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Video game ethics?

Guest Op/Ed: The real sources of unethical videogame journalism

Jan 21 // The Badger
Videogame journalists are the biggest nerds in the world This may seem like an unrelated point, but it's important to start this off by identifying who we're dealing with here. Nerds. Huge fucking nerds.  What do I mean by nerd? A lot of things, but the two key points for now are 1) nerds care about shit that is completely unimportant to everyone else, and 2) nerds want other people to see how important this unimportant shit actually is. A nerd is a guy who can't help spend hours trying to convince his loathing in-laws that The Game Grumps are way funnier than Mel Brooks. A nerd is a girl who sits you down in the middle of a hurricane and babbles about how the latest Legend of Zelda game completely sucks compared to the prior, nearly identical Legend of Zelda game. A nerd is in their own world. A nerd wants you to be in that world with them.  I'm not saying there is anything wrong or right about being a nerd. It's just a thing. Some nerds take pride in being nerds, and they tend to be the most annoying of their breed. Other nerds are ashamed of being nerds, which is also pretty fucking annoying. Videogame journalists tend to do both at the same time, which makes them doubly annoying, and triple susceptible to manipulation.  A nerd wants to be understood, to be validated, to have their peers finally "get" how fucking amazing Buffy the Vampire Slayer is. They want to be honored for their ability to immerse themselves in banal, worthless shit. They want to get paid for it too, because who wouldn't? This is the portrait of a "videogame journalist," a writer who might as well be wearing clown shoes and a t-shirt that has "deluded asshole" written on it in big rainbow lettering, should they ever talk to actual, real-life journalists about their jobs. "I just wrote a hot exposé on how how the guy who made Gears of War got tops scores in Mario growing up, where the fuck is my Pulitzer?" they cry, alone at the journalism party, wondering why every other journalist in the world can't make eye contact with them without laughing or turning away in sympathetic embarrassment.  AAA publishers are well aware of what they're dealing with here. They know that videogame "journalists" are the biggest fucking nerds in the world, and they have spent millions of dollars on turning this situation to their advantage.  Food, folks, and fun Oh, and I almost forgot to mention that videogame "journalists" are all totally fucking poor. I don't know how much the staff at Destructoid get, but I'd bet they don't make much more than your average McDonald's manager. I don't just mean the frontline writers either. I mean the bosses too. Unless you're one in the unknown guys in the way back, sitting pretty at one of the big-money parent companies that pull the strings of the game blogs you read, chances are you're poor as fuck.  So you're a multi-billion dollar company and you have a group of "journalists" in front of you who are totally financially bankrupt and aren't respected by anyone in the world except for their videogame loving "fans." Metacritic makes or breaks games these days, and some game blogs are read in the millions, so you know you need to get these fucking nerds on your side somehow. But how can you do that, other than by making actually good videogames? That's really fucking hard, right? Isn't there an easier way to win them over? Like any business transaction, you have to look at what you have that the other side wants, and vice versa. From there, you concoct a deal that will leave you richer and the other guy poorer. Videogame "journalists" have the one thing that AAA publishers can never have, but I'm not quite sure what the word for it is. I don't want to go as far as to say "integrity," but it's something in that ballpark. Multi-billion dollar publishers will always look like car salesmen to consumers. Some are more likable car salesmen than others, but we all know that all they want is for us to "shut up and give them our money." In fact, I have it on good authority that it was a corporate shill who created that meme. Nothing like memes to create a culture where buying shit makes you feel like a funny guy that's super popular on the Internet. But back to the point. Though they often fail at it, the game "journalist" has the potential to be seen as something more noble than a car salesmen. In theory, they are someone who tells the honest truth about videogames, despite the fact that they get paid shit and are mocked by real journalists for choosing that path. It's a path they can't help but fall into, and can't usually crawl out of either. They can't help but care about videogames and the people who play them. I'd call it "honorable" if it weren't so fucking stupid. Either way, it's an image that AAA publishers can only dream about having. So if you are a multi-billion-dollar game publisher, these borderline "honorable" people are who you want to buy, but the irony is, buying them would ruin them for you. If you put them on the payroll then *POOF*, cherry popped, and with it any illusion of honesty and integrity. That's counterproductive. That's scrubbing your toilet with shit-scented soap. So instead of buying game "journalists" directly, you have to work them sideways. You have to win their affection, to get them to feel instead of think. To do that, you have to feed them the things that they're missing -- acceptance, a sense of importance, and often times, actual food.  Ask your average San Francisco-area game journalist how many fancy parties they were invited to by AAA game publishers last month, and they'll likely be unable to tell you off hand because there were too many to keep track of. All of these parties are well-catered with fancy food and free drinks. They are almost all held at trendy clubs, complete with stylish DJs playing cutting-edge music. Young, attractive PR people work the "press party," playing the role of "professional friends." They'll smile and joke and hang out with the "journalists" as they drunkenly play some half-finished, totally mediocre, risk-free AAA videogame. Maybe they'll get drunk and make out with the attractive PR people later on. Maybe the game being previewed at that party will get a 9/10 by that writer later in the year. Maybe that happens with every goddamn over-hyped annual AAA game release in the history of AAA game releases. Maybe it's been going on for years. And that's just the tip of the iceberg. That's not even getting into "review events" where journalists are flown to exotic locations, fed even fancier food, and basically treated like kings for the entirety of a long weekend, before returning home to their shitty studio apartments and nightly ramen-noodle dinners. That's not touching E3, a trade show disguised as a press event where AAA publishers make an economy out of swag and "insider" game screenings, parties, and press conferences, where journalists are trained to measure their worth by how close they were able to get to certain "important" games and publishers, and not by how thoughtful and unbiased their coverage is.  This lists go on and on, and nothing on the list has ever been a secret. Like that giant gas pipe with "DANGER" written in bling all over it, all this unethical bullshit is hiding in plain site since the dawn of the game industry. Capcom even used to advertise its "CAPtivate" event on its own blog, despite the fact that it was basically a giant trip to Hawaii it bought for game "journalists." There was no GamerGate-style hashtag to complain about it either. That's right, gamers weren't worried at all about collusion and conflicts of interests at all back when Capcom took all of the most-read game bloggers in the world on a fucking group vacation to Hawaii. I guess gamers in those days were too busy fretting over the fact that some blog might have given a game they liked an 8 instead of a 9, or some other such bullshit that they've been trained to think is important. Good thing those days are over, right guys?  If anything, gamers seemed to think that CAPtivate was cool. It probably gave them hope. If they became game journalist someday, they too could hangout with women who were paid to pretend to like them and get free food and basically be allowed to remain children forever. That's "living the dream" for many people. I know it was my dream for a while, until I woke the fuck up. Now I see that we've created a culture where the rich, popular kids occasionally ask the biggest nerds in the world for help with their homework, and in exchange they let the nerds sit at the "cool" table at lunch for a day. But just for a day. Then it's back to the fucking nerd hole with the lot of them. Even worse, everyone involved seems totally OK with maintaining this practice as the status quo. That's fucked up.  So why is everyone OK with it?  Part of why everyone's OK with it is that everyone either feels like they benefit from it, or they feel powerless to stop it. AAA publishers get their coverage, game blogs get views and free vacations, and game blog readers get to read about the games that they've been convinced are "hardcore" and "important" by the other two groups. The consumer is having their wallets stolen from them as AAA publishers look them straight in the eye and say "I'm doing you a favor," and god fucking damn it, the average consumer seems to believe them. Why else would broken, bland shit like Destiny be one of the best-selling games of 2014? As for the "journalists," they just look on at the crime and say "Well, that's just how the system works. Guess I'll just shrug my shoulders and obey this review embargo. Wouldn't want to lose my job! Wouldn't want to get my dick cut off by Activision! Gotta keep your dick around, even if the only thing you get to use it for is pissing out press releases and jerking off to the idea that you're doing something worthwhile with your life." And in the face of all this, thousands of people think that some poor, no-name game developer fucking some poor, no-name game "journalist" are the root of the ethical issues in "game journalism"? Are you for fucking real?  Of course you're not for fucking real. You're a smokescreen, obviously.  I know that certain parties at certain AAA game publishers are fucking thrilled with GamerGate, and have actively worked to keep that shitstorm going under anonymous accounts, not unlike this one that I'm using right now. And why wouldn't they? GamerGate distracts from the real ethical issues in game journalism while bringing hits to the blogs that are basically working as unpaid PR for whatever cookie-cutter, "must-have" game of the week that they're hocking that day. It inflates the importance of game bloggers, and as a result, the importance of the games they blog about. 99% of the time, that's one of their games.  GamerGate also works to discredit the people who are scariest to AAA publishers; critics like Anita Sarkeesian who have managed to get their voices heard while remaining outside of the AAA PR ecosystem. Capcom can't fly Anita out to Hawaii and try to win her over. They can't slap a review embargo on her. She doing just fine without having to get involved with "hype-trains" or review events. She might be shitty at her job, but she's still an honest-to-God game critic, and that scares the fuck out of AAA publishers.  Equally scary are game developers who don't need AAA publishers to find their audience. Minecraft is their fucking worst nightmare, but it was too big to kill so they had to buy it. It's buy, sell, or kill with them, just like it is with all pimps. Those are the only services a pimp can provide. If they catch a girl who looks like she could live without a pimp, you can bet they'll do their best to swat her down, to make an example of her. You wonder why no AAA publishers came to the aid of the game developers who are getting chased out of their homes by identity theft and death threats? It's because they are happy to see it happen. They are happy to see anyone who dared to work the streets without a pimp get shanked. But hopefully you're not happy with it. Hopefully you're not happy with people who are getting paid multi-million-dollar salaries to further a system where the shit trickles down from the top and lands squarely on your face. Hopefully you want to do something about it.  I've been trained do as I'm told so please tell me what to do, anonymous stranger! If you insist. First of all, let go of that goddamn fucking bullshit GamerGate hashtag. It makes you look like an idiot at best, a fucking stalker at worst. Start a new hashtag. Try #GameBoycott. Use it to identify games or game consoles that were presented to game "journalists" for coverage at fancy parties where they were given free stuff and other attempted buy-offs. Try that for a change, instead of spinning your wheels with dumbass witch hunts and obsessive nitpicking. Stop getting mad at the dog for farting and do something about the giant gas pipe in your kitchen. I'll even give you a head start. I heard that Nintendo threw a big surprise party for game "journalists" last week where they were all fed free expensive food and given a "gift bag" that included a New 3DS and a bunch of games and shit. I think it's fair to call that an attempted buy-off. If you agree, boycott the New 3DS, and make some noise about it. Show Nintendo that you won't tolerate those kinds of business practices. Show them that you don't appreciate their efforts to buy the affection of nerds with really expensive gifts and fake friendship, regardless if those nerds are on the "consumer" or the "journalist" side of the equation.  Your money is the only thing they care about. If you want game "journalism" to be more ethical, you've got to go after the AAA publishers running the show. Trying to kill the blogs that write about their games won't help. If one dies, two more will just pop up in their place. Instead, reward the blogs who are up front about what AAA publishers are doing, and avoid the rest. Don't lose focus. Don't fall for smokescreens. Be consistent in your efforts to fuck with the secret AAA douchebags who are really in control, the guys smiling in the shadows as they wipe their asses with your hard-earned money. I know these guys personally, and trust me, they deserve to be fucked with.  [Disclaimer: The views and opinions of The Badger do not necessarily reflect those of Destructoid.com. They do make some interesting points, though.]
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[Note: The Badger could be anyone -- a game developer, a member of the gaming press, even a writer for another game blog. They could be just one person or multiple people. You'll probably never find out who they really are, w...

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