I don’t know if you’ve been paying attention to this particular storm on Twitter, but a few months ago, Ubisoft released a poster that looks racist as heck, and someone made the mistake of pointing this out to them. That someone was Veerender Jubbal, a Sikh games journalist whose writing has focused on themes of representation in games.
(I’m reluctant to say ‘minority representation.’ There are approximately 27 million Sikh in the world and about 24 million Australians. I don’t really like pretending that 27 million people is a ‘minority’ group just because there’s a bigger, fatter, louder group of people nearby. Just how many people are you willing to dismiss? And do you want to live in a world where a few million people can be treated as irrelevant?)
Talking with Veerender during this mess, I asked about his qualifications. Bear in mind this is during a period where he’s getting a river of hate through his mentions. I wanted to know was What’s your experience with formal/educated forms of journalism? I wanted context for how I could talk to him. What Veerender heard however, was What qualifications do you have to say this sort of stuff?
During this time I formulated a fairly angry, dismissive slogan that I have been using since then:
There Are No Games Journalists
This is hyperbole. It’s a deliberately complicated statement packed into five short words that can shock the reader and pull attention. It still is a true statement. There are no games journalists, because journalists put information in context for the public good, and most game journalists avoid context. There are no games journalists, because the task of journalism is itself transcendental to your context, and you don’t need special training to be a journalist who talks about videogames. There are no games journalists, because the people who are doing the most interesting writing about games to put that information in contexts are doing it for free or for insufficient money to live on, rather than having their games journalism treated as an element of their professional life that’s worth paying for – meaning they are people who do games journalism, but not games journalists.
I am a first-year journalism student, at best. I am a nobody in journalism terms. I do, however, have very firm opinions about this stuff. For last year’s final assignment, I was asked to answer the question What is journalism, and how is it changing? In that essay, I argued that journalism was still what it had always been; it was the task of distributing information to wider sources, and it used a process that turned data (raw information) into facts (what raw data means when considered as a whole) into information (facts, placed into a greater context). The example I like to give is a news story where a child fell off a cliff.
Now, in this event, there’s a lot of data; the place the cliff was, the time the child fell, the age of the child, the child’s hair colour, what the child was wearing, why the child was there, how the fall was handled, but probably the most crucial piece of data in the story was that the ‘cliff’ was only a sixty centimeter drop. The journalist’s job is to turn all of these facts into a meaningful exchange of information for people. This is the most basic, rudimentary form of journalism, and in this case, it’s pretty easy. When you start dealing with news about bigger, interconnected events, things become harder, and it’s the job of the journalist to provide that context. You may realise thinking about this, that you often read news stories that don’t do this; they don’t so much provide context as list facts.
By and large, there are people writing about games who are Games Journalists. But mostly they’re just Games Advertisers. There’s a lot of mythic information flying around about journalism in the games sphere, and it’s sickening to me. Objective reviews, like the fuss that followed Grand Theft Auto V, demand the journalist divorce games from as much context as possible. Press events routinely demand that journalists pretend other games don’t exist, that landscapes of media haven’t changed in the past twenty years. Even games copy – the most basic form of games journalism, where the people who make the game want to try and convey to you what the game is in order to buy it, use idiotic lies to sell their games. The First Game That Brings You. You’ve Never Seen This Before. An Experience Like No Other. Look guys, I understand that sort of writing is hard to do, but trust me on this one: You are almost always wrong. Don’t try and place yourself as unique in a context that reaches all the way back to the seventies.
The fact is, if you look at games, if you’re interested in talking about games, if you’re willing to turn data to facts to information, and if you distrbute that information to an audience, you’re doing some form of journalism. You are, in this context, a journalist. Chances are, qualifications are going to tell you how to Market, they will show you the same video of Julian Assange forty times, and they will teach you some nice phone etiquette for your interview process. Beyond that simple goal, the qualification means almost nothing. If you have something to say about videogames, and you can put that something in a greater context – by being, knowing, or experiencing something that others don’t – then you are as much a games journalist as 99% of the people who use that title to describe themselves. And I hope to read what you write.
Because god knows, right now, There Are No Games Journalists.