Posted by B.J. Brown
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.