Video Games
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The Game Journalist Echo Chamber: Suppressing Dissent and Vilifying Gamers

By Ian Miles Cheong | 11:06 am, October 11, 2016

Gamers aren’t merely entitled man-children who send death threats to game developers from their mothers’ basements — they’re also racist, misogynist bigots who hate minorities and want every game to be a first-person shooter where you kill people with brown skin. That’s the impression you’ll get if all you do is read the endless complaints game journalists have about their audience.

Apart from the comments sections that have not yet been disabled and channels on YouTube, gamers are often defenseless to the torrent of accusations against them.

Describing gamers as an “online mob,” GamesIndustry’s Rob Fahey was one of many game journalists who blamed gamers for having high expectations for No Man’s Sky, a title that the games press itself spent an inordinate amount of time hyping to hell. He did so in defense of the game itself, with no regard to the consumers whose engagement with the medium allow for the existence of his job.

“The disappointment professed in fan forums for the game is directly proportional to the insane expectations built up in those self-same forums,” he wrote, pinning the blame on gamers for No Man’s Sky’s deceptive marketing and the media’s lack of criticism. “The cataloguing and documenting of small changes to the game during its development as “proof” of Hello Games’ supposed duplicity, though being undertaken earnestly by most participants, is exactly the same conspiracy theorist behaviour which spirals into a sharp peak of abuse and death threats every single time.”


On VICE, Patrick Klepek described the backlash against No Man’s Sky as hyperbolic, and blamed gamers for game developers’ fear of speaking honestly with their audience. Referencing a popular thread on Reddit that documented Hello Games’ unkept promises, Klepek wrote that disappointment had turned to anger and rage against an otherwise innocent development studio.

“Alex’s thread, and what it seemed to represent, became a lightning rod in the developer community as well,” he wrote. “It seemed to scare some developers off from wanting to speak honestly with fans. If this is the reaction you get from saying what’s really going on, what’s the point?”

In doing so, Klepek also referenced an earlier instance where a Kotaku reporter and No Man’s Sky developer Sean Murray received death threats over news that the game had been delayed. It’s as if there’s a narrative to vilify gamers. To clarify, it was a sole individual who sent the threats to writer Kotaku writer Jason Schreier.

Kotaku has shown a willingness to highlight these instances, treating these threats as endemic to video game culture — nevermind the countless threats actors, artists, novelists, and TV producers receive every time they kill off a fan favorite character or in the case of Sherlock, refuse to write in a gay relationship.

“This probably comes as no surprise to anyone who spends time on the internet, especially in the video game world, where every week there’s something new to get mad about,” writes Schreier. “Over the past few years, death threats ranging from silly to scary have been sent to all sorts of gaming targets: Call of Duty’s developers, for nerfing a weapon; Anita Sarkeesian, for critiquing video games; Gabe Newell, for running Steam. Anyone who is outspoken about politics or who criticizes the Gamergate movement is regularly subject to this sort of behavior. On the internet, where words feel weightless and ephemeral, death threats are par for the course.”

Writing for The Guardian, Keith Stuart described gamers unhappy with how No Man’s Sky turned out as not only entitled, but incapable of coming to terms with life itself.

“Used to being told they’re the centre of the galaxy, gamers are furious about the lack of direction in the game, the lack of point, the lack of meaning, the lack of recognition,” wrote Stuart. “It has occurred to me while watching the controversy unfold that many of the angry comments about the game are expressing existential angst. There’s no point and no direction. You hear this a lot about life in general when you spend time in online forums. I think the internet and the vast cynical, largely anonymised community it has engendered, has allowed a kind of nihilism to form and propagate.”

“The people dismissing the No Man’s Sky creators as liars and thieves because some of the potential features they talked about haven’t yet materialised in the game, are having trouble coming to terms with the vagaries of the creative act – and of life itself,” he continued. “They think everything has to work and operate like a product; whether that’s a game, a movie franchise or other human beings. When things don’t work like that they feel cheated.”

Or maybe gamers are just unhappy for being sold a defective product that is nothing like how it was advertised. That too, is possible.

The games press’ disdainful attitude towards gamers isn’t anything new. After IGN’s massive advertising campaign for Mass Effect 3 and the game’s poor reception among its fans for its poorly written ending, the site took to describing gamers as entitled and accused anyone who took issue with the on-disk DLC of wanting to starve the poor developers at BioWare. Like clockwork, the rest of the games press joined the chorus in condemnation of their own audience.

The condemnation comes from many different angles. If it isn’t “gamer entitlement,” it’s labeling them sexist misogynists. Final Fantasy XV fans have been described as sexist pigs for liking the game’s focus on having four male characters. And criticizing a boring “walking simulator” like Virginia causes certain games critics to produce entire videos ranting about the two or three errant comments complaining about the nature of its content, and none of the legitimate criticism leveled against it.

When called out for presenting the video game industry and its fans in such a negative light, some of these outrage peddlers call for an end to any discussion, claiming that there’s none to be had. Their views are the only ones that matter. Intellectual diversity be damned!

When I questioned what political writing had to do with Forza Horizon 3, or why the developers had any duty to insert cultural commentary in their otherwise apolitical racing game, I was told to “STFU” because it made some games journalists “feel something.” Having a contrary opinion meant standing on the “wrong side of history.”

For all the talk about “contributing to the larger conversation,” they have no qualms in silencing anyone who disagrees with them. “End comments sections,” they wail, unable to take any criticism to their work. Far be it for anyone to voice their nuanced, and civil disagreement over a politically charged article about a car racing game or an Anita Sarkeesian video without being called a misogynist in service of “the patriarchy.”

Some of these critics even go so far as to state that they dislike Sarkeesian’s Feminist Frequency video series, but admit their spinelessness in being unable to criticize her for reasons any real journalist would be ashamed of. Richard Stanton of VICE Gaming and Eurogamer once called her videos “poor and often inaccurate,” and explained that he refused to criticize them out of cowardice. Presumably, criticizing her influential series would empower GamerGate, the largely misunderstood bogeyman that the gaming press gave power to. It would also disempower the narrative about “sexist gamers” that game journalists often attempt to promote. He has since deleted the tweet, but the Internet remembers.

Richard Stanton

Members of the gaming press even admit that criticizing Sarkeesian’s work can cause individuals, or in the case of Adrian Chmielarz, a game developer, to be blackballed by the establishment. In a VICE interview with the Bulletstorm and The Vanishing of Ethan Carter developer, the writer interviewing him stated, “Chmielarz also has no qualms about flirting with controversy, using #gamergate on Twitter and criticising popular figures like Sarkeesian knowing full well how it could see him cold-shouldered by the media he needs to support his studio’s work.”

Chmielarz isn’t alone in his dissent. Daniel Vavra, developer of the upcoming Kingdom Come: Deliverance is outspoken in his stance against social justice warriors. In his desire to make his game historically accurate (it’s set in medieval Bohemia), game journalists like Polygon writer Tauriq Moosa tried to paint the developer as a racist misogynist who has “gross views of women.” Another Polygon writer, Arthur Gies, sparred with Vavra on Twitter and attempted to educate the developer about his native land after the developer criticized Polygon’s review of The Witcher 3 for not having enough ethnic diversity.

Game journalists, who might have the best opportunity to share alternative views are often unable to do so for fear of being cast out by the tribe. Challenging the narrative is the quickest way to earning the status of persona non grata, and it’s an effective way to keeping many otherwise intelligent, and discontented games writers from voicing their opinions.

Erik Kain, a Forbes writer, once wrote an insightful piece on how game journalism went off the rails in the wake of multiple controversies that shook the scene. Doing so earned him the ire of many in the games press, including Ben Kuchera, a senior editor at Polygon. Kuchera didn’t hesitate to make an attempt to ruin Kain’s career when the opportunity arose. After Kain penned an innocuous piece about a video game that had only been released on emulators, Kuchera accused him of promoting piracy and called for his head. The rest of the games press echoed the Polygon writer’s words in chorus. Kain says that the whole thing felt like a coordinated hit in response to his criticism of the games press.

I was no stranger to the tribalistic mentality that runs rampant in the games press, and penned my own take of what happened, without offering any background leading up to the Twitter flare-up. It wasn’t my greatest moment.

The lack of dissent within the ranks of the games press means the social justice warriors among them have been free to vilify gamers in any way they please. If ever anyone should disagree with their demands to use the medium as a platform for promoting social change via overhyped walking simulators, they’re labeled philistines incapable of appreciating true art, if not worse.

But the times are changing, and the narrative is crumbling. As my colleague William Hicks writes, there’s a strong demand for intellectual diversity in the discourse surrounding video games. The rise of sites like Heat Street provide gamers an alternative voice, and we’re here to stay whether the rest of the games press likes it or not.

Ian Miles Cheong is a journalist and outspoken game critic. You can reach him through social media at @stillgray on Twitter and on Facebook.