Honestly, thereÃ‚'s no end to the things people can think to argue over. I imagine a stormy night in the dawn of man as lightning strikes from slate skies igniting a shattered tree in tall licks of flame, all the nearby tribes of cavemen, previously sitting about trying to not be eaten, gathering in awe of the dancing energy and then inevitably bickering over what to call fire poking each other with sticks, and grunting in quarrelsome ways. If there is to be any great legacy of the internet, itÃ‚'s that weÃ‚'ve created a much larger and grander place for billions around the world to gather in polyethnic chat rooms to argue about movies, games, and just how much we're willing to pay for our porn. And it is my place as an internet journalist to document these discussions.Ah ha! Did you see what I did there? I sparked yet another firestorm of contentious internet debate, which is about as difficult as setting gasoline on fire with a blowtorch, by calling myself a journalist. But, I did so as a mildly effective segue into my topic Ã‚"… um, which is gaming journalism Ã‚"… in case you didnÃ‚'t get that. Oh hell, letÃ‚'s just start the damn article.
Sometimes the online gaming press seems to be filled with people who think journalism is a fancy word for keeping a diary. It is a mish mash of writers of varying quality, most with fewer reporting credentials than a high-school newspaper, made up largely of a variety of sites linking to one another in a spiral of news. Aside from the biggest sites with some degree of access to the people involved in the stories they report on Ã‚– much less salaries and offices - online journalism is unreliable, biased, opinionated, and all too often just plain shoddy. So the question is, in the online gaming scene, are most people who run gaming news websites actually journalists, and do they play a role in the gaming industry?
For those of you with fundamental math skills and the ability to count higher than one, you might have noticed that I tried to pack two questions into one. We should address the first before proceeding to the second.
Despite the fact that I said otherwise in the first paragraph, I would contend that I am not actually a journalist. I only said I was because it was a nice way to get into the second paragraph Ã‚– not that IÃ‚'m proud of that second paragraph. But, I think youÃ‚'d agree, it illustrates nicely how very much not a journalist I am. It also illustrates why I seriously doubt most people who report about games online would be at all interested in participating in genuine journalism. Journalism is not simply finding a piece of information and displaying it publicly, like putting up flyers on pegboard in the student union. It is a discipline. Journalism includes, among other elements, fact finding, which alone leaves most gaming news sites shuffling around, staring at the floor, and pretending not to notice all the bogus stories that might not have been posted with a little research.
You see, real journalism makes it incredibly difficult for people with no access, no training, no credentials, no sources, and no support to participate. And, considering that most of the gaming sites out there start pretty much in that boat, one can pretty easily see how the rules get bent, broken, or entirely annihilated.
Now, you probably think IÃ‚'m being a bit hard here on my peers, or that IÃ‚'m running them down. Which brings me to our second question: is what we do important to the industry? Which, I can safely answer with a resounding probably.
Whether weÃ‚'re journalists or not is ultimately insignificant. The important thing is that the Ã‚"˜gaming pressÃ‚' is largely independent, and along with the trademark lack of journalistic integrity comes a freedom from corporate control. They are an unrestricted voice that gamers sense is on their side. The value of online gaming journalism, for as much a misnomer as that may be, is actually found in the compromising of the discipline. It is, by and large, a shared voice of gamers who do not have to temper their criticisms, their opinions, or their biases to suit their sources, or their corporate sponsorships. It is a base of operation beholden only to its readers, which is a fairly novel idea in an age of rampant consumerism and corporate news.
IÃ‚'m not trying to go flaky anarchist here, because I do believe the practice of professional journalism is indispensable and a bit too uncommon in the glut of gaming websites. ItÃ‚'s been my experience that if you take the time to ask someone official for a response on a story, you at the very least get a Ã‚"˜we have no commentÃ‚', and with just that hint of credibility you can begin to turn a rumor into a news story. I recall on April 1st of this year, Raven announced Jedi Academy was in the works. The story spread like fire, which we assume someone eventually named, across the internet and arguments raged back and forth about the veracity of the story, but nowhere could I find someone actually contacting Raven and asking them about the story. I dropped a line to Kenn Hoekstra before posting, and within ten minutes he confirmed that the game was indeed in development. I could then post confidently on the confirmation, and while I certainly wasnÃ‚'t the only one to contact Kenn, I was probably not in the majority.
In the end, my point is that most gaming websites donÃ‚'t need to be staffed with journalists, and that it probably looks a little silly to pretend they do. Our ilk plays a solid role in the gaming industry, one that keeps publishers, PR execs, developers, and our gaming press peers in relative check. However, thereÃ‚'s a balance yet to be found. We could learn some things from the discipline of journalism without having to compromise our independence. Gaming websites could and should do a better job of basic fact checking, and avoiding ultimately empty rumors. With each story a site posts that ultimately proves ill-informed or outright false, they lose the trust of their readers. ThereÃ‚'s just nothing wrong with tempering enthusiasm for a story, whether positive or negative, with some basic research. I promise, it wonÃ‚'t do anything to hamper peopleÃ‚'s innate ability to argue with one another. Which, as we know, is the cornerstone of internet discussion.