Tag Archives: Gamergate

Opinion – Why Shouting Doesn’t Count as Journalism

Cause professionalism means shouting.

Rock Paper Shotgun’s John Walker recently sat down with noted developer Peter Molyneux to discuss Molyneux’s Kickstarter-funded project, Godus and some of the questions surrounding the delayed implementation of that game.  The interview was notable for its antagonism towards Molyneux.  Walker didn’t just bring up problems, he ripped into the developer and even started the interview by calling Molyneux a pathological liar.  It was brutal and unnecessarily hostile.  It also showed the complex lack of journalistic professionalism of much of the video game criticism world.

The media surrounding video games sits at an awkward position between hobby news, artistic criticism, and genuine journalism.  It’s clear that video games reviewers and editorialists have very little formal training in their chosen craft and that most are selected based on their writing talents and love of the medium.  This means that they are often unfamiliar with the basic rules of reporting and struggle with issues like gifts or under what conditions a game can be reviewed.  The end result is a critical community that passes on industry announcements as major news and fails even the most basic tenets of professionalism.  I don’t make any claim to particular knowledge about journalism, but the mistakes are obvious.

I’ll start with Walker’s interview as it shows two major problems.  The first is Walker’s interviewing skills.  Walker started that interview with the intention of getting the story he wanted.  He wanted to crucify Molyneux and so hurled accusations at him until the very end.  Now, Molyneux is infamous for overpromising, so there is some validity in calling him out, but rather than understand Molyneux, Walker tried to shut him down.  There is an interesting thread throughout the entire interview of how Molyneux justifies his repeated failures that would have made for a fascinating article, but Walker was too incensed to ever grasp it.   He just hammers the same point relentlessly as if there’s some value in Molyneux admitting his failings for the fiftieth time.  Even if the first attack was worthwhile, the subsequent attacks push out any further fruitful discussion.  This is the interview by an annoyed fan, not a skilled professional.

The other interesting aspect of his interview is how it contrasts with the rest of the industry.  Games journalists are notorious for softball interviews that show a game in the best light while glossing over flaws in the existing game or its predecessors.  This, combined with the regular publishing of release dates and new features, turn video game websites into marketing arms of major publishers.   The hobbyist element is most apparent here.  Journalists share in the community excitement about a game, but rarely move beyond that.  The only time a developer or publisher truly gets push back on their product or practices is when the review drops.  At that point, many gamers have already imbibed a wave of hype that may have influenced them to buy a game that otherwise stinks.  I also see this problem with previews. Reviewers generally give previewed games positive responses.  Rarely will a reviewer speak out about how terrible a game is, even if it’s only weeks away from final release.  At that point, the quality of the game should be obvious, yet the reviewer has the audacity to say its promising and then give a completely opposite opinion in the review as if this was the first word they had on the subject.

Perhaps the most obvious failing is the website’s and magazine’s handling of broader interest news stories.  Gaming doesn’t have many, but they do occur such as the link between games and violence or GamerGate.  The response from the big websites is generally muted with little reporting and even less follow through.  In the wake of the Sandy Hook shooting, major websites regurgitated AP news stories with very little additional content.  Surely someone at Gamespot or IGN could call up a local university psychologist for additional background.  I saw the same with GamerGate where gaming’s biggest websites barely made mention of the massive cultural phenomenon that was sweeping through gaming.  Those that did rarely went in depth or followed basic journalistic practice.  I saw exactly one article that consulted pro GamerGaters, but a number of articles that spoke to the author’s twitter feed or regurgitated some other post.  That isn’t journalism, its gossip.

Gamer culture and all that surrounds it is going through an interesting phase.  We’re developing a greater cultural relevance and expanding into new areas, but key parts of the mental and organizational infrastructure of the community have yet to adapt to these new circumstances.   We’re at a point where games journalists (and gamers) are going to have to decide what kind of role they want to play in our developing society.  If games journalists want to own the moniker “journalist” then they’re going to have to make major changes.


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Opinion – Wrapping up 2014

Arbitrary rankings for goodness!

2014 has been a bad year for video games.  From the controversy surrounding the Gamergate issue to the rash of overhyped games that failed to deliver, it’s hard to see this year as anything but a failure.  Still, there have been some successes.  In this article, I’ll go through my most disappointing game, but I’ll also highlight three games that show what the year could have been.  Let’s hope 2015 is better.

Most Disappointing Game – Civilization: Beyond Earth

This was a crowded field.  From the disappointing games I played like Borderlands: The Pre-Sequel and Farcry 4 to the others I mostly heard about like Destiny or Assassin’s Creed: Unity, 2014 was chock full of over promises and underdelivering.  Even then, one game stood below the rest.  Civilization: Beyond Earth.  I initially met the announcement of a Firaxis developed space Civilization game with a sense of joy and excitement.  We hadn’t seen a proper successor to Alpha Centauri ever and the premier turn based strategy development house was taking it on!  Unfortunately, the final product proved to be an extension of Civilization’s flaws rather than a proper development of the concept.  Firaxis failed to infuse the game with the story or the strategic depth of its spiritual predecessor.  Even without the comparison, Civilization: Beyond Earth was just a soulless game without much to recommend it.  There were certainly worse games this year, but few failed to live up to their potential like this game.

Best Surprise – Hearthstone

Blizzard Entertainment is one of the most public and successful developers, so it’s hard to say that anything they do is a real surprise.  That being said, a deep, complex collectable card game is incredibly difficult to make and Blizzard had no background in it.  Even without the experience, Blizzard created a fantastic experience in Hearthstone that only the beta players really saw coming.  From the variety of strategies to the slick interface, Hearthstone is the digital successor to Magic: The Gathering.  To be sure, the game has a ways to go.  Blizzard has a great deal of design space to explore, I’m not convinced it has a grasp on how to build cards for arena, and it doesn’t seem to have a clear strategy for rolling out new cards.  That being said, the base game is fantastic and accessible.  We now know that Blizzard has the chops to put together a compelling card game.  The question is whether it has the ability to maintain it.

Best Updates – Crusader Kings 2: Rajas of India, Charlemagne, and Way of Life

Any who have played Crusader Kings 2, know of the game’s ridiculous depth.  Even the vanilla version allows a player to control thousands of Christian leaders across almost 400 years of history.  Had developer Paradox walked away from their 2012 hit, it would have remained a great game.  What makes it truly one of the best is Paradox’s continued commitment to updating and improving CK2.  This year, we saw releases that expanded the world to India, introduced a story line around the Carolingian kings, and created an RPG-lite system for character development.  Paradox made an already deep game even deeper this year and shows no signs of slowing down.  If you haven’t had a chance to play this game, overcome its (admittedly, vicious) learning curve and dive into one of the best strategy titles available.

Game of the Year – Dragon Age: Inquisition

It’s telling that my best game of the year is also a heavily flawed one.  DA:I suffers from a number of bugs, odd pacing issues, and a generally uninteresting cast.  Even with its problems, it still provide the most compelling experience of the year.  DA:I is effectively two games.  It combines open world exploration with a dedicated scripted story line with the challenging, complex choices that we’ve come to expect from the Dragon Age series.  More than any game of the year and most games made, DA:I provides a clear sense of the world the player is inhabiting and the people who live in it.  The history, culture, and society are all center stage and intricately woven into the gameplay.  It’s telling that, as much as the first Dragon Age frustrates me, DA:I has tempted me to go back, endure that frustration, and truly make the story my own.

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Opinion – GamerGate and the Community

Last Steam game review will come next week. Promise!

If you’ve been remotely paying attention to the gaming scene, you’ll have noticed the kerfuffle surrounding GamerGate (GG). Starting as a collection of emails from an ex, GG exploded into a toxic cocktail of misogynistic hatred and self-righteousness egged on by heaping piles of Twitter and cliquishness.  GG is tailor made to show the flaws in the gamer community, both for the consumers and the journalists.

If you’ve read over the ex’s emails, then you’ll see that they’re an impressive breach of trust and say terrible things about the person who posted them. They allege that Zoe Quinn, developer of the much applauded Depression Quest, cheated on her then boyfriend with several people including a reviewer from the gaming site Kotaku.  I’m not going to comment on the emails beyond this because they’re really none of my business.  From here, GG commentary exploded in two directions, planned misogynistic attacks on Quinn and complaints about the closeness of developers and game journalists.  The commentary quickly took on the older issue of social justice warriors (SJWs).  SJWs are a group of game journalists that critiqued games with an eye towards the pressing social issues of today and have been attacked for inserting political views into the perceived neutral space of video games.  Supporters of GG continue to blur the lines between these threads by combining them allowing their opponents to brand the whole movement as abusive.  Anti-GG groups not wrong.

The GG community has repeatedly claimed that it is purely focused on the developer-journalist connection and the threat of SJWs, yet the vast majority of its presence on Twitter and other outlets is laced with hateful attacks or a denial of hateful attacks. Known anti GG speakers are being threatened for their views.  The comments page of any article on the topic is loaded with screed.  Perhaps most damning, recent information about Youtubers receiving pay for boosting games and not revealing their relationship has come to light yet the GG movement hasn’t jumped on that.  GG has a case of proven corruption yet it’s still focusing on nutty conspiracies that really on unproven allegations and supposedly doctored screenshots.  If GG were truly interested in journalist corruption, than there are easier targets with a great deal more evidence.

The above is what I have collected after considerable searching, which is a problem. The games journalists that are decrying the pro GG community are the same journalists that I would normally read to get more information on the GG controversy.  As you can imagine, there is a major conflict of interest and it shows.  In prepping for this article, I repeatedly ran into articles that had clearly never talked to a pro GG person (tweets do not count.  They have never counted) and sought only to portray the movement as hateful trolls.  That may well be the case, but it would probably help if journalists scanned something other than their Twitter feeds or the internet toilet known as 4chan.  As a result, I was having trouble finding sources that convinced me that they knew anything beyond the incendiary talk running around their own circles.  A favorite site of mine, Critical Distance, wrote this:

“It’s been about two months since a loose anti-feminist collective known as Gamergate began carrying out harassment campaigns and waves of abuse towards women developers, writers, journalists, critics, and many of those who are active in the indie community and the videogame industry at large. A lot has been written about this already, so I only chose the most enlightening and useful pieces regarding the situation.

It then proceeded to post a number of interesting articles that repeated the sins mentioned above. That’s also the nicest description.  It’s clear that many journalists have become combatants in the wars that they should be reporting on.  This wouldn’t be a problem, except that they aren’t creating a substantial enough divide between their advocacy and reporting.  Many sites report only the atrocities of the pro GG community splashing the death threats as representative of all who support it.  As far as I can tell, only the Escapist wrote an article soliciting the views of pro GG people and it was far more enlightening than anything I had read until then.  Games journalists cannot occupy the neutral newspaper position and the partisan editorial position without compromising both.  There needs to be a clear divide between the two roles lest news and editorials become confused such as with cable news outlets.

Games journalism and gamers are at a crossroads. A segment of gamers are increasingly uncomfortable with the idea that games belong in a critical space and should be discussed alongside pressing social issues such as race and gender.  Games journalists are trying to establish that critical space without resolving the conflict between journalism and criticism.  It has created an ugly brew that has brought out the worst in all concerned.  I happen to disagree with the GG viewpoint, but it’s an issue worth discussing, not insulting people over.  I also think that games journalists need to resolve the problem of their reporting on the stories they are involved in.  Most importantly, I think a little introspection and humility would benefit all sides.

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