Let’s Talk About Games Journalism Some More

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One more quick one.

I’ve tried to be relatively hands-off with the whole Rab Florence-Lauren Wainwright debacle, and it really has become a debacle. You can get a great rundown on it from Ben Kuchera over at Penny Arcade Report, and Jim Sterling’s opinion piece on it was pretty well on the ball. (Also, here’s the edited article in question.) I talked about the differences between the enthusiast press and true journalism last time I wrote on this, and I should reiterate that there’s nothing inherently better about either. What it all boils down to is trust. Enthusiasts tend to forget the inherent power in their platform, perhaps, but there are plenty of bloggers, as Sterling points out, who do a pretty damn good job.

Others have said some really smart things on the matter as well. Total Biscuit’s addressing of the issue is a little more fatalistic than I think is necessary, but he’s right when he breaks down the idea that you can only sell your reputation once, and I share his viewpoint that we could all benefit from seeking out good work from different folks, and ignoring the weak stuff.

What irritates me is the number of games journalists who want to pretend nothing’s going on here, and are rolling their eyes that anyone might even bring this stuff up. It’s a ridiculous attitude, and one that highlights partially what Sterling mentions — the critics struggle when they’re the subject of criticism — but also that there are a number of journalists who would rather not deal with the very real issue that games journalism is often untrustworthy, or seen to be untrustworthy.

There’s not a lot to do in sitting around, complaining about the state of games journalism, but I also don’t really get how members of the press can go, “Oh, this again,” and pretend as if it’s just another day of high school-esque drama that doesn’t concern them. This is your industry, and the stupid actions of your colleagues don’t exist in a vacuum. They affect the reputation of all of us, of the very idea of what we do. Whenever you see someone doing something that calls their objectivity and ethics into question, it should be a reaffirmation: “This is not okay, and this is not what I do.” That is, if you’re serious about this in any way, because those actions call the objectivity of all of us into question.

Gaming journalism started out at a serious disadvantage, which is why I disagree with Total Biscuit when he says it’s beyond saving. This industry started like this; it was created by fans and PR folks, which is why it’s so dingy and screwed up to begin with. But it’s gotten better, not worse, as more respectable people have joined in and worked to add principles.

Anyway. The point for me is, no one gains from ignoring the things that went on in this situation, and acting like you’re somehow above the situation is silly. We’re all playing in the same pool here, and even though you’re at the deep end, eventually the pee in the shallow end gets in your mouth, diluted though it may be. Or something.

And if any of us purport to be watchdogs of the gaming industry, or tellers of truth, as journalists are supposed to be, then we have a duty to call out our own bad behavior as much as any developer or publisher or public figure. The thing that bugs me about this industry more than anything is that it’s completely self-serving, when really, the point of all this is to be of service to readers. Those are the people this is really supposed to be about, and games journalism really never was created with those people in mind — except to sell them games and advertising.

The bedrock of the problem is that, often, games journalism doesn’t know how to be journalism. It doesn’t look to inform the readership to protect it from exploitation, as journalism normally does, and thus weirdness like this situation often comes up. Readers expect you to be working for them, and they’re annoyed when you appear to be working for yourself at their expense.

Games journalism needs to figure out for whom it works, and every games journalist out there should be concerned with that question. The future of this industry more than likely hinges on it.

Photo credit: Eurogamer.net.

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Phil

He's like, you know, the guy.

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