By any other name: the integrity of ‘games journalism’

Journalism at its finest.

Journalism at its finest.

People have gotten it into their heads that, somehow, somehow,  Zoe Quinn’s sordid tale has ripped the covers off the supposed sanctity of games journalism. She slept with all these games media fellows, so…did she exchange sex for favours or something? Is she is encouraging other websites to censor articles on the subject? And hell, why are video games websites showering us with all these social justice articles, anyway? Who’s agenda are we dancing to? Who can we trust now?

I don’t see the big deal at all, because in my mind ‘games journalism’ was never a thing.

I see journalism as the gathering of information and news, and disseminating it to a wider audience. I suppose that’s what most gaming websites do these days, which is fair enough.

I wanted to be a games journalist when I was young. I enjoyed writing, and I enjoyed video games, so the two seemed to go hand in hand, right? I finally got my chance, and I only lasted a very short time. I hated it, because…well, there was no ‘journalism’. Let me explain.

The problem is that games websites are not meant to function like traditional, independent news outlets. Games journalism doesn’t set out to act as that series of checks and balances that encourages games companies to act in the best interests of the people. An independent news journalist may call things into question, discover irregularities, and present their findings. Certain journalistic standards also call for the refusal gifts and other offers to prevent any conflict of interest.

‘Games journalism’ doesn’t follow this mould. It doesn’t delve deeper into things that seem out of place and strange. It doesn’t call things into question. And as for journalistic standards? Tell that to the sacks full of loot that get doled out. This isn’t journalism: it’s glorified public relations.

'Why I love being a games journalist'

‘Why I love being a games journalist.’

The reason it doesn’t follow this mould is because the relationship between games publishers and games journalists the Video Game Enthusiast Press (VGEP) is symbiotic. The VGEP acts as a mouthpiece for the gaming industry. It shares media releases, recounts trade show and expo events, and offers impressions of video games after careful collaboration with the PR departments of game publishers.

I’ve interacted with a couple of PR folks from the video games industry. I was friends with one of them for a while. She worked for a major Japanese video games publisher (and she’s since moved on). She had a black book full of website editors. She maintained those relationships, and did everything she could to ensure good review scores. She was dating a games journo, too. It’s just the way things are done.

The close relationship between these two entities is so ingrained in the culture that it’d be hard for the VGEP to exist in any other way. The problem with reporting on video games is that video games are supplied by the people that make them—the grossest conflict of interest.

And at the root of it all—at the very core of this relationship—is money. Say what you will, but it is all about those clicks. No one wants to run a story on annual sales figures, or how some CEO might skim a bit off the company slush fund, or if companies are colluding for top talent, because it’s so much easier to just post 15-minutes of unreleased gameplay footage of an upcoming AAA game, or to repost some guy’s cool blog entry, or share some pre-baked screenshots sent in by a publisher’s PR team, or to post some divisive op-ed that trolls users for responses. It’s all about those impressions.

The VGEP isn’t there to ‘serve’ you. They aren’t obligated to expose the dodgy details of the industry—hell, it’s certainly not in their interests to do so. They maintain relationships with companies that aim to generate profit. They will post anything that will get them those impressions. And most of the time, they don’t respect the readers. At the time, I sure as hell didn’t.

I got your 'exclusive', right here.

I got your ‘exclusive’, right here.

If you want real journalism, go to the people. Every day users and tinkerers are the ones that uncover the real issues. From Sim City‘s lack of offline mode and sub-standard AI to the issues in Battlefield 4. They’re the ones that actually generate content. The VGEP simply parrots it back, and their peers propogate it like an giant echo chamber.

Don’t be sad that ‘games journalism’ is suddenly failing you because now it’s losing its integrity. It never changed.

I’ll continue this later on.

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