People like a fuss.
Clearly I’ve been provoking a lot of that fuss in having written frankly about the last two days’ activities, but things have gotten a touch out of hand. So…
First thing I want to make clear: My concern and the anger behind my two posts has not been based on the actions of one or two people, but on wide circles of the UK games journalist/PR industry and their behaviour in reaction to the events. The shock, disgust, flippancy, sarcasm and straw-manning that has been exhibited from so many who don’t want questions asked, don’t want certain behaviours challenged, and don’t want their boats rocked. It’s abysmal, and it’s what drove me to write about it.
This afternoon’s post was more immediately about Lauren Wainwright’s successful censoring of Robert Florence’s article, and my fury at a journalist who would seek to use legal threats to silence another. But further, it was once again about so many in the business leaping to defend her, throwing around unsubstantiated allegations of libel where there was none, and besmirching a journalist who asked awkward questions to defend another who deserved awkward questions to be asked of her. The cowardice implicit in this is like a plague in the industry, and it deserves to be called out.
Yesterday, astonishingly, a number of games journalists defended advertising a game on their Twitter feeds in order to win themselves a PS3. This caused a reaction from others, me included, and I was quickly told to shut up and stop interfering by a number of those I had thought were colleagues. Robert Florence wrote an excellent article about this on Eurogamer, in which he quoted a couple of these people, and then pointed out the potential damage such statements could make to someone’s reputation.
He pointed out that when someone vociferously defends a journalist’s right to advertise a game for personal gain, and also has her Twitter homepage emblazoned in images from the forthcoming Tomb Raider game, it could make others ask questions. Never mind that it’s obviously massively stupid and inappropriate for a games journalist to smother an unreleased game all over their personal page – he simply pointed out that in doing so while so enthusiastically arguing that other forms of advertising are fine, people could conflate the two. That would be an entirely reasonable point. You’d think.
However, that point has now been removed, following a complaint from writer Lauren Wainwright, one of the people quoted in Rab’s article.
I want to get some thoughts down on paperscreen, and then out in public, about the recent brouhaha over games journalists’ behaviour and integrity, and the conflicts I see with the Games Media Awards. I also want to still have some friends in this industry, but sometimes the two don’t go hand in hand.
I also want to be clear that I don’t think any of these matters are clear-cut or simple, and that I certainly don’t consider myself to be a paragon, above all the accusations of corruption, or the activities that some consider compromising. So I want to explain the compromises I experience, too.
And incredibly importantly, I want to point out that the vast majority of the time, no matter which site or magazine you read, the chances are what you’re reading is un-bought, uncorrupted opinion. That’s the norm. Issues are the exception. Frankly, anything else would require more organisation and effort than most editors have the time or energy for. And of the very many games journalists I know, I know of not one who’s ever done anything openly corrupt, or written an influenced review. Most people, and most content, is exactly as you’d hope it was.
Oh my goodness, I’m boiling over with rage. Yet another gaming site is trying to deceive young writers into believing their work is worthless, and the only way they can get anywhere in this job is to work for free. (You can read my previous rant here.)
Pocket Gamer, who until now I’d always naively thought of as quite a cheery site, are offering three month unpaid “internships”. Which means they take their writing, publish it on their advertising-emblazoned site, and then keep all the money that article generates for themselves. The author gets the magical treat of “experience”, and we’re all to thank the publisher for their charitable efforts.
What’s made me quite so angry this evening is the realisation that I would FAR prefer the editors/publishers of such a site just admit that they’re taking advantage of a culture where young writers are easy to screw over. But instead we get told these ridiculous stories about how it’s for the exploited writer’s own benefit, that it’s to help them, and most of all, that they’d never get paid work without doing unpaid first.
That is a LIE. An absolute lie. And it’s a ridiculous one at that. Never mind that most the writers I know never did any prolonged stints of unpaid work. Never mind that I wrote for PC Gamer for a decade, and saw lots of young writers with no paid experience being given a chance with paid-for work in the magazine. Never mind that RPS hired the extraordinary Adam Smith despite his never having had any published games journalism experience at all. Nor that we’re not requiring it for our next hire. But because the lie is usually backed up with the stupidest logic imaginable. “I did unpaid work to get into this industry, and I’d never have got here if I hadn’t.”
Presumably people willing to make this argument are also aware of every other of the billions upon trillions of alternate paths their lives could have taken should they have turned left at the lights rather than right, or left the house on time rather than five minutes late. The capacity to contain the eventualities of every possible version of their existence must be the thing that exhausts them enough to be of a frame of mind where they believe published writers shouldn’t get paid. It’s such a monumentally lazy thing to say, to believe that because they did one thing – that they were personally exploited – that no other pathway was open to them. It’s illogical nonsense, and that it’s people’s best defense for the morally bankrupt practice is a touch problematic.
It’s not ambiguous. If your website makes money, and you publish someone’s article, you pay them for it. Otherwise you’re making money from their work and giving them nothing, which is exploitation.
There’s another round of these “tips for young games journalists” floating about at the moment, and they trouble me. Their core appears to be capitulation, rather than principle. So here are some tips for young journalists I’d like to suggest.
1) This isn’t the only job you’re capable of, and you’re not a failure if you choose to leave it. Writing about games seems, on the surface, a dream job. But there’s no such thing as a dream job, and it is of course a great deal of hard work, intermingled with the enormous pleasure of playing games. The industry is a mucky place, and the pay is invariably dreadful. There are many great things about it, but there’s lots that sucks too. Your life can be utterly brilliant without this job.
2) This job is a not a privilege. It’s something you got by being good at what you do – you earned it. Anyone who tells you it’s a privilege is trying to get something from you they shouldn’t have. That’s the language of those who want you to do just a little bit more work than they’re paying you for, or put up with conditions that don’t feel appropriate. If you’re getting work in this industry, the chances are it’s because you’re much better than most the people who try to get it. You need to know that, because the advantage is in your court.
In the wonderful world of criticism there are lots of horribly lazy phrases people fall back on. For people who care a weeny bit more about what they’re writing, such phrases cause everything from wincing to full body spasms. And these phrases have a king.
When trying to convey to the reader whether they may like the product one is reviewing, the very easiest way to put this across is to explain, “If you like [similar product] or [another similar product], then you’ll love [product being reviewed].” There’s a parody by which this most awful and lazy of devices is known. It is:
“If you like this sort of thing, you’ll like this sort of thing.”
Not only is there the inherent redundancy, but it’s also the most massively unhelpful sentence to read if you a) haven’t heard of the compared products, or b) don’t like them for specific reasons that may not apply to the current subject. It should never, ever be written. Ever. By no one. If you see it, write the author’s name down in a list of people you’ll roll your eyes at, or car over.
And if you’re looking for this at its absolute worst – to a point where it creates convulsions in all right-minded people – you want to make your way to the Odeon website.
Let’s have a look at some of the film descriptions for the currently showing films at the Odeon in Bath.
Ice Age: Dawn of the Dinosaurs:
If you liked ‘Bolt’ and ‘Finding Nemo’, you’ll love ‘Ice Age: Dawn of the Dinosaurs’.
Let’s see. There’s Disney’s Bolt, a film about a dog who believes he has super powers, but spends the movie learning that he does not. And there’s Finding Nemo, Pixar’s remarkable comedy drama about a fish separated from his father after the tragic death of his mother and hundreds of siblings. The idea of putting the two films in the same category is peculiar enough, let alone implying that liking either of them will cause you to escalate your feelings in response to the third, and most poor, Ice Age film. Two CGI children’s films were plucked out of the air, with Bolt thrown in to avoid including two Pixar choices. Perhaps, “If you liked Ice Age and Ice Age 2, you’ll love Ice Age 3″ might have been slightly more relevant.
Beverly Hills Chihuahua
If you liked ‘Babe and ‘Good Boy’, you’ll love ‘Beverly Hills Chihuahua’.
Possibly the title alone is enough to tip you off that Beverly Hills Chihuahua isn’t reviewing all that well. The New York Post wrote, “The film is Beverly Hills Chihuahua. The audience is the fire hydrant.” So there’s a good chance that if you “love” this film, your taste in the films you “like” is going to be suspect. But what choices! Good Boy, which I’d never heard of before, is the straight-to-video tale of a dog from space visiting Earth. Babe is the vastly successful story based on Dick King-Smith’s The Sheep Pig, that saw a generation of children refuse to eat bacon for about two weeks. One’s about a dog, the other’s got, um, talking animals in it? They’re bound to lead to your enjoying the tale of a rich, spoilt LA Chihuahua lost in grubby poor people’s Mexico.
An easy one, right? Sacha Baron-Cohen’s third film. His third film taking an old character and seeing how much trouble he can get himself in with it in America. Ali G, Borat, Brüno. It’s a simple formula.
If you liked ‘Borat’ and ‘Yes Man’, you’ll love ‘Brüno’.
Um, half way there. Yes Man is last year’s poorly received Jim Carey movie vaguely based on the idea from Danny Wallace’s book where he said yes to every offer for a year. Which has precisely what to do with Baron-Cohen pretending to be gay to aggravate rednecks, or pratting about at fashion shows?
It then gets too boring to carry on. Fans of gangster movies will love The Departed. Those who enjoy comedy films will love a comedy film. Those who like special effects will love special effects films. But then there’s one shining example of this horror hidden in the site. Not to be released at the God-forsaken Bath Odeon (lest they not be able to run Harry Potter on all seven hundred screens at once), the extremely excellent-looking Moon is due to be released this Friday. Old-school hard-scifi, with rarely more than one character present, focusing on isolation and minimalism, it brings to mind obvious comparisons such as Solaris and 2001. But not to the Odeon’s mind. Where most critics have referred to the quietness, delicate pacing and reminiscence of classic 60s and 70s science fiction. The Odeon, they say,
If you liked ‘Transformers’ and ‘Star Trek’, you’ll love ‘Moon’.
Because they’re both in space too! Apart from Transformers. Oh, they’re all about robots! Except that Moon and Star Trek feature computers. They’re both… They have… WHAT?
It’s been a while.
I’m currently in LA, in a peculiar hotel on the edge of Korea Town, a little overly filled with Korean BBQ. My life may not be well paid, but I’m certainly one lucky guy with the peculiar things I get to do. Now Valve has finally revealed the existence of Left 4 Dead 2 I can say that I’ve been in Seattle for the weekend. Life is sometimes odd, that I sometimes can’t say where I am on the planet because cunning RPS/Gamer readers will put two and two together and get a number dangerously close to four. Valve weren’t even stating they were going to E3, let alone that they’d be revealing a brand new game. I was like an international spy.
It meant there was a spare weekend in Seattle, which was filled tremendously. I ate splendid food like six-egg omelettes at Beth’s Cafe and pulled pork sandwiches from an awesome sandwich shop, visited all the right touristy places like the Space Needle and a Duck Tour, as well as the Jim Henson exhibit, and saw Up at the cinema and Anthony Bourdain and Mario Batali live on stage.
Arriving in LA would have been glum, were it not for meeting up with a chum and going for Korean food, then being given an impromptu “nickel tour” of the city in her car. Another really nice evening.
It’s been a great time, with splendid people.
Tomorrow I have to start doing some proper work as E3 begins. (Well, beyond the 2000 word exclusive preview I already wrote, and so on). I’ve not been before, and it’s a daunting schedule. It’ll be interesting, at least.
And that’s all the weather.
Earlier this month, and somehow without a fraction of the noise of the to-ing and fro-ing in California, Vermont and Iowa completed votes that now allow same sex marriage. This enormous victory for realising the rights of loving couples to be recognised as such has, shockingly enough, upset some people. Because it’s now the case that every single person in Vermont and Iowa is now forced, BY LAW, to be in a single sex marriage. That might be wrong. It’s pretty hard to tell when you watch the remarkable advert from an organisation called NOM (National Organisation For Marriage).
You’d be forgiven for being confused by the name into thinking they were for marriage, but what their catchy acronym fails to encapsulate is their rather fevered specificity over the matter. Marriage is for men and women only they say because, well, common sense says so. What they mean is, their interpretation of their religious values says so. In fact, there’s a more sinister reason for the obfuscation: were they to be clear about their reasoning, it would put an even larger irony-shaped dent in their claimed position of defending “freedom of speech”. Here’s the ad:
Imagine you had a time machine. Where would you go? Well, forward a year until Russell T Davies finally has nothing more to do with Doctor Who, and his insipid incompetent writing is gone. There aren’t griefs good enough to express the disgust at how hideous the Easter ‘special’ was. If someone took the cheapest, laziest Disney live action adventures of the 1980s and distilled them down into one concentrated drop of piss, it would look like a homeopathic solution compared to that stinking insult to humanity.
I come to this with no great passion for Doctor Who. I care little about its history – it was mostly dreadful, if fun – but when it’s good, it can be pretty special. David Tennant’s appeared in a number of such special episodes, and they’ve invariably been written by Steven Moffat, (who thank goodness takes over next year). At his worst, Davies has made Doctor Who tedious, and occasionally pathetic, but he’d previously managed nothing as monstrously dreadful as Planet of the Dead.
Oh good, it’s International Institutionalised Lying Day.
I loathe this ridiculous day. A day on which you can’t trust anything you read, hear or are told. What a brilliant plan it is – trusted sources of information becoming deliberately unreliable. So anything you hear on the radio, watch on TV, or read today on the BBC News site, Wikipedia front page, or whichever newspaper you pick up, is to be treated with suspicion.
The largest problem being, all these sources of news information cannot dedicate their output to half-arsed jokes. The world continues exploding, shooting at itself, and throwing all its money out a window. The inclusion of deliberate lies amongst the carnage is a knob joke at a funeral.