My audience is my enemy: what’s the matter with gaming journalism?

October 4, 2019

“These obtuse shitslingers, these wailing hyper-consumers, these childish internet-arguers—they are not my audience. They don’t have to be yours.”

This is what former editor-at-large Leigh Alexander concluded in her article on Gamasutra: “Gamers don’t have to be your audience. ‘Gamers’ are over.” This is why many games journalists—people who write reviews of games and cover stories in the gaming sphere—think gamers are nothing but a bunch of toxic, entitled crybabies. You may have a different definition, but I define gamers as people who like to play video games—and yes, mobile games count.

It is common to see contrasting views between the critics and the audience, whether it’s in film or television, but there has never been such extreme disdain towards the readership as much as in games journalism. There is so much disdain that the gamer journalist group actively vilifies, denounces and insults the readers. Apart from being demonized and looked down upon by their parents and mainstream media, both of which like to frame gamers as either non-productive or as having a tendency to become violent, gamers are now being attacked by gaming journalists for supposedly being toxic bigots. I have never seen such a hobby so strongly discouraged by its own media.

Despite this, the audience for gaming is growing substantially both in volume and diversity. A UK study conducted by the Internet Advertising Bureau found that out of 4,000 residents, 52 percent of those who identify as gamers are female. And they are not just, as some might believe, casual gamers. Forty-seven percent of female gamers polled had played a disc-based game in the last six months, and 68 percent had played an online game. Fifty-six percent of female gamers have played on a console. 

Yet, the gaming media has ignored or exploited this fact. It is still clinging onto age-old stereotypes about gamers like the one Leigh Alexander references: young white men playing alone in their mom’s basement, sexist and racist and whatever other names you can call them. Gamer journalists are painting this image of gaming being the hotbed of sexism and racism and fighting the wrong battle, because they seem to think that gamers are just these immature men who are against equality and diversity in gaming. In an enormous article published by video game website Polygon titled “Gaming’s toxic men, explained,” author Colin Campbell claims that “Gaming has attracted (or spawned) many angry young men who are comfortable with harassing and abusing women.” He includes a wealth of quotes from many people with their experiences being harassed online among other “observations.” But what the quotes really do is set up a series of dogmatic, cynical assumptions and unsubstantiated inferences about gamers. The big takeaway is essentially that being a gamer leads to being a white supremacist, misogynist and many other buzzword nametags.

Halfway through the article, Campbell takes a jab at gaming YouTubers, accusing some of casting themselves as “political soothsayers, offering a diet of fear-mongering hyperbole that panders to prejudice and ignorance,” all the while doing the exact same thing. And I’m not denying that harassments happen; they often do. People were doxed—having their home address leaked—and even received death or rape threats. It’s disgusting, and this is obviously not okay. 

I should make it clear that the people who engage in these behaviors don’t represent the gaming community as a whole. “Gamers” are a scapegoat. To assume that gaming makes one toxic because of the behaviors of some members would be committing the fallacy of guilt by association. The part does not represent the whole, not even close. It is almost the same discussion we had and are surprisingly still having about video games causing gun violence. I would not even dignify that puritanical nonsense with a response.

Harassment is not a gaming problem. It is a human problem. It has to do with anonymity on the Internet, more so when a competitive environment is introduced. You see it in politics and other sides of entertainment, where controversies and unpopular opinions are involved. You see it happening to all sides of the debate, whatever it is. You see it on Facebook, YouTube and Twitter. It’s everywhere and likely won’t go away, hence the mute/block button. So why lay it on gamers specifically? Most of them are just people like you and me who just couldn’t be happier to have more friends to play with.

Although I have painted them in such a negative light, there are, of course, journalists who do good work and should be commended. Jason Shrier from Kotaku, for example, broke a number of excellent stories and exposes the harmful work environment and development cycles of many AAA games like “Destiny” and “Anthem.” Sites like IGN and PC gamer, as much as people love to make fun of them, do a decent job reporting on news and informing their audience, without insulting them. There are YouTubers like YongYea who do great gaming news in video form while staying as objective as possible and remaining pro-consumer. And I hope you would think of me as one of the good guys, even as I write this piece of criticism that some might find disagreeable. However, I wouldn’t say the same about sites like Polygon and Kotaku.   

Ultimately, I reject the extreme on both sides. It’s no secret that toxicity in gaming is a reality, and every sensible person would condemn those who partake in it (like YouTuber JonTron who has unironically said some really disturbing, racist stuff), but that’s a reality almost everywhere. Although certainly not as bad as the other side, gaming journalists who are trying to frame it as if gamers are the root of the problem are missing the point and being almost maliciously vindictive.

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