Gaming History 101

Know Your Roots

I’m Done With Mainstream Games Press and Here’s Why

with 3 comments

The first time I engaged with video game media was in the first issue of Nintendo Power back in 1988.  Granted, it was really just a subscription I paid $20 for to get a free copy of Dragon Warrior.  Back then they were filled with screenshots, reader discussions, and just about anything else you’d expect of a web site nowadays only we didn’t have the Internet yet.  It was also run by Nintendo, so the messaging was far from unbiased.  As time went on I would get more balanced reporting from the likes of Electronic Gaming Monthly and DieHard GameFan although many would be right to point out some questionable behavior at these outlets as well.  Eventually games coverage went online and with it came a whole new era of interaction along with the problems that plague the online transition even today.  A problem started eating away at me, perhaps due to my getting older, but regardless of the source I started taking issue trusting the mainstream games media.  That finally came full circle yesterday when I straight up decided I could no longer deal with what is childish, pedantic behavior from a group of individuals who would rather point fingers at each other than try to fix these issues as a team.  You know, the Internet.

What This Piece Is and What Caused It

Anytime you see pieces like this, they are vague and flooded with links that apparently convey a point but ultimately start to look like those yarn patterns detectives use in movies to find a killer.  i’m trying to avoid this, mostly because I don’t think that large issues like this are as complicated as some people would like to believe, but I provide links so you can do the research yourself.  If a situation requires a story that is too long, you start to lose focus on the core issue.  Any parent will tell you that sitting down with two kids to figure out what happened in a fight knows this to be true.  Games media has been in this state for a decade now and I’ve had it.  Let the children have their playground, I’m not interested in hanging around anymore.  For the record, “children” in this case refers to everyone involved in both sides of this discourse regarding trust in games media and has nothing to do with age.  This piece is attempting to be a clear, concise reasoning for why I reject games media in its modern form and to start a discussion here about everyone else’s thoughts.  I’ve edited this piece many times to get it here.  I do suspect, however, that few of you will respond or have a strong opinion.  This is not a challenge by any means, if I want something I’ll ask for it, but rather a concession that many of you don’t care anymore.

To kick it off, the article that was the back-breaking straw was this by none other than Russ Pitts, former Escapist writer and co-founder of Polygon (both web sites I never cared for), and now returning to head round 2 of The Escapist.  His piece is clear from the title: How Do We Finally Talk About Ethics? Apparently we don’t, we just attack and moan until the audience gets bored.

For those that don’t want to read it – and I don’t blame you – Pitts lays out his relation to the situation and somewhat selfishly acts like he’s been in the thick of it the whole time.  I say this because we all were, if you were engaged in the Internet games media either as a professional or an audience member then you qualify.  Pitts demonstrates a big problem games media has: they forget their audience is here and the basis for their jobs.  He then points out that ethics in the video game industry needs to be cleaned up and the industry has to start building trust again with its customers after the messes that have existed with everything from GamerGate (yes, I said it) to loot boxes in Battlefront 2.  He gives three major reasons why this is happening and then completes it by saying The Escapist’s rebirth will strive to make changes.  On the surface everything here seems legit, understandable, and you probably agree with some or even many of the things he’s saying.  Here’s the problem: this isn’t for you, it isn’t about you, and it isn’t what it seems.  It’s calling out his peers with a wink and a nod only to have them return with a slew of horrid remarks publicly on Twitter.  Congratulations Russ, you’ve proven your point by continuing the trend.  You weren’t being transparent, you were being coy along with all your games media peers and pretending we don’t exist.

Examples

Pitts’ first mistake is one you should learn early: you don’t crap where you sleep. His peers are part of the ecosystem and he needs to get along with them to effectively do his job.  Conspiracy theorists will have you believe that games press is this society of people who have secret chats and work together to destroy people’s careers whereas in reality they are just people trying to do a job as best they can. These Slack and Discord servers are merely areas to have private discussions related to this work, we have them here at GH101 too, it’s not nefarious it’s just using the Internet for one of its many intended purposes. It looks bad when you have in-fighting among a group of people that cater to an audience who has no idea what you’re talking about, simple as that.  Don’t bring this problem here, figure it out on your own behind the scenes.  This not only points out Pitts’ lack of professionalism but also the games media as a whole’s reluctance to change.  He may feel he has to do it this way, although just like telling a girl their boyfriend is cheating on them, it doesn’t result in you dating that person in the end.

He also invoked GamerGate, which you could research for years and not get a clear picture of.  GamerGate started as a calling out of potential ethical issues in games media and ended up being a platform for hatemongers to be their absolute worst and hide behind a perceived greater good.  Even for the few, or perhaps many, that meant well, it ceases to be a valid topic amidst the torrent of hate spewed from it.  He should have left it alone, it wasn’t relevant to the discussion and only confused people more.  That is, unless you were working in games media at the time. Again, the audience is left ignored.

Finally Pitts played both sides, citing a journalistic guru like Jeremy Littau regarding the reason for Internet media’s decline, but then calling out unnamed unethical games media for cutting corners or giving a higher score to a friend without being specific.  He does cite Philip Miucin, the IGN editor who plagiarized a Dead Cells review among many others and was fired in 2018 for doing so, but that’s really like citing bad presidents with wild claims and then only being specific about Nixon and WaterGate.  It also just happens to be an article Pitts himself wrote.  C’mon Pitts, you’re throwing the industry under the bus, the least you can do is call out the worst offenders.  It should be noted that some members of the games press, like the trustworthy Jason Schreier at Kotaku, make mild validation to his claims without being specific, of course.

Regardless of your agreement or disagreement on the shade that’s thrown, the message is clear.  People are behaving badly and the games media has chosen not to course correct.  Even more importantly, I don’t think the audience cares anymore.  The response to his article and by non games press on social media seems to back this up, but I will admit to being so tired of watching the melee yesterday I just gave up after a smart friend reminded me how toxic this all was.  Somewhere among all of the childish behavior these professionals all lost sight of what should matter most: us.  The audience.  Yeah, those millions of people who listen to your podcasts, read your articles, visit your sites, interact, and of course click on affiliate links and buy paid subscriptions to your web sites.  We are the reason you have these jobs so it may be important to remember we’re here.  Like children watching parents fight, maybe take a step back and remember what really matters.  Try to be better.  It could work, it certainly hasn’t been tried yet.

Navigating Games Press Today and Why I’m Out

Austin Walker, a writer I personally respect, knew what he was doing when he called Pitts out.  He demanded examples.  Walker wanted to Pitts to call out the people he knows were friends with indie devs and gave higher review scores to, who cut corners, or didn’t cite a quote properly.  That already exists and although it’s got some very questionable notations, I am a firm believer that where there’s smoke there’s fire.  The conversation can’t go there because it’s too easy to explain away, especially because how do you prove someone’s opinion is invalid?  Not only that but in reading these sites or sifting these examples it gets exhaustive.  This isn’t due to a cover-up, it’s just hard to prove a person’s behavior was for a reason.  Walker knows this too.  If Pitts engages him, Walker wins by default because we all tune out.  Walker also knows that most of these claims will be laid against people he is close to, possibly even friends with, so this protects them too.  Well played sir.  I want to stress here though that knowing how to get the best of Pitts doesn’t make Austin guilty of anything.  It just ends the conversation before it starts, which is clever and gets to the root problem: calling people out won’t fix this.

It’s ludicrous and I frankly can’t keep up with it.  If I can’t, I don’t even know what the average online games press reader does.  Guessing most don’t even question it.  I put this to the test recently not knowing it’s value to this piece.  A senior editor at one of the biggest game sites received an Xbox One X from Microsoft PR and not only kept it but Tweeted about it. This is against every ethical bone in my body as both someone who took multiple journalism ethics courses and someone who has an ethics clause at his healthcare job today forbidding the acceptance of anything more than about $50 (ie: lunch for two) from vendors.  People shrugged, didn’t see the issue, said YouTubers get free stuff all the time.  And there it was, the crux.  Influencers are now considered games media just like an editor at a web site, which they are not.  Influencers are in it for themselves, albeit now thankfully bound to disclose in most cases, but completely devoid of the ethics policy someone working for a web site as an editor has.  Someone also called out Microsoft for trying to persuade her to go team Xbox.  Microsoft, and all other game companies, have always and will always do this. It’s the game played in corporate business where you get tempted and you always decline.  I’m sure that editor will argue intent for work use despite it going home with her, but if she quit tomorrow, betting that XB1X is going with her.  That’s the difference between taking home the “office console” and getting a personal one delivered to your desk, your office will ask for it back. Remember Microsoft’s 2010 E3 Press Conference where it gave away the new Xbox 360 Slim to all press attendees?  Some publications quickly pointed out they couldn’t keep the consoles or had to keep them as office consoles and not give them to the individuals who attended.  Jeff Gerstmann at Giant Bomb tells countless stories of people doing unethical things like gambling with a $100 poker chip that a publisher gave at an event in Vegas.  A group were intending to gamble with the poker chip and if they win, give back the $100 to the publisher but keep the rest, to which Gerstmann pointed out is flat out not right because they are spending the publisher’s money initially.  If you can’t gamble with a $100 poker chip (and you can’t ethically), then how are you going to accept an Xbox One X?

This is just a public tweet, imagine how often it must happen without any of us knowing.  Maybe never, maybe all the time, it doesn’t matter because I see it all the time and now I don’t trust anyone.  Also in the mix are influencers, which I also can’t trust as a group. These people are even more plagued by in-fighting by calling out other channels for getting free stuff or breaking an embargo. Finally the many that are getting way too friendly with indie devs and while I appreciate disclosing your friendship, I’m now weary of the amount of coverage you give these friends.  I don’t know how to navigate it so I don’t trust you either.  When you don’t have trust you don’t have a relationship.  Games media doesn’t seem to care that I don’t trust them and probably doesn’t care if I stop reading/watching/listening to them as well because I see little example it cares much for its audience.  It’s just a bunch of gossip, cattiness, and inside baseball that is, frankly, toxic.  Pitts article doesn’t say anything new really, just demonstrates that games media is more comfortable handling an industry like it’s high school.  While I loved my high school days I’m so tired of hearing about them.  I’m not saying this wasn’t always a problem and I’m not saying you should do anything about it.  Misinformation is rampant and games media in particular seems sadly more interested in adding to this problem rather than fixing it.  This scrutiny I hold over an industry that refuses to change is not good for me and not good for my audience, all of you.  As a result, I personally will not be delving into contemporary games media any more on GH101.  Media will always come up and I’m not censoring anything out, I’m just not using it as a focal point anymore.  Games press as I understand it has always existed to benefit the consumer and inform the reader; today it does little of either.  Ask yourself as you engage with this material: who is this person looking out for with this work?

Written by Fred Rojas

February 7, 2019 at 12:00 pm

3 Responses

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  1. I don’t really do social media because of how infrequently it comes with the positive upside everyone pretends it has. When I started blogging (which mine has a decent portion dedicated to retrogaming) I came across all the media within the gaming community, and I was appalled. Somehow contemporary gaming media is more about this weird virtue signaling than the games themselves. I think your final point of the gaming pressing being supposedly for the consumer is an important one that’s been forgotten; at most outlets, its become about the individual writer and the real or imagined slights between them and others.

    Casual But Smart

    February 10, 2019 at 11:24 am

  2. So……. basically virtue signalling and bribing. I knew those things for years despite not ever being “in the business”, and I’m glad you understand it too.

    Andrew Vi

    February 12, 2019 at 1:17 am

  3. If you are clicking on my link to Pitts’ article and wondering why there’s just a big pathetic apology that doesn’t seem to explain in any form of detail, that’s what remains of that article. Congrats game media, you’ve now buried anyone who questions you. The lack of responses (thanks to you who both privately and publicly reached out) seems to prove what I posit: most people have assumed and somewhat abandoned this long ago.

    Fred Rojas

    February 12, 2019 at 8:37 pm


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