I am embarrassed to say I play games. Not because it’s an unvirtuous or unjustifiable pastime, but because of what being passionate about games has come to represent. We like to think we are more sophisticated and relevant than people that follow the Kardashians, hanging on their every word, waiting for their next nipple slip. We are not. We like to think that because we self-define videogames as art that vitriol and gossip about their makers is more sophisticated than scuttlebut about Miley Cyrus’ sexual escapades. It’s not. We like to think that our own subjective views are the only one true objective view about anything, ever. They are not.
You just have to look at the rumours and speculation surrounding the departure of Amy Hennig from Naughty Dog, the subsequent speculation, and the heavy handed response from Naughty Dog setting the record straight, to see that something is wrong. Even after that Kotaku ran a story purporting to clarify the situation, only to then discredit it and perpetuate the unfounded accusations levelled at Naughty Dog. It was later revised, removing the inflammatory commentary by the author, but the question remains as to why it was published before it was subject to editorial control. It is a broader problem than just lays with Kotaku, but it is one that is exacerbating an already rampant culture of disrespect and rumour-mongering that exists within the industry. And it happened again with the departure at Evolution Studios
Rumour and speculation has always been a solid pillar of participating in the video game industry and its culture more broadly. But it was never so personal, harsh and damaging. The rumours published we about the existence of Sheng Long in Street Fighter, or a nude code for Lara Croft in Tomb Raider. They were playful attempts at playing on the passions of people that enjoy video games. It was all a bit immature and showed the youth of the industry, but it was fun and in good humour, and for the most part never hurt anyone. Things have changed, as they should. The medium has matured and the industry has become much bigger than it was. But everything around the industry has gone backwards.
And its all about not just people feeling entitled to their own opinion, but that their opinions are right. That no one else has a view or that their views aren’t worth anything. It would be fine if they disagree silently but all too often it devolves into a slanging match of sarcasm and self-righteousness on twitter, message boards or comments sections of popular websites. The worst part is this usually involves so-called industry-luminaries, the video games media, justifying their own positions in a heavy-handed or snarky fashion. You just have to look at some of the exchanges between people on the Facebook acquisition of Oculus VR to see the sheer amount of arrogance and misinformation being bandied around in positions of influence. And while many of them are quick to distance their tweets from their professionally written work, the fact is there should be no distinction. If you’re selling yourself as a personality and an authority, that counts as much at the dinner table as it does at the podium.
If these are the people we have to look up to as beacons of hope for the future of the culture surrounding our favourite pastime, things aren’t looking great. Across the board gaming culture fuelled by the anonymity and convenience of the internet has devolved into a spout of vitriol, ill-will and arrogance, and is driven by egos rather than excellence.
VideoGame/Movie Journalism died when the journalists made themselves a part of the story rather than acting as a vessel for it
— Charles Gerian (@AverageCharles) March 27, 2014
There are beacons of light, of course, with Giantbomb’s Patrick Klepek representing a level-headed and respectful approach to games journalism, and I have a new-found respect for the understanding of the business world as well as thoughtfulness in writing of professionals like Pocketgamer.biz’s Keith Andrews. But it’s not enough, and if we want the industry and the culture of video games to be respected more broadly, we need to start with ourselves and how we interact with each other. I’m not sure anyone has but it quite as perfectly and succinctly as Polygon’s Justin McElroy when he tweeted:
Even if you’re making a great joke or have a fantastic point to make, it’s still worth taking a moment to ask “Is this worth it?” — Justin McElroy (@JustinMcElroy) March 28, 2014
Games are mature, they are relevant and they are absolutely an important part of our social fabric. But we need to reflect that in the way we as consumers and commentators conduct ourselves. So instead of McDonald’s receipts perhaps consider getting that tattooed on your arm as a constant reminder to be a good video game industry (and internet) citizen. And this applies doubly to those that get paid to do so.
Do you think the games enthusiast press and internet commentators need a kick in the arse? Tell us in the comments below.