Remembering Previous Examinations of Games Journalism

#GamerGate feels like it’s the main thing shaking the foundations of video games coverage right now. Honestly though, it feels pretty similar to controversies and discussions I’ve seen going on in this field going back almost a decade.

That’s one reason I haven’t gotten into the thick of the whole “are gamers over” argument or the ethics of what some see as a kind of cronyism between games media writers and development. Another main reason is a lot of really smart people have written a lot of words that describe the situation as well as I ever could. Here are some of them:

Vox’s explanation of the whole thing.
“To fair-minded proponents of #GamerGate” by L.Rhodes.
Zoe Quinn’s screen captures of #GamerGate organization IRC rooms.
Further examination of said IRC logs. 
The first uses of the hashtags by Cathode Debris
Why Paste Magazine didn’t want to talk about #GamerGate
Idle Thumbs 173
Comics Alliance chimes in
“On GamerGate” by Good Games Writing

I understand that’s a lot of words but it’d be nice if you read the first few paragraphs of at least one of those links (or listened to Idle Thumbs over lunch or on your commute or something, which you should be doing every week anyway). A lot of the time I don’t say things because people like the aforementioned say them pretty well before I can get around to it.

Anyway, what I do want to say here is, this is definitely not the first time a talk over the policies or ethics of video game journalists has exploded online. This might be the first major occurrence in a post-twitter world, but it’s worth looking back and comparing things to what’s going on today.

In the time between around 2004 and 2006, journalists at places like 1up, EGM, and GameSpot started to talk a lot about where they stood when it came to ethics in how they covered games. People talked about objectivity in game reviews, whether consumers even wanted real game criticism or just scores, and how much they were affected by the typical game review cycle. They expressed fear that getting all their information directly from the public relations arms of game publishers clouded their judgement. 1up and the other Ziff Davis publications tried unorthodox review scales to to shake things up. They even tried writing different kinds of articles that weren’t as heavily dependent on the word of PR. Possibly most importantly they became conscious about how much they depended on advertising. I think Dan Shoe set some hard ground rules when it came to journalist-publisher relations. In short, almost 10 years ago game publications started to worry about becoming PR mouthpieces.

Beyond that, over the years I’ve also personally observed differences between enthusiast press and mainstream press in areas like writing form and editing. For most of the time I’ve written about video games for other people I usually couldn’t get fresh eyes to edit my work which is typically not a good thing. These days I see a lot more copy editing in gaming press which is a good thing. Another difference is there hasn’t been a lot of standardization of writing style in games journalism. I had AP Style beaten into me in college and immediately started seeing style differences in almost every gaming publication. Several years back a few people tried to create a general video game style guide for the whole field but it never really stuck. People don’t even agree 100 percent yet on whether “video games” is one word or two words.

Even today we regularly talk about issues like Metacritic’s half-tangible effect on the industry (some people get paid based on its scores) and what has become a sort of 7-10 review scale for games. Even before #GamerGate I saw a lot of mistrust of gaming publications by readers. In my opinion a big chunk of it comes from conspiracies and hearsay that get’s parroted within and between various internet communities with little-to-no real proof. Some of the links I posted above are all about getting back to the real sources that started all this. Video game coverage definitely has issues worth bringing attention to, but I feel like it get’s called out for the wrong reasons too often.

I say all this because in light of all I’ve seen over the last nine years or so, raising a twitter firestorm over the gaming press’ reaction to revelations of the personal life of a developer seems kind of silly to me. Letting that culminate in the horrific levels of harassment we’ve seen is just ridiculous. Most importantly, I think it would help if people took a bit of a long term view of this whole conversation and see where it’s gone before, which could make future conversations better.


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