We’re going to do things a little different this week. Some big things happened in the games enthusiast press (“journalism”) scene that has opened up a dialogue regarding games criticism, corruption, and the place of PR and marketing. I feel it is an important issue for anyone remotely interested in a career (or at least having a voice in) the games press. If you’re not interested in that whole mess, you can always check out our newest episode of The Low Down for some other news. Here’s what happened on the internet this week:
Things I Read
What I want to discuss is the recent controversy over Rob Florence’s criticism of the gaming press, specifically the UK-based Games Media Awards (GMAs), and fellow writer Lauren Wentwright. In his original post for Eurogamer, Florence called out the the press — and more importantly, public relations — for the way in which the industry presents and runs itself. It resulted in a polarizing and wide spread criticism of the GMAs, games journalism as an institution, the role of PR and Marketing in games writing, as well as a backlash against Florence and Wainwright. From there, Florence stepped down due to pressure from higher-ups. Two Botherer articles — one from Rock-Paper-Shotgun’s Jon Walker, and the other a response from Florence on the massive reaction to his Eurogamer piece – further the story, give background to the event, as well as show an in depth and disheartening look at the truth behind the corruption in games journalism.
Had I not read Florence’s post, I would have never heard about this; I came upon the entire things day after it happened. But the real issue here isn’t the events themselves so much as the meaning behind them: they are a clear and sad indication that the gaming media is corrupt in some way. Walker points out, more than likely, every review or article you’ve read is un-bought and unbiased. However, that doesn’t dismiss PR people and, as Florence puts it, their manipulation of information to support their own narrative.
This all comes at a very strange time for me, and all of us here at Power Cords. We’ve got some big changes and exciting announcements coming in the ever-nearing future — things that have me more excited about the direction of this blog and my own path as a writer than I have been in years. These changes stem from a simple realization from myself and my ever-stalwart editorial duo Marshal and Evan: we’re bored trying to live up to (and break into) the video game journalist “club.” This whole “scandal” just added fuel to the fire; I don’t want to break into an industry run by the whims of PR, where lavish parties, unnecessary freebies, and selective information is the method by which I am able to indulge in the one thing I’ve ever been good at: writing. I would feel not only restricted, but uncomfortable taking part in such press events. So, the simple answer is to just not be a part of it.
Beyond that, this discussion of corruption underscores my issues with game development – specifically the AAA blockbusters that are now nothing more than linear, gore-soaked “interactive movies” that betray the very things videogames are about: exploration, problem solving, mystery, artistry, and truly interactive narrative (as discussed in an unrelated, but still highly relevant Kotaku article by writer/videogame and comic book artist Tevis Thompson). That’s not to say I’m against graphically powerful games with high-quality content and and polish. Any reader of this blog knows my adoration for Skyrim, and Dark Souls – expensive games that had their fair share of marketing and hype. What I take issue with are the massive tie-in campaigns for annual titles where big-name snack foods are adorned with the likeness of Master Chief, or where giant, disruptive ads cover articles completely unrelated to what I’m reading. It’s frustrating and disgusting, and makes me feel guilty for loving Halo.
Of course, the issue at hand is the role of the press and PR people in the delivery and presentation of information. It would seem like a simple solution to just gut the whole system entirely, but that can’t happen. The enthusiast press is a tight-knit community of writers and marketers, many of which are close friends. After reading Florence’s thoughts and experiences, it’s clear this isn’t something I want to be a major part of — at least in the sense that this “club” just isn’t for me. But that doesn’t mean I need to stop doing something I love.
In his response on Botherer, Florence explains how he felt like he wanted to stop writing about games all together, but that this issue wasn’t about videogames or PR — it was about writing:
I am furious. I am furious because yesterday the games PR and marketing men flung a few people under a bus, and today they’re probably sipping drinks at the Golden Joystick awards. I am furious that some people think we should all just “move on” from this, allowing the PR people to get back to their narrative. I am furious that some are saying that it’s “just games”. It’s not games. It’s writing. And writing matters. Writing always matters.
He concludes his piece by saying:
Those who have been angry about all this – don’t investigate the people, investigate the system. Please write about games. Don’t go to any parties. Don’t go on the trips. Don’t care about exclusives. Just write passionately about games. You can contribute hugely to the scene without ever once speaking to a PR person. Cut them out of the equation.
And that’s exactly what we’ll do: Power Cords will continue to write about games in our own way; but we’re also going to expand and shift our focus, so that we can write about our lives and passions beyond our controllers and computer screens. This week has reminded me that don’t love writing about games, I just love writing. And that’s what we’re going to do here: write. We’re not going to copy the big sites, and we’re not going to languish for their audience or viewers. We’re going to create our own identity, and stake a claim to our own little corner of the internet, and we’d be honored if you joined us.
A final word on the industry as a whole: I don’t feel the need to write off games journalism at all. There are names and personalities I trust — people like Jim Sterling, Jonathan Holmes, Athur Gies and the entire Giantbomb crew. I trust in their abilities to call “bullshit” when necessary, and know they take no issue in having opinions that may go against the zeitgeist or the filtered information being presented else where. It’s also more than likely that the overwhelming majority of writers and their work are genuine. However, until the “club” like exclusivity of the whole institution changes, and until the roles of criticism and those who give it are clearly defined in the industry, I see no point in striving for something I wouldn’t be comfortable with even if I was lucky enough to break in. These are changes we as audiences (and as writers, and gamers) should all be asking for, and demanding from, those we respect enough to read.