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Social media has “ruined” games journalism.

I follow games journalism too much. I say this as a person who followed sites like GameSpot and 1UP back in their heyday, and still support places like Idle Thumbs and Giant Bomb to this day. I like their stuff. I listen to the podcasts. I follow the majority of them on social media like Twitter and Tumblr. But I think social media has “ruined” games journalism, and here’s why.

Over the past several weeks, the internet has been increasingly abuzz over two major issues. First, Zoe Quinn of noted game Depression Quest suddenly has a blog from an ex-boyfriend leaking out details of their past relationship. Said event lead to constant internet harassment on Twitter and other social media, including her Tumblr getting hacked by anonymous hackers, even going as far as to reveal her personal information – known as “doxxing” – to the public. While Quinn denies the statement and many others associated by the ex-boyfriend have denied the claims, there are still groups of people going to Quinn’s Twitter account and verbally abusing her over accusations that were never proven, most of them associating her alleged sexual encounters with the restaurant chain Five Guys. It’s gotten to a fever pitch, people using #gamergate and #notyourshield hashtags on Twitter to continue the barrage of harassment, so much so that noted female games writers Mattie Brice and Jenn Frank decided to leave the games criticism industry, leaving many years of wonderful writing behind them.

The other is a long-brewing one with “Tropes vs. Women,” an internet series started by one Anita Sarkeesian, whose Kickstarter on “Tropes vs. Women in Video Games” got over $120,000 out of her initial $6,000 goal in response to harassment she got for it. Over the past two years, Sarkeesian and her company Feminist Frequency have been intermittently putting out videos in the series, with each new video receiving extreme criticism and anger from various people of the internet, mostly male. So much so that two men, Jordan Owen and Davis Aurini, decided to make a crowdfunded movie called “The Sarkeesian Effect” to point the “truth” about Sarkeesian’s actions. Sarkeesian’s newest “Tropes vs. Women” video got so much venom that people sent death threats, while people such as noted writer Joss Whedon vehemently defended Sarkeesian’s work. That’s not counting notable internet personalities such as Philip “thunderf00t” Mason going to great lengths to discredit Sarkeesian’s work, even as much as pointing out a single section in a video to prove her opinions were flawed and that we were – in his words – “baited, hook, line and sinker.”

Why did I mention those two women? What do they have to do with social media ruining game journalism? Because let’s face it, 20 years ago, these two would not have gotten nearly as much attention, if it weren’t for the internet and how Twitter, Facebook and Tumblr are so accessible that the average person could easily spout out their rhetoric without any consequence.

When you think about it, it wasn’t always this way. Back in the ’90s, you didn’t know much about game critics except whatever you saw them write in their respective magazines. You didn’t know much about people like Nick Rox, Dan Elektro or Steve Harris outside of what they wrote in the magazine (or their real names, even!). They didn’t have a personal newsletter, a TV show, or any other way of knowing what they like, except for their taste in games every month without fail. Websites really didn’t take off ’til the early 2000s, and even then you probably weren’t well-versed in the staff unless you watched their content constantly.

Even for me, I only followed the personalities at places like 1UP and GameSpot was because their content was available at their website. If I wanted to know more about them, I had to dig around the web or hope you could by chance chat with them on a forum, either the website’s forum or a more notable one like NeoGAF.

When Twitter started becoming a thing around 2007-08, suddenly the journalists whom you just saw on videos and podcasts now had their own personal soapbox to talk about stuff, what they’re doing, even what kind of bar they’re chilling at before a major event. Before, these people were relative unknowns, known only by the games they like. Now, they’ve opened almost their entire life into your internet world, finding out things about them you didn’t know previously.

However, this comes with a consequence of knowing TOO much about these people. This is something I realized when I was babbling some inane trivia about a former games journalist to a bunch of friends while playing Sonic and All-Stars Racing Transformed. Even though I met said person twice before at PAX and he seemed super-chill. But that’s just how my brain absorbs information, but I started realizing that by following the social media they did – their blogs, their videos, what else they’ve done over the years – that I was stalking them by proxy. Perhaps not to a creepy degree, but certainly unsettling to myself. Needless to say, I kept that sort of stuff to myself after that, and I feel embarrassed about knowing that information because the last thing a critic needs is having the equivalent of a creepy fanbase.

I’m probably not alone on this. You too probably follow a critic very closely, because social media has gotten you more personally attached to their work. Previously, at most you’d read their column or a review by the person, but now you’re digging into their personal lives, by whatever they show publicly. This doesn’t just apply to games journalism, it happens in other mediums too: I didn’t know Roger Ebert was really into rice cookers until he started praising them on Twitter among the thousands of other posts of whatever movies he critiqued that week. Then he wrote a book about rice cookers that I found out through his Twitter. Had I not followed him on Twitter, I probably would’ve known him for just his movie reviews and his long stint working with Gene Siskel and Richard Roeper.

Basically we get emotionally attached to these people, the people whom you may have talked to once or twice, as if they’re close friends or family. Sometimes this can lead to new friendships, but it’s not guaranteed. This can be used for good, but in some cases it can be used for evil, much like Quinn and Sarkeesian suffered the past few weeks. This is what social media has done to us: We know too much.

That’s why when you see people wanting to talk about “integrity,” in reality they’re saying “I don’t want to know about social issues, or drama, or anything like that. I just want you to write about video games in a simple way, just like it was before.” These people are basically wanting to go back to the “good old days” where all you knew was what E. Storm had to say that month, and didn’t know much about the person’s other views. When they say they want “unbiased games journalism,” all they really want are the facts, not the writer’s opinion on something. With social media being so prevalent these days, it’s impossible to revert to just spewing bullet points of stuff that’s on the back on the box.

The kind of people who are criticizing people like Quinn and Sarkeesian likely use video games as escapism from their personal lives. Anything that bucks the trend and makes people think about something, such as Gone Home, are met with increased hostility because, again, they play games to escape life, not live it. Because video games are starting to make people feel and understand parts of life by playing them, and are doing what other entertainment mediums have been doing for decades or centuries before it: personal experience. It just took us 40 years of video games to finally reach that point.

Keep in mind, I am not saying you should not follow notable people on Twitter or Tumblr and leave it only to following your close friends. I am saying that when you follow someone like Patrick Klepek, you’re not following a fan club, or a corporate Twitter ran by some lackey for peanuts, you’re following the man himself. Thus you should expect them to be personal to a public audience, and that includes disclosing their interests. If you’re not into that sort of thing, it’s okay to not follow them through those channels and stick to the videos and podcasts. We were fine with that ten years ago, and I bet some people are fine with just doing that.

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Games Journalism: More of an oxymoron than an actual profession.

So, I was directed to a Tumblr blog that my friend Blaze mentioned in one of his tweets a few months back. The blog was called “Game Journalists are Incompetent Fuckwits.” Game Journalists are Incompetent Fuckwits, GJAIF for short, consisted of Ben Paddon pointing out the crappy fact-checking, misspellings, and non-news reporting of various game sites and blogs. He did this regularly for about three months. Unfortunately, he recently left a blog entry saying that it was draining him and decided to stop. I was saddened, as I felt it was the end of an era. (EDIT: He decided to go back to writing GJAIF, but has more guest editors on the blog now.) This entire blog is something I loved and appreciated, because let’s face it: modern games journalism sucks and has been sucking for years now.

A common target on GJAIF was Gawker Media site Kotaku, dubbed “The Gamer’s Guide.” I really don’t like Kotaku, mostly because of their constant failure to fact-check; but I also don’t like them because they would post dumb images or videos of items BARELY related to video games, like some sort of piece that has to do with physics. But Paddon showed me something I had not noticed of Kotaku, especially of long-standing writer Brian Ashcraft: He’s a goddamn pervert. A good chunk of his blogs have him posting scantily clad Asian women that barely apply to his article for the sake of getting page views. This is not hyperbole: Look at his articles and count how many articles you see with random girls (usually Asian ones) that have little to do with the article’s subject matter. It kind of sickens me.

Even with Ashcraft and Brian Crecente’s seniority of making piss-poor writing, the current staff isn’t better; especially when they post articles of things that only remotely resemble video games. They also have Tim Rogers writing articles for the site, a writer I hate. I seriously believe Rogers thinks his novella-length articles are worth reading, because all his articles are nothing but babbling on about something he was doing on a Japanese train before he picked up the newest Final Fantasy game or something. (On a side note, I can understand that those type of articles COULD work as an interesting piece, but it would have to be from an outsider’s perspective, or an unusual occurrence. Virtually all of Rogers’s articles are almost like daily musings of what he does or thinks about, something that’s more suitable for a personal blog than for Kotaku.)

I used to have a MS Word file on my computer a chronicling of dumb Kotaku articles from around 2006-2007 called “Kotaku is Full of Shit” (or KiFoS), a reference to an old game show community I used to frequent who used a similar acronym for one of its members. Some of the articles were by Ashcraft as well as former Kotaku writer, John “Florian Eckhardt” Brownlee. What really pissed me off about Brownlee (or Eckhardt or whatever the hell he goes by) is this article from 2006 where he said the following:

If she was a real girl gamer, she’d have a 36 inch plasma screen balanced on the top of her head, thus allowing me to fulfill both of my life’s primary functions simultaneously.

What floored me is not only how sexist that particular comment is, that HE STILL HAD HIS JOB THERE AFTER THAT ARTICLE. If I was Brian Crecente, I would’ve kicked his ass to the curb faster than you could say uncle. Even though I’m a guy, I find objectifying women even in jest absolutely disgusting.

My dislike for modern games journalism doesn’t end at Kotaku. Destructoid, a site I browse daily to get away from the mediocrity of Kotaku, also has its fair share of bad writers. A good example is Jim Sterling. His reviews on games are something I don’t care about (though him giving Deadly Premonition a 10 was kind of funny in a “take THAT, games writers!” sort of way), but rather when he thinks it’s funny to write “joke articles” like these. “HERP DERP”? How does shit like this be deemed worthy to be posted on the site?! I don’t even care if it’s meant to be a joke, this is crap that lazy editors do when they are trying to get fired! And he makes a living out of making crappy articles like these!

Seeing articles like these on Kotaku and Destructoid, from the “HERP DERP” sense of humor, to the constant ignorance and laziness, makes me want to stand up and do this (Complete with crappy Ed Asner impression):

I’m not saying games writing has to be all serious all the time, I’ve seen professional news and blog websites have their occasional fun articles. But in this day and age, because of these “junk articles” being the norm over something interesting and substantial, most gamers tend to ignore game sites because of the overall quality of the writing. To put into the words of an average forum user: “lol games journalism.” Sites like Kotaku and Destructoid exacerbate the problem more than help it. For a while, I’ve been thinking of a guideline for games journalism, some of these I took from my second Destructoid community blog. I’m not saying that these should be followed to the letter, but a good 60% of the articles posted on game blogs today would be outright eliminated or truncated if they followed at least one or two of these guidelines:

  1. Found a rumor about some game or development? Don’t post it. Most idiot kids from a fan message board make up dumb rumors all the time and it spreads all over the web like a virus. Some rumors can become true, but this is almost as bad as posting that some actor will be playing Spider-Man in the new Spider-Man movie. It’s almost gossip fodder.
  2. Found a post about some developer saying how awesome their stuff is, in a way that resembles corporate dick-waving? Definitely don’t post it! Leave it to NeoGAF posters so they can have a 50 page console wars thread that leads to massive user bans, not something you slap on your blog site to get hits. (This also applies to game developers trash-talking business executives, like Robert “fourzerotwo” Bowling calling Activision executive Noah Heller a “Super-Senior Douche” back in 2008; or in more recent news, Tim Schafer of Double Fine insulting Activision CEO Bobby Kotick.)
  3. Want to post updates on a game, such as a patch? Don’t post it. Unless it fixes a severe bug that was causing game problems for many, it’s easier for people to just read the patch notes on the game’s website.
  4. Thinking of posting that report that some publisher will announce some game some time in the near future? Don’t post it! It’s a waste of your time and precious resources!
  5. Thinking of posting a game announcement with barely three sentences of text and reposting the entire press release as a literal copy-and-paste? Don’t post it unless normal people can’t read the press release from the company’s site! Paddon particularly derided people for doing this, and I agree with him on how he thought it was useless fluff.
  6. Found some stupid thing off the internet that shows something in real life that resembles something from a video game, like tiles shaped like Tetris blocks? Don’t fucking post it! Leave it to 4chan’s /v/ for silly troll posts. The only exception is when some artist does something in the vein of I am 8-bit, and even that’s barely blog-worthy.
  7. Think you’re funny by poking fun at console wars or a similar subject? You’re not. Leave the snark at home. This irritates me the most about games writers, they think “being funny” is that sarcastic wisecracking jerk at a party that people tend to ignore after a short while. It’s not funny, and it makes you look like a pompous jackass. Quit it.
  8. Found something interesting tech and science-wise, and you are part of a blog network with specific blogs catered to certain subject matter? Post it on those respective blog sites, not a site you call “the gamer’s guide.” Funny, Paddon had questioned whether or not Kotaku was even “the gamer’s guide” anymore after posting many blogs about scientific things that had nothing to do with games, in which one of Kotaku’s writers said that it isn’t a guideline for everything to be gaming-related. Personally, I don’t care much for science-related articles that much, and I’d rather have somebody post a twitter link about that stuff than waste time writing a summary of an article that has nothing to do with my site’s overall goal.

Now you’re probably asking: “Is there good games journalism?” Well, yes. Gamasutra and Game Set Watch are sites I totally recommend if you want smart, interesting writing on video games. Granted, I tend to gloss over the articles when they’re on my RSS feed; but sometimes there’s that one article I really get interested in, and I cannot help but read it.

Maybe I’m just a jaded, bitter, cynical writer who bemoans at the current state of games writing. I get worried every day that the quality of games writing will dip, and “good games journalism” will be an oxymoron. People are looking more towards the TMZ and E! style of games journalism, instead of looking for a pseudo-intellectual New York Times style of games journalism. Granted, both are two different styles of writing, and they can co-exist; but you need more of the latter style of writing than you do of the former. Otherwise games writing is about as credible as the Weekly World News. You know something is wrong when Something Awful mocks Kotaku for all the right reasons.

(EDIT 7/25: Did some considerable editing to the blog for grammar check and clarification.)