Today I’m going to tell you about a person who gets a lot of abuse and criticism on the internet: Games Journalism.
Games Hayden Journalism was born in Portland, Oregon in 1979. Its parents, Barbara and Michael Journalism, could tell that at a very young age Games was destined for big things.
Games played its first video game at an early age, and was so blown away by what it witnessed that it decided to dedicate its life to preaching the good word of gaming to others.
At the time, the best way to reach these audiences was through print. So, a young Games Journalism released numerous magazines, charging gamers a small fee to find out about the latest games.
Throughout the ‘80s and ‘90s publishers brought games to Games Journalism and Games told its readers about them in these magazines. Sometimes it liked the games it played, sometimes it didn’t: and it was never afraid to say so, in order to ensure its readers only played what it felt was the best of what the hobby had to offer. But it was always passionate about the hobby in general.
At the turn of the millennium things started to change for Games Journalism. The steady growth of the internet had convinced Games that this was the way forward if it wanted to spread its passion for gaming to the widest audience possible.
With a bigger audience, however, came bigger problems. When Games was selling magazines to people there was an unspoken agreement there: it was offering news on games and the readers were paying to access it.
By and large, the odd unsatisfied customer aside, things went smoothly: if a reader didn’t like one of Games Journalism’s magazines, they wouldn’t pay for the next one. Both parties would go on with their lives.
But as the 21st century went on, the internet exposed Games Journalism’s work to an ever-increasing audience, most of whom were no longer privy to this ‘if you like it buy it, if not see you later’ deal.
For the most part Games Journalism was happy with this. Although the larger audiences meant its publications no longer enjoyed quite the same intimacy with their readerships, its words were still reaching a larger number of people, spreading the good word of games further.
The income Games Journalism got from people buying its magazines was instead being covered by advertisers putting adverts on the websites: only small, subtle ones at first (but I’ll discuss that in more depth in a future article). All was well.
But then, as the years progressed, things changed. The internet also made it easier for gaming enthusiasts to find out other information about not only the games they played, but the studios who made them.
Suddenly Games Journalism found that not all of its readers were merely interested in screenshots or videos of the next Mario or Tekken game: they wanted to know Capcom’s financial information, or how many people Konami were letting go, or whether Activision’s CEO was a wanker.
The immediacy of the internet also led to a greater need to report on this sort of gaming news. Magazines tended to focus on game previews and reviews because by they knew by the time they were printed and published any news in them would be out of date. But on the internet Games Journalism could now deliver news quickly.
Games Journalism changed its remit: no longer was it just telling people about the new games coming out, it was also covering daily gaming news, including these new specialist topics like games industry news.
Because these more niche topics attracted far smaller audiences (and therefore less ad revenue), Games Journalism started changing the way it reported on other elements of gaming in order to make up the revenue elsewhere. After all, if the money wasn’t coming into one of its publications, Games would have to shut it down.
Because happy people are generally quiet people, this meant the majority of voices making themselves heard in Games Journalism’s comments sections and forums were actually those from the negative minority.
Listening to them, Games started writing negative news stories, thinking it would generate more traffic. It was right. As is the case in general news reporting, scandal sells: a story about a game running better on Xbox 360 than on PS3 got many times more traffic than one simply showing screenshots of a new game. People on the internet like arguing, and Games Journalism gave people a place to do it.
These days, these arguments are no longer confined to squabbles among Games Journalism’s readership. In recent times Games Journalism itself has come under criticism, mainly from certain groups of angry people. For example, last year Games wrote an article explaining that ‘gamers’ are dead which enraged a small number of people more than willing to be offended. Yet just this week, it wrote another, this time called ‘We’re All Gamers’.
Gamers are dead, yet we’re all gamers? Eh? Accused of hypocrisy by a small yet vocal number of gaming ‘enthusiasts’, Games Journalism phoned its mum and dad for advice. “Keep it up, Games,” Barbara told it. “Don’t let the bastards get you down.”
Okay, you get it. The joke about Games Journalism being an actual person… it’s wearing a bit thin now, isn’t it? Then think how ridiculous it is that some people genuinely seem to believe it.
The ‘Gamers Are Dead’ article – as it’s usually referred to – that I mentioned above was actually one entitled ‘Gamers don’t have to be your audience: Gamers are over’. It was written by Leigh Alexander for Gamasutra eleven months ago (and, incidentally, doesn’t mention the word ‘dead’ at any point, but why let facts get in the way of hyperbole).
The ‘We’re All Gamers’ article was written by me, for Vice, on Monday. Different writer, different publication, different year entirely. Yet the number of people who have tweeted me accusing Games Journalism of backtracking has been silly. Like this lovely chap:
For starters, these accusations are inaccurate. My article and Leigh’s actually make similar points, that a small sub-culture of divisive angry teenage males do not define what makes a ‘gamer’, no matter how much they’ll try to tell you otherwise. Her article does it by criticising the group directly, mine does it by celebrating those who aren’t part of the group. But our message is the same.
But never mind the fact there’s actually no ‘backtracking’. Even if my article had said exactly the opposite of Leigh’s, my point would still remain: Games Journalism is not a person.
I am not responsible for the opinion pieces Leigh Alexander writes (most of which, incidentally, I love). Or for the fantastic articles Christian Donlan writes for Eurogamer. Or for the Miller Report videos on Videogamer. Or for Jim Sterling’s YouTube channel.
Similarly, when I was at CVG I was also not responsible for Rob Crossley’s opinion pieces on CVG, or Andy Robinson’s pieces on CVG, or Tamoor Hussain’s pieces on CVG.
Some of the accusations directed at me on Twitter these past few days have come about because in the past Vice has published some articles openly criticising a proportion of GamerGate members. Believe it or not, save for the odd aside comment on one or two Tired Old Hack articles, I have never written an opinion piece on GamerGate for any publication.
Mind you, given that some of them are so distrustful that they’ll actually link to an archived version of this very article instead of the article itself so I don’t get any traffic from it (a practice that is legally dubious at best… at least it would be were it not for the fact that I don’t actually make any ad revenue for this site so they’re looking at a poorly formatted pirate copy of my article for no good reason), it would appear I’m somehow no friend of theirs.
Regardless, despite having never actually been properly involved in making my specific and detailed thoughts known on that sort of thing, I have lost count how many times I’ve been accused of corruption, hypocrisy and lies because of what “Games Journalism” has said in the past.
My response to these people is always the same. My name is not Games Journalism. My name is not Vice. My name is Chris Scullion.
If you want to accuse me of hypocrisy, find articles I have written and use them as evidence when confronting me. This should be the standard rule when speaking to any games journalist, or any journalist in general. Angrily thrust a photo of Geoff Keighley surrounded by Mountain Dew bottles in my face and I may reply with a random photo of a bear kissing a tiger: I was as responsible for both of them.
Let me be clear: I am in no way saying every single games journalist is squeaky clean. I may never have experienced any corruption or dodgy dealings in my decade in this industry, but I have absolutely no idea what other individuals get up to, be that in America or elsewhere. Simply put, I just don’t know.
Maybe there are one or two bad eggs: I can honestly say, hand on heart, I’ve never met any, but it would be naive of me to think that games journalism is somehow different to every other industry in the world in that it’s immune from individual cases of skulduggery.
But if anyone is ever exposed of corruption – and I mean proper corruption, not fellow professionals discussing the industry in a private forum – in no way does that give you the green light to go “AHA! PROOF that Games Journalism is corrupt.” If one person is ever proven to be corrupt, that one person is corrupt. The rest of us are not responsible for their actions. If a footballer bites another player, they’re banned. Not their team, not their league, certainly not their entire sport.
On a less sinister tone, the same goes for reviews. Hypothetical situation: my friend, GamesRadar writer Joe Skrebels, loves the Dynasty Warriors games. I do not. If Joe reviews a Dynasty Warrior game one year and gives it an 8, then for some odd reason (unlikely though it may be) GamesRadar commissions me to review the next Dynasty Warriors game the following year and I give it a 6, that doesn’t mean GamesRadar thinks the new one is worse. It means I, Chris Scullion, think that particular game is worth a 6.
If you have problems with these review scores your beef is with the writers, not the publications (though at least have the courtesy of playing the games in question first before deciding whether a score is ‘wrong’: I seriously doubt the countless people mocking IGN’s Party Babyz review know for a fact that it’s shit).
When I worked for Official Nintendo Magazine people constantly accused me of bias any time I gave a Nintendo-developed game a high score. No problem, it comes with the territory, the name makes people jump to obvious (untrue) conclusions. My response was usually to point at the occasions in which I gave Nintendo-developed games low scores, such as WarioWare: Snapped on DSiWare.
“Ah, but you also gave Wii Play 91%”, would come the inevitable stock reply. “No I didn’t,” I’d counter. Cue their link to the ONM review in question, followed by my observation that the name on the byline didn’t say ‘Chris Scullion’.
If someone else wrote a fantastic article for Vice and I tried to claim praise for it because I’ve written for Vice too, people would rightly shoot me down and call me all the pricks under the sun for trying to muscle in and take plaudits for someone else’s hard work. It works both ways, then.
If a writer writes something you don’t like, by all means feel free to air your displeasure. Contact them and give your counter-opinion, should you really desperately feel the need. Do not be under the impression that you’ll be able to ‘enlighten’ them and change their opinion: you will not, and you’ll come across as insulting to their intelligence.
I also can’t stress this enough: if you can’t just let an article lie and need to tell the writer you’re peeved, do so respectfully. If you tweet them with an attitude, dropping snarky, passive-aggressive comments or outright dishing out insults or abuse, you won’t get a reply: if anything, you’ll be blocked. Contrary to what you may think, this doesn’t mean they’re “hiding from the truth” or that you’ve won. It means you’re a fucksmith.
Regardless of whether you do choose to (respectfully) respond, be sure of one thing: your problem is with a single writer, and their single article. Not their publication, and certainly not that mythical prick Games Journalism.