What’s so funny about…

As this year draws to a close, it’s not just compassion I’m feeling is in short supply in videogames lately. It’s understanding too.

I brought this up in a discussion a few weeks back and someone, rightly I think, pointed out that this is a consequence of retaining a generally enthusiast press approach to reporting rather than ever really tripping into a specialist press. I think that’s fair, I just don’t think it even touches the sides of the problems we’re facing.

I don’t think that’s true across the board either and of everyone who writes about games, we have some of the most wonderful, smart and knowledgable people in games, writing about games. I really don’t want to do that down because the depth of industry knowledge some people hold within their noggins is, well, it’s way more than I’m going to hold on to in any sort of hurry.

It’s not so much a people thing, it’s a system thing. I’ve half joked that the ad model so many of us write under now is going to kill us all and I think we’re sort of seeing in 2016, outside of games, this no longer contained in the micro. The spillage of a model that drives up the need for more adverts and more things to put adverts on in order to keep the money rolling in forces hands. There’s no time to learn in an economy that favours (and at this point near enough requires) 24 hour rolling content.

I guess we’ve been sticking names on some of the consequences of it for a bit now, post truth, fake news. Vague terms that have quickly devolved into a melee of things you accuse people of rather than examining. Which is, admittedly, very 2016 all the same. It’s far from unique in videogames, in many ways it’s far from a new phenomena (we’ve all read tabloids, right?) — it’s certainly far from new as a weapon either. It’s nice, if that’s really the word, that there seems to be a will to look at how it touches us all now, how it warps stuff even if little of it rises above naval gazing.

Videogames, absolutely, has its own brand of this nonsense and because it’s so very normal, it’s difficult to see just how awful and insidious its effects are turning out to be. Well, that’s not true, it’s more it seems difficult for people to acknowledge them as being problems whilst this place mysteriously becomes a more hostile environment. We may never really know why that is or why this is happening. *spooky noises*

I’ve just come off the back of a few weeks sticking my head into the videogames toilet and it’s still left a lot of thoughts lingering around. I mentioned in my last ramble that I struggled to keep track of everything happening in videogames in 2016, it wasn’t the amount really, it’s the inability to hold that much awfulness in my head whilst still being able to function. It’s pretty painful.

So I wrote up copious notes around just three games, spent so much time reading threads and comments and articles on these three games. It was, to be honest, more than I could tolerate by the end of it even just sticking to three. I had to be fairly careful with the three I chose too because one was beginning to break down my wall of faith in humanity and I know it’s far from the worst example we have. It’s nearly Xmas thanks and though I’m far from a religious man, I’d like to retain the one thing that helps me wake each day, thank you.

Like I said last time round, I ended up deleting pretty much everything I tried to form into an article about them. It was an education and an insight into something I’ve been increasingly railing against more this year, increasingly finding myself upset with this year but without any real direction. Shouting at single articles or a few comments here or there might be momentarily satisfying but when stuff going on around you is bigger than that, I felt it more important to discuss the bigness, the consequences.

I also needed time to let what I’d been reading swill around in my head because I found so much of it bizarre and contradictory. So often, ask for something, get that thing and it never being good enough. So often, ask for something, get that thing, talk about that thing in a really fucking weird way.

It was baffling how often ‘man on the internet says something’ is the only source for a thing. It was baffling how quickly we would come round to accepting a reality that seemed to not have much more basis in anything than ‘man on the internet says something’ and how quickly that then becomes a part of the story weaved eternally into every other future story. I repeatedly stumbled into stuff where ‘dev does or says this’ traces back not to someone ever saying or doing that thing but to someone else’s interpretation of a thing, how quickly that origin gets lost and how easily it becomes The Word. Then The Word making people angry and upset as it becomes mantra.

You’re maybe sitting here thinking I’m talking about No Man’s Sky again but it’s stuff that happened with each and every ‘controversial’ game event I looked over. The more I dug into the coverage of Mighty Number 9, for example, the more this stuff stuck out over and over again.

I repeatedly fell into ogling pieces demanding things from developers whilst the writer spent the piece making the most uncharitable readings of entirely matter of fact responses. All stuff that would take a quick email to check against with other developers, to ask ‘is this a thing?’, stuff that would help everyone understand situations with more clarity, more understanding of how things work so we know where things are failing proper. Instead it gets measured against a fantasy ‘well, in my ideal world…’ and it drives a deeper wedge between makers, the press and public because the outcome from this is antagonism more often than not.

I don’t honestly know how you can look at some of the comments sections, the forums, the sub reddits, the discourse around games and not see how this is getting to be a more hostile place with each passing month.

Developers are going to keep hitting up against reality when they try and do things, the press are prioritising the views of an angry minority of people who seem to exist adjacent to any sort of reality and then we sit back and wonder why none of this is working out so well. We wonder why there’s more people angry all the time and well, you know, about that.

And it’s more often than not done without malice or intent. News has to come from somewhere, as consumer advocates folks need to advocate for the consumer so that’s like, part of the job man. Just, y’know, we’re not factoring ‘people just make shit up’ into the equation often enough. We’re quickly treating claims with validity that have none. Too much leeway for the angry people, too much faith that there might be a truth when what truth there is so often a fairly harmless nugget in a sea of disproportionate noise and abuse. Slight issues become big things quickly, the responses escalate and escalate and escalate and escalate and escalate and everything is horrible in no time.

This is a failure to advocate well for the consumer, never mind. It stops being about right, it stops being about better. So much circles around being what angry people want because they keep being angry and we trust that anger must be reasonable or because it’s so loud, must be what more people want or need. Nobody has time to question that either really, not with where we are. It’s not about a silent majority, it’s about an angry minority shutting out the people who have more measured, more nuanced, more reasonable, more realistic views of things. On purpose. And us building our worlds around what’s left.

Because that’s how it works, this insidious nastiness. It knows the cracks in the system, it knows the pressures, it knows we’ll SEO our way to making lies repeat forever in every mention of a game as we link back to a story over and over and over. The more this happens, and in 2016 it’s happened often, the harder it is to find reality amongst it. The more difficult it is to advocate for the majority of customers, consumers, players – whatever you want to pluck out the hat.

It knows that it centres forever on the angry people and they get to set the terms. Before you know it, we’ve accepted those terms. We already have in so many respects.

And you know, it’s taking us for a ride. The Overton Window moves with us. The harm gets worse. The damage works its way through and takes us all down, everyone gets dragged in to a vortex of anger and upset that swirls around games constantly.

Crucially, we can’t push for better because there’s no time to think about the steps we need to take to be better amidst all this. Instead, everyone is fighting fires and shouting at each other. All the fucking time. Finding an oasis of calm, finding the time to think becomes a monumental task.

We don’t have to carry on like this. As we’re closing in on the end of 2016, we’ve had enough warning shots to see where this heads.

Everyone needs a bit more understanding. More than that, people to help them understand and make sense of the world of games in terms not dictated by the mob.

I don’t know how we make this happen but I know that now, more than ever, it’s crucial we do. If only to cut down on the amount of people getting hurt in games as that’s, at last count, way too many as is without throwing anyone else into the mix.