you mean what you say: money.


Money (Or, How to Speak to People on the Internet)

Money makes the journalism world go round, especially in such a niche subject matter like video games. Journalists make money, developers make money, and unknown indie developers also want to make money. They all want to make money doing something they love, but eventually they all succumb to the money – how else could we expect things to be in a free enterprise society? It is exactly why we hate a job even when it’s what we love to do – we think we’re doing it for the money, and then end up doing exactly that! And if this turns out to become our only means of communication, to block out the histrionics of a failed discourse, then we will talk by their language: money.

Turn on AdBlock, for example. Don’t link to them directly; use DoNotLink if you don’t want to improve their search engine rank (or archives). Heck, there’s plenty of ways to show your displeasure, but these are the ones that will make your statement loud and clear. Harassment and death threats won’t do any good; the Internet has a way of using inductive reasoning to its worst possible extremes, and it will not solve anything. A selfish few keep screwing up the discourse, but actions speak louder than words. If enough people do it, maybe we will see a change in how video games are covered.  They want the authority with the “social justice” stuff, or they want to jam the latest AAA game down your throat. They want to be thought leaders or corporate shills. That’s where the clash arrives, and where one side must decide where things will go. The money is where it all lies.

If enough people get angry enough, then bad journalism will fail. There’s plenty of Youtube, blogging, and podcast pirate radio out there that runs counter to these cultural changes. Let’s talk about video game wherever and whenever, on forums, message boards, Facebook, wherever. Let’s talk about it intelligently, and, GASP, get along while doing so. We can show everyone that both sides of an issue can actually discuss something like rational human beings and not like emotional fear-mongers if we try. We can show people we’re not afraid of labels because they mean nothing – the video games are what we mean to discuss, because that’s what is important in video games.
Journalists, don’t let misguided ideas lead you to sensationalism and keeping any opposing ideas out. Just fix the problem, let’s have a conversation, and things will go away; something far worse may come in your stead if things go badly. In the words of Roger Ebert:
We critics can’t be too careful. Employers are eager to replace us with Celeb Info-Nuggets that will pimp to the mouth-breathers, who underline the words with their index fingers whilst they watch television. Any editor who thinks drugged insta-stars and the tragic Amy Winehouse are headline news ought to be editing the graffiti on playground walls. As the senior newspaper guy still hanging onto a job, I think the task of outlining enduring ethical ground rules falls upon me.
If you ever wondered why I tend to cover video games in such exhaustive detail, this is why. I do not want to leave anything out of the conversation. I give the game the benefit of the doubt before making a judgment on it. If it offends me or not, that doesn’t mean the game is bad or wrong. Some games work for me, and others do not; I’m fine with games I do not like existing. My problem is people being unable to defend said games as games without appeals to emotion or misdirection. This is also why I do not write reviews on games I didn’t complete in their entirety (that goes for The List as well). I try to make sure I leave nothing out, and if I do by accident, that is why we have a comments systems!
It’s my attempt to keep myself honest, to not let people dismiss Theology Gaming just because it’s “that video games and religion website”. I want to be informed, skilled, and understanding in what video games are the best and which are the worst. I want to know what you can learn about them. Hints of dishonesty or writing for money are simply not amenable to that goal in any way, shape, or form. If you wondered why we don’t take donations, that’s why. But if you wonder why, even with my very strong opinions, I let everyone have their say, this is why: to shut down discussion will never benefit us in the long run. To immediately run to emotional, sentimental conclusions will hurt our ability to solve the real problems at stake. Anger and emotions do not solve any problems; they make it worse.
19 This you know, my beloved brethren. But everyone must be quick to hear, slow to speak and slow to anger; 20 for the anger of man does not achieve the righteousness of God.
James 1
God cares about the honesty of the scales, and I intend to stick to that. Honesty is how you fix all this, not shying away from things you don’t like or people with whom you disagree. If you make a mistake, own up to it, and fix it – for real this time! That’s the only way that video game journalism can regain solid footing.

About Zachery Oliver

Zachery Oliver, MTS, is the lead writer for Theology Gaming, a blog focused on the integration of games and theological issues. He can be reached at viewtifulzfo at gmail dot com or on Theology Gaming’s Facebook Page.