So there seems to be this interesting wave going through the blogging community regarding the state of gaming journalism. It seems to be the usual “gaming journalists aren’t real journalists because they have opinions” tomfoolery that seems to rise and fall every once in a while. It’s not the first time that this subject has come up, and it certainly won’t be the last.
But sitting down to think about it got me on an interesting train of thought — one where I actually began to think about gaming journalism against topics like “real journalism,” aka, news, and journalism that focuses explicitly on media forms. Not “the media” mind you… journalism that centers on the entertainment industry or perhaps books.
Now, mind you, I’m in a very lucky position. I have training as a “real journalist” thanks to my college writing track and I work for a MMO news website where we take pride in our integrity and, for the most part, post our news articles (not our op-ed columns) without bias. We say what happens, we try to make it interesting to read, and that’s it.
Yet, even with our stances, you wouldn’t believe how many times we’re accused of being opinionated in our news posts, or how many times we’re yelled at by a reader for “manipulating” them with yellow journalism. And that leads me to the problem that separates our news from other media outlets — fanboyism.
Make no mistake — we’re a culture founded on being competitive. Pac-Man and Donkey Kong to World of Warcraft and beyond, we love trying to one up one another. We’ve always taken our competitions to more meta-grounds, such as our irrational need to proclaim one game as “vastly superior” to another. (See: World of Warcraft vs. Aion vs. Warhammer vs. Whatever Floats Your Boat. The odd need to proclaim a game as shit.) I personally thinks that this taints our view of our media in two ways: from the staff side and from the reader side.
Let me, first of all, back up Brian “PsychoChild” Green‘s assessment of my sister site — Joystiq. When they wrote up their notice that Near Death Studios was going under, their post was a little caustic for a rote news article. (Especially when you compare it to Massively’s coverage, and we’re sister sites.) Obviously Randy Nelson was using Joystiq’s standard style of being slight cheeky and acidic in every post, but it seems to resonate harshly in this article. These are the times when fanboyism is very clear and very unwelcome in a journalistic style. Now, I can’t fault Randy… what he wrote is simply the site’s style and he stuck to it. It works for them and it gains them readers, but it does certainly taint the idea of rote journalism for the rest of us.
However, the side that people aren’t noting or talking about is the stupid shit I have to listen to every day when we at Massively try to do our jobs professionally and to a more neutral standard. When we talk about all of the games that surround us, we get accused of being biased simply because we talked about X game. If we talk about a smaller game, obviously we’re being paid off by a developer to talk about it, such as when we cover Eskil Steenberg’s Love. Other times, if we cover a story that negatively affects a company, we’re being the big evil media site who’s out to smash the little guy.
Honestly, when I and the rest of the staff pick up a story, we do it because we believe it to be newsworthy and of interest to our target audience. The two key tenants of our target audience. Hell, we even make sure that we’re trying to talk about all games in the industry, even the ones that people don’t exactly love to death. Why? Because that’s what being fair means — we give page space to everyone. Is it always equal page space? No, because not all games generate news at an equal rate. Yet, because our audience reacts with a very competitive edge and hates to see anyone offend their game of choice, we are accused of “assumed bias.”
In short, what I’m saying is that the nature of our very culture taints how we read our news. Because of how opinionated we get as a culture, when others talk rationally, we see that as opinionated out of a defensive mechanism. It’s really unfortunate.
As to comparing our journalism to physical news coverage or entertainment news, it’s extremely hard. Physical news coverage doesn’t have the same level of opinion contained within it. You can’t say, “Man, I loved it when they covered that presidential election. That presidential election was the best sequel ever.” People don’t have that same type of reaction to the news. News happens, you talk about it to others, and that’s that. You can’t undo what actually happened. (You can spin it, however… and that’s what so many “real media” outlets are being accused of nowadays — heavy spin.)
As to entertainment news, once again, we don’t have that same type of rivalry with movie companies. You usually don’t say, “Shit! Guillermo Del Toro is way more badass than Peter Jackson!” or “Lord of the Rings really kicked Harry Potters ass. Harry Potter shouldn’t even be in the fantasy genre. Who the fuck subscribes to that shit anymore?” What happens is that people go out, view the movie, form an opinion if they liked it or not, and go on their way. Case closed. They don’t compare and contrast (even the critics) nearly as much as we do in the gaming industry. We, in the industry, feel that every freakin’ game needs to be compared to some other game in that genre and how it’s either X much better or X much worse. And I’m not saying we do it as critics… players do this every single day without even thinking about it. We’re all freakin’ critics around here. Competitive critics who have to be right.
But even the entertainment news has problems… how many times do we call them “Rag Magazines” when they pry into the personal lives of actors and actresses? How much is that media industry stained with useless gossip that most people brush off as petty?
So let me finish out with this clear cut statement — stop fucking comparing game journalism to other forms of journalism, as if you’re putting other forms of journalism on a pedestal. They all have their problems and it all comes down to people, as a group, calling every form of media “opinionated and biased.” Someone says the gaming media is tainted with opinion and bias. Someone else says mainstream media is full of spin and mistruths. And someone else calls entertainment media a bunch of petty star chasers or unreliable critics.
Guess what everyone? All this tells us is that we’re all opinionated and we’re all biased. Whoops.