Analysis, Gaming

Inside The Secret World Of Games Journalism

Evidence has mounted that gaming journalists from key publications like Kotaku, Ars Technica and Polygon have been colluding with one another to control industry-wide news coverage, adding further credence to the widespread belief that biased agenda-pushing is running rampant in the field.

According to reports from Breitbart, a number of high-profile journalists communicate with one another via a private Google Groups e-mail listing known as “Games Journo Pros“, where they discuss what to write about, what to include, and more importantly, what to omit.

Breitbart, the eponymous blog of the late Andrew Breitbart, is known for its blend of investigative journalism which has been frequently accused by its critics of removing context when covering its subjects.

The reports indicate that writers actively discouraged other journalists to write about the Zoe Quinn scandal, which effectively uncovers the reason for the radio silence shortly after the news broke. Members of the group allegedly used their influence and standing in the industry to sort of intimidate other writers, pressuring other journalists to adhere to a moral code of ethics–and further chastising them should they disagree.

Scales of Justice

Games Journo Pros: Professional ethics, interrupted?

The group appears to be a sort of “online club” where prominent journalists come together to discuss the industry. But Games Journo Pros may be something more sinister and conspiratorial; it may very well be a means of directly controlling the content pushed out onto major publications.

This means of dominating video games media falls in line with advocating, embracing and publishing content aligned with personal agendas, which invariably breaches journalistic integrity.

There isn’t a clear defined line between professional and personal ethics; instead the result is a blurred mishmash that leads to mass censorship, moral advocacy, and the denouncement of readers–the very people that power the sites to begin with. The influence of the group is clearly defined by the players it involves–many of which have such high standings in the industry that they could easily pressure an entire populace of freelancers to “play ball”.

The group was brought to Breitbart’s attention thanks to a collective of e-mails from the Games Journo Pros group that implicate such key writers as Ars Technica‘s Kyle Orland, Polygon‘s Ben Kuchera, GamePolitics‘ James Fudge along with various freelancers and even members of the mainstream media.

AMIRITE‘Video games press isn’t broken, it’s just too tightly knit’

Based on the responses in the e-mails, it appears that the games journalism scene is incredibly exclusive and is its own self-perpetuating “boy’s club”, where everyone is friends with everyone and everyone is close.

When one writer, Ryan Smith, tried to ask the members of the group where they draw their lines in regards reporting on sexual controversies in the field, he was met with backlash from other members like Kotaku‘s Jason Schreier and Sarah LeBoeuf from The Escapist.

Ryan Smith (The Onion AV Club) Aug 19

But quick question: how did some of you decide to publish the Josh Mattingly story from earlier this year: that appeared to be based on a private conversation about sex. Where do you see the line being drawn? And how do you guys feel about the Snapchat CEO’s emails from college being a story?

I was also wondering if when some of you published stories about Zoe Quinn’s harassment — did you actually ask for evidence of said harassment or just go by what she wrote on Twitter.

Sarah LeBoeuf (The Escapist) Aug 19

Uh pretty big difference between “a private conversation about sex” and sexual harassment, which is what the Mattingly situation was.

Jason Schreier (Kotaku) Aug 19

If you don’t see the differences between a story about a journalist sending crude sexual messages to a game developer and a story about a game developer allegedly cheating on her boyfriend, I’m not sure what to tell you.

Ben Kuchera (Polygon) Aug 19

So you’re comparing writing about someone who sexually harassed a female developer, which is a disgraceful way to act, and covering someone who is being victimized to the point of not feeling safe in her home? Is that a real argument you’re trying to make?

Ryan Smith (The Onion AV Club) Aug 19

Hold on to your hats. I wasn’t equating the two at all. I was just asking where you guys draw the line.

Jason Schreier (Kotaku) Aug 19

I don’t know why you think there’s a line to be drawn. “Reporter at moderately-known games website sends sexually explicit messages to game developer who doesn’t want them” is a story. “Game developer allegedly cheats on her boyfriend” is not. That seems pretty simple to me.

Ryan Smith has also written an informative and eye-opening piece that delves into the “tight-knit” community that is games journalism, and how it “lacks critical distance”.

As Smith puts it, “What’s totally fair is the criticism of the relationships that members of the press maintain with not only certain game developers but with each other.”

Andy Eddy, Editor-in-Chief for @Gamer Magazine, echoed the group’s sentiment that Zoe Quinn’s possible breach of industry ethics shouldn’t be covered by any games media–and that they shouldn’t even “allow others to ruminate on it”.

Andy Eddy (@Gamer Magazine) Aug 19

My two cents: This is barely a game-industry story, no matter how some people want to frame it. This is a story about a person who happens to be in the game industry and their personal relationships (no matter how it may weave back into “the industry” and however poor the person’s judgments may have been) and public expose of private materials by that person’s partner as revenge, so I don’t think we, as games press, should support furthering the story by commenting, editorializing or even allowing others to ruminate on it.

Eddy further said that publications should avoid covering the topic even if it should generate hits. Interestingly enough, there are a swath of recent articles written about Zoe Quinn that “cash in” on the controversial nature of the scandal. It’s been a lucrative subject for these sites.

Andy Eddy (@Gamer Magazine) Aug 19

Personally, there are some lines I don’t think we should cross, and I’ve endeavored during my career to not go into those areas just for hit counts or reader numbers or “because people want to know.”

Kyle Orland (Ars Technica) even went so far as to say that Quinn receiving a boost in Patreon donations is “a silver lining”.

Kyle Orland (Ars Technica) Aug 19

Silver lining: Quinn is getting a bunch of new Patreon patrons today, apparently:

Kyle Orland has since delivered an apology on Ars Technica regarding the comments made in the group, and clarified a few things that may have been taken out of context.

Zoe Quinn, an indie dev behind various free games like Depression Quest, is a known activist and was targeted in the recent industry-centric scandal.

Unearthing the Agendas

Breitbart’s columnist Milo Yiannopoulos has also recently published a dump of all of the received e-mails regarding the group’s discussions on the Zoe Quinn scandal. This collection all-but proves the discourse between group members on the subject, and folds quite neatly into the flurry of content and articles that leap to Quinn’s defense.

It appears that journalists are getting too close to the subject matter, and they’re sacrificing objectivity for a sense of moral authority. The long, winding batch of e-mails reinforces this sentiment quite clearly, as do the plethora of anti-GamerGate content plastered across various news media sites.

It’ll be interesting to see how this information rocks the foundations of the industry, and what reformations are made to games journalism.

Gaming remains a solid billion-dollar industry, and the media itself is largely responsible for its success, so these findings may not result in anything substantial in terms of ethical reinforcement.

How far does this go; are big-name publications colluding with industry giants? How far has this agenda-based bias spread across the field, and will it die down now that Game Journo Pros has been exposed?

Only time can tell, but for now, we know a little more about the games media and how it operates.

  • justplainquirky

    *claps* glad more official sites are acknowledging this.

  • chero666

    I got to Ben Kuchera’s section of the conversation and immediately said aloud, “What the fuck am I reading? These people are PAID to write?”

    • fuzzb3nder

      Ben Douchera, the way the man was pressuring others in the group to just “shut it down” .

  • rupok

    Man this is disgusting.

  • and this has been going on for looooong time, thank goodness it is finally being exposed and these “journos” have no where left to hide

  • flight2q

    3.5 weeks ago an apology might have been good enough. It isn’t now.

    • chero666

      That’s the sad part about all of this. If the proper people were punished and everyone just did their jobs (report news) than non of this would’ve happened.

      • pablocr7

        So true, none of this would have happen. The thing is they think they are never wrong.

  • SailHatan

    Hey don’t buy Kyle Orl’s bull shit.

    He posted 15 paragraphs of apology on the site but on twitter he’s acting pure, reposting people who said things like “why apologize you did nothing wrong”.

    Really mature to apologize in front of your editor then try to act hard with your peers.

  • Jess

    If I stood accused of half of those indiscretions I’d be dismissed immediately.

    • Generaallucas .

      We all should be. Some things are way past ”the wall” that journalists should have. And proper debating skills of course, which they also seem to lack,

      • Jess

        Ah yes, but they’re only “bloggers” when they’re breaking journalism codes of conduct.

  • Atanos

    Adblock off for this, keep reporting the truth like this please!

  • fuzzb3nder

    Ben Douchera , The Jon Taffer of video game “journalism”

  • Daniel

    Nice! Thank you for showing the truth

  • Akko

    I thought the rabbit hole was deep, but as it seems it’s a tunnel now! And this are hard facts, black written in white.

    • pablocr7

      A really BIG tunnel!!

  • fuzzb3nder

    Ryan Smith hit the nail on the head, basically, If the “Victim” had been some dude they didn’t knew, he’d be dragged trough the mud to the the town square, stripped and tied to a post for public ridicule and then just left there till his career was good and dead.

    • Louise Hermann

      They already did this aplenty, look up Brad Wardell, Max Temkin, Ryan Perez, Josh Mattingly, Paul Trowe etc.

      Wardell even wrote a piece about it as of late:

      • fuzzb3nder

        I saw that, one of them even got the charges dismissed, it seems to be ok to muddy a mans name if he’s screwing around, even if it has nothing to do with their work/carrer.

        Men using Women for personal gain = misogyny , let’s shame the bastard.

        Women using Men for personal gain = it’s her body, she’s free to do whatever she wants with it.

        Gotta love those double standards, and there were women in the group defending her, makes you wonder what “career options” have they made throughout the years.

  • AJB

    ““Reporter at moderately-known games website sends sexually explicit messages to game developer who doesn’t want them” is a story.”
    Because your clique made the conscious decision to MAKE it a story, to slander this person possibly destroying their career over claims you didn’t bother to verify.

    ““Game developer allegedly cheats on her boyfriend” is not.”
    Because that INVOLVED members of your clique thus had to be suppressed & distorted. Again, your clique’s decision based entirely on personal agendas pushed through collusion with one another. The collusion isn’t imaginary. It is very real.

    The cognitive dissonance displayed by these people is blatant & unapologetic. They place themselves above others & pass down judgement while engaging in abhorrent conduct. The most disgusting part is they genuinely believe this is acceptable. The attitude echoed repeatedly on their associated sites & twitter accounts is:

    “It’s okay when we do it.”™ – Game Journo Pros

    • simplicissimus

      The irony (nigh-palpable at this point) here is that there is most likely several members of this game journalism group who decry the existence of “boys clubs” in other industries.

      • HaakonKL

        They’re also almost universally white cissexual heterosexual middle-class men.

        And are yammering about diversity. :^)

    • L

      “Nothing is true, everything is permitted.”

    • HaakonKL

      There is another angle you can take at this as well, which leaves a much fouler taste in my mouth:
      It’s white-knighting.
      The dickpic was sent to a woman who didn’t like it, so it was wrong.
      The dicksucking was done by a woman, so it was not wrong.

      Disclaimer: I’m not saying that’s what it is, I’m just saying that might also be a factor in all of this.

    • Thanatos2k

      The hypocrisy is absolutely astounding. Quinn admitted in her own words that she raped her boyfriend. And they blame THE BOYFRIEND!

  • m3g4tr0n

    Great article. Thank you for providing a neutral, balanced analysis.

  • Megamatics

    I haven’t touched a Single Gaming Site since this broke out…At least there are some new sites I can check out along with a couple that I haven’t noticed. All of there Reviews and News are compromised as long as this keeps going on. I don’t read Tabloids for this very reason…

    • Louise Hermann

      There was a list of smaller sites that have remained largely neutral or sided with the gamers during all of this:

  • Nathan Merrill

    For those of you who haven’t read through the email logs, you’re not missing a whole lot, though your respect for some folks might go up or down on it.

    The only really interesting thing I felt like this article left out were two things:

    Adam Rosenberg noted that supporting Zoe Quinn would be an indirect validation of her behavior which lead up to the incident, regardless of how wrong the harassment is, and that would be wrong, too.

    James Fudge noted the censorship of the video on YouTube by Zoe Quinn, but didn’t want to talk about it because of the other issues. It was self-censorship based on the idea that part of the article would be unpalatable (because it would have to mention why Zoe Quinn was trying to suppress the video) even though he wanted to cover censorship.

    Most interesting is just how many of these folks – journalists – apparently approve of censorship, though it was far from universal – several folks were opposed, and The Escapist acquitted itself quite well in the whole thing, I think.

    Really it mostly just made a few people look really bad. In defense of Andy Eddy, while he was pro-censorship, he also noted:

    “I was told somewhat as much when I started my first job…don’t embarrass the magazine/company by getting drunk at an event or sleeping with someone you met at an event. And “don’t dip your pen in company ink…””

    Incidentally, the “Who here hasn’t slept with a PR person #AMIRITE” thing is, in fact, in here, but in context, it is a response to someone noting that they have “slept” with a PR person in the sense of sharing a room with them at an event to save money, thus resulting in the (I assume jocular) response “Who here hasn’t slept with a PR perso (SIC)” and the further response adding the #AMIRITE thing. So, nothing exciting there.

  • Robert Ivey

    If you hadn’t figured this out yet all of them are compromised in some fashion or other unless they are not professionals. Its been this way for a very long time especially when the so called journalists deliberately ignore serious flaws in games to give near perfect scores to games that do not deserve them either due to being paid or being afraid of losing perks they get from the companies.

    • Phil Moskowitz

      When you look at the economic structure of indy gaming there just isn’t enough money in the system for the faux journalists not to be corrupt. They either write positive reviews or they don’t pay rent on their little cesspool of an apartment.

  • Phil Moskowitz

    If you read or worse, believe, any of these adult children writing about these games you’re in deeper trouble philosophically than being lead astray about a video game. You’re a rube. If there’s any subculture that needs an enema, or better yet, euthanasia, it’s gaming “journalism”.

    Just try before you buy and listen to none of these churlish, failure to start human beings. That or dye your hair purple, get an ear hoop and join them in their boring brand of depravity.

    • hi

      Ooooo… aren’t you impressively judgmental. Pumping your chest out about how dumb we are for listening to gaming journos only to give a command to “just try before buy”. Kind of defeats your original point now doesn’t it? Seriously, why should I listen to you too?

  • Horst Horst
  • Phil B.

    Breitbart? Really?

    • Adam Weisgaupt

      Milo gave us information. In all this GamerGate thing his behaviour was stellar.
      So what’s the problem?

  • Adam Weisgaupt

    I’m glad this is getting traction. People have uncovered really unethical and, frankly, disgusting bias of “game journalists”. I implore you, writers and gamers – do not give up. Do not let this become a rule in this media.
    You have to be better. You must be better.
    I’m not American, so my horse in this race is far smaller than yours. So win this race.

  • Dehydration

    You might want to add how Ben Kuchera and a few other journalists argued against Greg Tito’s allowing a thread for open #GamerGate discussion on the Escapist claiming that he’s allowing misogyny and harassment to foster. Not to mention how that thread went under a DDoS attack soon after the e-mails got out.