For those who missed the whole shebang, basically, this is the flow of events over the last two days to the best of my knowledge.
- Twitter “debate” erupts over whether or not it was ethical for UK games journalists attending the annual “Games Media Awards” ceremony to be tweeting promotional hashtags in the hope of winning a PS3.
- Winners of said competition name-checked by several Twitter users.
- Several of said winners speak up and say they are giving away their PS3s.
- Eurogamer publishes this article by Robert Florence (now recreated on GAF because the Eurogamer-hosted one has been edited) in which he notes that journalists defending such a competition could be seen as corrupt. He quotes tweets from several public sources (mostly Twitter) in said article.
- MCV staff writer Lauren Wainwright, who was originally quoted in Florence’s article, posts on Facebook “Yes, I’ve seen it. Yes, it’s slander. No, it’s not being taken lightly.” and quickly makes it clear that she is referring to Florence’s article.
- Eurogamer issues apology to Wainwright and fellow writer Dave Cook following a “complaint” from the former, and edits Florence’s article to remove their quotes.
- Florence steps down from his position at Eurogamer, noting that his readers should not blame the outlet, but the “threat of legal action” for his departure.
- MCV editor Michael French denies that any legal action was taken.
- Florence strongly implies that there was at least the threat of legal action.
- Wainwright begins receiving torrent of abuse on Twitter, puts her account on private.
- Various op-ed pieces and blog posts are written, including this one, and these excellent three posts by Rock, Paper, Shotgun’s John “Botherer” Walker.
Most of the salient points surrounding this issue have probably already been addressed far better than I will do in this post, but since this is my personal blog I thought I would give my take on the matter, as something of an “outsider” to the UK games industry. (It’s true; despite living in the UK, pretty much all games/tech journalism work I’ve done in the last few years has been for American outlets — the last UK publication I wrote for was the UK Official Nintendo Magazine, and that was back when the N64 was one of the current-generation consoles.)
I have come to the conclusion, not just as a result of this shitstorm, that I am Not A Fan of the UK games journalism industry.
Actually, that’s not quite true — there are plenty of people in the UK industry with a considerable degree of integrity who sadly toil away in relative obscurity. People like Lewis Denby over at Beefjack, Ashton Raze and Tom Hoggins over at The Telegraph’s games column, and itinerant freelancer Chris Schilling — and scores of others, too, most of whom I follow on Twitter. These are all people that I may not have had the pleasure of actually meeting in most cases (though I met Denby at the Houses of Parliament one day) but whom I have interacted with and have grown to trust the opinions of. I have no issue with these people.
However, what I do have an issue with is the “old boys’ club” that is at the core of the UK games journo industry; a toxic heart beating away and infecting all around it with its bitterness and vitriol. In this inner circle, most people seem to actively hate their job, mocking it at every opportunity and deriding genuinely interesting ventures such as a games journalism introductory session that IGN attempted to host in London a short while back. The apparent priority for a number of these individuals — from what I can tell from their public output, anyway — is getting drunk and taking the piss out of the medium they’re supposed to be representing. “VIDEOGAMES,” they’ll say (and misspell), deriding something that everyone is already aware of and completely ignoring the more interesting things going on in the business.
The focal point of all this vitriol is surely the Games Media Awards, an odious annual event hosted by Intent Media, the parent company of Wainwright’s employer MCV. Now, you might not think that celebrating the achievements of hardworking journalists is a bad thing, and for the record, I don’t either — but for the last two years I have seen nothing but obnoxious behaviour surrounding this event. I don’t know about you, but for a professional industry awards ceremony, I expect a certain level of professionalism, formality and decorum — none of which are readily apparent in the slightest when looking at the GMAs, which are little more than a pissup for journalists organised by PR staff and publishers.
I knew that something was up when the “humorous” Twitter account promoting the event last year was publicly lambasting anyone (including me) who took umbrage with its less-than-professional tone. These suspicions were only confirmed when the sponsors for the event showed up brandishing about a million free condoms and with an army of dwarfs in tow. The event was a complete debacle and many of the journos present did decry the sponsor Grainger Games’ behaviour as abhorrent, to be fair — but equally, there were plenty of “oh man, I was so drunk” stories circulating.
This year, it was a different controversy — specifically, a whole lot of behaviour which Florence quite accurately pointed out could be interpreted as shilling. Journos were getting their photograph taken with the dude from Far Cry 3 and tweeting about some game I’ve never heard of called Defiance, and publicly sharing both on Twitter. Some people quite rightly criticised this, and that’s what kicked off this whole debacle. Specifically, it was Intent Media and various other members of the “inner circle” defending their behaviour that kicked off this whole debacle.
You see, part of the problem with the “inner circle” is that it believes itself superior and immune to criticism. At no point were those who had been “caught in the act” willing to discuss the possibilities that their actions might be misinterpreted, whatever the actual intentions behind them. Wainwright’s “complaint” and possible threat of legal action is just one of many silencing tactics that have been used surrounding this issue, with the others being the old favourite “remember when we just talked about games? Games were fun!” and “get back to work” arguments.
Well, yes, games are fun, and it would be nice to get back to talking about them. But these conversations that we’re having here are important, too. This whole ridiculous situation came about for a reason, after all, and it’s something that the industry should learn from. Specifically, outlets should begin getting their staff better acquainted with media law, and they should also instill in their employees a culture that criticism is not always a negative thing; sometimes it is an opportunity to grow, change and improve.
Will the industry actually learn from this, though? Probably not, sadly. I would, however, like to state for the record that I have never seen this level of ridiculously shameful behaviour from the American games press. Sure, there’s been plenty of public spats — particularly surrounding high-profile figures such as Destructoid’s Jim Sterling and the Polygon crew — but nothing that’s actually left me feeling as ashamed of the industry I’ve worked so hard to be a part of as the last 48 hours have.
I’ll leave you with this excellent piece by Jeff Grubb from back in the early days of Bitmob. I agree with everything my hirsute honey says. And that’s the last I will say on the matter!