Games Journalism has Changed. Deal With it (A response to Dave Cook)

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

Peace out,

Maverick

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11 thoughts on “Games Journalism has Changed. Deal With it (A response to Dave Cook)

  1. Hi, Dave here.

    Thanks for taking the time to dissect my article.

    First, you did have to tweet that hashtag to win the PS3, and I wasn’t alone. 20 other people won consoles and I was the only one to donate mine to charity after the whole thing blew up.

    So yeah I have already admitted it was a conflict of interest in my totally naivety, which I made clear in the Vice piece. But I learned from it, I stopped taking the freebies and my writing changes too.

    I started calling our developers, our reviews never had scores to begin with so we couldn’t be bought, I engaged with the community more and spoke with them as friends on Twitter. I refused to be part of journo cliques (I couldn’t because I live in Scotland, while they’re mostly all in London – I was literally at the other end of the country, and I never went on another press trip again.

    And you know what? I’m glad it all happened, because it made me (not others) a far more honest, open eyed person and a better writer for it. You probably haven’t read much of my work and instantly assumed I was an ashore when you read the vice piece. If so, I encourage you to do some reading of my pieces.

    But either way, it is categorically true that some people – in the NAME of GG – have given me and others a hard time for simply doing their job or having an opinion. Truth is that constant abuse and hounding does hurt. You wouldn’t like it if it happened to you trust me. I’m being honest here, it fucking sucks.

    So that’s why I left the industry, many of the readers became so aggressive it wasn’t worth the abuse, and I got fed up of publisher and dev control. I now don’t work in games at all, although I do freelance at times.

    I like to get on with gamers, to talk with them and discuss my favourite hobby, but that’s fine if you still want to say ‘fuck you’ I won’t give you a hard time for voicing your opinion, even.if your article gives me a hard time for voicing mine and entirely proves the point of my piece.

    Have a great day and keep on writing 🙂

    Dave

    • Hey Dave – freedom of speech works both ways. I’m not giving you a hard time because you are voicing your opinion. I have utterly zero sympathy for your opinion because you were a bad journalist, and if somebody doesn’t take you and your entire former industry to task for what you have become, then nobody will. You say that things were correcting themselves before GG. Guess how – because your consumers were getting fed up with the industry standards and how it was affecting news. GG existed before GG had a name. As for the public attacking you – grow thicker skin, dude. You say that I wouldn’t like getting attacked. I do get attacked! All the time! I have gone after Ron Paul, Islam and Fundamentalist Christianity. All three groups have sent me some pretty sick comments, none of which I mod, because I believe in the free marketplace of ideas. The one and only time I have moderate comments was with some of the death threats I got from the Ron Paulites.

      You deserve to have gotten a hard time, dude. You talk about being given passes to go to clubs where the likes of Kanye West are, and getting blitzed on Russian business trips. That’s a sign that this industry is crooked. By the way, I have the same problem with you that I have with EVERY SINGLE ONE of the people who got a free PS3 that night. You aren’t the only one who is guilty of the crime of being terrible journalists. You are just the first to try and get us to feel sympathy for you. If all you choose to take away from this is that I am just another person who says fuck you, that’s your choice, but from where I’m sitting – you and Rolling Stone are on the exact same level.

      • By the way – proof that you were crooked a journalist. By your own admission, you only gave up the PS3 because of the media firestorm. If it hadn’t have happened, would you have given it away?

      • I’m sorry if this sounds mean, man, but it’s time for you and your former industry to get some tough love. Games journalism is broken. You were a part of that. If you don’t want to acknowledge your complicity in this, that’s your choice. But I believe in what journalism is supposed to represent. If you don’t, that’s on you. But don’t think that we’re going to feel bad for the flak you get, when the simple truth is, if you had had standards in the first place, we wouldn’t be here. Angry Joe and Total Biscuit never get this way. Why? Because they don’t take bribes.

      • Hi Lucien fully respect that, yeah.

        Can a person not change though? I really did change what I was doing when people still aren’t. They’re still going to press events and taking freebies.

        There were 19 other people who won PS3s and like cowards they didn’t come forward. Yes I got caught and I’m glad – genuinely – because it made me see things in a better light and grow to hate and distrust what the industry had become.

        I called it out often on VG247 and it got me abuse from the industry. When i said I liked a game I was called corrupt. I was sick of the hounding so I quit, even after completely giving up the free shit and refusing to pander, I still couldn’t escape it. Not whining or looking for sympathy here, that was just the way of it.

        I called GG not a movement because it’s still frayed at the ends. People are still using it push brutal agendas – even if they aren’t truly GG – like apparently doxxing, bomb threats etc

        But after all the stuff I said in my article, I do genuinely hope that corruption and publisher control dies. I truly hate it, and my failing is I didn’t realise that the free shit was akin to bribes as I was told it was the done thing. Now I’m older, wiser and not susceptible to it. Shame the same can’t be said for many journos out there.

        Thanks For such a candid reply. Genuine discussion is always refreshing.

        Happy to talk some more as long as it doesn’t get violent etc.

      • I don’t get violent, dude. I have never and will never condone death or rape threats. Neither does anyone I know in GG. We can’t control the actions of trolls who use the movement to stir up shit. The truth is that the trolls aren’t loyal to GG either. We have gotten a ton of doxxing and harassment too. The difference is that our side doesn’t capitalize on it by making every threat into some huge Internet drama. We do what I do when I get a death threat from a Fundie – ignore it and move on.

        People can change. But, and now that I see that you aren’t a bad guy, I’m sorry, but I can’t feel sympathy now for what you did then. The unpleasantness you got is just par for the course, if you want to do honest talking on the Internet. Is it fair? No. It’s really not. But that’s what it is. You chose to leave. That’s what you’re free to do, that’s good. Hope you are happy where you are. But this article annoyed me because it showcased everything wrong with the industry, and still is. As you said, it’s all still going on. Unfortunately, you just happened to be the person who brought it all to light. You happened to be the launching point to an ideological carpet-bombing of the industry that needs to happen. And which will continue to happen, so long as me and the rest of my allies in GG are standing. Because there may be hope for games journalism. We have people like Angry Joe and Total Biscuit, the Investigamer and others. We have sites like Tech Raptor, who is on the fringe but still trying. I even write for a site called Gambitcon, bringing pretentious in-depth analysis to video games.

        I will say that your level-headed responses to my both-barrels attacks have gotten me to reconsider how unflinchingly harsh I was on you. I don’t regret what I said, but I will say that when I do a post about how broken journalism is right now, your article will only be used to showcase the rest of the industry. No need to attack if someone isn’t in the ring anymore.

      • Hi again, I absolutely agree that the violence is terrible and it’s a shame too many people get tarred with that brush. I also didn’t know that GG people have been doxxed. That’s simply Inexcusable and I’m sorry to hear it.

        The article was indeed to point out that this sort of shit was wrong and always will be. You nailed it. I had to admit that I had done some shit things to prove that point but I’m glad. Corruption has zero place in journalism. Full stop.

        But because publishers and press are so symbiotic, you can’t help but be less than a few steps away from dodgy practice. I mentioned that in the piece too, and I didn’t want to be a part of that world if that was the case.

        Again. I expect no sympathy for the freebies I did take, but until publishers stop making these trips the only way to review or preview a game, it won’t stop. It’s a big issue that demands huge changes that I’m afraid to say very few will be willing to make.

        I honestly don’t know what can be done, but I don’t agree with people who make all.press punching bags. They’re not all bad people or taking free stuff beyond review code, so some of their abuse is unwarranted.

        What do you think is needed to make the big change away from that press/publisher model? Can it even be done at all?

        Cheers again.

      • I think there is hope. Look at sites like Tech Raptor. They are an archon of good journalism that does its very best to give all sides their due and be fair. You have YouTube reviewers like Angry Joe, who has recently been taking some flak for his honest thoughts about Nintendo’s dodgy practices and screwy policies that will inevitably drag their company down the drain. The thing that has to go in order for games journalism to be saved is the symbiotic relationship. You point out that it is central, and if games journalism is to change, it has to go. And it isn’t just AAA companies that do it, either. The thing that got GamerGate stated was how it was revealed that there was collusion and favors being traded between writers for sites like Kotaku, Polygon and others and Indie devs. Until some real standards start getting made and enforced by publications, nothing will change.

        And that is something that GamerGate has accomplished. Several sites like IGN have updated their ethics policies about relationships and financial support, along with accepting gifts and the like. But it’s up to consumers like me and you to watch-dog, and be the voices who make sure that our media stays honest. The Fifth Estate is broken, right now. But it can be fixed. And sometimes that means making some journalists into punching bags. I feel no sympathy for Sam Biddle, who Tweeted that we need to bring bullying of gamers back. When journalists are crooked and do bad things, then we need to hold them accountable. My own style of doing that is to go out with both guns blazing. I’m not the type to hold back. But sites like Tech Raptor do the harder thing – keeping it level and fair. I commend them. I have also done my best to do so in my articles on Gambitcon, where I have taken on ideological problems, like the people who want gaming companies to make games that fit into their ideological bubbles about gender and race. Hardest article I ever wrote, since the principal people in that problem rub me the wrong way.

        There is hope, if people are willing to put in the hard work. The symbiotic relationship can be severed. It will just make things a LOT harder.

      • First step to breaking the cycle – no more gifts. No more early review copies. Does that mean that gamers will have to wait a bit for honest reviews? Yup. Angry Joe’s audience does it without complaint. Other gamers will too, when we know that we aren’t being jerked around. There’s an easy first step.

  2. Great reply again. I’m at work now so will reply when I get home tonight. Happy to keep the convo going!

    Will check out the sites you mentioned at lunch. Sound cool!

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