Gamers these days get a lot more respect than they used to, at least in this part of the world. When I was growing up, nobody was impressed that I could rattle off the names of all the missions in Syndicate at a moment’s notice. But a couple of decades later, it’s plain to see that the subculture has long since bubbled upward and slipped through the dermal layer into public consciousness, buoyed by capitalism and technology. Even with a new social circle with people broadly in my age range, I can toss out a few queries about Counterstrike (CS) or Defense of the Ancients (DOTA), and there are guaranteed to be a few fish that take the bait. Not that I can play CS or any multiplayer online battle arena (MOBA) to save my life, but that doesn’t reduce its efficiency as an icebreaker. The point is, long gone are the days where my hobby was a private pleasure, its worlds and experiences shared only with a choice few co-conspirators. Almost everybody is getting into gaming these days in some form or the other. That’s by no means a bad thing, but an entertainment industry that’s growing this rapidly probably needs to be examined once in a while.
For one thing, with the staggering number of games available, how do we decide which ones to spend our money and time on? Sure, for an enthusiast who’s been following the industry for ages and who’s figured out which genres he prefers, which developers he trusts, which features to look out for and which to dismiss, it’s a lot easier. But for someone new to the scene, it’s easy to get suckered in with the amount of hype that some of the bigger publishers flex with their ridiculous marketing budgets.
But there’s always the games media and journalists, right? You should be confident in thinking that finding a reputed site for games coverage and checking out a few reviews should give you the lay of the land. Well, they might, but unfortunately you have to account for the fact that a lot of the landscaping might have been done by the game publishers themselves.
To explain that needlessly complex analogy, the relationship between game marketing and game journalism is one that has its fair share of problems. In the big-dog AAA world, game publishers spend generously to fly down games writers on all-expense paid trips, where they’re practically wined and dined, invited to participate in contests to win expensive gaming goodies before finally being shown the product about which they’re supposed to give their objective opinion. It’s hardly the most ideal situation for objectivity. There have been occasions where the ones who write about the conflict of interest are browbeaten by their colleagues for upsetting their gravy train. On occasions when the carrot doesn’t work, there’s always the stick. Back in 2007, when Jeff Gerstmann had the audacity to give Kane & Lynch 2 a mediocre score while working at Gamespot, the game publisher leaned on Gamespot’s parent company CBS and had Gerstmann summarily fired. But although the AAA game industry, like other big media, has these toxic characteristics by default, you may think that an option to get away from the mess would be to focus on the rising wave of independent games and make that your marketplace instead.
That’s where the Gamergate controversy comes in. A recent blog post revealed the personal life of an indie game developer and his/her close relationship with people in the gaming press. That was enough to light up the whole powderkeg. Efforts have since been made to make connections (some more tenuous than others) between various personalities in the indie scene and show how it is a smaller scale mirror of the AAA industry, with unhealthy personal and financial links between developers, PR people and judges. The Internet being what it is, most of the commentary and valid points on either side have been lost in a sea of vitriol. Articles were published about the death of gamers as a noteworthy audience and rebuttals were made about the obsolescence of game journalism. For now, let’s hope the dust settles soon so we can get to the important bit about actually furthering progress on making gaming a more inclusive hobby for everyone.