Hey all, Coffee from Games with Coffee here. Today, we continue our series of posts talking about Stewardship vs. Gatekeeping by talking about how the gaming media industry unintentionally encourages gatekeeping behaviours.
I say “unintentionally” because I don’t believe the gaming industry itself sets out to encourage gatekeeping. Do they encourage fans to buy into their products or IP? Absolutely. Do they encourage the same fans to exclude or belittle anyone else that doesn’t share their beliefs? Definitely not. On the other hand, the media that’s used to promote the gaming industry has relied less on journalistic integrity and providing the facts in an unbiased manner and more on clickbait hot takes, fantastic rumours and outrage. And that’s what we’ll be talking about in today’s post.
The Hype is Real
Let’s be real: A corporation’s goal is to make as much money as possible. In order to make money, they need to sell their product. The best and easiest way to garner sales is to pander to a person’s needs. If you’ve ever watched The Wolf of Wall Street, or been to an interview for a sales position, you may be familiar with the “Sell Me This Pen” question.
An interviewer will give you a pen and ask you to sell it to them. The answers to this request are very open-ended, but the main answer they’re looking for involves satisfying a need. The person needs a pen to write something. They do not have a pen. You have the pen and therefore, you can sell them the pen to satisfy their need to write something.
Gaming follows a similar vein. Gamers need experiences tailored to their tastes. Game companies declare that they can deliver those experiences to satisfy that need. Gamers then buy the games that satisfy their needs.
I feel that I’m digressing a bit from the point, but the idea here is that, in order for the gaming industry to sell its product, it must use some form of media to do so. Through their chosen medium – whether it’s traditional or social – the industry is trying to sell you an idea. That their system is the best system on the market. That their game is the GOAT and no other games can compare. That you’re missing out on the experience of a lifetime. To use buzzwords, they are trying to generate hype around their product. That hype should then translate into a desperate need.
As we’ve highlighted before; games are fun and there’s a game out there for everyone. And there’s nothing inherently wrong with companies generating buzz and hype to sell their products. The problem lies in how people infer the statements around the hype. People can sometimes take these statements as if they are the word of God and then come down on anyone who says otherwise. Especially in the social media era we live in, it’s easy to belittle someone’s supposed ignorance of the hype surrounding a game or a system. It’s also easy to put down others who are legitimately hyped for a new release. Sounds pretty familiar, huh?
Hype alone is not the only issue stewards need to combat. Because we must also be wary of rumours designed to generate that hype.
Rumour Has It
When taken with a pinch of salt and some humour, rumours can be fun to indulge in. There’s a thrill behind the knowledge of either a potential release for a storied franchise or something new and unique within the pipeline. Sometimes, rumours can be taken too far. It’s easy to get caught in the rumour mill when someone says that they “heard from an anonymous source” or that they “have seen graphical evidence, but can’t share more because, reasons” about certain titles being remade, or a wild, new release of a storied franchise.
The problem is, we get really invested in rumours. We want to see these things happen, for goodness’ sake! I mean, I can’t tell you how many times I wished for a new Legend of Zelda game that reuses the same mechanics from Zelda II. So, when we hear rumours about the games that matter to us, we get our hopes up. We follow the hype. Sometimes, the rumours are true and it’s exciting! (Looking at you, Metroid Prime Remastered!). Most times, they are not and it’s crushing. And when they’re not true, we blame the developers for not confirming the rumours. But who profits from the rumor-mongering? It’s not those who believe in the rumours, not the subjects of the rumours, but those who spread them. And those spreaders do it for the clout.
Ah, yes, clout. That mysterious, invisible currency by which all are judged. If you have clout, people tend to believe you, follow you and support you. If you have clout, your word can be taken as the truth against all others. Finally, if you have clout, you can spin the message about a rumour you spread in any direction you choose. See also: Gatekeeping!
Most recently, stoking outrage has been a way for media outlets to generate more traffic to their sites. Outrage can emerge from several sources, from phony rumours to games/systems not meeting the sky-high hype. But a prominent, almost engrossing source of the outrage stems around gaming from a place of morality. Media organizations thrive off of sowing divisions and forcing people to pick sides, as those are an easy, cheap way of getting clicks.
We see posts with clickbait-y titles featuring either extreme views on gaming, hard-to-believe rumours, or black-and-white choices regarding moral issues. The general public then laps it up without performing any critical analysis of the journalistic sources behind those pieces. These corporations then make bank because these hit pieces generate a reaction based primarily on outrage. Gamers become more entrenched and will thus seek out more voices that agree with their position, creating an echo chamber that further divides people into supporting X over Y.
Regain Your Power
Breaking free from the hype, outrage and rumour cycles starts and ends with critical thinking. Firstly, look past the vapid and shallow takes from mainstream gaming media outlets. From there, start asking yourself how the messaging makes you feel. Some examples:
- Why am I compelled to argue that game X is better than game Y? Or vice versa?
- Is the hype behind this game/system real? Or is it generated for clout?
- What good does it do for me to prove the superiority of games on system X over games on system Y? And what good does it do for others?
- Who am I speaking to when I say that certain games are not games? My friends? Internet randos? Or to a specific person or persons?
- Am I saying any of these things because I truly believe them to be true, or because I was influenced by others?
- Where is this rumour coming from? What’s the source behind it? Is there any truth to what they’re saying, or is it just an attempt at gathering clout?
- Do all choices have to be black or white? All for or against something? Can I choose another option that’s not specifically listed?
- Is there enough information in this article for me to make a decision about this game or system? Are there other, unbiased sources I can approach to get another side of the story?
Next, do some homework and look for those smaller outlets that consistently put out thoughtful, informative and unbiased takes on subjects you’re interested in. I must admit that finding those outlets amongst the Kotakus and Polygons is difficult, but they are out there.
Regarding rumours, always subscribe to the maxim that “I’ll believe it when I see it.” Not only does it keep your expectations grounded, but you’ll also reduce the likelihood of succumbing to hype and the outrage that follows when the hype isn’t real.
As for outrage, the best advice I can give is to walk away. Close the bird app, shut off your phone or computer, take a few deep breaths and ask yourself is it worth it to put energy into addressing or participating in the outrage? Or can you take that energy and put it towards something that’s constructive?
So, here are my thoughts on this. Honestly, this was a tough piece to write, but one that I feel is necessary. It’s had me take a good, long look at how I consume media, how I view rumours, and how I deal with and respond to outrage. I hope that this does the same for you!
For homework, examine some of the recent articles or videos that you’ve consumed and ask yourself the above questions. Are the media pieces you consume coming from a place of providing information in an unbiased manner or are the arguments more persuasive?
Next time, we’re gonna shift away from the serious topics for a moment and do something more light-hearted – God of War! I just finished God of War Ragnarok and I have many thoughts about it. All of them are good haha, but the subject of parenthood is one I want to explore, in particular.
Until next time, live with no regrets, believe in yourself, and chase after the impossible. See you next time.
Games With Coffee
Enriching the Stewards of Gaming, One Cup At A Time