What the hell even is Gaming Journalism?

Edit: I feel like this piece has been greatly superceded by this RPS piece . It covers all of my points and then some and does so much more thoughtfully. While you might enjoy reading my off-the-cuff, emotionally charged spin on the issue, I suggest you read the RPS piece as well.

An important element I think I missed is that even the things I said might be able to be reported “objectively” end up just being material given by publishers. Not only is it uninteresting news, if delivered impartially, it is nothing but ads and reinforcing troublesome parts of the system we all claim to hate. Anyways, for archival purposes, here is the piece I wrote…

I’m sure you’re sick of this topic and so am I, but bad news keeps coming in. Jenn Frank and Mattie Brice have basically quit videogame writing at all this. The #GamerGate people are screaming good riddance. “Gotta get rid of all this bias and corruption in journalism! Boo~!” but here’s the thing… Neither Jenn Frank or Mattie Brice are really “journalists”.

That’s not a dig, either. Journalists give you the news. They preferably give it unbias and dispassionately. If they’re not digging for stories, they’re best being passionless robots. While I’m sure Frank did some journalism at one point, what she, and Mattie Brice were writers. They wrote opinion pieces. They were culture critics. For that, you want the opposite of what you want in a journalist — you want passion and you want a position to be taken. Personally, in this field, writers kick the shit out of journalists because there really isn’t much gaming news. Games are an art and art is subjective. I’ve always found the call for ‘impartial and unbias’ reviews to be hilarious. Reviews aren’t journalism, even if they suffer from the same corruption problems. If you want an “impartial review”, read the wiki page on a game because that’s what it would be like. Instead, the most successful reviewers are often the most opinionated. We get to know the people we read reviews from and learn when and where we agree and disagree with them.

What makes this even more frustrating is most opinion pieces are better insulated from corruption in the industry. Big previews are basically big ads (often paid for by companies before they are even written) and reviews feel pressure constantly to give more favorable review scores (especially now thanks to metacritic). The industry is a hype machine and it’s business model makes it so most of the money they receive comes from the media they have to talk about. That industry has other problems too, which plague even normal news outlets these days, such as people never checking facts and just believing other articles.

Surprisingly that rarely comes up with #gamergate (Yes, I’m sure some of you are talking about that. YES, I know you don’t endorse the people who are harassing folk. YES, I do think you’re an idiot for choosing now to fight that fight and sabotaging your cause due to #gamergate’s association with gross misogyny. No, don’t message me about it or link to your fucking github that suggests pretending to be a middle eastern cab driver to garner SJW sympathy. I read it already). Instead, people are attacking people known for their social justice oriented opinion pieces under the guise of “corruption”. It’s hard to figure out what they mean about corruption in this context. If they mean ‘progressive ideas and spreading amount game writers and developers’, I guess yes, we are being corrupted. You will be assimilated, resistance is useless, etcetcetc… but as far as actual corruption goes, a thing I see surprisingly often is “THESE PEOPLE ARE KNOW EACH OTHER.” or “THIS PERSON IS DONATING TO THIS PERSONS PATREON”.It’s… almost as if people who like video games and writing gravitate and become friends with people who are also into that… and support the works of those who they feel are excellent at their craft. Strange! I read someone say on a forum that if he went back in time and was told how interconnected everyone in the industry was, he wouldn’t believe it because of how preposterous it is. What do these people think, that people live in insulated boxes? OF COURSE THIS HAPPENS. It’s the same reason why I see people who have made it in the art industry constantly commissioning other artists. People who care about their craft want to help other people they think are great at their craft. And want to be there friends.

In places were things overlap that can be a conflict of interest. That was the basis of the whole Zoe Quinn drama… but nothing actually happened with that. You don’t have to be a saint as a journalist and avoid all earthly pleasures, you just gotta avoid letting your self write about things you’re bias about. Someone might go “Well what about that Jenn Frank piece where she defended Zoe Quinn!” … Like, that was an op-ed, bro and the Guardian didn’t think her disclosing her friendship was important. Why, you might ask? IT’S A GOD DAMN OPINION PIECE. You are basically ASSUMED to have a bias. Jenn wrote an article about how she sees things. It’s not like she was paid off to lie and defend Quinn despite feeling differently or something. Most of the greatest writers ever were deeply involved with the things they wrote about. That’s what made their writing compelling — it was deep and personal. That’s what they provide, that journalistic articles cannot.

Gaming Journalism has been a mess for years, but Gaming Commentary has been getting better and better and Frank and Brice would be among some of the best. To see them and others like them targeted under the guise of “Fighting corrupt journalism” is a farce and those doing the attacking don’t seem to know what journalism is, or what corruption is, or even who to blame (protip: In most cases of corruption in this industry, it’s not the journalist’s fault anyway, it’s the publisher. Employed writers are at the mercy of their employers and driving off an employee would only get them replaced by someone else who would be forced to do the same thing). Instead they lash out at people who are scaring them and make it sound like it’s a noble endeavor. I’m sure some people honestly think they’re just trying to fight for good journalism, but, well, to use someone else’s words.

giving you the benefit of the doubt that you’re not just a raging woman-hating misogynist, i’m sorry to have to tell you: you have been had by some raging woman-hating misogynists. they have framed their crap in terms of Our Tribe Is Under Siege Oh No and you have swallowed it hook, line, and sinker.

it’s basically the same tactic the republican party uses to keep racism alive: just use the word “welfare” instead, along with the traditional stereotypes of laziness and inferiority and worthlessness. people will practically turn it into us-vs-them for you. it’s like magic! if you’re lucky, they’ll even spice it up with some moral panic!

(Tumblr user Eevee, covering some of the same ground as me)

19 thoughts on “What the hell even is Gaming Journalism?

  1. Hate to suck-up with adding anything, which is normally a poor comment, but amen to that.

  2. I’ve been saying the very same things, even though I’m definitely for gamergate. anyone who makes gamergate about corruption – though of course they will make it about corruption because otherwise they cannot unify and cannot believe it’s a greater purpose – anyway anyone who makes it about corruption is falling for groupthink. parroting without thinking.

    the articles claiming the death of gamer, however, frame the narrative of Our Tribe is Under Seige Oh No regardless of the existence of women haters or not. woman haters are irrelevant (besides possibly being the underpinning cause) to the marginalization and contempt some journalistic websites held for their target audience.

    is it worth a social crusade? not really. it’s easy to dismiss the death of gamer, it takes absolutely no effort. but gamers haven’t been satisfied with their press for a long time, so selfishly their so-called social crusade will continue.

    I was going to silently browse your blog like normal, but I really, really take offense from that tumblr post. it doesn’t link up to what you’re saying at all. taking a side or not taking a side doesn’t supplant you into anyone’s master plan. groupthink, popular opinion, and maybe even mass paranoia will form on their own, whether or not you agree.

    america is in a budget deficit. multiple journalists decided that gamers have passed on. occurrences are inarguable. people can conclude what they want, and people can use those as they want, but it’s nonsense to underpin the happenings as part of a larger conspiracy. it’s not planned to that much of a degree. capitalizing on a situation is not the same as constructing it and the minority of women-haters who are part of gamergate should not represent the movement.

    I’m sick of being called a woman hater. plain and flat out sick of it. gamer is not a synonym with misogynist, although for some reason people want it to be.

  3. “I’ve been saying the very same things, even though I’m definitely for gamergate.”

    No, you’re not.

    #gamergate is about misogyny, full stop. It was inarguably started by people actively seeking to drive women out of the industry. This is a well documented fact. Those behind it have been attempting to obscure this fact by making claims that it is about “journalistic integrity” or “defending their identity as a gamer” in the hopes of attracting a bigger crowd to spread their message of hate farther. This is also a well documented fact.

    As absolutely none of the people under attack have, in any way done anything which can be considered a breach of journalistic ethics, nor would any of the things they have been baselessly accused of be a breach of journalistic ethics if there were any truth behind those accusations, no informed person with any legitimate concerns about journalistic ethics would want to associate with these people.

    The concept that anyone, anywhere in the gaming press could possibly hate “people who play videogames” as a group is also a complete fabrication, and frankly one so absurd and self-contradictory I can’t see how anyone could possibly not immediately dismiss it as a baseless lie.

    Regardless of your feelings about these subjects, what you are actually doing if you rally behind the #gamergate flag is lending aid to people who are actively attempting to push women (who, interestingly enough, happen to BE both unfairly persecuted gamers and highly ethical journalists) out of the industry, if not into suicide. This is an absolutely unconscionable thing to be doing, and any potential good you might be trying to do would be better served by disassociating yourself from that mob of thugs and joining the various discussions people are having which actually revolve around those issues.

  4. Kayin, you really are so on point with your observations. I’m glad I chose this blog to keep up with as my #gamingnews source. I don’t read much else, because I don’t want to or need to. The closest I get to reading another gaming blog is nerfnow, which I mostly just enjoy the fanservice and the tongue-in-cheek.

    You are right, of course. The most important thing for a gaming writer to do is to express opinions, and in that way effective gaming articles are mostly criticisms and not journalism. It’s important to distinguish between them, as they result in completely different conversations. Anybody speaking of gaming journalism is irrelevant, and anybody criticizing gaming criticism is permitted, but annoying as it quickly becomes simply meta and irrelevant. Honestly, who cares who screws who anyways?

  5. Hah, sorry I don’t post enough to be quite useful enough for that.

    Whats odd is I can’t see anything reviews that is reviewed the same way people seem to want games reviews. Well, besides appliances. All media reviews are really opinionated and no-one makes a fuss about it. Well, besides comics I bet. I bet people make a fuss about it there, but for the reason we’d suspect (“unbias reviews” = “reviews that don’t make me feel uncomfortable for liking problematic media”). It’s funny that the changes that people are getting mad about are the changes that are improvements.

    I mean the whole journalistic standards people expect (BE A PURE VIRGIN WHO MAKES NO FRIENDS) is insane and no where near as lax as actual news standards… all for an industry that has far less news, and news that is orders of magnitude less important. Anyways, thanks for the love.

  6. And wouldn’t a breakdown like games on the shoryuken wiki or gamefaqs be more useful than a conventional review? Wouldn’t even a watered down version of that be more informative than the average review?

  7. Yeah, pretty much. That sort of thing is of course super valuable, but not quite good as a “review”. I can’t imagine someone being like “Boy the frame data in this game sure looks swell, I think I shall purchase it!”. Information is only so valuable without context. Knowing a game than going on a wiki gives you a lot of good stuff because you have the context to use that information. If you’re looking at it to inform a purchasing decision, well… you have little context for most of the information, even if you’re knowledgeable in the genre and can infer a lot.

    Then you can go on SRK and see what people are saying. They’ll be bias, but they’ll be bias in a way that you, someone looking at fighting games competitively, would want. This is why I’d say the issue with reviews now is that they’re not bias enough. No other type of review attempts to be unbias like video game reviews. We need bias reviewers and enough of them so we can find reviewers who share our tastes and who’s opinions we can understand, imo.

  8. ” I can’t imagine someone being like “Boy the frame data in this game sure looks swell, I think I shall purchase it!””

    I Would actually purchase a game based on the hitboxes

  9. Most fighting game reviews (and I’d say most other game reviews), aren’t informed from the type of breakdowns that go on on the SRK wiki, or similar resource, they aren’t produced by the people who would know to look at that type of information, and they’re generally just a feature sum-up with some vague platitudes about how much the person liked it or how good the features are rather than trying to create context in describing how the system works in a way that allows viewers or readers to determine for themselves.

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ocFBgZz8278
    This video by Novril flipped my opinion on Xrd in a way that no review probably ever will. I previously thought it was a watering down of the series, with an easier RC mechanic to boot rather than changing the RC mechanic in a way that allows for a very different and fluid style of play and new ways to mess with your opponent. And I don’t think information like that is going to come from literally anyone currently reviewing games professionally. I’m using fighting games as an example here because it’s more clear-cut.

    I don’t think information about how a game system works is something that is inherently biased, or that bias is something we want. If the matter really was all purely subjective and there is no such thing as quality, just value to the individual, then these reviews with their number scores fail us on that level too. They don’t lay out on the floor the way the parts of the game interact with each other for the reader to evaluate. Reviews aren’t written as a “if you like a system that is designed to emphasize this” sort of thing, they say it’s smooth, well-written, has a cinematic flair, the controls feel tight, confusing, fluid, or a dozen other acronyms that are too vague to really interpret except as good or bad. What are the differences between Bayonetta and Devil May Cry combos or enemies? Why would these differences lead people to prefer one over the other? These are actual static systems we’re describing that lead to an average result, and I think it’s only fair to try to derive answers that are consistently correct to us and informative enough to create expectations in other people that are consistent with what they experience in the game. Tier lists for fighting games are a bit hazy or difficult to evaluate, but you’re not gonna tell me that Anji is a better character than Eddie overall when you’re the person hosting the accent core matchup chart. And if someone tried to make a matchup chart that was completely unrelated to you, they would probably get a similar result, because even though you both make different subjective conclusions based on your own experiences, the game objectively functions and is objectively played in a certain way, leading to similar results. Even if being perfectly objective is impossible, seeking to overcome bias isn’t something people should avoid or dismiss. Fighting games shouldn’t be the only types of games getting this analytical treatment, and it shouldn’t be restricted to niche or specialist sites.

    I recently tried to find out if the lost planet series was any good, since 3 was on sale and I thought I heard positive things about it in the past, but I had nothing to go on, and no resource to consult. It got a positive metacritic score, but so did bioshock infinite and spec ops the line. The reviews that exist don’t really tell me as much as some fan-site’s review of a quake custom map, to use a cross-game example (because finding game reviews that are so much as informed by an objective view of all the game’s various features and facets is nigh impossible).

    I’m not involved with gamergate, but I don’t think anyone currently writing about games is really valuable at this moment (maybe a few that write on their personal blogs instead of big sites). If you have counter-examples to cite, then I’ve been seeking them, link me as much as you can.

  10. It’s really quite simple, Kayin. Games writers (we don’t have to call them “journalists” if you don’t want), whether they write simple reviews or op-ed pieces, are there to protect and aid the consumer first and foremost, not producers or developer friends.

    Having producer/developer friends is fine. However, this must be disclosed when reviewing their products, so the reader can make the relevant judgment. There is no logical argument for suppressing such information.

    I feel similarly indignant when I read book reviews on Goodreads from a friend of the author who does not disclose this.

    What we have seen in the wake of this is how much major games writers (Leigh Alexander and Ben Kuchera both come to mind) UTTERLY despise gamers, the very audience who enables their existence. (Existence doing absolutely nothing of value, but I digress)

    And Kayin, since you’ve hitched your wagon to the SJW side, are you going to take Helena Horton’s advice? https://twitter.com/_watsu/status/506132761456148480

  11. “Bias” is a noun. “Biased” is an adjective. When you are describing a person’s opinion, the correct word is “biased”; when talking about those biases themselves, the correct word is “bias”.

  12. Hey, reviews are crap but the point is more that they’re not crap because their bias. Tataki’s break down can be valuable because he has particularly expertise, is taking to an audience who cares about the details and is speaking about a genre which lends itself well to such analysis’s.

    Most games out now and being reviewed are not super “system heavy games” nor do most purchasers really grasp or care about that delicate balancing act most of the time. Even with competitive games, most “general” reviews are reviewing for what they think their audience cares about. MK9 might be a shitty fighting game competitively, but it got reviewed well and did well and had the average fan respond to it well because of a lot of things that don’t fall under deep mechanical analysis).

    Really, even Tataki’s deep mechanical focus on mechanics is sorta his own bias. Which is great for us, but not so useful for everyone. Here’s sorta my feeling on why reviews are bad…

    • Too much focus on being general.
    • Too view specialist reviewers with particular expertise
    • Inconsistent reviewers. When we look at reviews for other things, most tend to gravitate to a few reviewers they feel like they trust, but gaming publications have different people almost randomly reviewing different games to be efficient

    So if you look at Tataki’s overview or look at some other specialist reviewers, you get the opposite of those points. Now someone like Tataki is always going to be a niche, but I think we could see a lot better done in general gaming publications. Hope that makes sense?

  13. should I reply a month later?

    no, I shouldn’t. yet, I don’t like being so grossly misrepresented. I’m a person, I’m not gamergate, I’m not a puppet to the mob masses. what wisdom is there in judging people by actions of a whole? has the world omitted exceptions? there are no individuals in gaming, I suppose. only mobs and masses. now my destiny is to commit gender motivated crime… as a gamer there’s nothing else left for me.

    I didn’t even post about a breaches of ethics. nothing I wrote was motivated by zoe. anyone who is motivated by zoe is more than likely an idiot. her game is below average and sleeping, or cheating, with people is utterly ordinary.

    what I don’t honor are anti-business or anti-consumerist policies, no matter how other groups use the situation for their own gain. no matter what motivated the sentiment, the response that “gamers are dead” was anti-intellectual. I know that because it is easily dismissed. the ease that it is dismissed makes it worse in this context.

    I care about videogames and art and the advancements of design. that’s why I visit kayin’s blog from time to time, he’s a naturally talented developer with a kind of comical optimism and straightforward views on things. I don’t care about gender politics enough on either side. (please, don’t take my admission of apathy as confirmation of being part of either side, though that is the way of the world). I would have never even bothered until the responsible media representations, instead of continuing in a reasonable manner, decided to abandon their responsibility and declare their audience phased out.

    now the obvious response is to dismiss my opinion because it’s dealing with the surface and not the issue, but frankly, I never had energy for the issue to begin with, and the surface is the part that is visible. intel dropped advertising for gamasutra and those responsible have taken a somewhat congratulatory position. they’re acting like they’re a nonprofit voice of change instead of a business. it’s my opinion that journalism SHOULD act like proper businesses and participate in proper kickbacks. they SHOULD be ‘corrupt’, at least in most of the ways gamers are dissatisfied with. does my opinion matter to the issue at hand? I would say, no, it doesn’t really. I just wished to point out that gender isn’t the motivator for every person. I don’t even have a twitter. until this post, I never even voiced my opinion on it. because gamasutra can do what they want, their consequences for acting anti-business have naturally occured.

    we can phase out sexism by not humoring it. the more you focus and accuse others of being sexist senselessly, the problem exacerbates fuller. it takes awareness and consideration to make change, not witch-hunts and smear campaigns. I know these are empty words regardless of the context, but the lack of nobility from either side paints gamers raw in general and in the context of politics I find neither side as a mob worthy of support.

    I write reviews. I write them for myself and my friends. I don’t have an audience. however, I can’t agree with the opinion that critique in general is bad. critique is the means of progress and learning. those who write with scholarism in mind can seperate their bias from the work, I’ve seen it in the literature community. it is true that there are few, if any, admirable reviewers, but I think an upwind will eventually happen. intellectualism in gaming is only beginning. people are still relating games together and figuring out what generally works and what doesn’t. it’s not reviews that are flawed, it’s just that gamers and videogames have to catch-up to how far reviews have come over the decades.

  14. This is hella late but no-one said anything here:

    “Games writers (we don’t have to call them “journalists” if you don’t want), whether they write simple reviews or op-ed pieces, are there to protect and aid the consumer first and foremost, not producers or developer friends.”

    NO.

    NOOOOOOOOOO.

    We are well past the stage of the medium’s life where we needed people to say whether or not a game had basic competence. The vast majority of games clearly the bar of being functional and more or less competently made; what separates a good game from a great game now is great design. That’s what reviewers are for: they are first and foremost for the medium of games, with consumers coming second to that. This means that reviewers should put the medium of games over the interests of consumers when they’re in conflict, as Brad Bird famously put it, “in discovery and defense of the new… the new needs friends”. Without it, the medium can’t grow – look at Ubisoft’s increasingly bland output, or Call of Duty, when criticism no longer matters to the success of a work.

    Or look at reviews of GTAIV, or MGS4, where reviewers, acting as consumer advocates, glossed over the many problems the games had in order to reassure consumers that their preorders weren’t wasted. They weren’t! The games were fine as consumer products – but as art, they weren’t great. You’re only now starting to see that change, to see reviewers call out games like Bioshock Infinite or Destiny that are perfectly competent, but have real problems in their execution that would have been glossed over five years ago.

  15. Hey wasnotwhynot! It sucks that you feel that way — attacked and the like. I can’t blame you for it either. But lemme tell you how I feel about this same problem and it my or may not help you out.

    Now I’d be lying if I said I didn’t occasionally cringe at some big informal generalization. “Kill all white people”,”Kill all straight people”, “kill all cis people” or whatever. I generally don’t mind when it’s funny, but when it’s really serious (not in intent, mind you, but tone) I can get a little bothered. But like 10-20% of me is “Augh I wish they didn’t have to say it like that.” knowing full well they’re generalizing to vent their frustrations easily… I mean they don’t mean ALL (blank) people. 80% of me though is mad at the people that the person IS talking about! “Ugh! Stop representing us straight cishet white dudes so poorly!”

    That’s how I feel with the gamer thing too. I know a lot of people who are for all intents and purposes, Gamers, but have guys constantly trying to push them out or treat them like shit or harass them to some sort of ridiculous level. Can I be mad at those harassed, excluded people when they scream “Nan, FUCK gamers”? Nah I’m thinking about the guys who’ve been shitlords to them who are making a poor reputation for gamers.

  16. I don’t know where to put this, but I really am looking forward to more brave earth news!

  17. Sadly unless something weirdly interesting like the localization issues come up, I probably won’t post too much until the game is close to coming out. I don’t wanna blow my load too soon with things taking longer than expected. But here’s something you might enjoy that was on my twitter that you might not have seen. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MfnhX-_VMMs

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