"We know games journalism is awful, but…"

It’s about time I turned my attention to this as well.

One of the more shocking realizations perusing Gamergate, the hashtag which is its namesake, affiliated and indie gaming news sites, opposing gaming news sites, mainstream outlets which have run the story, forums which entertain discussion on the topic (for one side or the other), or practically any other place that includes discussion, is there is a single conclusion that is near-universally accepted:

Gaming journalism is awful, corrupt even, and the gaming press is generally horrid at its job.

Biased reviews, lavish press parties and junkets, influence-bartering and leveraging access, incestuous relationships, destruction of the wall of separation between content and advertising, underpaid and overworked writers, low barriers for entry, degraded workmanship and quality…it’s all there. No one denies it, least of all people in the profession itself; it had long been to the point of being an inside, sick, joke among gamers (and the gaming press) how singularly horrid gaming journalism actually is, which I suspect is no small reason that after one scandal after another over the years, it remained begrudgingly tolerated among consumers. Even outspoken Gamergate opponent Ben Kuchera wrote about it on the now-defunct PA Report.

As a brief aside, Gamergate opponents inside the press would deflect (and have deflected) this criticism by saying Gamergate is barking up the wrong tree, by going after indies when the triple-A industry is the “real” source of corruption. I would disagree, and have written about why before. Simply put, the gaming press is the industry’s “fourth estate” and implicitly charged by the gaming community to acts as its ombudsman against the industry; that it is derelict in that duty is the fault of the press, and no one else’s.

It’s not as if the gaming press cannot dig deep, find some shred of ethical fortitude, and utilize its power as the media, or has never done so in the past. Bonus points for the fact this article was also written by Kuchera, and explicitly mentions influence- and access-bartering within the industry. Apparently, this only happens (or the topic arises) when the gaming press has vested (financial) interest in acting like journalists (or not), contrasted against principle.

Returning to the point, there is a clear consensus (even among gaming journalists) gaming journalism is in an excessively poor state, particularly in regards to industry corruption, and has been for years. There is certainly room for contention as to why this is the case (and I hope I have made my thoughts clear, if not explicit), but not that it is, in fact, the case. I would even go so far as to say the general poor quality of gaming journalism, and the continual shenanigans of gaming journalists, have been normalized, to borrow a term (chiefly, its usage and connotation) from the opposition.

This boils down to one undeniable conclusion, stemming largely from the consensus view of the state of the gaming press: the gaming press, and gaming journalists, are not trustworthy. I have written in the past about this here, more directly in regards to how the gaming press frames its protesters, as well. Of course, being the gaming press is the chief source of opposition to Gamergate, one must if they are to remain intellectually honest ask, especially if they accept the consensus view regarding the gaming press and its trustworthiness, “how can we trust the gaming press to speak truthfully about Gamergate, when the gaming press and its members themselves are the implicated party, especially when implicated parties have vested self-interest in an outcome amenable to themselves?”.

After all, the gaming press writing about its own beat-wide controversy represents a colossal, self-evident, conflict of interest — a notion egregiously swept aside in a glaring, unironic, demonstration of precisely the issues around which Gamergate coalesced. Individuals certainly have the right to defend themselves in the court of public opinion, but is this circumstance appropriate?

To this, as a brief aside unrelated to the question(s) at hand, I would add the claims made by the gaming press and affiliated individuals aren’t even parsimonious.

The short answer to both questions is no.

The long answer is, if we accept the consensus view the state of gaming journalism is corrupt, and acknowledge Gamergate’s allegations directly implicate the gaming press in at least dereliction of journalistic responsibility if not outright malfeasance, then we must conclude the gaming press cannot be trusted to speak truthfully about Gamergate, particularly in light doing so represents a conflict of interest in the presence of which the gaming press freely writes anyways.

Really, simply saying the gaming press isn’t trustworthy is sufficient, but I figured I would drive the point home due to somehow being contentious when it should otherwise be self-evident. Note the state of being corrupt directly implies untrustworthiness (the two words are synonymous, in fact). Whether or not we agree with allegations against the press by Gamergate, or believe the sincerity of those making the allegations, those allegations still exist.

Turning away from the coldly logical and into the polemic for a moment, accepting what the gaming press says about Gamergate at face value would be akin to the American public listening to Richard Nixon on November 17, 1973, and saying to themselves “well, that settles it. The President said he’s not a crook, he must not be a crook!”. This is, after all, the gaming press’ “I am not a crook!” moment.

Could the gaming press be speaking truthfully about Gamergate? Well, yes. A broken clock is right twice a day (despite being wrong the other 23 hours, 59 minutes, and 58 seconds); the wolves did eventually come for the shepard boy’s flock (never mind all those other times he cried wolf); Nixon was one of the most progressive Presidents we’ve had on environmental issues, ended the draft, and actually made a go at universal health care (you know the rest of the story. Is the gaming press speaking truthfully about Gamergate? Well, that’s the question of the hour.

Notice in an earlier paragraph, I stated “…accepting what the gaming press says about Gamergate at face value…”. That is intentional, since guiding principles in this circumstance should be skepticism and rationality. If you, the reader, understand the consensus view regarding the state of the gaming press, and why that consensus view is the case, why accept comments made about Gamergate by the gaming press at face value? Circumstances as I have elucidated them demand at least skepticism and independent investigation to come to one’s own conclusions, if one is to remain critical and intellectually honest.

“We know games journalism is awful, but…” No, no buts. We know games journalism is awful, period. Which means it’s time for you, dear reader, to reject games journalism at face value and draw your own conclusions. If, at the end, you agree with games journalists on the issue, so be it; all I, as one person, ask is that conclusion is your own.

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