Hey there, OnlySP Editor in Chief Lachlan Williams here. Welcome to my weekly column, where I will be vomiting my thoughts about current issues within the games media onto the internet for all to see. I think that a small amount of navel gazing is healthy, and besides, I clearly have my own personal issues to work out. So get comfortable – let an old man give you a piece of his mind.
Not so long ago, a little comment on a certain web show blew up the internet. On one side, self-styled “opinionist” Marcus “Annoyed Gamer” Beer. On the other, indie firebrand Phil “I made a game called Fez” Fish. A story about Microsoft’s policies on indie games broke, and GameTrailers approached Fish (and Jonathan Blow) for a comment. Fish… ahem… vehemently declined to give comment. Later, on an episode of Invisible Walls, Beer went on to call Phil Fish and Jonathan Blow, among other things, derogatory terms such as “wankers”, “asshole”, and the very regional “tosspots” for not replying to the call for information. In reaction to that, Phil Fish went on a particularly aggressive twitter rant, quoting Futurama and calling for Beer to “Compare your life to mine and then kill yourself”.
The resulting uproar was… excessive. On all ends.
I’m bringing this up now because Beer has recently returned to his Annoyed Gamer show. In its first episode back, Beer addressed the controversy by stating the backlash from Fish on twitter was deserved, but that the games media had made a snap judgement about his character based on his Annoyed Gamer handle. He then went on to claim that he was a consumer advocate, unlike many of the outlets who judged him harshly, claiming that many are apparently in the hands of publishers.
I don’t know Marcus Beer or Phil Fish. I won’t comment either way on who behaved how – that coop has long flown. Assigning blame is a pointless and inflammatory waste of time. And besides, I don’t particularly care.
I do care about the way it has portrayed game creators and game critics, though. Deeply. Because that perception directly affects me and my work here.
The loose association of writers collectively referred to the “games media” has issues. Critics, reviewers, journalists, commenters – whatever branch of the written conversation we hail from – sometimes forget our place. And it’s not a “gamer” issue; it’s a human being issue.
I will not deny that there are problems with games media. Often there is the appearance of impropriety – one must only look at the now infamous Dorito-Gate of last year. I won’t point fingers, because it isn’t helpful here, and it’s beside my point. But yes, there are some outlets and practices that portray the media/PR relationship to be inappropriate.
My main issue with how Beer reached this point, however, is the sheer sense of entitlement with which he justified his completely unprofessional outburst.
An answer was demanded of Fish and Blow, and when they declined, Beer behaved as though it was a personal affront.
If I were to write to a game creator asking a specific question about a breaking story, I would appreciate an answer. But I am never owed an answer. Developers have no obligation to supply comment on demand. Nobody has an obligation to answer a question put to them – no matter how “important” getting an answer may seem for our readers. As such, I may be annoyed or frustrated that I don’t get an answer, and I may say that aforementioned person did not provide comment when approached, or even that they were rude, but it absolutely is not professional behaviour to call that person names because I didn’t get what I demanded. It’s improper, it’s unethical, and, more importantly, it’s rude.
Some (many) games “journalists” position themselves as consumer advocates. This is a good thing. I’d rather be on the side of the players rather than a PR mouthpiece. But this does not mean I get an all access pass to the brains of those within the gaming industry. It does not serve our audience (the players) to insult those who we attempt to get comment from unprovoked. It’s not “asking the hard questions”, it’s being petty and childish, and it’s abusing the platform we have.
The relationship between games journalists and game creators should be respectful, but adversarial without being antagonistic. There should be a distance that provides a measure of impartiality, on both sides. Just as game creators do not owe the media an answer on demand, neither should the games media be behoved to deliver an intended message. Sometimes our purposes align – a great story will emerge from a developer that enriches the entire critical discourse as well as provides the developer positive exposure, for example – but both game creators and games media should never, ever forget that comment and coverage is never owed or guaranteed.
Games writers are not – and should never be – considered an arm of the games industry. Do you consider a sports journalist on CNN part of the sport industry? A book reviewer in the New York Times as part of the book industry? A war correspondent part of the military industrial complex? Of course not – they’re all journalists. They are part of the media industry. Games journalists – in whatever capacity they cover video games in – are part of the media first and foremost.
We are neither owed nor owing others’ time. And we should behave as such.