How do we fix the disconnect between video game journalists and gamers?
Video games. It's a multi-billion dollar industry. Whenever that much money is involved, there's going to be a lot of people drunk with a false sense of importance. In all forms of journalism -- especially in today's world where everything is online -- it's normal to have a disconnect between writer and reader. After all, you don't have to agree with everything you read. It's the writer's job to report the story with as much accuracy as possible. If it's an opinion piece, then criticism is to be expected. I don't agree with a lot of the journalists on ESPN (and don't even get me started on political pieces), but the disconnect stops at the article.
In the video game industry, there is an obvious disconnect in how the media perceives things and how the public does. I find it comes down to this: video game journalists (and a lot of them shouldn't even be called journalists) have a sense of entitlement. Keep in mind, whether journalist or not, we're all gamers. Some know more about other genres, games or tech specs than others, but we all play games. We all have our own opinions. Anyone can post their thoughts on a game on Facebook, Twitter or a blog. Because of this, there's not much of a difference between journalists and bloggers or non-journalists anymore. Maybe it's the ever-decreasing gap separating the two groups that has a lot of journalists clinging to their power and throwing it in the faces of their viewers.
Was the disconnect ever more apparent than the fiasco surrounding the ending of Mass Effect 3? Many fans hated the ending, voicing their opinions loudly on websites' reviews, in BioWare forums, on Reddit and on review aggregate sites like Metacritic. The media, including the GameZone review, gave it great scores and even called out fans demanding a different ending and crying 'false advertising.' There were so many "video games are art and it's a bad precedent to make developers change endings" articles that the internet almost exploded. It felt like instead of the media admitting that their readers' opinions have merit, they'd rather further distance themselves.
A game journalist's words should not be taken as gospel. Yet many are of the opinion that they can skate by, make some outlandish statement or headline, and then pretend like gamers should view them as someone important. I've always given my honest opinion in reviews, news and editorials, but I never pretend to know everything there is to know about gaming. I'm lucky enough to have a passion for writing and video games and get paid for it, but that doesn't mean I know more about RPGs than every single person reading something I write.
Journalists have lofty expectations from their readers and developers/publishers. I've been to events hosted by Disney Interactive and Namco Bandai (to name a few) where journalists hold themselves in such high regard that they think everything is below them. Things that regular gamers would find cool and fun are scoffed at by these people, and they often go out of their way to write in a manner that insults the things they are seeing and makes them appear better than everyone else. Instead of just having fun with it and reporting honest opinion, this entitlement creates a vindictive environment for all parties involved, spawning unbalanced journalism.
As easy as it is for me to say that video games should just be fun and not taken so seriously, that's not the case. It's a business. The amount of money and people involved prove that. But that's also part of the problem. Objectivity is lost when reporting. How many times have your read a post on a site that raves about a game before release, has great hands-on previews, the game spends money with that site for advertising, and then the game releases and it gets a bad review. Or even worse, it gets a better review because of the money. Both are misleading for the people looking to purchase the game. The public also has to realize that video game writers don't get paid by publishers to write good reviews -- at least not all video game writers.
I'm not sure if there's a way to fix the sense of entitlement with many gaming journalists. Not all are bad -- there's plenty that love the feedback and their readers. I know I've had some good conversations that started with something I wrote and carried over into personal life, just because I expressed my honest opinion in a genuine attempt to connect with readers. If I wrote for page views (a mistake I made when I first started), the quality of my work was not where I wanted it to be. Video game journalists need to learn and accept that non-media is closing the gap when it comes to publishing their own opinions. More people have access to the same resources. Until the current mindset changes and some fresh blood is brought into the video game journalistic sphere, there will continue to be a disconnect.
In the end, we should all be expressing our love for video games and rewarding developers for giving us good work, while calling out developers who phone it in. We all have opinions and want to be heard, and we should be able to do so without jockeying for more clout.