Randy Pitchford Asks Daily Reaction: How Can Journalists Make Gaming a More Positive Place?

Continuing our ongoing conversation with some of the biggest names in the industry, Gearbox Software’s President and CEO takes a moment to ask the Daily Reaction crew of Sebastian Moss and Dan Oravasaari a question that could change the industry.

Randy Pitchford:

“What can you, as video games journalists, do today, tomorrow and forever to help generate positivity and enthusiasm for our hobby – the greatest entertainment medium our species has ever invented?”

Dan: Let me start off by saying thank you Randy for the excellent question, this is precisely an issue that we contemplate on an almost daily basis. The games industry has always been considered the least important style of entertainment next to movies, books and music by the general public, and I believe this is due to the misconception that it doesn’t offer anything to the user. Highly regarded movies and books are often touted as being moving and intellectually stimulating, and a great piece of music can have profound emotional influence on someone, but quality experiences in video games can’t achieve a similar reverence.

The reason for this I believe stems from our reliance on the internet as a conduit for information and publicity, something that becomes a hotbed for misinformation and unprofessional conduct. If we look at the nature of how reviews are becoming regarded by the fanbase, we see that they have become watered down to little more than just another opinion on the internet. This in a sense, shows that even the media ‘professionals’ that we do have within the industry, have lost a great deal of credibility within our own gaming culture, leaving the outside world to believe only worse.

A great deal of our more influential media personalities rely on the concept of celebrity styled fandom, something more akin to Hollywood than journalism, leading to the need to be more liked than good. If we look at the nature of articles and online journalism’s need for hits, we see a similar issue where there is a catering to the highest denominator and not a push for quality. As a medium, we cannot grow perceptually if, at our very core, we are forced to push products that pander to the already successful for survival. As a developer, I am sure there is a similar issue where there are notably more popular trends in the current environment that can dictate the perceived success of a concept before even starting.

Some gamers are slowly waking up to see the repetition and shoehorning of concepts into products, but the ideology of the majority is still simple and cares not for the qualities that would bring depth to the industry. The success of games like Madden are a true example of a mentality that goes far beyond sports based products, as it is simply a need to feel comfortable, a need to be confident with what to expect.

Now, if we mix all of these values together, it is easy to see that for someone in the media to bring positivity to a product is simply a matter of making it familiar to something popular. A great number of writers always try to use comparisons to other products as a way to convey hours worth of experience with another product, and attach that confidence to something else. This does work quite often for titles that have great similarities, but that only extends the push for the gaming landscape to feel repetitive.

Ultimately, this does little more than spin in the same circles we have been for the last decade, just waiting for a new generation of gamers to grow up so we can expand. For us as journalists to push the industry forward and generate a higher regard for the work that is put in, I think we need to improve the confidence of our readership in our abilities to give honest judgements, not simply opinions. Online journalism in its current state has almost no accountability, and with that, it cannot generate the ability to even be perceived as an unbiased source – cutting off our ability to really do much.

Seb: It’s weird. This is a great question, Randy, but one I find trouble responding to. Should we aim to generate positivity? I want gaming to expand and grow as a medium, gaining more attention and respect in the world as a whole, I really do. But that’s not my aim as a journalist, my aim is simply to report the news in news articles and share my opinion in opinion pieces.

I guess that’s the issue with journalism as a whole – the media isn’t positive. It’s very hard to do an article on something going well, whereas journalists will jump on the chance to cover anything depressing like a shooting. There’s certainly a debate to be had over whether this is how things should be, but it’s undeniable that negativity is systemic in journalism as a whole. It’s the nature of journalism, as ugly as that is to hear.

But it’s not just a question of what there is to write about, as a critic, it’s often our job to point out problems and help give them a bigger voice. It’s vital to talk about game breaking features, sexism, poor developer conditions or whatever it may be. Or, warn people about certain Xeno-based games that don’t live up to their potential.

Negativity has its place in journalism, but I can see your point Randy. It’s hard not to get bogged down by all the outrage and depressive articles publications put out. Personally, our response at Daily Reaction has been to put out a steady mix of articles, from serious to offbeat to, yes, positive. One area we have been rather positive with is the rise of indie development, something we’re going to cover in even greater depth in an upcoming Ask DR special.

But the gaming community is already one filled with enthusiasm, with the entirety of games journalism industry relying on the fact that people care enough about a hobby to read what’s happening. They know this is an incredible medium that has the ability to transcend the immersive and storytelling powers of any other. They’re already converted.

The people that need to see how awesome it is are those that don’t read games websites/magazines. And for them, we need to rely on mainstream outlets… which is currently rather troubling. Thankfully, as more and more people play games, it’ll become harder for the press to marginalize it and unduly attack it.

What we shouldn’t be aiming for is abject positivity, but a balanced and fair portrayal of the artform. Public perception will slowly and naturally shift towards positivity to our medium, as it has to music genres and movies. As journalists, I don’t think we need to do anything particularly revolutionary, and just not unduly focus on negative things for the sake of negativity.

The future is positive, and every time a new game comes out that truly shows what makes gaming special, we get a step closer to being able to prove to the world why this is the biggest entertainment form on the planet.

What do you think journalists can do to make the games industry a better place? How can we add more positivity to the environment? Is it possible for journalists to not be biased? Let us know in the comments below, email us at [email protected] or make our days more positive by tweeting us at Seb and Dan.