WTF is… happening to games media?

shifting games media 1

A few days ago, Kotaku UK published an article with well-known British games critic TotalBiscuit about dealing with hateful online comments.
The reaction to this article and the aftermath that followed inspired Esports News UK editor Dom Sacco to share his thoughts on the shifting games media landscape, Gamergate and why streamers should be as accountable as games journalists.
 

What happened?

This article on OneAngryGamer provides an overall summary.

I’ll try to keep this part a brief TL;DR so I can get straight into the opinion piece.

  • Kotaku UK news editor Laura Kate Dale published a series of articles exploring harassment during livestreams (like this, this and this)
  • One of those articles was an interview with games critic TotalBiscuit on dealing with hateful comments
  • Some people – including Feminist Frequency creator Anita Sarkeesian – complained it was wrong of Kotaku to interview TotalBiscuit about this topic, bearing in mind the timing of the article and his past views surrounding Gamergate. TotalBiscuit hits back on Twitter (there’s a ton of tweets surrounding this).
  • Kotaku UK’s Rich Stanton publishes an apology
  • TotalBiscuit responds negatively to the apology and suggests stepping away from Laura as a friend might be the best course of action
  • Laura takes a small break from Twitter and turns off her mentions

Still with me? Either way, my opinion piece below isn’t to do with much of the above, but it has prompted me to write about some things I’ve wanted to get off my chest for a while. Namely involving Gamergate, games journalism and the shifting games media landscape.
Why am I writing this? It’s nothing to do with esports? Well I’ve seen plenty of harassment on livestreamed esports matches, on Twitch and on player streams. There’s a connection and it’s relevant to the games media and broadcasting landscape, and I feel it should be addressed.
 

No, what really happened?

gross gore drama alert
At the risk of showing my age, when I was growing up there was no such thing as the chaotic YouTube comments section. Streaming was unimaginable. Today we have shows about games content creators. Fake videos. Fake drama. Games journalism journalism. WTF happened?
To explore how the hell we got to where we are today with harassment on streaming platforms, angry YouTube comments, doxing, fake drama and the whole Gamergate movement, we have to go back. Back to the days of games magazines in the ’80s and ’90s.
I absolutely adored games magazines like N64 Magazine and later GamesTM – they were our only real source of the latest and greatest games and industry developments, our monthly beacon of excitement that would tell us the next big hit.
I remember reading with great anticipation about Super Mario World and the SNES, Pokemon, Ocarina of Time, hell even Final Fantasy on the N64 before Sony made a deal with Squaresoft to bring it to the PlayStation. They were geeky specialist publications that didn’t seem to have a bad bone in their body.
How did they make their money? Paid-advertisements, and the occasional crappy freebie stuck to the cover. Were they corrupt? I don’t know, but my rose-tinted goggles beg me to believe they weren’t. There were later some strange goings on at magazines (as highlighted by an anonymous games journalist known as the Ramraider), and suggestions that mags would offer good reviews to publishers who had booked advertising campaigns with them, or to keep them in good standing.
And there were also some questionable industry shindigs and press parties back in the day, but I’d like to think the industry has grown up since then (I wish). One thing’s for certain: they did have some God-awful ads.
Then, of course, the internet came along – and changed everything. I remember going to forums and other lesser-known websites to download the Nintendo Gamecube gameplay trailer. That was one of the first times I’d gone elsewhere to get my news outside of a games magazine.
The online rollercoaster increased in speed. The likes of Gamespot, IGN and Eurogamer cropped up and would go on to become major online publications.
Magazines dwindled and many closed down, the age of information overload swelled, and gamers began to expect instant news, the latest video reviews and gameplay trailers, and higher quality content. Too right.
The signs for Gamergate were first there back in 2007, when Gamespot fired Jeff Gerstmann after he published this somewhat negative video review of Kane and Lynch: Dead Men. Branded by some as ‘Gerstmann-gate’, it suggested that publications were in the pockets of publishers, and readers and viewers were not happy.
 

Doritogate & the GMAs

doritogate
Then there was Doritogate/the 2012 Games Media Awards controversy, a shitstorm of epic proportions that I saw from the inside at the time, working at MCV publisher Intent Media.
While I wasn’t working for the respected games industry trade weekly MCV at the time (I had not long moved onto some sister titles), I followed the story closely with bewilderment.
Games journalist Geoff Keighley had presented a show next to a table of Mountain Dew and Doritos, something that Robert Florence said on Eurogamer at the time was “tragic and vulgar”, but an important image that should be studied. I kind of agreed with him at the time, but I could see both sides of the coin.
Geoff sitting there next to that food and drink, obviously as part of a paid-for campaign from Doritos/Mountain Dew, might have been overkill, but it wasn’t corruption. It’s called sponsorship. I’ll come onto this later.
But this wasn’t the main focus of so-called ‘Doritogate’. It was the 2012 Games Media Awards that affected my company at the time.
If you don’t know, the GMAs is an awards ceremony for games journalists and other members of the games industry (namely, PRs and publishers) to get together, celebrate the best journos and publications in the business, and to have an evening of networking.
Some, like Florence, are dead against this kind of thing, journalists and publishers talking to one another in such an environment. To me, again there’s nothing wrong with it, I’d been to several GMAs and they were good industry networking events. When you’re a journalist it’s important to have contacts so you can more easily set up interviews, get quotes and find out information.
What caused the controversy at the time was a competition held at the GMAs. Tweet something out for a chance to win a PS3. Some journalists took part. Some were named (and later removed) from Florence’s article, including someone who was working for MCV at the time. People were angered by this. It was a nightmare, articles were cropping up everywhere about how corrupt this was, and how bad games journalists were.
How could these games journalists, who get to write about video games for a living – and receive free copies of games to review – want to enter this kind of competition? How unprofessional of them.
But it’s not as simple as that. Games journos are not the best-paid in the world, so having a PS3 to give to a friend or family member as a present, or to stick on eBay, is not in my eyes, an unforgivable offense. It’s no different from all the freebies streamers get today and fail to disclose.
Following the GMAs, publications started to publicly disclose certain relationships with publishers and affiliates (‘this review was part of a press event at Gamescom, flights were paid for by publisher x’, for example).
Of course, journos should never treat whoever has given them a freebie or advertising money any differently to other companies.
However, that’s where the lines blur, and Gamergate found its strength.
 

‘GG’

not your shield gamergate
Gamergate was many things, and that’s partly what made it such a complicated cacophony of frustration. It was supposedly about ‘ethics in game journalism’ and whether games journalism is corrupt. It’s such a thorny and complex issue, and not as black and white as some make out.
Some received harassment online surrounding Gamergate, including female developers, journalists and supporters of Gamergate itself. Others say games journos/social justice warriors (SJWs) presented GamerGate as a harassment campaign against themselves, the ‘lefties’, the feminists and so on, to deflect from their own alleged corruption and to portray Gamergate as evil.
This spawned the #NotYourShield movement, pro-Gamergaters highlighting women and minorities in the game community who shared their views. Gamergaters began calling out wrongs in publications and in games journalism. DeepFreeze was set up to name and shame journos.
It’s honestly taken years for me to form a full opinion on Gamergate. At first, I was angry. How dare the likes of female game developers Brianna Wu and Zoe Quinn should receive hate and harassment online.
I didn’t know what to think of the Tropes vs Women in Video Games series at the time, but I know I wasn’t happy to see all this hate spewing around. 
I will obviously never ever advocate death threats or hate like we’ve seen around this issue, it’s disgusting and there is no place for it. As far as I’m concerned, people that take that stance are evil, their arguments are invalid and I won’t be entertaining them here.
To those Gamergaters who have stayed rational and threat-free, I can hear your side of the argument.
I don’t want games journalism to be corrupted, I don’t want developers to feel like they’re forced to create male and female characters in a certain way, and I don’t want to be pigeon-holed into a certain stereotype by influencers just because I’m a gamer.
Some on the left have been incredibly clever at pulling the wool over our eyes. Some I saw as forward-thinking, fair and liberal I now see as manipulative, ignorant and wily to impose their agenda on others.
Anita Sarkeesian of Feminist Frequence was wrong to call out Laura Kate Dale for her article, in doing so she sent hate her way.
I don’t like those on the left who say things should be a certain way, to create a super politically correct bullsh*t world full of niceties and nothing real, and equally I don’t like the right for their brash attitude and the way they’ve gone about getting their views across. I especially dislike those – on both sides – who attack one another, make threats and harassment without being willing to hear the other side’s point of view.
I like to take more of a centrist view around all this, and as a journalist and writer, that’s what I should do anyway. Call me lame for sitting on the fence, but it’s genuinely how I feel. And I feel the same way when it comes to politics, both the left and the right piss me off.
As Arnie once said: “Centrist does not mean weak, it is not watered down or warmed over. It means well balanced and well grounded. The left and the right don’t have a monopoly on conscience. We should not let them get away with that.”
There is one thing about Gamergate that really frustrates me, however. And that’s its strange indifference towards the small number of dodgy streamers and other game personalities in the media, who aren’t journalists but still hold a lot of influence.
 

What about corruption in games media outside of journalism?

syndicate apologises csgo lotto
This, to me, has not had near enough focus over the years.
As I said earlier on Doritogate, the Doritos/Mountain Dew branding might have been over the top, but it wasn’t corruption. It was sponsorship.

Corruption is charging developers for positive game coverageIt’s launching a GoFundMe to cover medical bills, but then spending donors’ money on consumer goods and other items you don’t need.

It’s streamers such as Tmartn, Tom Syndicate (pictured above) and Phantoml0rd promoting rigged CSGO skin betting sites which they were involved with and didn’t disclose. It’s advertising gambling websites to children. It’s pretending to be disabled to earn money via livestream donations.

In my opinion it’s also YouTubers faking videos like FIFA pack openings, false arguments, diss tracks and fake drama for views.

If publications did anything like the above they’d be jumped on – and rightly so. So why do YouTubers have an easier ride? You can say journalism is different to this kind of content creation – and you’d be right. But it’s still a form of games media at the end of the day, and can the kids that consume some of this content tell the difference?

When I say they have an easier ride, I’m not talking about those that do get banned, punished, arrested, whatever. I’m talking about those that are forgiven so freely, those that get away with it and carry on with their career like nothing happened.

Syndicate is a popular streamer. He’s somehow got away with the CSGO skin scandal. That’s not right, in my eyes. But he’s not a journalist, so it’s all okay, right?

I’ve been working in journalism for ten years now, and two within esports. And I’ve come across many people who don’t understand what journalism is or why it exists. They would rather watch Tmartn lie to them about a betting site or watch a wrote2shaw fake FIFA pack opening, because they are entertaining.

But journalism’s sole purpose isn’t to entertain. It’s to inform, to educate, to ask questions, to tell the truth and to report on interesting events. It’s writing about the elephant in the room. And it’s about having that freedom of the press to do it.

Without journalism – and I’m talking real journalism, not all this fake news or sensationalist crap – we wouldn’t have the likes of the Watergate scandal, or the MP expenses stuff, or the other hundreds of scandals that have been uncovered by them.

I’m not saying all steamers and content creators are evil, far from it, but what I am saying is Gamergate is flawed. It’s not consistent. It’s targeting journalists and ignoring a lot of other important areas that should be scruitinised.

Look at Doritogate. Geoff Keighley presenting a show next to a table of Doritos and Mountain Dew. That’s not corruption, it’s called sponsorship. It’s been a part of TV, sports and the media for years. Money like this makes the world go round. It creates jobs, it pays people’s wages, it covers mortgages. Advertising is a necessary evil. Too many uneducated gamers that don’t understand business have confused it with real corruption, and that is sad.

Sponsorship and ad campaigns have been a part of TV, sports and the media for years. Money like this makes the world go round. It creates jobs, it pays people’s wages, it covers mortgages. Advertising is a necessary evil. Too many uneducated gamers nowadays that don’t understand business have confused it with real corruption, and that is sad.
If Geoff had said Doritos is the best food in the world etc etc, then perhaps I’d look at this differently. But to me it’s no different than the streamers today who put a casually placed can of Monster Energy next to their keyboard. As long as it’s not affecting the content, and advertising and editorial remain separate (or any special promotions are disclosed), that’s fine with me.

Aside from this, Twitch is so integral to content creators and esports nowadays, and it could do a lot better with its handling of harassment and moderation. That’s why, in my opinion, articles like Laura Kate Dale’s from last week aren’t just welcome – they’re needed.

There aren’t enough people exploring these issues, throwing a spotlight on problems which can be solved or better managed in the future.

Things are changing. The Gambling Commission are tightening up on questionable games media practices and dodgy streamers are being prosecuted.

It’s also worth remembering why some content creators choose to work for a publication than do their own streaming independently – there’s the security of having a regular pay check. They might not want the fame infamy that comes with it. They might really like a particular brand’s style and want to be a part of it. They might be based near the office. They might want to get more experience.

These reasons don’t mean that journalist is any less of a ‘gamer’ than you or I, nor that they should be trusted any less than a streamer or YouTuber. We’re all equals here.

Don’t demonise them because of these choices. If you don’t like big sponsorships, don’t blame the journalists, blame the marketing guys, the senior management who strike those kind of deals.

.

In conclusion: ‘Games writing is a tough job with sh*tty pay’

There’s a good quote on a Neogaf thread about the Games Media Awards which I feel also summarises Gamergate. It’s something I’d like to highlight and end with:

“This thread is kinda ridiculous. I have met and know many of the attendees tonight on a personal level. Despite what many people seem to think, or profess to know, games writing is a tough job with shitty pay. The suggestion of moneyhatting is hilarious. Most people in games media are scraping a living. It’s one night on the calendar they have to look forward to.

“The GMAs are basically a glamourised piss-up and few take it seriously. Unless there is legit evidence of journos being corrupted and bribed by such award ceremonies, I honestly wouldn’t dwell too much on it. You’re taking it far more seriously than they do.”

There’s so much more I could write about Gamergate, but I wanted to express my general views on the topic for now.

I hope you can see where I’m coming from and where my frustration stems from. And thank you if you got this far, I hope this article gave you a different perspective on things.

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