And yet many appear to think that games journos are a gilded class - who must prove their worthiness to stand atop the golden dais, again and again. That they somehow have an obligation of accountability, a duty to be "gud" at games - not just competent at writing about games. And that they should somehow possess superhuman integrity which transcends the average pleb.
The level of grief games journalists get if they balls up, aren't good enough at games, criticise the wrong thing, like the wrong thing, or - god forbid - actually do something which is construed to be unethical, appears to be mounting over time.
In short: a lot of people seem to absolutely hate games journalists.
Which is weird for me, because - well - I was a games journalist and nobody has ever hated me ever ever ever... And because when I read games mags growing up the journos were something to aspire to, rather than despise. Back then, we all ran around sporting "Jaz" Rignall mullets, giving everything 98%.
Games journalists have come to represent something that a certain type of gamer either doesn't approve of, or - I suspect - is threatened by in some way.
It feels like it has bled in from a broader suspicion of the press, but there's much more to it than that.
Clearly it sprung from the same rancid well as G*mergate - much as Gamerg*te has sprung from broader culture war, which seems to have its origins in a movement against political correctness.
Don't get me wrong: I'm not against calling out conflicts of interest when they arise - Digi used to allude to that sort of thing constantly back in the day, because it was funny to do so.
Gam*rgate, if you ask many of its supporters, is about "ethics in games journalism". You can trace the tipping point back to things like Doritogate (Google it, if you don't know).
But the thing that has always interested me about their ire is this: why do they care? Seriously... why does anybody care what games journalists do? What does it honestly matter if games journalism is the single most corrupt industry on the planet? Who would really be personally affected by that - especially today when games media is no longer confined to commercial magazines or websites? Why do they get so frothed up about all this?
Polygon, Kotaku and Gamasutra certainly come in for more stick than most - often dismissed as being staffed by so-called "S*cial Just*ce W*rriors". That this is behind some of the wrath seems likely, but day to day there's more going on. There's a movement which seems to be looking for conflicts of interest, or other more odious motives, behind every last bit of games writing.
Polygon not reviewing Star Fox Zero because of the rubbish controls was attributed as some sort of punishment on Nintendo for its firing of employee Alison Rapp. Then its recent Doom video - for which the journalist responsible was deemed too inept to have been given his job - is a case in point. Imagine you're him for a minute: imagine having thousands of people around the world insisting you're not competent at your low-paid job.
It feels like they're always digging for evidence that these people aren't good enough to be games journalist - any clue that they aren't up to snuff, to satisfy their beliefs.
This week, a piece in Paste, in defence of the Polygon Doom video, made plenty of reasonable points - but the comments demonstrate the level of bile that many games journalists now face whenever they put pen to paper.
Here's a selection of them:
- "It doesn't even need saying that you don't have to be good at video games to have fun in them, what it does say is that if you're inept at playing a game you have no right to judge it or showcase it in a way that makes it unfaithful to the product... ...I would not hire a carpenter to teach a science class. For the same reason I would not hire a person with minimal to non-existent game experience to showcase gameplay for something they're unsuited for."
- "If you get paid to play games for a living, i.e. reviewing games, then by definition you are a professional gamer and what you would expect from a review of Doom, from a professional, is someone who could actually use a controller."
- "You're deflecting from the real issue, which is that gaming fans have a right to take exception with these journalists if they don't believe them to be actual gamers, especially when half of theM have agendas to push."
- "This author is smug piece of shit and typical of a lot of gaming journalists today. Gamers aren't the problem. Liars and slanderers are."
- "Gaming journalism is a profession populated by the scum of humanity."
- "Why People Don't Take Games Seriously is because of Articles like this that antagonize gamers. People like you really love shitting on gamers so that you could get clicks. Fearmongering making gamers look bad in the eyes of the public. Dont like the game because of it;s difficulty? Git Gud. Or better yet play games thats for casuals. dont ever play games like Dark Souls if you're just gonna go waah waah, this game is to hard make it easier! Wheres the difficulty setting!? Casuals should just stay out of Skill based games if all they ever do is whining. You guys are ANTI-GAMERS. And you guys like polygon should be rightfully Blacklisted."
Let's take stock of what they're commenting on: an article in defence of a games journalist who probably isn't the greatest gamer of all time. The author isn't an apologist for paedophiles, or a Holocaust denier. He's just suggesting that, y'know... not all games journalists have to be good at games.
I mean, I happen to agree - I think being able to write is the most important thing for a games journalist.
Secondly, having some degree of knowledge of the games industry, its history, and the context of any particular game is important. You don't have to be a world class gamer to be able to possess those attributes. And, frankly, I think it's good that there are games journos with different skill levels. Jeremy Clarkson doesn't need to be Jensen Button to write about cars - and you don't see anybody raging about this. But games journos are deemed "SJWs" - indeed, the mouthpieces of "SJWs" - so they're fair game, it seems.
My knee-jerk response is to dismiss it as some sort of gamer elitism... but what does that even mean? If we try to peer deeper, look at what's behind the language being used, it appears to be coming from people who are lashing out. People lash out when they're angry. People often get angry if they're threatened or scared. So what is threatening so many gamers? What are they scared of?
I think I've worked it out: they're defending their sense of identity. They're "Gamers" - and god forbid anybody who isn't part of that club, or tries to alter the rules of that club. By attacking Polygon they're reaffirming who they believe they are.
There's something of a chicken-and-an-egg thing when it comes to a person's identity; how much of it stems from their environment, their upbringing, their significant others growing up... and how much of it is them finding an identity which fits who they are?
We all see ourselves in a way that is uniquely ours. We've all developed a self-concept - a set of beliefs about who we are - which comes about from our interactions with others.
It might not even reflect reality; a thin person might think they're overweight (because they've been told as such - or maybe they were once overweight, but have struggled to shift the belief that they still are). Someone might believe they're a "good" person, but have a meltdown should they ever behave in a "bad" way.
Having those beliefs threatened or challenged can provoke an extreme response. Let's say you're a bus driver. You take pride in your work. How do you feel when you are presented with evidence that you're not a bus driver, and never have been?
Think about it. Think about who you believe you are. Now imagine having all of that challenged. Having someone want to take that away from you, or tell you you're wrong. What would you do to hang onto it?
Once upon a time, gaming was widely seen as a young, male, pursuit. In recent years, gaming has moved - and with it, the demographic has broadened out significantly. The idea of a gamer is no longer wrapped in the stereotype of young, straight, male. A gamer can be anyone, and is anyone. It's little wonder, therefore, the group that once made up the traditional gamer demographic could feel marginalised and threatened.
Anita Sarkeesian - host of the Feminist Frequency YouTube series - often annoys me, but I couldn't agree more when she says that women are sometimes targets for harassment by male gamers, because they are "challenging the status quo of gaming as a male-dominated space".
More than that, they're redefining their concept of what a gamer is, and the response is more than simple misogyny, or transphobia, or doxxing, or harassment, or whatever else they get accused of. Conversely, the response of those who are anti that is equally rooted in wanting to hang onto their sense of self.
Being confronted with something which challenges that can be absolute terror. This might sound extreme, but it presses the same emotional buttons as a fear of death for a person. When confronting someone by challenging their identity, you're challenging someone who - on some primal, instinctual level - thinks you're trying to kill them.
Being a gamer - a Game*gater, even - is something that can bring many benefits for an individual.
A sense of social connection, a sense of purpose, a cause greater than yourself, friendship, belonging, safety, self-esteem - and, again, identity.
"Who am I?" is a question that's as old and profound as time. Being able to answer that question is something we all want.
I wasn't adopted - as far as I know - but I can imagine wanting to find my biological parents if I had been. Years ago, my dad and niece put together our family tree, but hit a brick wall when it comes to my dad's dad.
My great-great-grandparents raised my grandad as their own, my great-grandmother pretending that my grandfather was her brother, rather than son.
Some years ago, I got given a DNA test for my birthday - yeah, I know, bit weird. The results came back, and pretty much all my nuggets of DNA could be traced back to one specific area of Northern Morocco. My great-grandmother grew up in Portsmouth. Portsmouth had trade with Morocco at the turn of the century. Joining the dots, we've concluded that she got knocked-up by a Moroccan sailor. Which explains why every other person in my family has dark eyes and skin.
We have a need to know who we are. Belonging to a group like Ga*ergate offers that. And more!
Social Identity Theory - otherwise known as that "Us and Them theory" - was formulated in the 70s and 80s by a couple of social psychologists.
It describes the way that part of the self-concept can derive from being a member of a group. What's more, it also models intergroup conflict in a way that seems very familiar to the way games journos get attacked.
Intergroup conflict starts with a process of comparison between individuals in one group (the in-group) to those of another group (the out-group).
This comparison is anything but unbiased and objective. Instead, it is a mechanism for enhancing one’s self-esteem, twisting reality to serve that:
- The in-group is favoured over the out-group.
- They'll exaggerate and overgeneralize the differences between the two groups, in order to enhance the distinctiveness of the in-group.
- They'll remember and focus more detailed and positive information about the in-group, and more negative information about the out-group.
In short, any particular group is biased towards their own group, and will do whatever it takes to maintain their positive beliefs towards that group, and highlight the negatives towards their opposing group. And they do this to strengthen their own self-concept/identity, and self-esteem. It's pure survival.
Another theory, Self-Categorisation Theory, describes the psychological processes behind group formation, and how an individual will class collections of people (including themselves) as a group (i.e.: "games journalists", or "social justice warriors" or "gamergaters").
Part of its focus is on how an individual will depersonalise, and will stereotype themselves based upon commonly-held characterisations of an in-group. In short: that group's beliefs and aims - both positive and negative - become integrated into an individual's self-concept. It becomes who they are; even if that group's needs are different from their own original needs. Basically, they'll adapt to fit it in order to belong.
Self-Categorisation also theorises that members of an in-group will classify the members of an out-group as more homogenised. That "they" are all the same, rather than a collection of individuals. It depersonalises the out-group.
So: "Gaming journalism is a profession populated by the scum of humanity". Rather than: "Gaming journalism is a profession populated by a group of individuals".
There's a lot more to all of it than that, of course. That's just the tip of the iceberg that is intergroup dynamics, but it demonstrates why it's so hard to find a middle ground, or peace between opposing groups.
There are potential solutions - members of groups meeting face-to-face... but hard in the era of the Internet, when everyone is spread across the world, and firing their shots from behind a screen. Games journalists are simply another "them" to rail against, because it strengthens their personal belief in who they are. It strengthens their sense of self-esteem. It gives them a sense of belonging.
Threaten that at your peril. Do so, and you risk becoming one of "them".