As the preeminent video game critic of my time <insert laugh track here>, I feel compelled to weigh in on the recent series of events referred to as “GamerGate”.
As I have stated before, I absolutely despise this habit of appending “-gate” to everything that is considered a scandal. Following this logic, you’d think the Watergate scandal was about water. Attention, people born after the 1970s: the Watergate was an office complex. The scandal was called that because it centered around a break-in at said office complex.
The origins of GamerGate are shrouded in the mists of the internet, but the facts are these, as related by that always perfectly factual and unbiased source of information, Wikipedia:
The controversy came to wider attention due to the sustained harassment that indie game developer Zoe Quinn was subjected to after an ex-boyfriend posted numerous allegations on his blog in August 2014, including that she had a “romantic relationship” with a Kotaku journalist, which prompted concerns that the relationship led to positive media coverage for her game. Although these concerns proved unfounded, allegations about journalistic ethics continued to clash with allegations of harassment and misogyny.
Kotaku is a video game focused blog from the Gawker network. Being outraged at them for giving biased coverage to a given game is a bit like being outraged at The Chicago Tribune for giving biased coverage to the Chicago Bears. Or maybe being outraged at Weekly World News for giving biased coverage to Bat Boy.
Zoe Quinn’s game Depression Quest supposedly, according to the GamerGate crowd, got more favorable press than it merited, either because she was romantically involved with a critic (not true) or else because the gaming press generally was biased in favor of a game made by a woman.
Might the latter be true? Sure. Remember, the first rule of journalism is that “Dog Bites Man” is not a story, but “Man Bites Dog’ is, because it’s unusual. “Man Makes Game” is not interesting, because most games are made by men. So of course the press would pay extra attention to her game; regardless of any extracurricular romantic activity on anyone’s part.
Now, I don’t know how much coverage the game really got compared to a lot of the triple-A titles. I do know that I would never have heard of it if not for this GamerGate business. So they have not exactly done a marvelous job, if their goal was to correct what they saw as an imbalance in the game’s favor in terms of press coverage.
But things quickly went beyond Zoe Quinn and her game. First, internet troublemakers started publishing her personal information online. People responded by saying the attacks on Quinn were “misogynistic” and constituted harassment. More troublemakers responded to this by posting those people’s personal information as well.
Among the people whose info was posted was actress and writer Felicia Day, after she wrote a post about “GamerGate”. This is noteworthy because Day’s biggest claim to fame is writing the web comedy The Guild, the final season of which culminates with a huge protest made by a bunch of gamers, who have something of a reasonable point, but undermine it with their insults, sexual innuendos, and boorish behavior. Life imitates Art, it seems, and all that stuff has given the “GamerGaters” a bad name; and while their concern may be journalistic ethics, they have been completely overshadowed by the trolls on this one.
Putting aside all the sordid instances of harassment against female gamers/game developers/journalists that have been perpetrated by those allegedly affiliated with the “GamerGate” crowd–which invariably devolve into arguments over who is truly part of the “GamerGate’ crowd–I want to focus on what a singularly unlikely and useless thing it is to want “ethics” and “fairness” from gaming journalism.
First of all, we will never have unbiased gaming journalism as long as companies like Electronic Arts exist and have a seemingly endless supply of money to throw at promoting whatever re-hash of a game they are selling. (I actually don’t despise EA as much as many do; but I think they are a negative influence on gaming.)
I don’t know what an un-biased entertainment journalism industry would look like, to be honest. I mean, what’s the idea? the good games get coverage and the bad ones don’t? Well, I mean, this may shock people, but there are disagreements as to whether particular games are good or bad. I love KoTOR II; other people hate it. I thought Half-Life 2 was a mediocre FPS; most people think it’s the greatest thing since sliced bread.
Do people think we have an unbiased movie journalism industry? The truth is, which movies get reviewed and given awards is based on which studios decided to pay which journalists to review them, to submit them for which Academy Awards, etc., etc., etc.
Does this mean the gaming industry is doomed? No; not really. I don’t think that journalism matters that much when it comes to gaming. I don’t make my gaming decisions based on what some review on Kotaku said; I make it largely based on what genre it is and whether or not Chris Avellone wrote it.
Integrity, honesty and ethics are easy things to ask for from journalists who are covering subjects like politics, weather, crime and so on. We don’t get them, but it’s reasonable to ask for them. It’s much harder to ask for them from people covering art and literature. But the good news is, we don’t need integrity in gaming journalism; because we can just go right to Steam and download whatever strikes our fancy. I don’t care that Destructoid gave Alpha Protocol a 2 out of 10; I still know it’s a very good game. And I’ve said so. On this blog. That anyone can read.
Do you want to see an example of what happens when gaming journalism gets hit with a truly innovative game? Here it is:
If you’ve played the game, it’s hard not to cringe at some of the questions the reporter asks there. It’s not her fault, because nobody knew what to expect from SO:TL, but the questions are in anticipation of a typical “choose your ending”-type military game, when Spec Ops is… let’s say… different. If you think Depression Quest is ‘not for typical gamers’, well, Spec Ops is actively against them. You want to know more than that, play the game. But my point is just that all kinds of games can flourish now; gaming journalism isn’t holding them back.