If I were a video games journalist, I’d be terrified right now, because I’d know that, for all my shrill protestations, sneering and arrogance, my industry had just entered a death spiral entirely of its own making.
The video game journalism industry, that is, not gaming itself, which has never been more vibrant. As I wrote last week, gaming journalism, populated by well-meaning liberals, has forgotten what it is for and become consumed with social justice activism, at the expense of writing intelligently about games.
To give just one example of the hatred between gamers and the journalists who are supposed to serve them, Chris Grant, editor-in-chief of gaming news site Polygon, is blocking his own readers on Twitter by the thousand, together with journalists and academics whose opinions he doesn’t like. It’s unprecedented in an industry that ought to stick up for readers instead of sucking up to lobbyists and the powers that be.
It’s also a remarkable display of political intolerance, not to mention a serious strategic error. Grant, and others like him, have given up any pretence of wanting to engage in dialogue with alternative opinions and instead hunkered down with a small but noisy minority readership of single-issue campaigners, feminist blowhards and perpetually angry “social justice warriors” to the exclusion of the backbone of his readership.
“The young, male, affluent audience is hard to reach and even harder to persuade,” says Polygon’s corporate messaging to advertisers. “Vox’s unique relationship with our users fosters the commitment and trust brands can parlay into strong, organic connections with current and future consumers.”
That statement might need re-wording soon – to put it mildly. No longer can sites such as Polygon or Kotaku, owned by Left-wing east coast media blog Gawker, claim to represent young, affluent male gaming enthusiasts – or indeed any of the other gamers sympathetic to the #GamerGate movement, which seeks to expose corruption in journalism. Graphs are being circulated showing their traffic falling off a cliff, and as for “trust,” well. Take a look at the #GamerGate hashtag and decide for yourself.
But all is not lost. A remarkable citizen journalism movement is springing up in place of the disgraced blogs. Among other things, it is ruthlessly seeking out and exposing corruption in indie game conferences and existing reporting, displaying better instincts for old-fashioned, truth-to-power journalism than places like Polygon ever have.
For example, a remarkable series of allegations surfaced a few days ago about the relationships between games publisher Polytron Corporation, the Independent Games Festival (IGF) and gaming conference IndieCade. Leaked investment documents seen by Breitbart show that these amateur reporters have excellent sources, and that, although they don’t get everything right first time, they are adept at identifying smoking guns.
New authorities in this sometimes haphazardly-organised world are forming, such as the “Internet Aristocrat,” whose YouTube videos about corruption in video games journalism have received hundreds of thousands of views. In contrast to their finger-wagging, lecturing equivalents at the big blogs, these new voices are spurred on by sincere, profound and worthwhile grievances. They are characterised by polite, reasonable attitudes and a flair for investigative reporting.
Since the #GamerGate scandal broke, with one side – journalists and feminist activists – slandering their opponents as misogynistic bullies, bewildered by the appearance of women in gaming, and the other side – regular gamers – incensed at the squandering of attention on minutiae, the failure of gaming publications to actually write about games, and endemic corruption in video games journalism, a few people, myself included, have tiptoed over the fringe of this mess to see if we, as impartial observers, can shed some light.
The truth is – at least, what you’ve told me is – that gamers don’t much care about politics. They want journalists to tell the truth, to be free from bias and to do their jobs: that is, to actually write about games. That doesn’t just mean reviews of the latest games, though of course reviews should be front and centre. It also means think pieces about the good and the bad of gaming culture. There is, of course, less patience for mystifying victimhood narratives spun around morally odious people.
A modest proposal
Last week, an Xbox One developer came out in support of #GamerGate but said he was worried about being branded a woman-hater if he revealed his identity. So did Daniel Vavra, creative director of Warhorse Studios. David Jaffe, creative director of mainstream titles God of War and Twisted Metal also admitted there was a problem with video games journalism.
In addition, the hashtag #NotYourShield gained popularity among women and minority gamers who did not want their identity to be seen as de facto support for the actions of a games press they do not respect. Identity is not a shield from criticism, they seem to be saying. Gamers of all backgrounds are thoroughly disenchanted with an industry whose primary mission ought to be to stand up for their interests. They’re looking for alternatives.
Several media figures and journalists with experience running media companies, myself included, have been approached about starting a new gaming publication. It would be a cinch to fund on Kickstarter, say those who have approached us. Now, I’m flattered, obviously, though I don’t think I’m quite the right person to edit such a thing. But the primary obstacle to any project of this nature flourishing is, I think, a misunderstanding among some commenters about politics.
I know, I know. All gamers want is good content about games, not more political hand-wringing, backstabbing and warfare. But since it’s been mentioned so many times online by other journalists that a defence of #GamerGate was published by Breitbart, as though that were proof in itself of moral failing, let me address the question directly.
Here’s a revelation for you: not all right-wingers are racist, sexist, homophobic bigots. We’re a broad church, and you’ll find people with opinions you don’t like as easily as you’ll find people whose views you love. As it happens, the libertarian strand of the political right, of which news sites like Breitbart are typical examples, has a lot more in common with the values I’ve observed in the gaming community so far. One email correspondent summarised these to me as freedom, responsibility and scepticism.
I can’t speak for other Breitbart writers. Doubtless there will be journalists here whose opinions you find troublesome. But no one tells me, a Brit, what to write or how to think. So let’s make a deal. I’ll report fairly, without fear or favour, and if anyone tries to tell me what to write or suggests a political or ideological “agenda,” at any of the places I publish, I’ll laugh them out of the room.
In return, you guys keep an open mind and don’t listen to people who say that just because I believe in a smaller state and lower taxes, I have nothing of value to say about video games. Because if there’s one thing that’s obvious by now, it’s that’s the status quo of achingly hip coastal bloggers, pushing wild, fringe opinions and shacked up with terrible people, isn’t working for you.
Sometimes, we’ll line up. Your enemies will be my enemies. I can’t think of anything more awful than a humourless, dishonest, disreputable clique of single-issue campaigners turning indie games into boring social justice vehicles. Other times, you may want to give me a slap. Sometimes we may be in near-total agreement.
So far as I can tell, the indie game scene is ruled over by a cabal of unhappy, unethical people exchanging bodily fluids and doing each other grubby, back-door favours. A series of stitch-ups, paid for in kind. Of course, it’s not for me to police who bumps uglies with whom. But it becomes a matter of public interest, and thus within a journalist’s purview, when the sexual and professional relationships of a small number of powerful people become so inextricably interlinked that allegations of corruption and conflict become commonplace.
I like reporting on stuff like that. It’s what journalists are here to do, after all. And I’m not going to deny that I admire Margaret Thatcher, I hate most modern feminist movements and I think a lot of so-called rights campaigners play up the nasty comments they get for sympathy, and to win arguments. But I’m not here to stamp my politics onto your industry, unlike so many existing writers. And I’ve no interest in building a sinister network to take over your conferences. Perish the thought. Very frankly, I don’t care enough about video games to try.
What I do see is a huge number of people left out in the cold. So if, on occasion, I’m moved to write something about what I see in the video games industry, I hope you’ll come to it with an open mind. It’s a fascinating subject, with a lot of cronyism and dodgy connections waiting to be exposed. That’s catnip to a journalist like me. So let’s drop the childish name-calling and just see how we get on, shall we? And if I get the taste for it, who knows? I might be up for starting a new games website with someone after all.