Gamergate, game journalists, and issue #3

Originally posted via twitlong, 29 Aug. 2014

Okay, this is a long one but I ask everyone sit tight and read it all the way through, because I have a lot to unpack. Feel free to retweet and spread this post, if you like it, however far you like.

There still seems to be confusion, and a lot of confusion, about what #gamergate is about, and I’d like to proffer this as something people can read and hopefully gain a better understanding of what is going on, and why gamers are so irate at not just the ongoing scandal but also the response by game developers and journalists.

Yes, in a way, this goes back to Zoe Quinn. It does because this is an intersection of three individual controversies that happen to be intertwined:

1. Sexism and the treatment of women in gaming.
2. The professional — not personal, PROFESSIONAL — conduct of Zoe Quinn.
3. Ethics and integrity in games journalism.

All three of these exist, and while intertwined can be discussed separately in appropriate venues. The discussion of one does not necessarily detract from the others, nor does it negate their importance or trivialize voices who are taking part.

Yes, Ms. Quinn and her professional conduct, which unfortunately but necessarily involves her personal conduct in a VERY limited fashion (that is in no way an endorsement of personal attacks, threats, or harassment of Ms. Quinn, nor muckraking or excessive discussion of her personal conduct or private life, nor am I making personal judgments here of her or her conduct), are involved in all three. I won’t lie, or deny that.

The truth is, in relation to the third controversy, Ms. Quinn’s involvement is incidental and a flashpoint of a much longer-running, endemic controversy that dates back well before her involvement even in the games industry. If it wasn’t Ms. Quinn’s professional conduct that lit the fuse, then it would have been the next Jeff Gerstmann, Patricia Hernandez, Rob Florence, Geoff Keighley, Redner Group, or even Jessica Chobot whose conduct or response to conduct yet again laid bare the lack of ethics and accountability in games journalism, and/or the unhealthy relationship that exists between games journalists, their outlets, and the games industry.

We’re at a point where games journalism scandals are the norm, not the exception to the rule, and the shenanigans that go on are in gaming communities a running joke opposed to a genuine outrage. Well, not any more on the latter, apparently. We’re at a point where fellow games journalists are not merely failing to hold one another accountable, they are actively defending the appearance of (and real) improprieties of other journalists, in public, and with the support of games developers and publishers.

Take, for example Ms. Leigh Alexander who in her Gamasutra article referred to Kotaku’s announcement to require disclosure of conflicts of interest, and prohibition of crowdfunding, of their journalists a “partial compromise” with “howling trolls”.

Now, this is just me, but disclosure of conflicts of interest and prohibition against conflicting financial ties in the industry about which you’re writing seems fairly basic for standards of ethical conduct. It certainly seems to find a place in the forefront of every set of journalistic standards and code of ethical conduct I’ve found thus far. It really should make one wonder in what place Kotaku was before this policy change, and why it and other journalism outlets haven’t been abiding by this since day one. The fact there had to be a “partial compromise” at all, and those who pressured Kotaku to change this policy are categorized as “howling trolls” to apparently no protest among game developers and fellow journalists, speaks at phenomenal length at how endemic and deep-seeded the lack of ethics and integrity in games journalism really is.

I wonder, then, if as a journalist Ms. Alexander is opposed to the disclosure of minor conflicts of interest, and recusal in the face of major conflicts of interest wherein the journalist has significant financial or business ties to the subject(s) of their authorship. Does she believe impropriety and the appearance of impropriety is to be avoided at all? Does she believe “the wall between church and state” that strictly separates news, editorial, and advertisement should exist at all, or should this wall “simply” be porous?

These are the same people who are telling us there is no issue #3, that this is all about misogyny and sexism, and Ms. Quinn’s private life. We’re howling trolls, harassers and threateners all, and whatever labels mark us as outgroup to be disregarded at every turn because we have nothing of merit to say. It’s game journalists telling us there is no problem with game journalism and declaring open season on us for daring to say otherwise, because we are as Ms. Alexander calls us, “obtuse shitslingers” and “childish internet-arguers”. Strong words, from a games journalist whose article is ostensibly written to prove there is no problem with games journalism, and that it’s a construct of our own misogyny and straw men.

Basically, the foxes are guarding the henhouse, and apparently we’re the hens. A curtain of demagoguery of, by, and for game journalists, with the explicit approval of the games industry, has been slammed shut around the internal machinations of game journalism, and this is intolerable.