There is this growing negativity surrounding the gaming industry, and it’s coming from a source that it really shouldn’t be: games journalists.
I’m reluctant to use the term “games journalism” because it’s become a label of ridicule over the past few years; a moniker that’s more frequently held up for scorn by people whose opinions differ from that of the writer’s. It’s probably why journalists like Jim Sterling refer to the job with derp-infused variants of “gaermz jernalisms”; it’s that whole “if I own what they ridicule me about, then their names can’t hurt me” mentality. It’s doubly effective because it’s also rather amusing; I do it as well.
The fact of the matter is that the particular strain of negativity I’m referring to is coming from games journalism – I’m not referring to the backlash that’s been levelled at the gaming media in increasing doses ever since Geoff Keighley sat next to some Doritos and Mountain Dew. This is the negativity perpetuated and felt towards the gaming industry by games journalists. It goes by other names: jaded, cynical, world-weary – you get the idea.
I’ll never forget my first face-to-face encounter with this breed of journalist. It was over two years ago at Gamescom; I was in the media lounge trying to escape a conversation with a Russian journalist who insisted on telling everyone and anyone how awful Gamescom and the rest of the gaming industry was. He prided himself on how so many publishers had banned him from interviewing developers because of his insistence in asking deliberately awkward questions and exclusively focusing on any negative points about whatever game was being developed. He was, basically, the very dick that Wil Wheaton has warned us all about.
Since then I’ve attended numerous press shows, expos and game preview events; at every single one of them there has been this particular breed of journalist. E3 was just the best; you could find the cynical hacks everywhere, as if having a contrarian attitude was a job requirement. The thing is: those people are in the wrong job.
I get the feeling that many games journalists have forgotten just how fortunate they are to be part of the industry. There are millions of people who would leap at the chance to get to report on video games for a living. What makes this cynical outlook even more bizarre is that this is actually a pretty damn difficult industry to get into. While you could argue that anybody with a blog and a gaming platform could call themselves a “games journalist”, those aren’t the blogs or websites being invited to visit development studios for secretive game reveals and the like. Games journalism – proper games journalism, if that’s even a thing – is difficult to get into, so when one is able to get into it, you want to be damn sure you do your job properly so that you stick around.
I’ve had these thoughts for a long time, but they were re-galvanised by a post on Reddit that cropped up about a week ago. In the post, the redditor details “the facts” about game review events. For those who don’t know, review events are sometimes held for press outlets. Journalists arrive at a hotel; they get a room with a gaming setup to play whatever game it is they’re there to review; they spend a few nights, complete the game and head off home to write the review.
While the author of the Reddit post comes off as pretty jaded about the industry, they state in a later comment thread that they’re deliberately altering their writing style “for anonymity”. Be that as it may, the tone of the post is undeniably derisive despite the author clarifying that they actually “hate cynicism” and that there are “no sour grapes”. But this isn’t about the author; if their follow-up clarifications are to be believed (and there’s no reason why one shouldn’t believe them) then it’s safe to assume that the author is capable of ensuring their journalistic work remains unaffected. Still, the content of the post and the tone (whether intentional or not) smack of the very negativity I’m talking about. It’s this outlook that, if allowed to become all-consuming, will ultimately prevent a journalist from doing their job properly.
I’ve always wondered why people stick in the gaming media industry when it clearly makes them so depressed and unbearable. At what point do one’s jaded filters begin having a negative effect on the quality of the work that is written? I’d argue that if a games journalist’s knee-jerk response to new games, developers and press events is one of a continually pessimistic nature, then it’s time for a career change. Those who can only see the negatives and who no longer find anything positive or exciting in the industry cannot possibly do their job properly. They would be providing a skewed window for their readers to peer through into the industry. There is no way that that amount of pessimism can allow a journalist to remain open-minded and objective – something I would argue is an occupational requirement considering how often and how rapidly the gaming industry changes.
I’m not saying that journalists should love every aspect of the job; there are parts to any job that aren’t fun. I’m not saying they shouldn’t expose shoddy practices or games that deserve to be trashed; part of the job is providing readers with the truth. I’m not saying that games journalism is always fun-fuelled and glamorous. What I am saying is that many journalists seem to have forgotten how lucky they are to have the job that they do. If I ever reach the point where I cannot find anything positive in a gaming event or the industry in general, then it’ll be time for me to quit and move on to something else. I’d have nothing further to offer that would be of benefit to anyone, so there’d be no point in me staying on. Besides, if it ever gets to that point, there’d be a million other people capable of doing the job better than me anyway.