I write this in response to Jim Sterling’s “Sim City, Colonial Marines, and the Silence”
I’ve been a journalist long enough to know how it all works - the ugly part of this business, that is. A controversy comes up and it’s talked about until an even greater controversy comes up, or the former has run its course. You want people to keep reading and not to read someone else should they become weary of your crusade. After all, much like the games industry or whatever industry we cover, we, ourselves, are part of a business.
It’s an unfortunate thing really, choosing to cover an industry. No one needs to talk to “you” and by that I mean any journalist, personally. You don’t have to write something positive, but man, it’s cool when your words are in the “what critics are saying” blurb. I’m the first to admit it’s still awesome to me, but a rare thing, there aren’t many things that come across my desk that I feel that way about. That’s okay though because if I hate something, a company could easily find people lining up to get their horn tooted as someone mentioned in a sentence beginning with “Critics agree that…” Even the ones who know these friendships with the industry never last. You put it perfectly as saying that being the vocal minority is a business of “diminishing returns.” Call something out too loud and people will love you or vilify you, if the industry doesn’t do that to you already. If positivity toward what you do can be found, it does not matter. The recent outrages and their untimely deaths only go to prove that game journalists are the most important, least important part of the industry.
During my first internship at a newspaper, all I did the first month was PR work. I retyped press releases sent to us about this and that all day. Upon asking my editor if anyone actually cared about all that crap his response was “No, but we have a paper to fill.” News outlets need people to keep reading them so new content must be made all the time. No matter how good or bad it is. There’s been many times I’ve heard the phrase: “Has anyone got ANYTHING?” I usually figure this sentence is uttered when I see the old standbys in gaming press that arise when certain conditions are met. Condition 1: Two consoles/handhelds selling well and the other ‘below expectation’ = an article called: “Should [insert company here] Stop Making Consoles/Handhelds.” Condition 2: All consoles are selling well = an article called: “Why the Dreamcast 2 Should be a Reality.” Are these worthy, yet tired discussions? Sure. Is it easy to tell when someone needs the readership or it’s a slow news day? Yes, but this also pays for the good articles. I get it. Some of the sillier things I write get a hell of a lot more attention than editorials that have taken me weeks of research. And I’m not calling anyone out in particular because everyone does it, myself included.
Sure enough, throughout my time as a writer controversies did finally surface, they were sometimes snuffed because of various political reason or equally as bad; by silence. A tool I’ve never seen used more effectively than in game journalism. No matter what controversy in any industry I’ve been apart of covering or seen covered, thing I very, very much cared about they go away thanks to silence. But here’s the thing, Jim. People do not forget about these controversies. And that is precisely why I write this: People remember.
I’d been reading up on the industry since I was a boy reading Nintendo Power, sure controversies came and went but I can’t say I really cared about any until the Gamecube was being hyped up. Nintendo released a video with stunning HD graphics (which still look good) showing Link battling Ganondorf. That made me want to buy the Gamecube because I wanted this to happen. Then that video disappeared and what we got was Wind Waker. Amazing game that I love, though it may be, I could not help the fact that I felt betrayed and lied to. Your Colonial Marines coverage reminded me of this feeling. Even though I don’t care about that game, I care about the issue of false footage. When the Wii U came out I found an article talking about the HD Zelda video, pondering if it would finally happen. I nearly spit out my drink because I thought I was the only person who remembered that. Turns out a lot of people remember that video. Sift through the comments on any games website, through the flaming, trolling, and memes that comprises gaming discussion and you’ll find something real. You’ll find people like me who have had multiple xboxes fail and wonder why the red ring is no longer discussed even though it still happens. You’ll find people still upset about Diablo III. You’ll find people referencing the Sega Saturn launch. You’ll find jokes about RRRRrriiiiiidge Racerrrrrrrrr. Remember when IGN AU gave Halo 3 an 8.9 and IGN itself called that review “controversial” because the Australian branch thought it was a great game but just another Halo game. I can’t be the only one who found this so utterly ridiculous that I stopped visiting IGN. Last week I read a comment mentioning the GameSpot Kayne and Lynch controversy. People remember these things.
I read your op-ed and listen to you elaborate on Podtoid and all I can say is “Don’t give up.” I understand completely things cannot be given anymore coverage simply because your only source of real info has dried up, or that the market demands you move on. You can only be the voice of the people until the people want you to be upset about something else. And that’s okay, because we won’t forget. Giants of the game industry survive against many odds, but for how long can they. EA can brush off those who voted them ‘worst company in America’ as a ‘vocal minority,’ but what they should realize is that, that minority keeps getting bigger - big enough to allow them to retain the award and threatened them enough to make them preemptively defend it. These companies need 7 million people to buy a game for it to be a success. They need everyone they can to buy there games because they’ll fail otherwise - yet they do these things that no one likes. I don’t want to see this industry fail. I care deeply about this industry. Video games were a huge part of my childhood and I truly despise what this AAA-based industry has become, because there still so much good in it. That is why I read Destructoid, that is why I write this and encourage you and others like you to keep up the good work of calling these companies out. The gaming media may move onto the next issue or hot topic no matter how much you want to keep the coverage going, but just remember that a growing number of people like me remember.