On straw men, the gaming press, and why Gamergate will never end peaceably

I finally took the time today to watch this video by George Weidman of “Super Bunnyhop”,

you guys might know it as the video for which the now-famous Greg Lisby interview was source material. While watching it, one thing which had been stuck in my craw since the beginning of this jumped out to me, which is the near-singular attention and response to the most extreme, least-informed, and therefore least-credible voices among people who have spoken out on the consumer action-cum-movement.

I’m not calling Mr. Weidman to the mats about this; despite tongue-in-cheek (and, to be honest, somewhat on-point) commentary he was fair to the points made by Gamergate, provided disclosure whenever the situation actually did call for it (for example, disclosing personal relationships with sources), and his source material complete with citations in their entirety. Which, as far as I can tell, puts him head and shoulders above the gaming press proper of no less than the last decade.

Onto the original point, this is of course not a phenomenon restricted to games journalism; it occurs in every level of media, in every field and beat. Jokes about how the evening news finds the biggest redneck in town to talk about the tornado and how it sounded like a freight train, the largest collection of negative African-American stereotypes on legs to talk about city shootings, the most smoked-out hippie to talk about liberal issues, and the dumbest gun-waving lunatic to talk about gun control exist for a reason. It drives viewership, and advertisement revenue, to indulge an audience’s biases for laughs, pander to bigotry, or frame and drive a narrative; it’s that simple. But, we’re here to talk about the gaming press, so the gaming press we shall talk about.

Commentary from the gaming press at large clearly responds to the vocal minority lacking in credibility, something to which I’ve alluded in the past on this very blog,

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

neglecting if not actively avoided voices in the middle, or voices with experience or knowledge in journalism and journalistic ethics. Invoking Hanlon’s razor on this allows us to conclude the gaming press is merely trying to drive controversy for viewership and page revenue — otherwise known as the “clickbait” phenomenon (a major source of the general degradation of games journalism over the past few years). Attributing this behavior to malice — perfectly understandable, even rational, given social media commentary of the last two months by many of the selfsame individuals — forces us to conclude the gaming press is building straw men, framing Gamergate as indulgent and even malicious in its ignorance of journalism.

The truth is, many of us now speaking out already knew enough about journalism to know the behavior demonstrated by the gaming press is, and has been for years, thoroughly unacceptable. Those of us who didn’t, have received enough of a crash course to know what is and is not acceptable. We already knew gaming journalism has been a joke for years (if ever there was a moment it wasn’t), and precisely why. We know what constitutes conflict of interest, and that professional collegiality does not (and we all know about what we’re complaining well exceeds that); we know appearance of impropriety is what is to be avoided above and beyond real impropriety; we know the wall of separation between reporting, editorial, and advertising is no longer extant and why; and no amount of framing is going to change that.

That is, in itself, emblematic of the very environment of opacity and unaccountability that has been tolerated far too long by, as far as I can tell, the most patient and forgiving (if not tactful) audience of any branch of mass media. Personally, I can’t imagine a fraction of the shenanigans and general malfeasance carried out by the gaming press being considered remotely acceptable by any mainstream outlet. Clutching pearls at what event was “the final straw” for gamers understates this toxic environment existed for years, and ignores that sooner or later, gamers certainly would have said “no more”.

Which brings me to why, I believe, Gamergate is an existential conflict (at least for the gaming press) and there is no possibility for peaceful resolution. First, a bit of general context:

https://eacaraxe.wordpress.com/2014/10/03/on-negotiations-and-leverage/

https://eacaraxe.wordpress.com/2014/09/21/on-corruption-and-transparency/

On top of those things I discussed gamers already know, we also know journalism is founded on one core principle from which stems all of these exacting guidelines, standards of conduct, and ethics rules. That core principle is the unspoken compact of trust between journalist and audience; before all else, the audience must trust journalists to investigate, report, and even editorialize factually, with due diligence, and without letting individual bias supersede and compromise produced content.

That trust, once broken, never can exist again. Sure, audiences with careful image management and handling by editorial staff can grow to trust an individual journalist after a breach of trust, but never to an extent that existed prior. Trust is also a fickle, fragile thing, which is why appearance of impropriety is to be avoided as well as real impropriety, especially when breaches of trust can end careers, mar the reputation of their outlet, or even in the most egregious of cases the entire profession.

This is certainly the case with the gaming press in light of Gamergate. Very little if any real trust in the gaming press on their audiences’ parts existed prior to the controversy, and whatever did is now gone…perhaps forevermore. The plural of anecdote is not data, but I can certainly speak for myself in saying I trusted none of these implicated outlets before, and in light of the controversy I am regretting that choice made long ago not in the least; nor will I, even if these outlets undergo extensive restaffing and reform, trust any of the implicated outlets again such is the extent of the bad faith fostered and demonstrated by the gaming press in light of this controversy.

For many of the implicated individuals, their careers as “journalists” (if indeed they ever called themselves such, or held themselves to anything remotely resembling journalists’ standards of conduct) is over. You can see as much for yourself by the ever-so-subtle (sarcasm) shift in narrative divorcing themselves from the word, preferring instead “blogger”. They know that if their outlets reform, or otherwise try to meaningfully advance the field of games criticism or journalism, their heads will be first to rhetorically roll as their audiences not only distrust them, but actively dislike them (and not even in a “love to hate” sense of the word which would see critics playing the heel for ratings or pageviews) on the basis of that distrust and past malfeasance.

This is precisely why many journalists, whether they admit it or not, are outspokenly critical of revised codes of ethical conduct such as those employed by Kotaku or Escapist in response to the controversy.

The Rubicon was crossed with “gamers are dead”; either implicated individuals bludgeon their audiences into quiet submission, or they lose their livelihoods as their names become too radioactive to hire and their names too radioactive to publish. This is why we’ve seen double-down after double-down, ever-elevating levels of angry (and now, violent) rhetoric, and even pleas for help from a mainstream media hungry for controversy and revenue, and eager to stave off their own days of reckoning at the hands of their own audiences, in turn angry for many of the same sins.

https://eacaraxe.wordpress.com/2014/09/08/on-gaming-journalism-and-mass-media/

Advertisements