Lawyers Against Gaming Corruption Campaign – Was it Misguided?
by Marcus Estrada
The internet has changed tremendously over the past few decades. At the start, consumers connected to BBSes and chatted with others in their neighborhood (or paid fees for long distance connections) and even played door games and MUDs. As time progressed, we’ve seen communities form online, both around games and in general. Since I’m a fan of video games, I focused on the gaming aspect as people flocked to forums and now, in many occasions, have moved to Twitter. Twitter has been a force for “good,” “evil,” and everything in between. In case you don’t use Twitter much, or just weren’t in the circles involved, you may not have heard of this whole #GamerGate thing.
Heck, even though I have seen a lot of talk on the topic I still don’t know much at all about all that’s gone down. This is because there doesn’t appear to be one clear vision or goal of what it actually is. Ask two #GamerGate supporters and they’ll both likely give slightly (to supremely) different explanations as to its purpose. The most cemented meaning I found that more recently reared its head was that this was a call to stop corruption from infiltrating the world of video game journalism. This thing is/was a stand to force writers to behave ethically – or else?
This particular view of #GamerGate was pushed further by two individuals who grouped together to start the Lawyers Against Gaming Corruption Indiegogo campaign. When it launched, it promised to have a lawyer examine the various things that had been discovered during the past month about gaming journalists and decide if it was illegal. In the case that this was determined to be the case, their hired attorney would file a suit against the offending parties. Unfortunately, everything was not explained to the degree you would expect from a campaign suggesting legal action and costing $35,000. There was also confusion as to why the attorney was directly related (i.e. married) to one of the campaign members and whether this was ethical itself since it was not disclosed outright. As such, the campaign was closed nearly immediately. It’s possible but not promised that they may return with an updated campaign later.
Why did things get to the level where individuals wanted to sue people who write about video games? It seems that many gaming fans started to view it all as a big con game. Or, perhaps, they had already felt there were problems in the industry but a few choice events simply tipped it all over the edge. As someone who has written about video games on various websites for over four years I cannot pretend to have the same mindset as people who simply ingest news, reviews, previews, and editorials. However, I can say that it really feels as though all this anger, disappointment, and sadness is not particularly helpful for anyone.
Video game journalism (if you wish to call it that) started from what appears to me as a fairly problematic place. Many of the first periodicals we read were things like the Nintendo Fun Club (which eventually became Nintendo Power) and the like. Corporate-branded magazines have always seemed to be advertorials with little disguising them. Third party magazines were available as well, but again it felt as though people were just ecstatic to be writing about video games and that allowed for many happy reviews regardless of a game’s actual quality.
Today, the biggest magazine is Game Informer thanks to its direct partnership with Game Stop’s Power Up Rewards program. Although it does give poor scores on occasion, it has long since felt to me that their main goal is to simply drum up interest in pre-orders for their store – not to provide a fully useful guide for game players. Again, that is my thought on the matter, not some proven fact. There’s not too much competition still around in the world of game magazines, either.
The competitive landscape has moved online. Here big name sites such as Kotaku, Destructoid, and Polygon vie for attention in their own special ways. Have they ever behaved unethically? I have no clue! Although I write about games, I have never been able to touch the “big names” with even a freelance piece. With that said, if there is corruption, I have felt its presence at even small and mid-tier sites. At a previous site, I was asked to not give a game a score lower than 7 on a 10 point scale. This helped me to decide leaving them was the best option. There have been other instances where sites have asked me (but not enforced) to reconsider a score.
There have also been attempts at minimizing my actual commentary from publishers and developers as well. No, these were not big names, but they attempted to play on my emotions to guarantee a “good” score. As I write primarily about indie games, I’ve rarely tangoed with triple A teams. However, the common knowledge passed around writers has often been that giving low scores to important releases might restrict your team from getting review copies and codes from them in the future. Again, I’ve not experienced this personally, and I don’t think it would stop many writers from sharing their true thoughts, but that mindset is definitely out there.
Oh yeah, did I mention that most writers get many of the games they review free of charge? In case you have never heard of this practice it probably seems mega unethical. However, for actual games writers, it is just the way things are. If we all had to buy every game we wished to review then that would hugely cut down on the amount of a reviews any one site could publish a month. It’s not as if game writers are paid very much (if anything) unless you work for one of the top ten sites. With livable wages out of reach for most of us, spending a lot on entertainment of any type isn’t a great proposition. Review copies do not feel like gifts. They simply become a routine aspect of the job. Maybe some writers out there feel indebted to give high scores for review copies, but they’ll likely be very boring to read if they score everything the same.
Maybe you have heard about game journalists being flown out to fancy review events free of charge and all that stuff. I’ve heard of it too – of course I’m nowhere near being treated in such ways. Again, I would assume they take that as part of their job. Being fed free food and having a nice environment to game in sounds appealing, but it’s not as if that will make the game any better or worse. With that said, I feel publishers will eventually learn these circus events are meaningless and will cut it out eventually. Or, they’ll just switch this special media treatment to focus exclusively on YouTube personalities. So far, it seems that is a far better way for them to “bend” opinions to their will. The wild west nature of YouTube will eventually cool down as well, but for now it is allowed since even their biggest fans don’t view them as “journalists.”
What does all this blabbering mean in the grand scheme of things? It is here to say that there have been problems inherent in the world of game writing since its inception. There are definitely problems today, but they are likely not worse than they ever were. It’s mostly due to the change in immediate social communication between others that makes these latest incidents feel so much more dire. I mean, hell, where was the grand uprising when Jeff Gerstmann was effectively fired from GameSpot because of a less-than-stellar Kane and Lynch review? People definitely were talking, but there was never a huge enough swell to suggest he sue for wrongful termination.
The problems that exist now are not new. They are also not exclusive to the video games industry. The big question is how pertinent is corruption and unethical behavior within games journalism? No one can say for sure, especially when every site operates in its own way. However, if you take personal issue with a certain journalist or site, then stop visiting it. Lashing out at writers is mostly meaningless since, unless their own boss agrees, they won’t lose their positions. Web hits, whether due to interest or spite, are very important for many sites. Suing, which is an expensive process for both parties involved, guarantees no “success.” A large chunk of visitors never coming to a site again is a far greater issue for companies founded on on such principles. As such, Lawyers Against Gaming Corruption seemed an overall imprecise attempt at making a point.
Find writers, personalities, or a site you trust and enjoy their content. Or don’t. Considering we have all of Twitter at our disposal it is totally possible to enjoy gaming news and opinions without ever checking any gaming website. Corruption occurs but you can remove its power by simply taking your attention elsewhere. Then perhaps people like you may even rise to prominence along a new website, stream, or video series. We all love video games and given time we will shape the industry for the better.
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[author image=”http://cliqist.com/wp-content/uploads/2014/01/marcus.jpg” ] Marcus is a fellow with a love for video games, horror, and Japanese food. When he’s not writing about games for a multitude of sites, he’s usually still playing one. One day when he became fed up with the way sites would ignore niche titles he decided to start his own site by the name of Pixel Pacas. Writing about video games is something he hopes to continue doing for many years to come. Some of Marcus’s favorite games include Silent Hill 2, Killer7, and The Sims. [/author]