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Steel Media's finest ponder #gamergate and the future of games journalism

Steel Media's finest ponder #gamergate and the future of games journalism

Always ready to experiment, this week we ran an internal Mavens questions about the issues surrounding #gamergate

I asked Steel Media's best:

As 'game journalists', is the seeming growing divide between people who write about games and our readership something that bothers you?

Are journalists feeling overly defensive because their historic gatekeeper role as an information filter between developers and players has been destroyed by a world of Twitter, Twitch and F2P games?

Are we writing in a too complex and self-referential manner? Are we up to our own and each others' asses?

And, perhaps more importantly, what can we do to better act as a conduit of useful information about games, both for developers and players? Or are we doomed to be writing tips and top 10 lists for the rest of our lives?

 

Rob Rich Editor 148Apps

Personally I think none of this is new. A very vocal subset of gamers has been horrible to anyone they see as "doing it wrong" for years. Even before I started at 148Apps (hell, even before Crush! Frag! Destroy!) there was no shortage of people clamoring on top of soap boxes to scream about corruption and bias, even if no one was listening. It's just that now they have a much more public way to express their conspiracy theories than writing letters to a magazine.

There's always some sort of imagined proof that we're on the take.
Rob Rich

Anyway, to answer those questions:

- Yes, it bothers me. It bothers me because of just how unreasonable so many readers have been. No matter what we do there's always some sort of imagined proof that we're on the take, don't know what we're talking about, or "doing it for the clicks." Sometimes everything at once.

- I suppose I might be feeling overly defensive, but it has more to do with the inherent "damned if you do, damned if you don't" state of things. I like having Twitter and Twitch around, I just wish people weren't so awful when they used them.

- I can see that with some sites (*cough*Kotaku*cough*), but I don't think it's an across-the-board thing.

- Based on what I've been seeing, aside from simply giving up and going home I think one of the biggest things we can do is be as transparent as possible. Not that it makes a difference in all cases, but at least it's something to point to when some Valiant Crusaders of Video Game Justice start making baseless accusations.

Peter Willington Producer Auroch Digital

Words are dead. Long live video.

Most people don't consume information about their games in words anymore, they do it in pictures, and preferably those pictures are moving and have a likable personality who is excited about video games talking over them. Increasingly it is live and interactive and community focused. This is why we've seen the rise of the YouTuber.

For those writers still dealing in words, they need to appeal to one of the two crowds I still see reading about games: an educated middle class that wants 3,000 words on the exquisite Gone Home, and the aggressive teenager who wants a top 10 list of best weapons in the next Call of Duty.

Those are the audiences, those are the realities.

There's a huge disconnect between editorial and audience right now
Peter Willington

The mass market - which is the people who want to know more about video games but don't fit into the above two categories - want quick access to the brands and games they know and like, and want to be introduced to awesome new ones.

They don't want to be treated like idiots, but they also probably don't know who Tim Schafer is. They want the person's opinion on a product, but they don't want to treat it as gospel, and feel like they can make up their own mind. Video can be used to convey all this extremely rapidly, where a 2,000 word review or article is a daunting and unwieldy prospect.

There's a huge disconnect between editorial and audience right now, something that I feel us lot at AppSpy are definitely trying to change.

[people id="306" name="George Osborn"]

First things first, I think the whole "social justice warrior" nonsense is outdated and idiotic clap trap.

I've been reading Stephen Pinker's Better Angels of Our Nature  recently, which argues that we're living during one of the most peaceful and violent free periods in human history, and one of the factors he attributes that to is the civilising effects of rights movements in the 1900s in particular.

So I can only see the whole "social justice warrior" thing as raging against the dying light of a weirdly macho and aggressive gaming culture which will, hopefully, be superseded as the likes of Sarkeesian provide thoughtful counterbalancing perspectives.

Over-intellectualising navel gazers or the industry's media backbone?

But I do think there is a disconnect between games journalists and readers at the moment. Why it's the case I'm not entirely sure, but I'd chance my arm and say that a factor in it is the move from writers away from "objective" style writing to an acceptance of subjectivity in their work.

Journalists have had to work hard to assert their value in a world where anyone can work out which games they like and give an opinion.
George Osborn

As the top down "judgement of the journalist gods" model has declined with the rise of Let's Play, user reviews and the bland informative churn of never ending press releases, journalists have had to work hard to assert their independence and value in a world where anyone can pretty quickly work out which games they like and give an opinion on it.

That means journalists being increasingly creative, taking risks and producing something different from the neverending noise of generic "content" - something that alienates audience members who think the real aim of games journalism is to provide a form of objective truth.

The only way to correct that misunderstanding is to communicate the truth that we're not trying to be objective any more and that there is nothing wrong with that.

We do carry our personal histories, opinions and perceptions with us. But as long as we marry those to analytical rigour, an ability to conceptualise beyond our position and a keen sense of bullshit sniffing, there is no reason why games journalism can't provide for both those wanting a sense of truth and a plurality of opinions.

[/people]

Keith Andrew With a fine eye for detail, Keith Andrew is fuelled by strong coffee, Kylie Minogue and the shapely curve of a san serif font.

I'd go much further than Pete actually.

I don't think it's a question of form factor. Things come and go and, while video is in right now, it's still not an idea form factor for lots of games journalism. Even on 4G, try loading a video review on your phone on the bus without using up all your data/pissing off everyone around you.

The part of this job that still has merit is the stories behind the people that make the games...
Keith Andrew

It's more that the game critic is dead. To be frank, consumers don't really need or want to know what someone thinks of a game they've already made their mind up about. They've seen the E3 trailer, they know the dev's background, they've researched the franchise - why do they care what some chap paid under the minimum wage operating from his bedroom thinks?

YouTubers et al work now because they're perceived as being "of the people" and not being in it for the money, but those people who rise to the top will treat it as a profession soon enough and they too will come to be despised in much the same way.

What games journalists need to understand is that being a critic is one small part of journalism. The part of this job that still has merit is the part where the stories behind the people that make the games, the trends that arise across the industry and the relationship gaming has with gamers are discussed.

In short, no one cares whether you think game x, y or z deserves a 6, 7 or 8 out of 10. If that's what you're in this job to do, you're soon going to be out of a job.

Rob Hearn Managing Editor Having obtained a distinguished education, Rob now corrects grammar in his underwear for a living. The heart wants what it wants.

I don't know if I agree that there's a growing divide between game writers and readers. I haven't seen any evidence of it myself, though of course the subject matter and the presentation have changed now that it's possible to do more with video and audio, and of course there are more voices now that anybody can get online.

Candy Crush has almost nothing in common with, say, Gone Home.
Rob Hearn

Video games have become far more diverse since the Wii and the explosion in mobile gaming, and it's possible that the people who play casual games are less interested in reading about games than hardcore gamers, but I don't think that means they have no interest at all. I doubt they have any interest in reading in-depth critiques of games without any depth though.

I think one issue we have is that we still call everything a video game and include it on our beat when we shouldn't, any more than Mark Kermode should review music videos just because they're both consumed by passively watching a screen.

Candy Crush  has almost nothing in common with, say, Gone Home, and I don't think it makes sense for a critic or commentator to use the same analytic tools to examine them both, which overeager critics are perhaps inclined to do as they strive to represent the video game medium in its entirety as a legitimate art form worthy of proper scrutiny and, in effect, see things that aren't there.

Better than Candy Crush, or just different?

I can sympathise with anybody who hates pretentious video game writers.

But I think readers still need proper critics with (perhaps illusory) authority, and I don't think that has changed at all really. Survey data indicates that PG readers consider (honest) reviews to be the most important kind of content for a site to have (though analytics data doesn't necessarily support this).

There's a difference between professional reviews and user reviews, which is why publishers still care about Metacritic scores. Based on my own habits, there's certainly a disjunct in that as a fairly poncy pseudo intellectual I have always argued that scores are patently ridiculous, but as a consumer the first thing I do when deciding whether to buy a game is head to Metacritic and look at the aggregated professional review scores.

Readers of mobile gaming sites primarily want to know what to play, and how to play it.
Rob Hearn

Then I might skim read a couple of the ones I regard to be the most authoritative (Polygon, Edge, PC Gamer, etc). Then I'll watch a bit of gameplay footage - though I have no interest in video reviews really. I suspect my habits are fairly typical of hardcore gamers, though probably not of casual gamers wondering whether to drop 69p on a puzzler to play on the bus.

The same survey indicates that word of mouth and user reviews are actually more important for PG readers, and individual reviews are more important than aggregated ones. You can never entirely believe what people disclose about their own habits, though. (Unless it supports my thesis, in which case it's totally legit).

I think as journalists covering the mobile app stores the best we can do is try to pick out interesting games from the daily torrent of new stuff. That's why best game lists work so well for mobile.

The Polygon model of telling the stories of the people who make the games and so on is all very well for hardcore gamers but I don't think it really applies to mobile games, which are more casual and throwaway generally - though that's not to say that it's never appropriate to cover mobile games in that way, because sometimes it is.

Over the last couple of years I've come to see (and repeat ad nauseum) that readers of mobile gaming sites primarily want to know what to play, and how to play it.

There's other stuff of course, but that's what the masses out there in Googleland are searching for. So, yes, we are doomed to be writing (or making video) top 10 lists and walkthroughs, but that's fine because it was always our job to address the readers' needs, and we can do other things besides.

Rob Hearn Managing Editor Having obtained a distinguished education, Rob now corrects grammar in his underwear for a living. The heart wants what it wants.

P.S. Just to clarify, when I say there's a disjunct I'm not suggesting that the poncy stuff is unnecessary or that we games writers are just writing for each other (though there is an element of that.)

I think readers/consumers want advice from authoritative critics (as well as from peers), and the poncy high concept stuff is how the games press establishes its authority.

And I'll just add that I don't think this #gamergate stuff is significant outside the echo chamber of Twitter and a few sites that have picked it up. It's a certain subset of the audience quarrelling with certain members of the press, and I imagine this sort of thing is common to all media when different views collide.

Some of the behaviour of readers has been incredibly unpleasant but I think that possibly arises from the overlap between the video game enthusiast audience and people who spend a lot of time egging each other on in forums, using 4chan, and talking shit.

Keith Andrew With a fine eye for detail, Keith Andrew is fuelled by strong coffee, Kylie Minogue and the shapely curve of a san serif font.

I'd second that. If you actually read the mass of tweets attached to the #gamergate hashtag, it's a confusing melting pot of diverse and unstructured complaints and ideas.

At the centre of it, I'd say, is a small group of people who are (for some reason) angry and games journalists looking to write about something other than game preview or reviews, but other than that there's no central idea or rallying cry behind it.

It's a bubble of vocal teenagers who feel the need to vent their anger about something or other - no great movement or cause.

Contributing Editor

A Pocket Gamer co-founder, Jon is Contributing Editor at PG.biz which means he acts like a slightly confused uncle who's forgotten where he's left his glasses. As well as letters and cameras, he likes imaginary numbers and legumes.

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Elias Ruiz
"There's always some sort of imagined proof that we're on the take."

There is tons of evidence everywhere, that you chose to ignore it's another story. Start by finding info about Jeff Gerstmann and his review of Kane & Lynch: Dead Men on Gamespot.
jon jordan
I think Rob's point isn't that no journalist has ever been on the take, but that all journalists are assumed to be always on the take.

For most of us who work incredibly hard at our craft (as it is), that's quite a dispiriting attitude to have to deal with day-in day-out.
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