What do you want from me?

I pose the question not as a sarcastic retort but rather a sincere inquiry in response to some very valid criticisms that have risen in regards towards games journalism. So I ask, what is it that the community as a whole wants from the games press? Through the past few weeks, Gamer Gate has made it abundantly clear that the model by which several gaming news outlets operate no longer works. That is an issue that as been beaten to the ground. So now the question remains: if the old model no longer works, what will?

For the uninitiated, Gamer Gate is the name given to the recent controversy which calls into question the integrity and ethics present (or lack thereof) in gaming journalism. It criticizes the abuse of personal relationships in favor of positive reviews or exposure, it calls into question the fervent cultural criticisms about the gaming industry and most importantly, it criticizes the ever growing reliance on controversy and click-baiting instead of actual content. The community as a whole is discontent.  But to understand this, it is also important to understand what the game media actually is.


The same Xbox One reveal photo seen on every outlet

As a journalist, I can say with full confidence that we often play the roles of glorified PR monkeys. Our jobs consist of bringing attention to a product, whose information is often given to us in the form of a press release. This is the same press release that is made available to every outlet on their PR contacts list. More so, this is often the same information that is featured on the company’s own website. So why even bother with game journalists? Simple exposure. It’s a matter of getting their information out to as many people as possible, and the games press is all to eager to do the job.

But press releases aren’t the only way to get our leads. Other times we take our information from social media posts made by the developers themselves or in some cases, even other journalists. In the end we trip over ourselves to track down information on the next big product that players will want to read about. But that’s not all you’ll see us doing.

Part of being journalist in the games industry means taking on different jobs. While one moment we may be presenting the latest press release, another one will see us acting as a game critic. We will review the more popular upcoming games and provide our thoughts and critiques for the community. Other times we will serve as interviewers, sitting down with game developers or media contacts to discuss their work or thoughts on their recent launch. Further still, game journalists will then take on the role of spokesmen and partner with different organizations or charities to help bring exposure. In the end you can find members of the games press consistently taking on new roles, all in an effort to provide content which the community will find relevant and interesting. But to what end? For more content. As a games press site gains a bigger following, more game companies will take an interest in them. In return, publishers and developers will add us to their contact list, granting access to even more information so we can forward it to the community. In the end it becomes a cycle of favor and popularity, and that’s where the problems begin.

The average inbox for a games journalist.

The average inbox for a games journalist.

Our entire industry depends on the favor of publishers and game developers. Without their consent or assistance the information and resources available to us quickly dwindles. This rings especially true for journalists belonging to bigger companies, where favor in the industry not only dictates their information but also their very livelihoods. As a result, members of the games press constantly find themselves in a race to stay relevant in an age where anybody can find most of the information themselves if they look hard enough. But somewhere along the way the press lost sight of their responsibility to provide the public with information and instead became more concerned with getting the public’s attention.

So this brings us back to the main point, why is the community so discontent? Part of the reason stems from the realization that nobody really knows what role the games press serves anymore. With the rise of social media, companies often do their own best PR. They hire community managers, they host their own forum and their own Q&A’s. As a whole a lot of the information provided by gaming journalists can be readily found elsewhere. This delegates gaming news sites to just another branch of a game company’s marketing department. As a result, several sites are starting to scrape the bottom of the barrel to finds things that gamers might be interested in.

As a gamer, I am interested in what is going on in the gaming industry. I like knowing about release dates, collectors editions and one on one developer interviews. I enjoy reading opinion pieces on the industry in regards to game design as well as game reviews.  But my interest starts to wane when informative editorial pieces start treading the waters of tabloid and sensationalism.

That’s not to say I don’t care about things like equality or other issues that have a cultural impact. Far from it. Talking about the trends with gaming and the hardships people face can offer another great perspective on the industry. But there is a very thin line between an objective and informative article and simple click-bait. Look no further than the recent events surrounding certain female personalities in the game industry. The events received a lot of media attention from several outlets in regards to harassment claims, but when the time came to inform the community of the events the gaming press failed.

First, the headlines were often presented in an emotionally charged way. There is a difference between a headline which reads “The Sexist Crusade to Destroy [female game developer]” and “[Female game developer] faces harassment.” One of those headlines is intended not only to elicit an emotional response, but also makes it clear what that response should be. This is not journalism, this is pandering.

Second, discussion on the subject was quickly shut down and those accused of launching the initial harassment were not given a voice. These are basic expectations outlined in the Society of Professional Journalists’ ethics code, which states that journalists should “support the open and civil exchange of views, even views they find repugnant,” as well as “diligently seek subjects of news coverage to allow them to respond to criticism of wrongdoing.”

Death of gamersSome might argue that applying the ethics of general reporting can’t be done to gaming journalists, but that in itself is part of the problem. Yes, the nature of games press is unique in how companies access and approach content but there should still be an ethical standard set in place by the games press in order to build trust with the community.  Too often do writers and websites get caught up in the race for attention, and make some mistakes along the way. They cozy up with certain individuals in order for exclusive access, but let their opinions be influenced or bought. Other times they jump on the bandwagon and cover news without checking their facts, all because it needs to be published quickly. And sometimes, they make the mistake of attacking their own community. They say things like “Gamers are dead,” or other broad generalizations simply because they forget their place. Game journalists are not people who should be standing above the community as internet celebrities. Game journalists should not get in the habit of thinking their opinions are gospel and those who disagree are enemies. Far from it.

Our job should be to stand among the community and provide them with steady and reliable information. We have access to tools and assets that others do not, and as such it should be our responsibility to use them responsibly.  We can sit down with developers and speak with them about their design decisions, we can ask questions that the community otherwise wouldn’t get a chance to. We can cover controversial issues, but do so objectively by taking a look at all sides. We can give critiques and reviews on games while maintaining transparency in regards to our own biases. We are capable of this and so much more.

Gamers are not dead, and because of that neither is gaming journalism. The two exist because as long as people interested in games are asking questions, people interested in talking about games will try and give answers. But right now we are at a time where the journalism side needs to remember its purpose, and the community needs to decide on what that purpose is.

About The Author

Enrique C

There's no problem that can't be fixed with fire. Doesn't matter what game. If that doesn't work, use more.