I’ve already recorded the extra rambly video to go along with this post and even as I type, I still don’t know if I’m going to publish it. I was both exhausted and in a pretty major funk when I made the video and I largely still am so forgive me if this isn’t my best written post, even by my standards. I don’t even like the title of it but it’s the best I could come up with. Putting this out there is without a doubt painting a target on my back for one or more groups of angry people and with all the shit that’s been going down in the world lately, my brain hasn’t been doing so hot. However, one of the reasons Geek Bravado exists is so that I can voice opinions I have that don’t solely follow one group think or another and as with most things, that’s also the case here. So buckle up dear reader, it’s time to ride the Controversy Coaster.
I had been planning a post in my head for approaching two months on the subject of when an employee of an organisation should be held accountable in their job for something they say on their own time. It started with a Community Manager from Turtle Rock Studios (developers of the upcoming Evolve) getting fired because of some tweets he posted from his personal account in defence of racist scumbag and former LA Clippers owner Donald Sterling. There have been a couple of other examples of this issue that have surfaced as well. The short of my opinion on that is that I think these examples represent a terrifying chilling effect. When you work for a company, what you say when not speaking on behalf of that company is your own damn business. People should be allowed to think controversial opinions and as long as what they’re stating doesn’t impact their job, isn’t being said about their employer or their customers and isn’t illegal, that’s where it should end. That you have to be careful where you exercise your free speech online when working for certain organisations is something that should scare everyone. The guy from Turtle Rock is a twit speaking a rubbish opinion but that’s an opinion he’s allowed to have and if he said it on his own time, Turtle Rock should have butted out.
Given the events of the last week, this topic has now morphed into something else entirely. If you’re reading this, you’re very likely aware of what I’m talking about. If you’re somehow not, go look it up, it ain’t hard to find.
Since this whole Quinnspiracy situation was such a heated subject for a variety of reasons, I decided to actually read and watch a bunch of stuff representing both sides of the issue. That wasn’t an easy thing to do as there’s a lot of nasty mud being slung around from both camps but since it involves the press which is largely only speaking on this with one voice, I wanted to see the complaints that they were facing. Unfortunately, learning the crux of the other side involved reading a lot of poorly written articles and watching a lot of YouTube videos of people ranting, many of them on one hand saying they don’t care about the details of someone’s personal life, only to then spend minutes throwing insults around regarding people’s personal lives. This is made all the more ironic by the fact that many (though not all) of these people didn’t even have the guts to show their faces on camera. When I looked past that though, I saw what were kernels of legitimate concerns and complaints, which have largely been responded to not with reassurance or serious answers but by the press deriding and slamming the audience they are tasked with serving, tarring everyone who even has a question with the same horrible brush.
This insane saga involves a number of serious issues but it unfortunately started in a really gross way; with an ex-boyfriend who decided the best way to handle being hurt in a relationship was to lash out against a very public figure in a very public way. The way he did so is too detailed to simply be petty revenge but it’s nonetheless gross and disgusting and he should be ashamed of himself. As someone who once aired my own relationship laundry in a public forum (albeit on a much smaller scale, without any preparation and without naming names), I can attest to that being a fucking stupid thing to do and the stupidity was amplified many times here.
What this issue has done is bring the conversation about games press objectivity, ethics and trustworthiness to the forefront. The problem is that this has become wrapped in the cloak of someone’s personal life and the important issues that need to be discussed are getting lost in that massive, homogenised mess. When you coat that in the icing of morons from various well known places trolling, hacking people, doxxing people and taking down major web sites, it gets even harder to have any semblance of a real discussion.
Let me be clear here: I don’t support the hacking of anyone or revealing anyone’s personal information to the public. There’s trolling and slander which is disgusting enough on its own and then there’s that. People who do that kind of thing are not only evil scumbags who should be in prison, they’re also doing orders of magnitude more harm to any cause they espouse to be supporting. Really though, they’re not in it for any cause. They’re the people who show up at a peaceful protest and start throwing molotovs. They’re not fighting for anything, they’re just evil people who want to start shit. A certain segment of those people are also to be expected but that’s a previous discussion.
When you take that element out though, here’s the thing: There are problems in segments of the games press with regards to lacking professional standards and potential conflicts of interest. It’s not everywhere but it is there and it can be found in some frankly astonishingly prominent places.
When sifting through the sludge of opposition content I did, there were a number of irrefutable facts demonstrated that show people in this industry who frankly should know better, have clear conflicts of interest that would not be considered acceptable in other forms of media. I’m not naming them (sorry, big enough target on me already, you can look them up) but it has been shown that prominent journalists have not only written about products made by people they have friendships or other relationships with, many have been discovered to be directly financially contributing to some game creators they are supposed to cover. These people are vehemently defending that as well, saying that there’s no conflict of interest there and it doesn’t impact their objectivity. I simply can’t believe they can say that with a straight face. I’m sorry but there is no reasonable ethical test that can be passed by lending financial support to someone you are supposed to write about in a critical fashion. You can certainly recuse yourself from covering that person to avoid the conflict but that’s been proven to not be happening in a lot of cases and from publications that not only should know better but in some cases, have publicly posted ethics policies.
There are game journalists I follow who won’t even back gaming Kickstarter campaigns by people they’ve never met, simply on the basis that they might have to cover that product some day and lending early financial support could taint their viewpoint. That’s the way it should be and really, that the opposite happens at all is shocking to me. Yet, this is not being discussed at all in light of what this issue is being wrapped in.
Furthermore, we have some of these supposed professionals treating anyone who even so much as asks questions as just being as bad as the trolls who throw around death threats and insults. Walls of snark, derision and hostility have gone up across the industry and to look at Twitter the last week, you would think the games press was essentially at war with its audience. The trolls are evil but they will always be there and if you’ve worked in the games press for any amount of time, you already know that. But all it would take is for a few places to come out and respond to this. State your official position on it, state what your ethics policy is (or perhaps create one if you don’t have one), state where potential conflicts are and what if anything you intend to do about them. If you truly believe that funding game creators you write about isn’t a conflict, say so. There’s nothing wrong with sticking to your guns but say what those are and let your audience decide if they still trust you after that. We’re not seeing that though and with a lot of what I’ve read, a lot of this goes beyond just not wanting to feed the trolls and starts to look more like some of these people have been caught red-handed and just don’t want to answer the tough questions. Some of these sites had no problems writing tabloid-esque stories about a prominent industry figure getting accused (not convicted, not even charged, accused) of a crime, yet they are trying to sweep this under the rug and hope it goes away. Do I feel sorry for that people are questioning the integrity of some who have potentially shown a lack of it? No, I don’t.
Don’t get me wrong, there’s a lot of really dumb people on the opposing side of this saying a lot of really dumb shit. They should be ignored and aren’t but that’s another story. However, any dissenting opinion is not automatically trolling and people wanting answers isn’t a betrayal. The gaming press works for the audience, not the other way around. They are not owed anything beyond our eyeballs on their content. If they truly believe they are in the right, all they’re really required to do is say so, why they think so and leave it at that for the audience to decide.
Instead, we are seeing an incredible amount of arrogance and entitlement being shown towards a group who are simply asking questions, the same group the press will call entitled when they get upset about things like exploitative industry practices. When you not only throw up walls but start throwing your own mud back, you start to look just as bad as those you deride. In the last few days, I’ve seen supposed professional journalists (some of whom are actual trained journalists) with large audiences making snarky comments and vitriolic insults, not just in response to individuals but to their audiences in general and doing things like calling angry gamers worse than ISIS (yes, that happened.)
What the Hell is wrong with you to even consider saying something that crass and insensitive?! You’re supposed to be better than the trolls, not one of them! It really shocks me because this is not something you would see done in any other form of journalism. You would never see reporters from the CBC, NPR, BBC or likely even cable news, calling their audience worse than a terrorist organisation who posts videos of beheadings, even if they were being trolled, let alone those who just want to know who they can trust. If that’s the first thing that comes to mind when you see what’s happening, then step back from the damn keyboard and think about what you’re saying to your customers and what that implies you think of them. There’s nothing wrong with being angry and getting trolled is awful but at the same time as I’ve said before, you don’t get to cannonball into the sewers and then complains it stinks. Having a large number of Twitter followers and a byline on a web site doesn’t mean you’re automatically not a troll yourself. If you’re that angry, step back until you aren’t. If you think yourself better than the trolls, then you need to be better than the trolls. To return to my point from before, we saw the guy from Turtle Rock Studios lose his job because he supported Donald Sterling on his personal Twitter feed, off Turtle Rock’s clock. Yet we see supposed professionals equating their audience with a terrorist organisation in the same fashion and not a thing has happened to them. Does that make any kind of sense?
The growing problem right now is that the gaming press in many places, has become so polarised and arrogant with different subjects, be they review scores and critique, social issues, anti-consumer practices, blurring the lines between analysis and marketing, discussion and debate is no longer welcome. These writers don’t want discussion, they don’t want debate, they want compliance. Opinion and ego has become a greater part of the coverage (which is different than simply personality-based coverage) and increasingly, you either agree with them in full or you’re treated as the enemy. Middle opinions are not welcome. What we’ve seen in the last week is that mentality coming to a boil. This is a system that’s broken at its most core level. When you’re at war with your audience, everybody loses. This is a war that doesn’t need to happen. A discussion between the rational elements of this can and should be happening, while the trolls should be shut out. Instead, we just have a bunch of people yelling, everyone getting treated the same and the issue just getting worse with nothing being accomplished.
The events of the last week have been incredibly depressing for me. I’m seeing a medium I love and the people who write and talk about it at each others throats instead of working together. A lot of what I saw from the opposing camp disgusted me and though I took some useful information from it, I’ve also seen just how mean spirited some of these gamers can be and seeing how many subscribers some of them had makes me weep for the future of this species. At the same time, it’s also been a valuable learning experience because it’s shown me who in the press are the true professionals that are deserving of my clicks and praise and who are the ones that have just put themselves on a pedestal and consider themselves better than their audience. It makes me really sad to see how many have fallen into the latter camp because right now, there’s a lot of people I used to trust and respect that I don’t any more.
By all accounts, the gaming press as we’ve come to know it for the last many years is dying a pretty quick death. Like in the magazine industry that preceded it, web sites are closing down or scaling back, a lot of people are losing their jobs and many sites are having to resort to things like clickbaiting to pay the bills. As someone who ran a failed business, I know what it feels like, especially when there’s no viable alternative to your business model. This isn’t a good thing because unlike when web sites took over magazines, what’s rising up to replace the games press is largely YouTube. YouTube gaming channels are a great thing and I follow several of them in addition to doing my own thing but look at what’s popular in there. I don’t want PewDiePie, The Game Grumps, Game Theorists, Yogscast or even TotalBiscuit to be the new face of games journalism. None of these people are journalists and most of them wouldn’t call themselves that and don’t aspire to be. What they do is a fantastic complement to traditional games coverage but it’s by no means a replacement.
A good, strong, independent media covering video games is incredibly valuable and important and it needs to exist and be sustainable while being able to do proper reporting and service its audience. Instead, what we have now are web sites that thrive of clickbait, controversy, sometimes mixing too closely with the subjects of their coverage and now it seems, being in conflict with their audience and denying there’s a problem while they get eaten alive by often inferior alternatives. This isn’t the way it should be. The press can do better, the audience can do better and the industry can do better. We all want great games and want to talk about them. Is that really so hard? It shouldn’t be.
Patrick Klepek has said that the best thing you can do in times like this is thank the people you do trust for doing what they do and let them know they have support. I’m going to do that and if you’ve got to the end of this post, I highly encourage you to do the same.