Gaming Journalists – Get real or get lost

gamergateOn the 16th of August, ex boyfriend of game developer, Zoe Quinn, published a scathing blog post about her sexual exploits, accusing her of infidelity, hypocrisy and sleeping with five men.

Why am I writing an article about it, and more importantly, why should you care?

Well, the aforementioned five men, most notably Nathan Grayson of Kotaku and previously RockPaperShotgun, were all closely related to the video game industry and could supposedly provide her with the publicity and support she needed to publish her game.

Needless to say, the drama sparked a social media storm and launched a proverbial witch hunt of video game journalists who failed to stick to basic ethical standards expected of journalists in other industries. Under the hashtag #gamergate, stakeholders have been expressing their discontent with the incestuous relationship between the press and developers.

A serious concern brought up as a result of these revelations was the way in which gaming journalists used Patreon, a site that allows people to crowd fund creative professionals in their endeavours. Ben Kuchera, a writer at video game website Polygon, wrote about the alleged harassment of Zoe Quinn, while financially supporting her depression inducing game Depression Quest, through Patreon.

Self respecting journalists are expected to at least report a conflict of interest to their superiors (if they exist) or disclose it in their related articles. Paying into a project makes you have a vested interest in its success. The job of journalists working in any industry, whether it be gaming and tech, fashion or auto mobiles is first and foremost to protect the consumer while reporting news with impartiality and respect for their audience. Failing to do so makes you a blogger, an industry watchdog, or just a guy with an opinion but most certainly not a ‘journalist’.

Polygon’s own “standards” reveal that their journalists cannot write about individuals or companies in which they have a financial investment, and yet this is exactly what “journalist” Ben Kuchera did when writing about a developer while paying her to do her job. This is just one example in a list of many that perfectly demonstrates how unprofessional and underdeveloped video game journalism is, featuring editors that can’t control their writers and perform basic quality control, failing to meet ethical standards that exist in far smaller industries and far smaller publications than Polygon.

You could certainly not be blamed for thinking that the healthy scepticism introduced by gamers would hit home with game ‘journos’, allowing for some much-needed reform in the space. Unfortunately you could not be further from the truth, as several publications have declared that ‘Gamers are Dead’ after the wave of criticism of the past few weeks.

Leigh Alexander of Gamasutra writes, ‘‘Games culture’ is a Petri dish of people who know so little about how human social interaction and professional life works that they can concoct online ‘wars’ about social justice or ‘game journalism ethics’’. It’s hilariously delusional and hyper defensive articles like this one that disappoint and show the average consumer that, sadly, gaming journalism has a long way to go before it’s considered to be on par with its equivalents in other entertainment media.

In a capitalist, consumer-based economy entirely focused on providing enjoyable and memorable video games to fill a void-filled market, how can game journalists conceivably come out and say that the people who buy games are socially-awkward losers who are not needed to move forward? Since when did journalists become the marketing arm of game developers? In what dimension do the press take it upon themselves to protect producers while demonising consumers? The gaming dimension apparently.

Regardless, if there is something to take home from this whole affair, it’s that gaming has become a little too big for its boots a little too quickly. Gaming is not that quirky geeky thing bloggers talked about on Myspace. It’s a massive multimillion dollar industry that deserves and commands respect.

If gaming journalists cannot rise to the challenge and meet basic journalism ethical standards, the industry will just have to leave them behind.

Columnist at York Vision and Chat Politics.