GamerGate shook the very foundations of video game journalism as a whole almost two years ago. Despite having defenders and opposing people in both ends of the spectrum, peaceful and foulmouthed alike, it was clear enough there was an issue that had to be solved.
This doesn’t justify the doxxing and harassment some people from either side got, sometimes merely for being on the opposing side of the argument, though. Peaceful defenders and hateful zealots clashed while yelling profanities about why this started. Regardless of what many believe, and if you can peel away the nonsensical insults and flame wars, the reason GamerGate began as a movement was clear: people demanded ethics in video game journalism.
From an outside point of view, and from a cold, distant perspective, people might have to consider why this movement came up. What many people didn’t notice, especially those who took part in the movement, was that they were demanding a lot from a very young branch of journalism that, as the rest of the career itself, doesn’t have that much accountability for this sort of thing. The topic that will be discussed today will be the following: Why are people demanding integrity from video game journalism, and not doing the same to other branches of the same profession? Because these can be much more damaging than tricking you into buying a bad game.
Let’s take medical journalism, something that affects the world’s population. The famous case of Doctor Mehmet Oz’s advertising of diet pills, glorifying their weight loss benefits despite the fact that medical evidence proved them much less effective, if at all. He has defended himself from accusations of being called a snake oil salesman with comments going from “the size of the word 'Doctor' on the show's title is very small, so it shouldn’t be considered medical advice,” to hiding behind the First Amendment. Despite being exposed as a charlatan many times already, people will still fervently defend him from critics.
Movies also suffer from this, and while there are many examples, one of the most blatant was Sky Captain. Regardless of what you think about the film itself, the main problem was how it was sold because it had Angelina Jolie in it. Seeing the trailers and the posters all over the place, you’d think she’d be one of the main characters. Instead, she just had a blink-and-you’ll-miss-it cameo.
It's true that you can discuss that these two examples are about advertising and not journalism. However, in Oz’s case many news channels were still openly supporting him on camera despite the fact that they just reported his scams. As for the movie reviews from prestigious and independent sources alike, there was no panning for the clearly false advertising.
Even if you don’t want to consider those examples as proof, paying attention to the current presidential election in the US should be more than enough to picture to what extent journalism gets twisted. Depending on the channel and site, you’ll see several interpretations of the same news, giving more or less relevance to one aspect or another to benefit the candidate they back the most.
When it comes to GamerGate as a whole, the demand for objective reviews has reasons to exist. It’s really hard to trust a review on a site or magazine when they’re getting paid by the developers who also provide the game to write about it. No one in their right mind goes against those who write their paychecks, and no company will accept negative reviews of their products with open arms. While this is quite different from the infamous sexual bribe that took place and originated GamerGate, the main idea is still there.
Another big problem and reason behind these demands comes from the lack of options when it comes to playing a game legally before purchasing it. Renting games isn’t an option anymore, and playable demos have been replaced by access to most of the time barely functional, bug-riddled betas.
This means that gamers don’t have reliable ways of trying a game before buying it. You could consider Let’s Players an option but it’s really restricted when it comes to how people would play the game, which might clash with the style of the YouTuber.
In the end, the biggest problem with GamerGate was one no-one noticed. Journalism at its core has agendas to follow and the people above them want nothing but their best interests to be protected. Many readers might discard all this since GamerGate wasn’t about a triple A game developer bribing big sites, but an indie developer wooing her way to a positive review.
And jokes about video game journalism finding a viable end to the stereotypical virgin nerd aside, there’s something to think about here. It’s hypocritical to demand perfect, objective standards from one branch of journalism while shrugging at the constant and blatant bias of all other branches because it’s sort of expected. People should either ignore the obvious patronizing that takes place or demand integrity from journalism as a whole.