I remember a time when games journalism was in magazine form. Before the days when the Internet was what it is today. Dating myself in a BIG way right now. I know. But still, it’s true. Back in the late 90’s and early 2000’s, games journalism was exploding on the scene, because video games were becoming a massive industry. Around the year 2001 was when gaming just burst out and the medium got bigger and bigger, with it now having people debating about whether or not games were an art form. Things were happening, and as is typical in the modern age, they happened fast. Still, the magazines and the big names in coverage were kings. These people lived a very lavish life. Gaming companies couldn’t get enough of the press being all over them. They handed out new games, invited journalists to big events. E3 became a thing, and that made the medium an even bigger deal in the journalism world. It was a thing of beauty.
But, as is want to happened in the modern age – things changed. The AAA companies had now become so massive that they couldn’t help but need more and more money. You need money? Get more coverage. You need coverage? Make sure that games journalists stay on point and basically do the pimping out of your game for you. Then came YouTube. YouTube changed everything. It has changed media, forever. It has changed news. And, you better believe, it changed games journalism. Where once you had to be with a publisher and have a big company backing you, now you could go out on your own and make money. With the advent of Patreon and Kickstarter, you could get your audience to fund your work. Thus, we have seen old guard publication after publication die. Those that remain have been hemorrhaging money left and right. It’s a very nervous place right now, to be a games journalist. For losers like me, who still pursue the written word, it’s even worse. Because how many people even read news anymore? Some people have dealt with the changing face of gaming journalism better than others. Allow me to introduce you to Dave Cook.
He wrote an article for Vice where he comments on the current face of the industry, and says that “How Modern Games Coverage Has Reduced Critics to Human Punching Bags.” Let’s talk about it.
There’s a Reddit thread rolling called “What initially got you to distrust video game journalism? Was it Gamergate or was it before then?” that attempts to encourage a consensus in the wake of the Gamergate movement that, in reality, was less of a movement than my last shit.
I want it put out there that he begins this article talking about GamerGate, but this is pretty much all its mentioned. It feels like click-bait, if you ask me. And, like the rest of the critics who are late to the hate-on-GamerGate party, he has to make a big point about how pointless it is. I’m with Liana Kerzner on this one – it’s time for you all to just accept that GamerGate and the culture behind it is part of gaming culture as a whole. Don’t like it? Too bad.
I’m not going to relay the minutiae of this embarrassing chapter in gaming lore, but as a person who recently left games journalism after a decade of active service, it’s interesting to reflect and take an outsider’s view on how that area of critique now appears.
Alright, let’s hear it.
In short: I’m mostly relieved that I got out with my sanity (near) intact, had only a mild brush with depression during that time, and was victimised in only one Twitter “scandal”. I tweeted a game’s hashtag while drunk at an awards bash, won a PS3 as a result and suddenly became the new Hitler.
Huh. Could that be because being given a PS3 at a press event is a glaring conflict of interest? That sounds like the reason that people would be annoyed at a person who supposedly claims to stand for journalism, which (by definition) entails a level of objectivity. You weren’t victimized, man. You were taken to task for what you did. You didn’t have to Tweet out to win a PS3. I remember when this came up in a video that Angry Joe did about the gaming press and how it was so “I’ll scratch your back, you scratch mine.” No wonder you don’t like GamerGate. A lot of the people involved with this are the same people that attacked you back then.
From that point on I declared every press trip, free game or console and gift I ever received in footer of my articles until the day I left the industry, and I refused every single free meal or buffet table offered at events. The heart-warming thing was that readers really responded well to that transparency, and not another word was said. It goes to show the power of a few additional lines of text.
I would have said that you shouldn’t have accepted gifts of any kind, but whatever. I’m just a guy with a Bachelor’s in Journalism and Public Communication. What do I know?
Compared to some journalists I know, I got off easy. But the reality for myself, and many of my long-time press colleagues, is that the relationship between the writer and the industry is like that of an addict.
Yeah, Dave. That’s part of the problem. That’s part of what got us here, with you wallowing in self-pity and trying to defend your industry from the people who you are supposed to report fairly to. It’s like you want us to feel bad that you became corrupt. Like it wasn’t your choice. Screw that! You always have a choice. You could have had standards and not gone along with the process, but instead, you chose to be part of it. I feel absolutely zero sympathy for you. And, believe it or not, I’m a person who can call you out on it. Bachelor’s in the field you are supposed to represent. What are your credentials?
The hours are long, the lack of sleep is killing you, the amount of cheap swag you get sent with review code doesn’t pay the bills – and yet there’s nothing like the rush of getting a review out to embargo, surviving another E3 or pressing “publish” on a dynamite interview. It’s a genuine rush, and you have to be in it to understand why.
Believe it or not, here is the one place I genuinely feel sympathy for you. I get it. I really do. I have gotten to cover some pretty amazing events in my time as a journalism student. I got to talk to people at a giant protest, and document it in my first article I did on this site. I got to talk to municipal politicians and people involved in the community. I got to get a brief interview with a guy who actually has worked on artificial intelligence! Do you know how cool that is?! I understand the culture of journalism. But part of being in that culture is holding yourself to a standard. When you are able to look at yourself in the mirror and know that you are not becoming a shill. It’s not easy. I get that. The onus is on us to make it work. When you stepped outside of that, then you lost your objectivity. Your readers didn’t see you as Hitler. We saw you as a sell-out. Which, unfortunately, you are.
I’m paraphrasing here, but these stories mostly went something like: “One time we were in Russia getting pissed up in a vodka bar, and then Johnny Gamewriter was so fucked on blow he went outside for a smoke then went missing for five days – five whole days, it was amazing. We just went home without him. What a legend.”
Another thing I get. You get into an industry, there are the legends. The people who are the top dogs. The ones who have been there and been involved in crazy things. The people to look up to. We all have to, in whatever industry we end up working in.
In my naivety, I nodded and laughed while deep down some part of me wanted to sample some of the batshit war stories I had heard from the frontlines of games journalism first-hand. I wanted to go to Los Angeles with the office and get wrecked in bars I could never afford to drink in on my meagre salary alone, and impress others with my tales of excess. And for a while I did.
If I could have lived the life that Edward R. Murrow did, you bet your ass I would be there. But you couldn’t have believed that the party would go on forever, Dave. You couldn’t have. Things always change. Things changed for Murrow. Towards the end of his career, he was doing pitiful meet-and-greet programs on a broadcast that news people referred to as “See it Now, and then.”
Clarity took hold and all of a sudden I yearned to go home. It was clear that we didn’t belong in that world and I started to seriously question press trips. What was the point of them when I was going to give the game an average score at review anyway? It all felt so wasteful.
And it is. It was unbelievably wasteful. It’s the kind of crooked journalism that lead to GamerGate in the first place. That mentality that has permeated around your industry has become so pervasive that it may be impossible for current games journalism to remake itself in time to save what little credibility it has.
But the relationship between press and publisher is a symbiotic one, and as such, you often have to be in that “room” to get access to games, interviews and the things required to do your job – and yet journalists are painted as villains. It makes no sense. Consider that the press thrives on new content, and exclusives elevate outlets above the chaff. Now ask yourself: who allows writers to have that content? Publishers.
See, no. Part of the onus is on you. I don’t get how you can describe how you and others with in your profession were enjoying the lavish treatment that these companies give you, and then claim that it isn’t your fault that you became corrupt. You had a choice! You always have a choice! If the publishers won’t give you want you want, because you won’t play ball, then there’s a story! For real, make the publishers feel the heat for their actions. Then you can invoke real change! You all chose to kowtow to them, and now you want my sympathy. Screw you! If this self-pity bullshit is your best defense of the industry, then I honestly think that you deserve to fail.
Now, I’m still friends with many people who work in gaming PR and at publishers, so the above is not a condemnation of them personally. They are simply doing their job as told, just like journalists. It’s the unstoppable force versus immovable object scenario, where neither side makes a compromise. They’re tethered together in such a way that only a colossal sea change can affect the status quo. Are the press taking cash bribes from the other side? Absolutely not, but you probably don’t believe that and never will. More fool you.
You didn’t take cash bribes, but you took a fucking PS3, man! How does this not register!? You describe getting access to clubs where the likes of Kanye West are sitting! You talk about war stories of getting trashed beyond reason in Russia. That is a bribe, man! If you want to rationalize it all away as the cost of doing business, that’s on you! But don’t you dare say that we should feel bad for you because you didn’t have a single moment of professional detachment where you chose not to be part of that back-scratching system. This is so offensive! What has journalism in this country become!?
Believe it or not, things were changing for the better long before Gamergate failed to change anything. The party was over, money in the industry was tighter due to spiralling production costs, and the excess was receding before our eyes. Events were shifting focus back to the games and the people behind them, instead of getting smashed in a swanky Canadian nightclub and having a dance-off with Spanish journalists. True story.
Oh, boo-hoo! You had to do your job again! What a fucking pity! Poor you! Ugh! This is…god I want to beat you with a ball-pin hammer. It’s like when those rich people tell you – my ex-wife took my Lakers tickets! I don’t care! Yeah, the party had to end. That’s the nature of the industry. But your seeking my sympathy for this wallowing is just infuriating. It’s like people wanting me to feel bad for Rolling Stone magazine for what is happening to them now. I don’t! And I don’t feel bad for you! The perks ended, and people who couldn’t get away from that lifestyle ebbed away. Too bad!
Then there was the grovelling. I was tired of begging publishers to grant me access to developer interviews at expos, tired of writing articles that validated the hype spun by marketing teams. I quickly found that being brutally honest about this process and calling the hype out either got me ridiculed by other journalists or slammed by publishers online.
Let me get this straight – you show journalistic integrity, and you didn’t like it because it made you unpopular. Again, waiting for the moment when I’m supposed to feel bad for you. If having to do the hard work and keep the journalistic standard is too much for you, then what did you get into the industry in the first place for?!
The modern war stories of gaming aren’t about jollies funded by publishers. They now revolve around tales of personal anguish at the hands of the reading public. Those same people who wanted to see the death of phantom corruption, the press parties and non-existent bribes now want to see the games press annihilated altogether.
I don’t get the cognitive dissonance here. You spend an ENTIRE article talking about how you used to have a lavish lifestyle in the industry, and then say that what we gamers have come to understand about the broken nature of games journalism is a myth. Are you stupid, crooked, what? Oh, right, you said earlier that you are still tight with people who you covered. You’re still in with them! So you’re still crooked! And you want the rest of us to feel bad for you. The last two paragraphs of your article are more of the same, and I am going to end my response to you with what your actions deserve. I am going to write a longer post in the near future about the broken nature of journalism right now. This whole diatribe about how you once had this great life in the industry and how your audience made you not like it anymore just makes me realize that you people don’t even care about doing real journalism. If you did, then you wouldn’t be against us GGers. You’d be with us.
Fuck you and fuck your industry too!
Until next time, a quote,
“Let’s give them a pat on the back, followed by a punch in the face.” -John Oliver, Last Week Tonight with John Oliver