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Pokemon, White Women, and Journalistic Bias


I'd like to open by saying that I almost never write anything political in nature because I usually feel like it's not worth the effort. When I say "political", by the way, I don't just mean things relating to government but really any social or cultural issue that people are passionate about. I'm talking about the same political in "politically correct". Anyway, I don't think it's worth the hassle because most people aren't interested in having their opinions changed. People, in my opinion, like very much to have their pre-existing beliefs confirmed. In fact, there's even a term for this phenomenon - Confirmation Bias. When trying to think of a relatable and somewhat recent example of confirmation bias in gaming news, I'd probably turn to Phil Fish. Back in 2014, Steven Hansen linked to a video (from Innuendo Studios) about the Phil Fish situation. The video is remarkably thoughtful and well made, and, at one point, it made the argument that "news" about Phil Fish was "newsworthy" because it confirmed our previoulsy held beliefs about him. Here's the link: This is Phil Fish. Honestly, you should probably just stop reading this and go watch the video instead because it would be a better use of your time. Also, please ignore the fact that I happen to have the Featured Comment for that article...or don't. Now that I think about it, though, it's certainly no coincidence that I remember that article. I posted a comment and a bunch of people agreed with me! It felt nice. It usually does when your opinions are validated. This brings me back to my first point, which is that people don't usually like to feel wrong or, for that matter, be challenged on their perceived rightness. Subsequently, I'm usually hesitant to be the one doing the challenging.

Me, Every time I research anything

So what am I actually writing about? Well, today on Destructoid, I saw two seemingly similar, but actually very different, articles in rapid succession. Both of the articles were about deaths that were, at best, tenuously related to gaming, and the two articles were both posted by Chris Carter. They were titled Pro Skier Matilda Rappaport passes away filming promo for Ubisoft's Steep and Pokemon Go reportedly claims its first death. You should read those first. I'll wait...

Ok, you back? Good. So, you can probably see where this is going. I hope you can see where this is going. If you do, and already have an opinion, feel free to skip the rest and share. Hopefully, you're still reading though. Yes, you

So, what's the big deal? Two people are dead. Chris reported it. Why am I coming out of C.Blog semi-retirement to write about it? Well, because I found the manner in which the stories were covered to be kind of upsetting. Also, and more importantly, I had the day off today and a bunch of obligations that I felt like putting off till later. With that out of the way, let's talk about the "B" word. No, not booby-head. The other one - Bias. Bias is a dirty word. It's loaded with many, many pre-conceived notions. Here's the thing: there are different kinds of bias. If former Destructoid Reviews Editor, Jim Sterling, ever wrote about Dynasty Warriors, it was almost always to say something positive. He loves Dynasty Warriors. That love, expectedly, bled into his writing. He's biased towards it. That's cool. There's no expectation that he shouldn't be. He even made a video about bias way back when (Your Reviews Are Teh Bias). This is a gaming enthusiast website. We should be enthusiastic about games. Even when it comes to the matter of a review, an author's biases (either towards or against the game/genre) don't really bother me. This is not the kind of bias that I'm talking about though. I'm talking about the kind that I saw in the Brock Turner case. Yeah, the one that was all over your Facebook feed about a month or so ago. Turner is disgusting and I don't really want to dwell on it, but basically I'll sum up its relevance here like this: People tend to report on news differently depending on their own conscious and subconscious prejudices. The Brock Turner case was notable for several reasons, including: his legal defense, statments made by friends and family, and his light sentencing. For our purposes, though, I'd like to briefly mention the way he was covered in the media. When the story was first breaking, much of the news media's coverage of Turner (an affluent white male) was bizarre when compared to similar coverage of criminals of a different enthnicity and socio-economic background. Here's a similar example which demonstrates the same type of bias. Please notice the differences between the headlines in addition to the obvious difference between the pictures. 

How are these two images different?

I'd like to mention one important thing about this example. The Gazette (Iowa's second largest newspaper) and KCRG issued explanations for the discrepancy above that involved not being able to get the mugshots of all three white students in time for the article to be published. Whether you think that's bullshit or not, there has been a much talked about double standard in news coverage depending upon who is being covered and by whom. This issue has spawned several memes about discrepancies in reporting, and whether intentional or unintentional, the effect of this discrepancy is a perceived devaluing of those covered less favorably (or an over-valuing of those covered, debatedly, too favorably). This is especially egregious when a suspected criminal might actually receive more favorable coverage than a victim of a violent or sexual crime, simply because of a difference in gender, race, or status. This issue isn't a new one, by the way. It's been aroud for a long time. There's another term that sometimes gets bandied about in association with this - Missing White Woman Syndrome. The gist of it is that the media tends to give disproportionate focus to middle-to-upper class white women. It's a real thing. Norm Macdonald even has a stand-up routine about it (and also about how sloppy serial killers tend to be). Sorry for the poor quality.

So this brings us back to today's articles, which were about the deaths of an 18 year old Guatemalan man and an internationally famous, 30 year old, Swedish skier. Here's how the Pokemon Go related death was described: "...an 18-year old in Chiquimula, Guatemala allegedly tried to break in to someone's house to capture Pokemon, and was shot and killed...When literally millions of players every day are engaging with something that encourages them to wander around, things like this are bound to happen eventually". Here was the description of the Steep related death: "A tragedy struck the set of a promotional video for Ubisoft's Steep in the Andes mountains in Chile -- Matilda Rapaport was caught in an avalanche during filming, and died several days later at a hospital...her memorial post hammers home how remarkable of a person Rapaport was...Our thoughts are with Matilda Rapaport and her family." Here's the top rated comment from the Pokemon Go article: "I'd feel a lot worse if this wasn't due to a breaking and entering attempt. If someone tries to break into your house, you are within your rights to defend yourself." Here's the top rated comment from the Steep article: "What awful news. Doesn't matter how well you may know someone, or even if you don't know them at all, tragic accidents that result in loss of life such as this are always upsetting." The general tone of the rest of the comments was pretty consistent along those lines. On the one hand: "Spoken like a hugbox millennial douchebag who's never had to deal with a break-in, huh?...Some people are just stupid; sometimes Darwin gives awards to these people...That wasn't PoGo, that was Darwin...Darwin baby...ok seriously, are people getting stupider each year?...If true, good. Like seriously good, and I don't care what you think. I'm happy." On the other: "Holy shit, that's horrible...My condolences to the family. She was too damn young...Very tragic...A beautiful person inside and out. I hope that where ever she is now, she's happy and pain-free...Thats so sad to hear and so young as well". Are those quotes cherry picked? Absolutely. For those concerned, there are definitely some comments that don't follow that trend in both cases. In the Go article: "Absolutely tragic...someone is dead which is sad...it's sad to hear". In the Steep article: "I knew things like that would have Steep consequences...Working for Ubisoft will literally kill you". So...there were some exceptions, but they were definitely exceptions to the previous trends. 

Before offering any extended commentary or analysis, I'd like to first provide some additional context for the Pokemon GO story. There has been some confusion on the internet regarding the veracity of the original story that was posted in The Daily Mirror (a British tabloid). It wasn't until later today that most news outlets began to reach consensus about what actually happened. According to Prensa Libre (a Guatemalan tabloid), the young man was NOT attempting to break into a home. In fact, he was just on a walk with his cousin. "Residents from the area indicated that the incident was perpetrated by men riding on a farm truck [van?], who fled in an unknown direction after committing the attack." How did that story turn into a story about a young man breaking and entering? I don't know. Could expectation bias have played a role in turning him into the criminal? Maybe. Chris, much to his credit, updated his article to reflect the development. That said, I don't think he updated enough of it.

I'm still troubled by what I read today. The first thing I'd like to do is give the young man who was playing Pokemon Go a name. You may not have realized it from reading the article, but he had one. His name was Jerson Lopez de Leon. He was 18. He was playing Pokemon Go with his cousin, Daniel Moses Picen Sintuj, when they were both shot at by an unknown group of men.  Is it just me or is there something different about learning that "Jerson" has been shot and killed as opposed to learning that "an 18-year-old Guatemalan" has been shot and killed? I didn't have to go digging for that information, by the way. It was readily available in both articles that Chris linked to as sources. So why didn't he include it? It's possible that it wasn't available at the time he published, but I don't know whether that's the case. I do know that he did include Matilda Rappaport's name in the Steep article. I guess Jerson wasn't famous enough? The Steep article also featured a header with Matilda's picture. The Pokemon Go article featured a header with an image of Squirtle. This is what Jerson looked like, by the way.

Jerson Lopez de Leon

One of these people "passed away", while the other was a "death". One of these occurences was a "tragedy", while the other was an "unfortunate situation". One of the deceased was "remarkable", while the other was an anonymous foreigner. Matilda Rappaport's family receives our "thoughts", but Jerson Lopez de Leon's family doesn't get anything. I sincerely hope that I am not the only person who was struck by this disparity.

So now what? I don't know. I didn't write this because I wanted to tell on Chris or to shame him or shame the commenters. I guess I just noticed something that I thought was kind of ugly and wanted to bring it to everyone's attention. I don't think Chris intentionally wrote those two articles to be that different (when at the end of the day, they're both about people who tragically died). Regardless, I do think that the comments, attitude, and tone that followed was largely influenced by the way the stories were first presented. It's very easy to be callous about an anonymous person who appears to have behaved foolishly. It's much harder to act that way when confronted with emotional language and a picture of an attractive athlete. 

This is a videogame news and reviews website. The slogan used to be "Also, Cocks". I understand that many people probably aren't interested in or concerned with "political correctness" here. Destructoid though, for what it's worth, has been my go to site for information about games (my favorite hobby) since 2009. I've gotten into online arguments with Anthony Burch (before Disqus made such things so easy), I idolized Brad Nicholson, and I shook Jim Sterling's hand.

One of the reasons that I've stuck around is because this site (in large part due to the efforts of the writers and moderators) seems to earnestly try to create a fun, positive, and inclusive atmosphere. People have spats and there's been forum drama, but I've largely been removed from all of that. So I guess, I'm bringing this all up because I felt like that atmosphere that I've enjoyed was intruded upon today and it upset me. The only thing that I hope might come of this article (if anyone reads it) is that before you post something, that you think a little bit about the way you present the news, the details you choose to highlight, and the comments you decide to share.

Thanks for reading.

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About Just1none of us since 4:38 PM on 09.21.2009

I'm an actor and engineer living in Los Angeles who likes videogames. Go figure.

My ten favorite games are currently (in no particular order):

Bioshock Infinite
The Legend of Zelda: Majora's Mask
Metal Gear Solid 3: Subsistence
Super Mario Odyssey
The Witcher 3
Kingdom Hearts 2
Kentucky Route Zero
Outer Wilds
Mass Effect 2
Final Fantasy X

I'm currently playing:
A bunch of games, including (but not limited to): Yakuza Kiwami, Far Cry 4, and Hyrule Warriors.
Xbox LIVE:EricAB1air
PSN ID:EricABlair
Steam ID:http://steamcommunity.com/id/ric


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