Wednesday, January 6, 2016

Examining Gamergate Part 3: Cronyism

In my research of the charges of Gamergate, the thing that struck me most was how unpleasant the material was to read. Not because the subject matter was uncomfortable, but because it felt like I was reading the accounts of a witch hunt; that these people were angry, and they needed to unleash that anger on something, anything, so long as they can concoct some justification to do so.

I'm pretty stoic, and I tend to naturally keep all of my emotions in check, for better or worse. However, the only emotion I actively try to keep in check, the only one I actually fight off on the rare occasion it arises, is anger. Of all the emotions it seems to be the most likely to be unnecessarily destructive, the most likely to get out of hand, and the most difficult to get under control. It's an unpleasant emotion, both to feel and to read.

It's particularly uncomfortable to experience when you don't feel the injustice the way someone else does. All anger stems from injustice, and the difference between Gamergate proponents and opponents is what they consider an injustice. The most tiresome thing while reading through Gamergate articles was the fact that I couldn't find much to commiserate with them about, so I couldn't share in their anger.

The closest I came to understanding their frustration was with their charges of cronyism among the gaming media.


For the past couple of posts I failed to actually define what "corruption" and "conspiracy" were before launching into the discussion. It helps to actually know what the accusation entails before examining whether the actions taken by the gaming media qualifies, though, so here goes:

Cronyism is the act of hiring and promoting people you know and who agree with your views over people better qualified to do a given job. In effect, it combines elements of nepotism (favoring people you know over more qualified individuals) and censorship (silencing dissenting ideas). Of the two, Gamergate seems to be more concerned with the censorship aspects, especially in regards to how gaming journalists have covered their movement.

The most damning transcripts from the GameJournoPros group involved members commenting on a Twitter conversation, in which a journalist made some (unintentionally?) racist remarks. They noted how the journalist in question was going to have trouble getting work after that, especially as the situation escalated, and how some of them noted that they'd point out that incident to any future employers of that journalist. Presumably, that employer would then have second thoughts about working with that journalist.

The basic concern is this: if you agree with Gamergate's assessment that gaming journalism is rife with ethical problems, if you agree that the "Gamers are Dead" articles stepped over the line, or if you report on Gamergate without a note of contempt, you can basically forget about getting a job at Kotaku or Polygon.

Which... may be true? I don't know. To be honest, I probably wouldn't want to work with any Gamergate supporters either, not because they support the movement, but because everyone I know who does support them has other personality issues (usually anger problems) that make me think they wouldn't really work well with others. Is it wrong to discriminate based on personality? My initial response is "no," but that seems like the beginning of a complicated conversation.

That said, sometimes Gamergate has a point. If we consider Gamergate to be the right and, say, Tumblr to be the left, moderates in the center can sometimes be demonized by both sides when they try to give the other side the benefit of the doubt. The "if you're not with us, you're against us" mentality is destructive, no matter which side you're on. I'll get more into that in the future, I think.

To answer the question of whether or not cronyism is a problem in game journalism, though: I don't think so. At least, no more than anyplace else. People certainly like to surround themselves with people they get along with, which usually involves a certain amount of shared values, but I don't think that's enough to warrant charges of cronyism. That would mean that journalists are being hired more for their views than their merit as journalists.

How do you determine if one journalist is better than another one? It seems like a self-correcting problem. A bad journalist writes bad articles, leading to fewer readers. Fewer readers means less ad revenue, so journalists who can't maintain an audience get the boot. That's capitalism, and it's a pretty good defense against nepotism.

The censorship issue is similar in that way. The guy who made racist comments on Twitter isn't going to have trouble getting a job just because he has opposing views; he's going to have trouble getting a job because there's no audience for those views or, if there is, it doesn't make up for the audience an outlet will lose for giving that guy a platform.

But that's just my hypothesis. The fact is, censorship isn't a black and white issue. Free speech is a powerful thing, and that power isn't always for good. Deciding what should be censored and when is not an easy conversation.

That said, having read many pro-Gamergate articles, I don't think they have any room to talk regarding political bias in articles. Journalism is political, and bias is inherent is choosing what to report on, especially in the subjective art-about-art that is gaming journalism. Most journalists try to put aside their agenda when reporting, though, and make an effort to appear unbiased. The bias of Gamergate articles is, at best, thinly veiled. The hypocrisy does much to undermine the cause.

Anyway, I'm done with this topic. On to more interesting things.

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