Alternative Media, Games Journalism, and Crowd-Funded Understanding

In the earliest days of printing, news was obviously partisan, and mixed with advertising, and it was the consumer’s job to sift through the pile of overtly biased information and reach a reasonable understanding of what was going on. We should return to that system.

It’s more antifragile – as in, it gains strength from disorder (there will always be more than one source of information you can ‘trust’, and you know you cannot fully trust any of them), and it destroys the terrible monopoly the mainstream media has on the definition of truth.

Disclaimer: Much of the text from this point on is comprised of generalisations. I rely on the reader to trust my judgement; I’ve seen mountains of evidence for what I’m about to say. An argument could be made that there’s a middle position here, and I’d like to hear it because to some extent I do inhabit that middle position, but only on a case-by-case basis. When discussing principles, as well as events that happened three years ago, I am apt to fall into the trap of forgetting nuance.)

Because they do have a monopoly, of course. At this point I imagine readers of a left bend will criticise me, and call me Alex Jones – but I am not Alex Jones. And that you may have had that initial reaction demonstrates the inherent bias at play. I am someone who has been exposed to the media’s darker side in at least two spheres since youth – both the mainstream attitude towards conservatives and the gaming media’s attitude towards their chosen medium and audience – and I’ve seen terrible examples of partisanship and obvious bias from these new arbiters of reality.

Games journalism is probably the worst media sphere, the worst professional atmosphere, I’ve ever seen. Hundreds of obvious paid shills, awkward, uneducated (in the sense that they don’t understand simple things, not that they lack Ph.Ds) and incapable of speaking with an interesting tone of voice, constitute the ‘professional’ video game press industry. Many of them – most of them, in fact – lack even the most basic understanding of what a quality game is. These are supposed to be professionals.

Not to mention 2014’s gamergate fiasco, which simultaneously assured the fame of provocateur journalist Milo Yiannopoulos while bringing an underlying cultural conflict into the public eye for the first time. It had been going on for years, but no one cared until 4chan provoked Sarkeesian, and she talked to the UN, and so on and so on. Hegelian dialectic, except for the part where progress happens. I read all the arguments first-hand, from both sides. There was something to be said for both sides – one side bemoaned the (apparent) victimisation of a woman based on a private affair, while the other was highly concerned with ethics in game journalism. The first argument was shaky – I only ever saw a few pieces of evidence which were suspect because the accounts in question were probably strawmen. The second argument had far more clout because I’d seen it in action over years of coverage.

There were people on both sides clogging the discussion with strawmen about how one side was a huge network of conspiracy theorists all trying to make terrible products sell and how the other side was a collection of white racist male basement dwellers, but the intelligent reader dismissed those comments. It was a far smaller and more normal affair than that, subject to dramatisation by snowflake types and angry reactionaries.

(In a very general sense, it kind of prepared me for the U.S. election. I’d seen that scenario – the people vs. the press – play out before on a smaller stage. There are probably better examples of that sort of thing, but I am quite young, and this was the first example I’d been personally exposed to.)

Memes about burgers and fries gave way to memes about green frogs and neo-nazis, but the arguments were the same, and the same people were taking part – only, the second time around, we could see their faces. That first incident, confined to the culture of games, served as an example of what was to come.

I’ll come back to all this in a moment.

I have become increasingly sceptical of formal methods of teaching and knowledge. An autodidactic approach is often far superior to any university education, because the autodidact actually cares about what they’re doing.

There are about 7.5 billion people on the planet at the moment – we can make use of them in more ways than manual labour and in more ways than formal jobs. There are projects on the Internet right now that involve mapping images of stars taken by satellites, which are essentially logging data while teaching a computer how to interpret the maps. There are jobs that involve transcribing and digitally categorising WWI diaries into online databases. These crowd-sourced research projects require no training – anyone with sufficient interest can be involved. As for quality control, in the case of the war diaries every page is checked by multiple users – so the chance of incorrect classification or transcription is low. And it’s not as though they’re throwing the original scans out, so everything can always be checked again.

Now back to the disappointing games press.

Crowd-funded reviews and analysis of video games is far superior to professional reviewing. There are hundreds of channels on Youtube which focus on reviewing and analysing games, and many of them understand the medium far better than anyone working at Gamespot or IGN. If you’ve been exposed to the right people, this has been obvious for some time now, and it’s only become more true as time has passed. Reviewers like Matthewmatosis, or Joseph Anderson, who are able to discard the label of Super-Objective-Professional-Arbiter-Journalist working at Multi-Million-Dollar-Company-Who-Gets-Paid-Too-Much, conduct analysis and offer criticisms that blow the professionals out of the water essentially from their basements. A system like theirs is small enough that it manages its own checks and balances without needing a steady income, or a formal commission.

My point is, they’re already doing what I’ve suggested be done with more mainstream journalism. Gaming journalism/analysis/discussion has once again shown a glimpse of the future. The crowd-funded, admittedly partisan but not-actually-paid-by-the-developer Youtube analysts are far, far superior to whoever the hell works at IGN and gives every sufficiently hyped game a 7.5 or a 9. They ignore the history of their own medium and its basic framework, philosophy, and purpose, while taking (an admittedly probably pretty small) paycheck.

Similarly, alternative media that outright acknowledges bias is better than mainstream outlets that incorporate it while pretending they don’t. In an Internet-dominated world, one company (no matter how well-investigated, no matter the number of Royal Commissions staring at it) cannot be allowed to own what the culture thinks of as the monopoly on truth. Even if they never say anything false, they still present information within a certain framework. This is dangerous because it persuades people to think down pre-ordained paths of thought, and deadens the culture. Much better to have a collection of smaller outlets that all argue with one another, and promote people’s access to the original data, so that the population can make up its own mind. I don’t just mean make the data available, I mean promote the idea of the layman looking at it in depth, so that it becomes harder to misrepresent it and we avoid dumb public debates like gender wage gaps.

And, based off the popularity of these crowd-funded game reviewers, the model of small outlets with overt bias really works. It does require a little more human effort – just like the early days of journalism, we’ll have to actually read sources from multiple perspectives again – but smaller, more mobile, and antifragile units should be the future of news media. We should strive to avoid a monopolised environment with all the risks that large dispassionate companies looking to push agendas give us.

We should be relying on bias, not rejecting it, and relying on autodidacts instead of automatons.

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