Indie Game Mag, a print and web publication for indie games coverage, has recently seen a change of management, and a new policy where they plan to charge developers $50 to have their products reviewed. Obviously there has been an extremely negative reaction to this. What’s more peculiar is the incredulous response from the site’s new owner, Chris Newton, who can’t understand why anyone’s upset. He concludes,
“If it offends people that I believe that my writers and editors should be afforded compensation, then I don’t feel like I should apologize for that.”
I’ve left a comment on his post, but it has yet to clear moderation, so I’m putting it here:
This isn’t okay. To attempt to make the argument, “If you object to my charging for reviews, then you object to my paying my staff” is disingenuous and palpable nonsense.
That you encountered other unethical and advantageous sites, who also practice the disgraceful act of charging developers for exposure, is not a justification for doing the same. That’s so fundamentally obvious. “But all those other boys were stealing sweets” isn’t a very effective argument, and I’m quite sure when you discovered your product was being ignored because you weren’t paying unscrupulous sites, you didn’t click your heels together and think, “Well then, where’s my cheque book?!” You’d been screwed over. Your response is to want to screw others over.
I co-run an independent gaming site, which also went through years of almost no income and a lot of struggle. I understand the situation. But there’s never a reason to consider the notion of such an inherently cruel and openly corrupting system as to demand money from the developers whose games we review, because it’s clearly so lacking in integrity. I knew what it was like to not know if our business was going to make it. But that never gave us an excuse to abandon basic principles.
As a gaming site, you should operate an editorial system that selects the games you cover based on your own methods. Not have your content dictated by which indies are willing to buy their way onto your front page. And what are your plans for when the big name indie games come along, who obviously aren’t going to fall for your money trap? Do you plan to ignore the next Double Fine or Introversion or Majong game? Or will you decide that they get coverage even though they haven’t paid? And what will that say about your policies? Screw over the little guys only, or ignore the most popular names in indie gaming?
I implore you to reconsider. IGM will descend from an interesting site championing indie games to one of those vile iOS scam sites designed to take advantage of the desperate. Its reputation will be in tatters. It pretty much already is at this point, and needs a big mea culpa to survive.
I recognise you want IGM to succeed, and I know from experience how frightening and difficult it can be. But back away from this idea. You’re in the wrong, and the site will only suffer as a consequence.
Also, in responding to questions about this from another journalist, I wrote this, which I’ll tack on too:
“Yes, I do think someone could charge for reviews and remain unbiased. If I imagine the scenario where I charged developers for every review I did, I’d still gladly slag off crappy games. I’m not sure how long this business model might work, since I imagine there’s only so often developers will pay for someone to tell lots of people not to play their game. But I can see myself maintaining my integrity in that situation. However, that counts for absolutely nothing, since I would *look* corrupt as hell. And that’s what counts. Who cares if I’m telling the truth about a game, if to absolutely everyone else, those words were literally bought? Those words can never be trusted by anyone but me alone, and thus they’re worthless as reviews.”
Every year I realise I’ve not written this down so I can point to it, and then forget after. So today, since I’m already too busy, I’ll do it. My A Level results. This is the story of how the results do not need to define the rest of your life.
My A Level results were:
There tend to be two categories of people. Those who got an N, and those who didn’t know you could get an N. While I believe it no longer exists, it once fell between E and U, seemingly serving to reward those who took a stab at spelling their name correctly on the front page, or at least drew some nice doodles for the examiner to enjoy. At the time I assumed it simply stood for “No.” “Not you, matey.”
I took biology, chemistry and maths, which of course makes perfect sense for a writer… I was convinced I wanted to be a scientist, and despite my dad’s confusion as to why I wasn’t pursuing subjects in which I more obviously showed talent, I defiantly went on to attempt to get a place studying microbiology at Edinburgh university. That was the goal. Why microbiology? It’s horrible to realise now I can’t even remember having a particular passion for it – I guess I liked learning about it at school, and I had already realised I wasn’t good enough at sciences to be a vet.
I wasn’t exactly expecting good grades. When you spend the two hours of a chemistry exam plotting a graph on your graphics calculator that makes it draw a train with smoke coming out of the tunnel, you can be pretty well assured that you didn’t ace it. Convincing my parents of this was tougher, trying to explain that, “You always think you did worse than you did!” doesn’t tend to apply when you hadn’t written anything in the little boxes.
It was a combination of things. The wrong subjects, not really doing any work for two years, and being absolutely atrocious at exams. I had managed to get through GCSEs on blagging along, and then discovered that didn’t work for the next stage up. But I also wasn’t stupid – I picked up an awful lot of it, and can still recite the anatomy of kidney or make my way around a Krebs Cycle, seventeen years later. I just had no ability in exam conditions, rather worsened by having done far too little revision after far too little effort for two years. So yes, not the best approach.
Results day sucked. Obviously. I was helping out at a holiday club that week, so couldn’t get down to collect my results first thing with my chums. But when I went down later in the morning, some friends turned up to meet me there. I wished they hadn’t. My friends at school were smart (they’re still smart, as it happens). At a time before AS/A2, when you took three A levels as standard, friends of mine took five or six, and got As in all of them (this was before A*s, too). Most my friends got straight As. A couple dipped into Bs. I got grades that none of us even knew were available. It didn’t feel good sharing that moment.
For reasons I still cannot explain, beyond sheer miserable panic, I decided to retake the same subjects. There was no time for thinking about it – to get a place at the local six form college, I’d have to apply on results day itself, and I just went for the same ones. I still had those ambitions of studying biology at such a good university. And so it was that I had the most miserable year of my life, as all my friends went off to university or gap years, and I stayed in the same town, studying the same subjects, in a grotty hole of a college with few friends. My routine became a depressed trudge. I distinctly remember that the highlights of my weeks were: Chris Evans’ (genuinely great) Radio 1 breakfast show, especially the handovers to Simon Mayo; Monday, Wednesday and Friday night on BBC 2 when they’d show Seinfeld followed by Larry Sanders; and Sunday and Wednesday nights when the just-launched Channel 5 would show baseball from midnight. I used those as the stepping stones between the rubbishness of the days, studying subjects I knew I was no good at, in a place I didn’t want to be, while hearing of my friends’ amazing times. Woo! This time I got:
But here’s the thing: turns out, life has been brilliant. I screwed up my A Levels twice, and tried to do a completely ridiculous degree in a made up subject at a tin-pot university, which was a colossal waste of time. But after that, and after a brief, peculiar stint working at a national radio station under the control of the utterly repugnant Kelvin MacKenzie, I found my passions. I’ve been very fortunate, but I’ve also worked incredibly hard. I discovered youth work, and I re-discovered that I can write. I went on to do a degree in youth work and applied theology, and came out of it with a first class degree, while at the same time writing my arms off for PC Gamer, Eurogamer and others. Six years ago I co-started RPS, and now is now, and I’ve a wonderful job, amazing wife, and my NNE means absolutely nothing whatsoever.
I recognise that I’m extremely fortunate. I understand that not everyone gets away with such a screw-up. But I feel it’s important to say on results day that the grades you get do not define you, and do not need to define the rest of your life. You are bigger than them.
It sucks to do badly. I had a really crappy year because of failing. It’s not something you breeze past. But it’s something you certainly do get past. Life is enormous, and if you work your butt off, and acknowledge your passions, opportunities can come up.
And if you did well: fistbump!
While common sense should assume that the Games Media Awards is incapable of doing anything without making it a murky, dubious mess, I really didn’t see how they could make a new student prize something awful. But their abilities know no boundaries.
This year there are definitely some claimed improvements. They’ve stopped PRs from voting in most categories, which is something I’ve appealed for since the awards first began. And they’ve got rid of the “goodybags”, which contained hundreds of pounds worth of items and were given to every winner. It’s great that these things are gone.
What hasn’t changed is that it’s an evening funded by publishers and PRs, in which they provide the games journalists who report on them with free food and limitless free drink, and then present them with awards sponsored by themselves. It’s promoted as a piss-up, and it has, for years, been the British games industry at its most tawdry, wretched, and dubious. From the first year’s awarding of prizes to magazines owned by the sponsors of the categories, to the despicable antics of two years ago with the Grainger Games sponsorship, to last year’s disgraceful mess of journalists tweeting adverts for games to win a Playstation, it has always been a horror show. That it has cleaned up a fraction of its act is progress, but it’s certainly not anything for celebration. That most of the UK games industry will still happily trundle along for the free booze, no matter how it associates them with it all, is hugely demoralising.
Picture nicked from the Guardian, showing the dancers at the strip club in which the first GMA took place.
And this year they’ve added the ludicrously named “Games Media Academy”. This pompously grandiose title is really just a prize for a single person – an unpaid hopeful writer – of £1000 of commissions, and some unexplained (and indeed entirely unmentioned by the actual description at the bottom of the page) “mentoring” from “some of the biggest names in games media”.
The prize is to get some paid work.
In an industry that is increasingly screwing over new writers by not paying them, some might want to argue this as a positive step. I’d suggest that’s a bit like giving a trophy to husbands who don’t beat their wives. What it is, in fact, is publishers doing their damned jobs, and pretending it’s something special. It’s like telling a plumber they’ve won the lucky prize that you’ll pay them to fix your sink.
It is a part of every media outlet’s job to find and hire new writers. Submissions arrive to magazines and websites all the time, both solicited and unsolicited. When a publication is looking for new freelancers, or even new employees, they look at these, and they commission based on potential talent they spot. People who are good enough at writing get paid work, and the system continues.
The idea of doing exactly this, but pretending it’s a special prize, simultaneously demeans both the writers submitting their work, and the entire occupation itself. It reduces our job down to a special treat, given out to one lucky person, and a ruffle of their hair. And it reduces potential writers down to entrants in a competition, and then pretends that doing the work that earns the money is some manner of award! It’s outrageous. There is NO prize! They get £1000 for doing £1000 worth of work!
So what is it really? It’s IGN, Future, MCV and bloody Network-N advertising themselves, getting their names mentioned in concert with this extraordinary act of altruism of paying some writers to do a job. The people judging may not have been so cynical in their acceptance – they may simply want to be involved in a process that finds new talent. But unfortunately, as positive as their intentions may (or indeed may not, looking at some of the names) be, they’re associated with the awfulness of the GMAs, and they’re – perhaps unwittingly – part of a non-prize that demeans everyone involved. Oh, and the winning entrants get published in a supplement in trade rag MCV, owned by Intent, who own the GMAs. Will they be paid for that publication? There’s no indication that they will.
(So what should they have done instead? Accepted nominations for a category for unpaid writers, and given the best one an award in the hope of raising their profile. Editors paying attention would look at their work, and if they liked it, commission them. Instead, because this is the GMAs, it’s become about promoting publishers in a faked act of goodwill, bullshitting that paid work is a prize, and insulting everyone involved.)
There is no obligation on anyone in this industry to attend the GMAs. If free drinks mean so much to you, crash a wedding. By walking through those doors, you endorse everything the GMAs have done, and intend to do. And for what? You don’t even get the bag of bribes this year. Please people, just don’t go.
This evening I went along to a talk, part of Bristol’s Festival Of Ideas, by geneticist Steve Jones. He’s recently published a book, The Serpent’s Promise, in which he reinterprets the Bible as a science book. It’s not as spurious as it sounds, although I’ve not read the book yet – Jones is an atheist, and was interested to investigate whether there’s any science to be found in the books, and to reinterpret the pseudo-science and historical claims it makes. Which sounds tremendous, so Laura and I went along.
The talk itself, in which Jones answered questions from a host, was a good time. It was a touch lacking in depth, a little heavy on the “buy the book in the foyer after” and a little light on the meat. But an enjoyable evening nonetheless.
One particular comment really stood out to me. It was a response to a question about whether religion made people happier, in which he explained that the data he’s seen showed that no, in fact religion fails to make people happier. Those who identify as agnostic or atheist tend to identify as happier.
And I realised a part of where this debate is going so wrong. Obviously the “Science vs Religion” discussions are far too often between those who wish to “oppose science in the name of religion” and “oppose religion in the name of science”, as if either were anything less than mad. But it’s understandable! Because the religiosity that’s presenting itself is one that absolutely should be attacked by those of a rational, scientific mind.
During Jones’ talk, it became very apparent that the version of Christianity he’s experienced, and the version that others have expressed to him, absolutely merits the dismissal and refuting it receives. A Christian doctrine that proselytises on the basis of offering “happiness” is fundamentally unrelated to the faith on which they claim to be based. Christianity sold as everything from a means to escape the pits of hell to a self-help cure for the lacklustre is a heretical misinterpretation of the most serious magnitude. This is perpetuated by both the intentionally malevolent, usually with a financial and/or power-based incentive, and the ideologically naive, people who very genuinely want to help spread something they believe to be good. This “Christianity”, the one that makes people happier, entirely merits the scorn it receives from the scientific community, and absolutely deserves to be found as lacking under any scrutiny.
It’s just, that’s not Christianity.
Today Ben Kuchera, of the Penny Arcade Report, wrote an article in which he explained how games journalism works in relation to content and advertising. That gaming sites put up the galleries of cosplay babes because it’s necessary to fund the better, less popular content, all driven by a constant need for pageviews and unique hits. In his article, he writes as if he’s speaking for the whole industry, although excludes himself from the process. I’d like to add RPS to that exclusion list, thanks very much, because I don’t recognise a word of how he says my business works.
I’m not going to get into how RPS’s advertising works, because frankly I don’t know, and I prefer it that way. That’s all done by someone who works at Eurogamer, with whom we have an advertising partnership. We have laid down strict rules, they follow them, but how the charging works I’ve no idea.
Kuchera makes a few statements which I want to make clear don’t speak for me, or the business I co-own.
“People like to say that the games press is just chasing page views with certain stories, but let’s be honest: We’re chasing page views with every story.”
This is a very loaded statement. It’s both as banal as saying “Newspapers only include news stories because people want to read news,” and as sensationalist as saying, “They’ll do anything to make you click!” The truth is of course somewhere between. RPS, and I can only ever speak for RPS and no other gaming site, is a business. We make money from advertising, and we get advertising because we have people reading the site. So yes, we post things on RPS in order to run our business. But how that defines what you post is always the business’s choice, and Kuchera’s frequent inference in his piece that it automatically causes nefarious or unsightly content does not speak for me. If anything, at worst his article ends up being apologist propaganda for the sites that lazily rely on crude hit chasing, as if it were the only way.
Intrigued by the FURY that appeared in both the Guardian and the Telegraph this morning, over Seth MacFarlane’s hosting of the Oscars last night, I had to watch what they were so upset about. The Guardian was LIVID at one particular moment by MacFarlane, when he sang a song called “We Saw Your Boobs”. They wrote,
“Few people would imagine ‘We Saw Your Boobs’ was a good subject for a song. Turned out, Seth MacFarlane was one of them. And he belted the words out over and over again, listing a host of actors whose breasts have been seen on screen… Every refrain was more excruciating. It was a truly bad start to the ceremony, made weirder, not smarter, by William Shatner being beamed in via video link in full Star Trek costume, warning is this song might cause offense.”
Clearly no one has explained to the anonymous author what a “song” is, thus their confusion at the repeated “refrain” and the chorus of the song being sung “over and over again”. Meanwhile the Telegraph‘s film critic Tim Robey frothed,
“Within minutes of his first routine — the one that needlessly insulted Jean Dujardin for his low profile since winning last year, and threw in a dismally unfunny remark about the torture in Django Unchained resembling what Rihanna and Chris Brown would call “date night” — he was laboriously trying to bypass criticism. William Shatner, doing Captain Kirk, called in with a message from the future to help MacFarlane fix the broadcast as it went along: a bold but self-defeating gambit. He was shown a headline – “Worst Oscar host ever” – from tomorrow’s news. More feeble jokes. Two inexplicable dance routines. Somehow these got the headline modified to “Pretty Bad Oscar Host”. Eventually he reached “Mediocre”. Nothing happening on stage remotely justified the upgrade.”
Later he refers to MacFarlane has having demonstrated “the profound contemptibility of women”.
So what actually happened? Well, none of the negativity referred to.
Shatner’s role during the routine was to be broadcasting from the 22nd century, as Kirk, warning MacFarlane that his performance goes down as the worst in Oscar history, and blames a song he’s about to sing. He then shows the song, on tape, via the big screen on which he appears. On tape. Pre-recorded. As in, not in front of the audience. The song – incredibly silly and brief, but brilliantly finishing with the Gay Men’s Chorus Of Los Angeles – lists films in which we’ve seen the boobs of famous actresses. During the song, the camera cuts to some of these actresses in their seats looking horrified, while everyone around them is looking concerned or shocked. And it’s from this, presumably, that so many of the critics have drawn the conclusion that the audience didn’t find it funny, and that people were offended. Except, well, the pre-recorded bit. Because with live audio, you could hear the audience laughing, at the same time as the shots of the angry actors were shown. They were faked. They were women, named in the song, being part of the bit, having pre-recorded their angry reactions to be shown on the tape, shown to the audience.
And as if this weren’t obvious enough to those so desperate to be offended on a famous lady’s behalf, one of the women to whom MacFarlane had been so contemptible was Charlize Theron. She was shown looking angry and humiliated during the song (the bit on the video being shown to the audience, for any newspaper critics reading), and then APPEARS WITH HIM ON STAGE IN THE NEXT SONG.
The roasting gags get great laughs, almost always from the targets themselves. The “needless insult” to Dujardin saw him chuckling away heartily, looking very good-natured about the mild tease. The only person lacking a sense of humour was, shockingly enough, Ben Affleck, although the rest of the audience thought the fun poked at him deserved a big applause.
MacFarlane then went on to sing some Hollywood musical classics, his familiarly wonderful voice absolutely perfect as ever, while Theron danced extraordinarily. (And a sock puppet version of Flight, which everyone inexplicably forgot to mention.) Daniel Radcliffe and Joseph Gordon-Levitt then come on and perform some exquisite dancing with the host, and the whole affair becomes extremely classy. Mixed with some naughty jokes. It was a great performance, and the audience was clearly loving it throughout. Presumably the papers were just banking on no one in the UK having stayed up to watch it.
As backlashes go, the so-called MRA (Male Rights Advocates) movement is one of the more peculiar. And one of the more transparent.
Rock, Paper, Shotgun has always been a site that has campaigned against what we see as inequality, misrepresentation, or outright misogyny in the games industry. The reason we do this is because we think it’s sad, and we want our chosen hobby to be an inclusive one, not an exclusive one. We don’t like injustice. There’s not really more to it than that.
Of course, this means we are accused of all manner of conspiratorial agenda. But then we are on almost anything we post. Write a positive review and we’ve been bought, write a negative review and we’re “biased” by something or other. Talk about one game and we’re ignoring another game. Write about one topic and we’re ignoring another topic. People approach, well, almost everything in life with their own agendum, and when what they encounter doesn’t reflect it, they perceive this as an attack against them. It’s a silly way of going through life, certainly, but a very common one. As a site that hosts opinions, we naturally encounter this a great deal. A lot of what we see is undisguised, unashamed hatred of women. Nasty, stupid remarks, claims that games are “for guys”, and open fear that their titillation is being taken away from them. Then there are those who have a far more insidious campaign.
I’m not one for regrets. I try not to dwell on mistakes made in the past, but instead focus on not making the same mistakes in future. But there’s one regret I can’t shake: I encouraged others to vote for Don Foster in Bath, and the Liberal Democrats elsewhere, at the last General Election.
At the time it felt like the right thing to do. Foster had a really fantastic voting record, and behaved like a man with integrity. He campaigned on issues he cared about, and he took a splendidly enlightened view of censorship and invasive laws. I was pleased to give him my vote, and I argued to others why I thought they should to. And now I can only see myself as complicit in the despicable results of that election, in the duplicity of the Liberal Democrats, and most of all, in the voting record of Foster since the election.
When I voted for him, my vote was carried over into every vote he’s cast since May 2010, of which all but six have been in line with the Conservatives. He’s rebelled a paltry six times, twice on matters of civil servant pay, and four times on what times Parliament should meet. He has not rebelled or abstained on a single vile policy that has gone through, endorsing the wretched cuts and evil targeting of the poor and disabled – those who Foster had purported to support before this government. His toadying has been horrendous to watch, and seen him rising the ranks of the Lib Dems over the last couple of years, as he appears to abandon all his previous principles. It’s been a miserable and humiliating sight, and one for which I hold myself responsible. Realistically, I couldn’t have known, but that doesn’t change where I put my X, and where I encouraged others to put theirs.
Last week I wrote to Foster to express my horror at his voting for the 1% cap on annual benefit rises – a real-terms cut in benefits for the poorest and most needy, as inflation rises far beyond the insulting increases. I’ve written to Foster before since the election, and in response have had the most dismissive responses imaginable, ignoring anything I’ve said, and instead listing Lib Dem “achievements” as if they mean anything in the face of their swathes of failures. The reply to my latest communication was the same, but this time so much more insidiously awful. I really can’t tell if Foster has successfully deluded himself into believing that the microscopic differences his party have made to Tory policy are really of great significance, and thus his voting in favour of the outcome is a noble act on his part, of if he is simply a cruel and terrible man who cares not at all for the poorest and most vulnerable. It’s so sad to find myself hoping for the former, hoping for a deluded quisling MP.
For the longest time I’ve assumed that Citylink are the worst delivery company in Britain. But Yodel are looking like real contenders for the title. While almost all delivery companies are obtuse, unhelpful, and make resolving issues as difficult as possible, none compare to the heavy iron walls that surround Yodel.
I have a delivery due, it was meant to arrive some time last week. On Friday I dared to leave the house for an hour, and of course they attempted to deliver then – clearly not their fault. I received a card through the door (thus immediately giving them an advantage over Citylink, you could argue), which had been filled in to tell me it was the “1st of 3 attempts”. I should turn over the card for more details – this instruction had been hand-ticked twice.
The back of the card was completely unmarked. No offer to reattempt to deliver was ticked, nor was the suggestion that I’d need to collect it from their delivery office. So, er, great.
As was likely, after I wrote my piece on Paul’s thoughts on women in the church, and the twisting of those words to oppress women for millennia since, a few people have suggested some possible errors. I want nothing less than to spread any misinformation, so wanted to update with things I’ve learned since. The rather crucial thing to know is: the facts remain the case. The arguments against women in leadership in the church remain, as I said, theological rubbish.
I should also add that I’m not a scholar. I’m a games journalist. I do have a (first class!) degree in Youth, Community Work & Applied Theology, and while it taught me some basics, it wasn’t exactly hardcore theological studies. I come to this as an amateur, relying on the works of experts, and as such will of course make mistakes, or at least not have learned enough so far.
Thing is: Paul was, unequivocally, in favour of women in leadership, and those who use his words to prevent this are deliberately perverting the clear and unambiguous message that’s prevalent in all of his writing. As I said before, you don’t need to worry about any Greek interpretation, or get into any arguments about the meanings of specific words, to reach this conclusion. Paul openly and deliberately refers to women as apostles, deacons, church leaders, and heads of families running churches. What’s interesting is that from further study, it seems Paul was even more overtly criticising misogynist oppression in the church than I’d ever realised.