What transpired this week has been nothing short of chaotic and, personally, further enlightening of how I feel about the state of affairs regarding the gaming community and gaming journalism. As I write this, I’m still afraid of the repercussions that might be imposed on me, my staff, and everything we’ve worked on since 2011. So much so that I’m even afraid to name names. I’m not even tagging this article with the terms that it should be tagged in. Never before have I seen a single article be enough to take an entire website offline, and self-hosted no less. I expressed my concerns when this whole thing started blowing up, and that’s exactly what happened. Thankfully, the site has returned, but I can’t imagine how stressful it must be to see everything you worked on disappear because of something you said on a single article. This is the kind of thing the SOPA fiasco warned us about, where criticism and reporting, even at its most objective, would simply be wiped away because the subject(s) didn’t like what was being said.
It’s a rather scary ordeal when you think about it. Sure we were taught in classes to report the facts and show your work when possible. And sure when we mess up, we’re told to make a correction as soon as possible and be transparent about said edits. And sure, if we’re confident that what we have is true and we’re being told we’re wrong, our superiors have our backs. But what I saw transpire seemed to ignore all the rules journalism set forth, with articles going down for reasons that can be best described as both a cover up and censorship. Libel laws already exist in the U.S. that protects journalists and guarantees us due process should we get to that point, but it looks like some would rather skip all that and go straight to the guilty verdict (i.e. hosts shutting down websites) without giving us a chance to explain our side.
In the end though, what transpired this week is the end result of boiling frustration in the community that began to simmer around mid 2012. What we saw was a shift in focus for the games journalism medium, and a growing disconnect with its readers. Soon all dissent, again even at its most objective, were outright deleted or left in pending hell. Even the most dignified of points would be dismissed as trolling. Those who I used to respect in the field I no longer have such admiration for. And those personalities, thinkers, and debaters whom I looked up to during my college years I now despise.
And the games being made? Met with oversensitivity from an overzealous minority of voices, some of which had no intent to purchase certain games anyway. More or less, this is where our frustrations developed. Of course this was met with the usual tagline “They’re not taking away your games”. We knew that. We know the games aren’t going away. But when it gets to the point that developers have to self censor for fear of backlash, or even remove entire sections of certain game localizations for the same reasons from a small group of people with pitchforks, then something is proble… no, it has gone bad. “But it’s changing for the good of the community. This is a good thing.” No it’s not. Censorship is not change.
I expressed my concerns in a TwitLonger back in January, as well as on a journal back on my old DeviantART gallery (for any new people coming in, I draw stuff on the side), as well as a retrospective view on a similar incident that occurred back then on my Tumblr. Back then other mediums faced an age of censorship, namely from the likes of the Motion Picture Production Code and the Comics Code Authority. What they banned from their mediums are eerily similar to the demands certain people are making today. And while it may be done in the name of “equality”, it’s anything but that. Smear campaigns are not the answer. It’s getting to the point where people are getting scared to create. And it’s not just the communities. It’s the journalists and developers getting in on the action too. “This developer hires 14-year-old boys.” “This developer is insensitive.” “Gamers are entitled”. It’s a constant back and forth, and journalists get angry when they’re called out on it.
Think for example when people finished Mass Effect 3. The community got angry. And what about DmC‘s Dante? They got angry too. And what did journalists say? “You’re entitled. Developers shouldn’t have to change or remove anything to suit your tastes. It’s their product, all you’re doing is hampering artistic integrity.” Then when Dragon’s Crown gets released, what do they do? “Developers need to stop hiring teenage boys.” And Senran Kagura? “This a creepy and they need to stop making games like this.” And Castlevania: Lords of Shadow 2? “It’d be best if they were considerate and removed that scene.” Who’s entitled now? What happened to the artform they swore to protect? What started as critiques eventually became demands. They became hypocrites.
The unfortunately thing here is the lack of understanding of markets. Certain games appeal to certain markets. Likewise, certain sites will appeal to certain markets too. If there is a game that appeals to a certain market, it doesn’t have to appeal to others. For example, say a game like Killer is Dead. It’s made for those that like crazy, zany action games, hot women, and Suda51 games in general. It doesn’t have to shoot for the Portal audience, or the Gone Home audience, or even the Journey audience. Grasshopper Manufacture knows who its appealing to, and it doesn’t have to change that. And if a developer tries and fails to appeal to the market they’re aiming for, then I guess that market isn’t for them.
Likewise, for those that cover games, they too have a certain audience, and they too have the option to report on such games or not. They don’t have to be a Jack of all Trades of games reporting like they are now. Most important of all, they don’t need to label the game or the community with such strong and politically damning terms. For example, we at The Wired Fish don’t talk about Madden on this site, nor do we talk about the people who play it. They have an audience and the people who play them like them. And while we may have articles back then guilty of committing such acts for other games, we’ve since stopped doing it as it is not our job to tell people to be offended at a certain product. It’s up to the audience to decide that.
So what now?
Well, what gaming journalism needs to do is re-evaluate itself. Do they want to cover certain games? Do they need to cover certain games? Does their audience want to know about it? If you think the game is good to talk about, go for it. But if you choose to leave out talking about the game, then simply leave it out. There’s no need to hurl baseless accusations of it, write half-assed articles berating it, or even announce you won’t cover it while atop some moral high-ground. Hell, in the end the opposite effect occurs when such accusations are made. How else did Dragon’s Crown become Vanillaware’s best selling title to date? And Senran Kagura Burst sold very well in Europe (and as well as in the U.S.). Just find something else to talk about. And if you feel that limiting your scope of games to report on will lead to a lack articles, then find something to talk about! Heck, talk about a month-old game, or even a 20-year-old game. There’s no shortage of things to talk about!
But what about criticism? The best I can say is report both sides. Each debate has two sides, and it is imperative that you show that. I’m guilty of falling into such a trap, and I’ve learned since. Think of it this way: you want to keep your audience right? If you’re only showing one side of the debate and your audience disagrees with it, they’re going to look elsewhere for the other side, and maybe even stay there. Present the other side and keep them on your site, and let them decide how to feel about the game instead of beating it into their head. And I don’t mean to knock on community blogs, but don’t promote them as a means to show the other side and have it be representative of the site. The audience is looking to the editors, not the community. They already have an idea, but they’re looking to you for clarification (and maybe even validation), and maybe some entirely different angle that they didn’t think of.
“But that would take too long to come up with something.” Tough shit, it’s your job. If you only want to show one side, drop your journalism title. You’re a commentator, a pundit.
And don’t demonize your community, calling them things like “trolls” or “birthers” or any other insult. The community is everything and nothing all at once; they’re unpredictable. If they get angry, they’ll get angry. If they like you, they’ll like you. Yes there will be people who may troll others, but it’s important to understand what a troll is because lately well thought out, concise dissenting opinion is being disregarded as trolling.
To Developers and Localizers
Let me hit the devs first. You’re already in a good spot, you’re actually making something and have some actual say. You know what goes on behind the scenes. Imagine when a site says your title is “problematic.” Hurts right? Then what gives you the right to say those same things to another developer? So what if Quiet wears a little bit of clothing. So what if the Sorceress boobs are huge. That’s their vision, that’s their right, that’s their market. If you’re tired of seeing the same market being served to and think there’s a market that deserves better, then serve it. Also, understand the market, understand where they are, and understand how to appeal to it. And if your game fails, you only have yourself to blame.
Now the localizers. You guys do a pretty good job, but there’s a couple of you that have been caught up in some censorship debacles. Your job is just to localize and distribute, that’s it. It is not your job to instill your own personal politics into the localization. Remember, you’re the middleman between the original country and the community that wants to play it. They want to play what the developers intended, not what you want them to play. If there are laws in the way, then point out the exact laws. The community will be much more understanding of it since the problem isn’t you, it’s their government. And if there’s a game that you think might be against your company’s ethics policy, then give it to another company with the balls to do it. We don’t want another 4Kids, and we certainly don’t need one as a localizer.
In conclusion, maybe this event needed to happen, a wake up call that snapped people out of it. The divide between developers, journalists, and communities was ever growing and becoming ever more contentious. While this whole thing may have started in 2012, we were eventually going to get tired if it, and even get angry. But what we needed was that spark, that trigger that would lead to another shift. Maybe I’m putting a lot of eggs in this basket of an article, only skimming the surface of what needs changing. But it was clear that there were a lot of things going wrong. For developers, it’s time for you to get off your high horse and actually make something worthwhile rather than complaining that this or that company is making something you find morally objectionable or that the community is dissing you. And for journalists, sure some things will be hard to let go. And sure some things are necessary to function. But a little transparency doesn’t hurt. However some things have gone too far, and if you can’t acknowledge and change your policy, then I’m afraid your time is up. It’s time for a new generation of writers and sites to take over.