When I dare to venture out of the one or two sane forums I frequently use, I’m still amazed when I see the number of people who want to get into the gaming press. I’ve only briefly toyed with the thought but aside from realising very quickly that I can’t write worth a damn, I also realised what a terrible job it must be most of the time. You get lousy pay, usually have to move to one of the most expensive cities in North America, the average gaming site has about as much stability as a dot com startup in 2001 and perhaps most of all, it’s a thankless job. Most of the feedback on your article will be filled with vitriol and hate from the people who disagree with you and in turn, the people who come in with an equally vitriolic counterpoint. Those people come in not to defend your work but to defend their position which may also happen to kind of coincide with yours. In many cases–especially with reviews–it can seem that your job is simply to write things for others to fight over, often without even fully reading it. However, when you take a step back, it’s easy to see that most of the time, the only people who post in the comments and forums of gaming sites are people with an axe to grind and not enough of a life to find something better to do. I would wager that the ratio of views on a review to the number of comments is probably dozens to one, meaning that the squeaky wheels are the vocal minority and generally, best left ignored. So why is it that the members of the gaming press who are best equipped to understand this, seem to be the ones least able to?
There’s dozens of these controversies to choose from but the latest revolves around Eurogamer’s 8 of out 10 review for Uncharted 3: Drake’s Deception. In summary, they really liked it but found the gameplay formula very linear, tightly scripted and similar to the previous two games. As a result, they gave it what they thought was a fair use of the 1-10 point score scale. Eurogamer is one of a very few sites who try to make proper use of the scale, which is really a 7-10 scale at most other sites. Their score was also among the lowest given to the game and as a result, fanboys who would have bought it anyway and just wanted their pre-existing opinions validated went into rage overdrive. An even more negative review on A.V. Club also kicked the hornet’s nest.
Almost immediately, both Eurogamer themselves and other members of the gaming press leapt to the defence of reviews, criticism and rehashed the same arguments they do every time about objectivity, personal opinions and how scores do and should work. In doing so, they gave weight and credence to the morons who made this a big deal in the first place and insulted their sane and rational audience by assuming we all paint with the same brush. I am well aware of the irony of diving further down that rabbit hole by writing this but I think this angle is an important one that I haven’t seen explored elsewhere. Why does the gaming press have this burning need to always defend itself against people being dicks on the Internet?
Anyone who has used the Internet for more than a few minutes knows that many perfectly nice people in real life can become vicious and cruel when hiding behind a screen and anonymity. After a few more minutes, it also becomes apparent that these people are the ones who vent their anger and frustration with other aspects of their lives in forums and comment sections and that they can’t possibly represent a large segment of people because if they did, society would have starved to death long ago. They’re the outliers of the Internet population, the savages who choose to life in the gutters because there are no rules there. You don’t see newspaper columnists writing editorials defending their craft from the people who comment, nor do you see it happen in the speciality press for other media like movies, television or books. Entrenched, partisan fanboys exist in all these places and on some topics, their vitriol can far surpass that which gamers generate. So why is the gaming press the only one that feels the need to frequently come out to defend not just what they say but the way in which they say it? Why are they in a perpetual crisis of confidence?
I’ll be the first to admit that the art of true journalism is dying fast in the corporate media world and the gaming press is certainly as big a victim of this as anyone else. There have been plenty of payola scandals, firings due to pissing off publishers or PR agencies and nearly every big game is reviewed by the press being sent to a luxury, all expenses paid event that is heavily curated and controlled by the very people they are supposed to be critiquing. There is not a lot of journalistic integrity left and aside from a few chosen sites, I don’t even really pay attention to reviews anymore. There are many out there who truly believe in what they write though and that’s great. But if you really have confidence in your content and want to see it respected, the best thing you can do is put it out there and let it speak for itself. If you rightly feel that the commenters don’t matter and that you’ll never please them, then stop validating their viewpoints by addressing them. Let them revel in their filth while the silent majority gains knowledge from what you say.
It’s like if you don’t want to listen to racist, homophobic 13 year olds on Xbox Live. The easiest way to do that is simply to take off your headset. You can still play the game without it and you’ll often have a lot more fun. In other words, haters are just gonna’ hate and for that reason, they don’t matter. Be proud of what you do and let that pride show in your work. Mounting a defence after the fact only degrades it and you. Other media has evolved to realise this, the gaming press needs to as well.