Change is hard. That’s one of two reasons why I believe that publishing this is going to make me some serious enemies, but lately I’ve been thinking a lot about what plagues gaming journalism outside of the partisan, cookie-cutter culprits of “social activism” and “misogynist neckbeards” that so often get the finger pointed at them. I think that the problem lies deeper than any of that, honestly, and after doing some digging, I’ve come up with two ways gaming journalism can better itself as a whole today. First, a reminder that I’m apolitical: I don’t vote in national or local elections, I don’t blindly take sides, and my default position is that everyone is wrong in their own special little way. It makes me bad at parties, but good at this.
1.) Fire Nathan Grayson and Leigh Alexander
If the other reason I’m expecting a slew of new and exciting enemies after writing this isn’t immediately clear, then you must have no idea who I’m talking about. Allow me to elaborate: these two individuals are responsible for some of the most loathsome, ridiculous articles and interviews in all of gaming. Don’t take my word for it, though—I brought examples with me. First, let’s start with Nathan Grayson:
Not only did this piece spawn a hilarious (for all the wrong reasons) sequel that can effectively be summed up as “everything is a political statement no matter what,” but the offended Blizzard person actually came out and semi-apologized for reacting the way he did. Think about that for a minute, though—what was the correct way to answer those questions? To apologize on behalf of the artists? To guarantee that everyone will try really hard to pander to Nathan’s championed demographic rather than the “bad” demographic in the future? It’s not a real question so much as it’s a shallow excuse to shove the writer’s politics into the spotlight, and when faced with such a display of shoddy journalism, there’s no response more apropos than outright dismissal. What makes this even more amusing is the bit at the end about “empowerment” where Nathan evidently doesn’t recognize the dissonance in limiting what a developer can put in their games while claiming that they’re all about empowerment. It’s about letting everyone have a fair chance to feel awesome unless they’re in disagreement with Nathan and his like-minded friends.
Don’t get me wrong—I don’t think that more realistic women in games would be a bad thing. The character of Ivy in later Soul Calibur incarnations is repulsive in just about every way compared to her original design (especially her incredibly classy alternate costume in the first game), and Nilin in Remember Me is probably one of my favorite characters of all time. The problem is the method. Rather than simply praising games that do things in a way that they’re fine with and ignoring the rest, interviews suddenly turn ugly and offensive articles are written. That brings us to Leigh Alexander, an individual more adept at penning offensive articles than anyone else I’ve ever read, and an author sporting an annoying proclivity to write more conversationally than is appropriate for the big-name sites she’s written for.
I’ve seen it suggested that Leigh peppered in the word “like” so frequently as a stylistic touch, as though to indicate that her points are so salient that even a stereotype of a teenage girl can grasp them. How about a review she wrote for Destructoid in 2007, then?
It’s an annoying habit I feel the need to disclose my hatred of, but not anything remotely malicious. What is malicious is just about everything else she writes.
The first image comes straight out of a wildly offensive article she wrote for Gamasutra, while the second is perhaps even more troubling because it’s on Time Magazine’s website. Apparently the liberal usage of patronizing quotation marks is good enough for Time’s rapidly deteriorating standards. The rest of the article fares no better, effectively painting everyone on the other side of the argument as horrible internet trolls and claiming that “no meaningful reporting on anything takes place without the trust—and often friendship—of people on the inside.” That’s an actual quote, and I want you to remember it because it ties into the second way gaming journalism can be bettered. First, though, let’s all collectively enjoy another offensive example of Leigh painting all who disagree with her with the same brush:
This is as good a time as any to mention that I don’t approve of anyone harassing/abusing Leigh Alexander or Nathan Grayson on Twitter despite their clear inability to hold themselves to that same standard. Leigh has actually written a few things I’ve enjoyed reading, such as a reflective piece about Final Fantasy X that I felt was on the money, and I’m sure Nathan has a redeeming quality somewhere in there. Nevertheless, neither of them can be trusted to focus on the games instead of interjecting their own personal agendas into the hobby whenever possible, and that makes them awful game journalists by just about every measure. That’s why step one in improving gaming journalism is for websites to stop hiring both of them, as well as others unable to keep their beliefs out of things.
As a side note, take a wild guess who enjoyed Leigh’s offensive Gamasutra piece? If you guessed “Nathan Grayson,” then you’re clearly psychic and should go spend all of your money on Powerball tickets right now.
2.) Stop allowing opinion pieces altogether
If you’re asking whether this makes me a hypocrite right now at this very minute, then the answer is a resounding yes. This thing that I’m writing is the kind of thing that I wish never occurred on sites dedicated to gaming, but I’ve already spent two years avoiding opinion pieces like this. Meanwhile, other sites have posted piece after piece about how this and that is killing gaming, and why you should be excited for product X, and more miscellaneous clickbait than I could ever hope to sort through. The problem is that these sites have shifted their focus to the personalities reviewing the games and writing the articles rather than focusing on the actual games themselves; everyone’s keen to become the next Jim Sterling or equally iconic figure instead of spending that extra effort fact-checking and becoming better at what they do. No one seems to bother trying to find ways to report about gaming news factually without having close friendships with developers despite this being a huge problem. Remember Leigh’s quote that I told you to remember? It states that it’s not possible, full stop, but I’d wager that at least half of us could think up a way of doing it despite her claim. I mean, does it really make sense for a company to avoid sharing news with a big gaming site, missing out on extra exposure because they’re not friends with its reporters? No, this is about how striving toward journalistic integrity is less rewarding than a circle jerk of “reporters” applauding groupthink and trying to stand out as the next big thing, and writing a toxic opinion piece that divides gamers is a cheap way of ensuring that people will remember your name.
This is a cultural shift apparent in more than just gaming. Just consider the phenomenon of “selfies” for a moment and think about how ridiculous this would have seemed twenty years ago. How many stories have you read where an iPhone/iPad/iSomething was recovered after the thief used the stolen device to take a selfie? I’ve even read a story where a bank robber was caught after flashing the money in a picture he posted to Facebook. As one of the characters says in Bobcat Goldthwait’s God Bless America, “That’s one of the problems with your generation. You can’t enjoy anything unless it was recorded.” We’ve become the “remember my name, dammit” generation, and this has spread into gaming in the form of gaming personalities that exist like a Bizarro mirror of radio personalities, every bit as toxic and one-sided, but at the expense of what their profession is supposed to be.
Reviews will always be subjective, and personalities can be fun when they come through without completely inundating an article, but that’s where the line should be. Everything else must go because opinion pieces are the toxic element that allowed the chasm between gamers and game journalists to form in the first place.