As an ex-journo turned internet-monkey, I’ve spent the last week carefully toying with the idea of producing a video about the belief that the traditional games media is ethically compromised and/or corrupt.
After much consideration, I’ve decided that this would be a massive waste of time for one simple reason: It isn’t a rational belief. I gave up arguing against irrational viewpoints when I realised that repeatedly spending entire evenings arguing about religion with strangers wasn’t a good use of the £5 it cost to get into most student nightclubs. It really doesn’t matter who’s right or wrong - no change will occur as a result of the conversation.
A large part of the problem is the misuse of language, with many who use logic and rationale as their banner having twisted the scientific basis of these words completely out of shape - adding a powerful new variable to the deduction process that entirely fucks everything up: Intellect.
It takes a genuinely outstanding level of arrogance to believe that your personal (or even crowd-sourced) intelligence can make up the rest of the gaps in any theory. This isn’t restricted to gaming, of course - the study of Psychology largely boils down to learning to quickly identify when wanker academics are using big words to cover up the fact that their claims of correlation are entirely based on half-baked theories.
Games industry conspiracy theorists take things to the next level, stepping up from correlation (the claim that two variables are somehow related) to full-blown causation (the claim that one variable is directly influencing another). These leaps are made without any actual evidence, using bastardised ‘logic’ to plug any gaps. It’s a risky system that entirely relies on the person involved being Sherlock-fucking-Holmes.
In the same way that duff psychologists make leaps because they want to reinforce specific theories they already believe to be true, accusations of corruption or ethical wrongdoing gloss over genuinely whopping gaps to further reinforce the strength of a theory that simply hasn’t been proved.
I bring up the parallel between forum threads and academia to point out that this isn’t about specifically pointing the finger at teenage boys or hardcore gamers - it’s a shitty pseudo-scientific practice used by shitty people in all walks of life.
Packaging arguably unrelated pieces of information together and presenting them as being linked without concrete proof is entirely irrational behaviour, which makes the process of arguing against it a bloody big waste of time for everyone involved. That’s the main reason that a huge number of the gaming press openly refuse to engage in the conversation.
Of course it does remain entirely possible that the real reason they don’t want to debate this issue is because they’re trying to silence the issue as part of some ongoing conspiracy, but again - if we’re sticking to the traditional use of the word, this argument isn’t rational - which makes arguing against it a big waste of time. Until any form of actual concrete evidence is presented, we might as well argue about the existence of ghosts.
This might sound flippant or dismissive, but you have to understand that it categorically isn’t. Theories based on unproven assumptions are almost always a lot of fun, but you can’t bring a theoretical knife to a knife fight.
Over the past decade we’ve seen a couple of examples of times when editorial values have been compromised - with both examples having large repercussions for the industry. Gamespot’s Jeffy G fiasco tore the site’s reputation to shreds, while reasonable questions posed about the freebie culture following a promotion at the GMAs saw the vast majority of professional media outlets cracking down further on a phenomenon that was largely already handled reasonably well. If this isn’t true on the websites you visit, it’s time to start visiting websites that aren’t shit.
Every time I’ve seen reasonable criticisms made I’ve also seen a shift in the way press operate, and yet I’ve never seen any kind of reduction in the deeply-held belief that games media are inherently ethically corrupt. Unfortunately this leads to only one conclusion - there is nothing that can be done to change this.
Which leads us back to the ultimate question: with so little evidence proving it to be true and attempts at reparations so quickly dismissed, why do so many people fervently believe that the traditional games media cannot be trusted? Why do people who often align themselves with the importance of rational thought and unbiased opinions hold so much faith in a belief that is - on paper - undeniably irrational?
I don’t really have an answer for that, but I’d argue it’s likely a swirl of factors whipped up into an anger-meringue by an outside third-party that I now represent. People don’t like traditional games media for a wide variety of reasons. They feel like the biggest gaming websites only represent mass-media bollocks. They feel like their hobby is changing in ways that isn’t aligned with the elements they love. They feel like games media don’t talk about games in a way that personally speaks to them.
All of these points are entirely reasonably things to be unhappy about, but they don’t represent a systematic problem. The belief that the root of these problemsis caused by some sort of systematic injustice, however, is undeniably intoxicating. It allows us to fabricate a tangible solution to an impossible problem: creating the illusion that if we fight hard enough we can force the world to change to suit our personal needs.
As with all the best illusions, it’s one that can’t be broken - no manner of action or shows of goodwill will erode this belief, as the endgame criteria remains impossible. Short of every traditional media outlet entirely shutting down, arguments will still remain that the truth has simply been buried deeper - the same shadowy agendas are still running the show.
Notably over the past week I’ve seen every attempt to openly refute unwarranted claims with actual facts quickly countered with newly fabricated unwarranted claims. The content within these conversation simply doesn’t matter - if it did then the vast majority of these claims would have since been dropped. Information which damages the stability of a well-established illusion cannot be accepted as truth at any cost, which is why we’ve still got climate change deniers and people who think dinosaurs are just a big lol from God.
It all boils down to dissatisfaction, which is where the meringue comes into play. Look back at the history of any regime change and you’ll observe clear patterns, but step one is almost always the same: discredit your predecessors. The way many YouTubers have used this tactic has been absolutely reasonable, and the rise in their popularity is inarguably linked to traditional media’s failure to provide a changing audience with what they want.
But that hasn’t the only front of the battle, and blows from both sides haven’t always been above the belt. While arguably sparked from the disdain and jealousy that many games journalists feel towards YouTubers at large, many YouTubers have harnessed this culture of dissatisfaction and distrust as a springboard for personal success. Working as underdogs this made sense, but now I just feel like I’m watching big dogs kicking dying dogs to death.
But again, this isn’t a conspiracy - it’s just an unjust side-effect of the way things have panned out over the past ten years; a butterfly effect of individual agendas swooping back later to cause a storm. Context has shifted dramatically: For those who’ve managed the ascent into internet stardom, “Games media are corrupt” has gone from being an effective way of building a fanbase to being a largely well-respected viewpoint, legitimised by nothing more than a larger audience that believe it to be true. No more facts, no more proof, just a considerably bigger church.
It all comes back to community, and the idea that thousands of people can’t possibly be wrong. When of course if there’s anything that history has shown us, that’s one of the only things that thousands of people have consistently been.
So yeah, we could debate about the blatant ethical corruption that’s rife within gaming media, but to be honest I’d rather debate about ghosts. Either way I’ll probably be wasting my time, but at least I get to run around with a sheet on my head shouting “WOOOOOOO.”