Regardless of which of those concerns you raised, many of you made the point that the gaming press generally does not adhere to traditional journalistic standards. You have a point. “The standard should be higher,” you told me. I’m inclined to agree.
There are, however, significant distinctions that need to be made, and virtually no I spoke to made them. More than once, I was pointed to the Society of Professional Journalists Code of Ethics or the “10 Absolutes of Reuters Journalism” as a baseline for reform. Some of the standards we find in those are applicable across the board — bans on plagiarism, for example. Others are not.
To understand why, it’s necessary to acknowledge another distinction. Those codes were written primarily to uphold the reliability of news reportage, but not everything published in the gaming press is news reportage. Even stories that look like news aren’t always news. That’s because, historically, games journalism grew out of what’s called the enthusiast press — meaning that it was (and still is) written primarily by gaming enthusiasts, for other gaming enthusiasts.
It’s possible to see that distinction a bit more clearly if you compare the way games have traditionally written about in a venue like, say, the New York Times, versus the way they usually covered in gaming magazines. Even when they weren’t being downright skeptical, non-enthusiast publishers tended to be at least agnostic about the value of games in general. When you write for an enthusiast press, though, you’ve already thrown out some measure of objectivity, since it’s assumed that you and your reader already agree that games are worth your time, money and interest.
Its origins as an enthusiast press have left a deep impress on the industry. A current events reporter for Reuters may sneak into a war zone to get the unvarnished truth, but that isn’t how enthusiast presses work. They rely for most of their information on the companies whose products they cover. Most of the news stories you read on your favorite gaming site are based on press releases. The interviews wouldn’t be possible if the site hadn’t maintained an amicable relationship with the publisher. The juicy tidbits that weren’t meant to be revealed so early are typically the result of writers and developers chumming it up at expos and conferences.
“Corruption” probably isn’t the right word for all of that. It isn’t like gaming magazines and sites started out with the standards endorsed by the SPJ and Reuters, but lost sight of their values over time. All along, chumminess with the makers of video games has been the cost of access to the information you’ve demanded as a gamer. That isn’t a recent development, and if you’ve been supporting the gaming press up until now, then you’ve been complicit in supporting those relationship, whether you realized it or not.
And if you really think it through, you probably don’t want that to change entirely. After all, as gamers — which is to say, as enthusiasts — most of us enjoy the anticipation that’s created when a gaming site reports what they’ve learned about an upcoming release, even when that report is based on a press release. You cannot avoid or dissolve the relationships that make those reports possible, save at the cost of losing that coverage.
All the same, some gaming publications have, over the last several years, made a concerted effort to include more investigative journalism. You can usually distinguish it from news based on press releases by the fact that investigative journalism usually makes someone look bad. Which is how we should want it — that freedom to make someone look bad when they’ve done bad is what the codes and standards you pointed me to were written to protect. If you want that sort of coverage (and ask youself, do I want it? — maybe you don’t) then it makes sense to insist on more traditional journalistic standards. But because this is still a relatively new approach for the gaming press, doing so is less about decrying corruption than it is about encouraging the industry to grow.
Growth will mean insisting upon the distinction between serious investigative journalism and the sort of enthusiast reporting that has traditionally passed for gaming news. If you’re promoting #GamerGate because you like the way the gaming press covered games before writers starting investigating topics like labor exploitation and the gender divide, then you may want to stop insisting on higher journalistic standards. If those standards are important to you, then you’ll have to tolerate those sorts of articles, even when you don’t like the light they case on gaming. As William Randolph Hearst famously said, “News is something somebody doesn’t want printed; all else is advertising.”
The same goes for the third tier (after enthusiast and investigative reporting) of the gaming press: criticism. As much as, or maybe even more than, reporting, many of you told me that you wanted to ensure that game reviews remain objective. Depending on what you mean by “objective,” that may not be possible, but I think we can all agree that, at the very least, reviews should be relatively unbiased by the author’s relationship to the people or companies whose games they review.
At the same time, many of you told me that you wanted to see less social criticism in those reviews. If you really think that through, you’ll see that you can’t have it both ways. There’s a deep contradiction imbedded in the notion that, on the one hand, writers shouldn’t be beholden to developers when they review a game, and that, on the other hand, they should avoid criticisms they feel are relevant. Most game publishers don’t want to be criticized for the social prejudices they may have worked into their games. As such, the simple fact that a writer or editor would be willing to publish a social criticism ought to be treated as evidence that the venue is maintaining some independence from the industry on which it reports. Even when it doesn’t interest you, even when you disagree with what’s been said— even if, as some of you expressed, you feel personally affronted on the game’s behalf — you ought to welcome such criticism as a check on the sort of cozy developer/press relationship you’ve called corrupt.
There's more there, but it's worth a read.
If the sheer fact that they’re using your name to harass other gamers isn’t enough to motivate you, then maybe recognizing how they’ve worked to undermine your goals will. The fact of the matter is that some of the people they’ve driven away are people who have spent years working to transform the gaming press from an enthusiast press to a more properly journalistic industry. They’ve done so by daring to say and print things that games developers don’t necessarily want them to say. They’ve fought to make gaming more inclusive for people who have generally felt excluded. They are, in other words, deeply allied to the causes you’ve espoused, and they’re being targeted because, against all odds, they’ve managed to gain ground. You can’t afford not to rally to their defense because you can’t afford to see them give up.