A brief response to the 15 Oct. HuffPo Live Gamergate panel

An edited compilation of points made via Twitter.

Two points came up during the interview about which I feel compelled to write.

First, Ricky Camilleri made a comparison between game criticism and film criticism, and accordingly film and game review. His point was that film critics approach the subject from certain academic or sociocultural perspectives and biases, ostensibly to make a dual point that subjectivity is unavoidable and that differing viewpoints are to be welcomed in a mature medium. I’ve already written about this in length,

https://eacaraxe.wordpress.com/2014/09/11/on-subjectivity-and-red-herrings/

https://eacaraxe.wordpress.com/2014/09/16/on-game-reviews/

and I stand by the content of those earlier posts. The issue with this point, is subjectivity and academic and sociocultural biases are not the problem in and of themselves. The problem is the intentional conflation of ludic (technical) review with sociocultural criticism, and in many cases the supersession of the former for the latter in the context of game review. Take for example, this recent review of Tropico 5 by Polygon,

http://www.polygon.com/2014/6/4/5720864/tropico-5-review-wasted-away-again

which was in near-entirety sociocultural criticism (and I would argue, deeply fallacious criticism as the entire intent of the game is to hold a mirror to the player’s face which the author apparently failed to understand) with very little if any real consideration of the game’s technical qualities, merits, or faults.

As stated in my earlier, linked, post, the notion of this passing for an acceptable standard of review in film criticism is utterly laughable. Agreeable sociocultural themes do not forgive a technically-condemnable film, and a technically-brilliant film is not invalidated on the basis of disagreeable or even distateful sociocultural themes, symbolism. or imagery (see, the aforementioned Birth of a Nation). Both aspects must be taken into consideration and weighed on their own merits, holistically or separately, without one superseding the other. That is precisely the phenomenon evident in contemporary games criticism, particularly by involved parties within the gaming press.

If a would-be film critic said Salo was misogynist garbage not worth the celluloid on which it was filmed simply because it included rape scenes, symbolism or authorial intent be damned, they’d be laughed out of the conversation. Why do, or should, we tolerate similar behavior in game criticism?

As with film, no credible person seriously argues sociocultural commentary has no place in gaming criticism. It, however, has no place influencing ludic review of games, as a surrogate for ludic review, or superseding ludic review as a standard of criticism.

Next point. Sexism and the treatment of women within and by the games industry itself came up, again by Mr. Camilleri. It’s an important point and one that needs to be addressed. Of course, that necessarily raises the question of who is, to this point, at least supposed to be the industry’s informal ombudsman, chief whistleblower to the consumer, and vehicle for accountability within the industry itself.

That would be the gaming’s “fourth estate”, the press itself.

The same people who, in any other circumstance but most egregiously in this one in regards to the triple-A sector of the games industry, rail heartily against corruption, press capture, and the oft-incestuous relationship between reporter and subject. The same people among whom are those fired for giving poor reviews by his own outlet for not being a driver of pageviews (Jeff Gerstmann on Kane & Lynch), are threatened with stripped access for the same (Ben Kuchera on Duke Nukem Forever), or are the recipients of outright legal threats and gag orders for making payola allegations (Robert Florence during Doritogate).

Interestingly enough, two of those three (Kuchera and Florence) in particular have come out against Gamegate despite the consumer action-cum-movement’s professed intents and goals, deciding instead to perpetuate the “Gamegate is misogyny” narrative. To that you can add Anthony Burch, who publicly admitted a month ago the existence of a “revolving door” between industry and press, recalling his own past as a writer for Destructoid and continuing friendships with members of the gaming press, as well as individuals such as Leigh Alexander who work simultaneously in the industry (as a consultant) and for the gaming press, both of whom are decidedly “anti-Gamergate”.

These are the people whose jobs are to investigate and report on the gaming industry, including industry and management culture, to its consumers. Interestingly enough, they aren’t, instead blaming gamers on presumptions of misogyny for that corporate culture, with which gamers ultimately have nothing to do. This would be like, in 1965, had Ralph Nader blamed drivers for the Chevrolet Corvair. It’s ridiculous and insensible to an extreme to blame consumers for not merely industry malfeasance but in an atmosphere of opacity and unaccountability as well, in many cases by the very people perpetuating that atmosphere.

It is, in the course of Gamergate’s ongoing and evolving timeline, awfully telling that despite having full knowledge of the events surrounding Zoe Quinn and freely discussing them behind closed doors, there was no concerted vocal response by the supposedly anti-harassment and pro-inclusion gaming press until two weeks after the fact, when allegations of widespread corruption, incestuous relationships with indie developers, and influence-bartering within the gaming press came to light.

It would be nice to have a gaming press that does its job, and is trustworthy enough to do so, and reports on problems within the gaming industry in the first place, rather than scapegoat to cover for its own dereliction and malfeasance.

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