Games Journalism By Any Other Name

Games journalism isn’t that clear. Some people don’t think it’s journalism, and they think that using the word ‘journalism’ in combination with games is bad for communication, as it weakens the acuity of the language, and especially bad for journalism, as it associates journalism with something distasteful. It’s something I’ve heard repeatedly over the years, but I heard it most recently in reference to Pat Garratt’s polemic on the games news business.

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Words convey ideas that we associate, from experience of general use, with those words. So we know the word table and call a table a table because we’ve associated it through long experience with other people using the word table to refer to that table thing. (Thanks for attending linguistics 101.)

Some things aren’t that clear. Games journalism isn’t that clear. Some people don’t think it’s journalism, and they think that using the word ‘journalism’ in combination with games is bad for communication, as it weakens the acuity of the language, and especially bad for journalism, as it associates journalism with something distasteful. It’s something I’ve heard repeatedly over the years, but I heard it most recently in reference to Pat Garratt’s polemic on the games news business.

Post-man Pat Transforming Gaming News

Here’s the definition of journalist given by the Devil’s Dictionary (X), started by Ambrose Bierce, vanished Ur-father of modern columnists:

1. a writer who writes about sensational occurrences long after they happen and even longer after they are interesting.

2. a writer who uses marketing in lieu of judgement, appetite in place of taste, and style as proxy for skill.

3. an anti-romantic; a naturalist with a day job.

Not so useful, but quite funny. Here’s the dictionary definition:

Journalism
1. the occupation of reporting, writing, editing, photographing, or broadcasting news or of conducting any news organization as a business.

4.
writing that reflects superficial thought and research, a popular slant, and hurried composition, conceived of as exemplifying topical newspaper or popular magazine writing as distinguished from scholarly writing

So it’s not scholarly – well that’s for sure. It seems to mostly fit the first definition – but is there an implication of anything honest or creative in journalism? Well, the word news is key; strictly speaking it means “information about important or interesting recent events”. Does that information have to be accurate? Well, inaccurate information isn’t really information – it’s noise. So, yes. there’s an implication of truth – journalists attempt to convey information that they have a justified belief to be true. Not fact-checking when you could, fabricating facts, or deliberately putting out information that can be mis-interpreted – all these seriously undermine an individual’s claim to be a journalist.

Pat et al *do* occasionally take quotes out of context, and report rumours (labelled as such), but they’re careful to apologise if they screw up and they mostly report accurately – even with those rumours. I’m less pleased with tabloid headlines, especially when they’re misleading, which all the news sites regularly indulge in – the red in tooth and claw nature of internet news is an explanation, but it can’t serve as a justification, especially not for established sites like C&VG or VG247. Moreover, as most of these sites share in the general games industry plea to the outside world to ” treat gamers like grown-ups”, one might think they had a moral responsibility to behave like adults.

However, most of the time, news sites are reporting the stuff that the PRs want them to – what they’ve been fed, the assets and information that’s timed to be released now, and so on. Is this journalism? Well, yes. Even if it isn’t creative, it’s still putting the interesting news out there, still acting as a filter for the audience of the messaging coming from companies (I’m betting a suprising amount is filtered out by these sites) and mingling it with the information coming from the world at large, still editorialising the message. Who judges what’s interesting? Well, the journalist tries and, if he succeeds, he gets the readers. They both judge in other words, and good journalists get to keep working.

So I’m going to say that. Journalism doesn’t have to be good writing; it doesn’t have to be creative writing; it just has to be accurate and not misleading. Games reportage fills that remit, so why not call it journalism? Just because it’s mostly fed by PRs, just because it’s often things that snootier people would want to call pettifogging rubbish, not fit to be called news, doesn’t mean it’s not information that someone out there wants to read – and the games journalist does his job by conveying it.

Eleventy-One.

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It was my eleventy-first birthday on Monday. Here’s what I did.

Timestamp: 12.30 a.m.
OH, what a night! A quiet drink with several friends ended with me dropping my switch card somewhere and Quintin dunking my phone in his Gulden Draak. The phone didn’t die immediately – but as the heady liquor permeated its innards it gradually flickered out of life before passing away sometime during the night – which meant my alarm didn’t go off, and hence I was late for my dental appointment, so there wasn’t time for a filling, so I have to book again, except I can’t access my diary on the dead iphone or access the address of my doctor. Amazing how totally dependant one can become on a single piece of technology; that’s something Ian Banks never addressed in his discussion of terminals in the Culture novels, the helplessness of those born into a technology.
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Timestamp: 4.30 p.m.
Now, I’m sitting on the roof of the Royal Opera House, at the poshest event I’ve ever attended. It’s a wine-tasting, filled to the gunnels with Hooray Henrys and the idle rich; the aristocrats who get employed in these things are genuinely born into it – without tasting Chateau Y’quem and a fine Margaux every day for ten years, you’re simply not going to have the experience to taste properly. It’s held by L’Union Des Grands Crus de Bordeaux, in a giant glass palace in the Royal Opera House, overlooking Covent Garden. As far as I remember, the Royal Opera House receives regular government and lottery grants to support its function and pay for its more expensive productions; but with the clientele here, paying what they must for this tasting, I can’t believe that it needs that money.
There’s more French being spoken here than English and everyone seems to assume that you have spent your entire life drinking the finest wines known to mankind, and are able to separate them into their component parts. I refrained from drinking too many of the red Bordeauxs (though I tried a lot of Margauxs), but focussed on the desert wines; here’s my recommendation: Chateau La Tour Blanche – my drink of the day. I don’t have the wine-drinkers’ vocabulary, that allows you to associate particular scents with given words, so I’ll simply say it’s complex without resorting to the straightforward sweetness of the Coutet or Giraud.
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I then left the Opera House, so I could sit in a cafe in Covent Garden and have a massive nosebleed that left blood all over my bag, mock-leather jacket, and both defunct phones.

Timestamp 11.30p.m.
Then I went off to Portcullis House in Parliament, to watch a panel of ex-Magdalen College luminaries, including Baron Kenneth Baker, Siôn Simon, John Redwood, Dominic Grieve, Matthew D’Ancona, Julia Hartley-Brewer, John Hemming and Stewart Wood answer questions from other Magdalen graduates from outside of politics. (Also a precocious and friendly 21-year old called Jamie Susskind who’d really done his research and sparred nicely with Redwood but unnecessarily dodged a question on the level of his student debt. I’m saying Labour Cabinet Minister for him, eventually.)
Once we got past the heavily-armed guards and through the Byzantine security, good discussions were had, but it’s under Chatham House rules, so I’ve got to refrain from attribution; I’ll just state majority opinions.
  • The panel was oddly unfriendly to all-women shortlists for political elections, even down to one expressing his support in principle, though distaste in practice. One female attendee was extremely critical of the quality of female politicians  selected through shortlists, relative to women elected purely on their own merits; there’s a touch of chicken and egg there, though, and surely something that’s reflective of problems with Britain’s ongoing gender imbalances.
  • The majority of the panel agreed that faith schools must be retained because of their results, though the left of the panel said they led to segregation and intolerance. The balance between good results and community integration was a hard one to strike, and all of the panel deplored the failure of Lord Baker’s attempt to make new faith schools take a minimum proportion of non-faith students. More importantly, I think, is to focus on diversity of background in all schools – certain comprehensives and private schools act as faith schools due to their selection criteria and catchment area; likewise, other comprehensives act as grammar schools if established in upper-middle class areas.
    Also, as a lone panellist pointed out, everyone was talking about this as if everyone had faith – and there was no provision for atheists in the faith school system, nor any restriction on market-saturation in given areas. This panellist was unable to find a non-faith primary school in the relevant catchment area, all of which required membership of certain local religious institutions, so the child was not allowed to attend any local school. In my opinion, close all the faith schools and those teachers would surely teach elsewhere; in that sense the faith element of a faith school is a red herring; if people want a religious education for their children, Sunday schools are available.
  • They think MPs are underpaid on £60,000 + expenses a year, which I think is madness.
  • They seemed to agree that an intervention in Iran over its nuclear programme is unfeasible, for Britain at least, but that Something Must Be Done, else Israel will get involved, violently.  (I actually spoke to someone high-up in Non-Profileration for the Foreign Office earlier in the evening; his views coincided with the panel’s to some degree, though he seemed less certain of Iran’s ability to enrich enough Uranium to generate a bomb quickly; he was oddly quiet during the whole discussion).
  • The best thinker, speaker and rationalist of the lot of them was, surprisingly, Kenneth Baker, followed by the ever-impressive and curiously funny John Redwood. Siôn Simon gave the impression of being a bruiser and party animal, and his language occasionally stumbled, but he made some good, original points.

And that was my birthday. Strange, bloody, boozy and pensive in turns.