Bourdieu and Video Game Journalism

One argument made by Pierre Bourdieu in his “On Television” is the role provided by television journalists as opposed to print journalists (I used an excerpt of the complete work from this anthology). Specifically, television journalists have become focused on the personal representations of societal issues, resulting in a distinct lack of discussion on structural issues found within society. This has created a distinct gap between the two types of journalists, leaving print journalists to strive for recognition from the televised media, which would only result in a disparaging view of the original, more societally-driven text oriented works that are actually capable of providing structural criticism.

And now, we find ourselves in a weird relationship with all types of journalism, from print to radio to televised and this is largely due to the Internet—an phenomenon that Bourdieu didn’t have to contend with because this piece was published in 1996, around the Internet’s infancy. However, with the rise of the Internet that could so greatly threaten established news and media sources, so too have risen the amateur journalists, the citizen journalists, who only needs access and some sort of social media website to post their opinions, stories, experiences, photos, videos, etc. While Bourdieu may have had issues with the focus on presenting personal narratives as news rather than society in 1996, the Internet has taken this to new levels as every news story becomes personal, as objectivity becomes even more convoluted, as these “journalists” lack knowledge about journalistic ethics and morals and as anyone can post anything, report anything—regardless of the truth (although Google is trying to combat this).

Which brings us to video game journalism. Doubtless, if you’re interested in gaming culture, you’ve heard of GamerGate and their crusade against corruption in the gaming industry that eventually came to be seen as a crusade against women in the gaming industry. Partially due to the rise of GamerGate and partially due to the constant shifts in the journalism industry, gaming news media centers are in constant flux: many print magazines have gone completely out of business or transitioned to online-only editions, a little less than a year ago Polygon cut their staff, as did GameTrailers; Kotaku is still in the midst of redeveloping their particular brand of game coverage.

And as much as other bloggers and myself make fun of Kotaku for their tendencies to post non-video game related sort-of news, as well as Kotaku’s parent company Gawker for their links to other news story with sensationalist titles, they’re making perhaps the most productive move in the gaming news industry. Even though Kotaku tends to stray from their designated topic in the Gawker-verse of video games, their efforts to re-center video game news on the games rather than advertisements for upcoming games is a remarkable decision that should not only bring them a more dedicated following amongst readers but also give them more credit within the game journalism sphere.

Although older news journalism seemed to have a several tiered system of reporting on games, modern gaming news sources seem to be focused on one aspect: advertisements. I can vaguely recall a certain formula I saw in magazines from my childhood, where games would travel from bite-sized announcements to random snippets of news each month, followed by a large spread complete with screenshots and concept art on the game’s development, narrative, game play, etc., before finally settling into final reviews of the finished product. Usually after the game’s release I’d see a few smaller stories, cheat codes and information peppered throughout later issues until eventually the game worked itself into media obscurity and could only be found in those old editions and (sometimes) a year in review edition.

Unlike the magazines of my youth, from the first announcement of a game I’m bombarded with news, advertisements, requests, recommendations and free up-grades for my early pre-order—often even long before a game’s release date has been decided. This has become the primary function of game journalism: advertisement, pre-sales, hype. And all of this is just for a single game, not the industry, developer, or (usually) console, but merely one game. By the time a game is released, the audience will have a slew of reviews to read. These reviewers, often the same people who have been building the excitement and essentially leading the marketing campaign, spend little time with the game. Some as little as 48 hours, others may have about a week if they’re lucky or receive an early copy. As a result, once these reviews are out, media outlets have no reason to continue covering a game, thereby pushing readers onto the uphill trek for the next big game’s release. As Erik Kain states, hype sells. But don’t we need more than just the game’s release? Don’t we want the game itself, in some way, to exist as more than just this hype machine, more than just the idea that it’s going to happen at some point? This, in my mind, is one of the benefits of YouTube let’s play videos, Twitch, uStream, and of course blogs—games get to exist after they’ve been released. No longer are games pushed entirely aside thanks to the amateur journalists of the game industry, even as they’re effectively shoved aside by the large, official media outlets.

But now, with Kotaku’s new intentions to continue coverage following the game’s release, more attention can be paid to the industry, as it exists, not merely where it’s going. And this is one solution away from the individual game and into the industry’s structure. Staying with games over time will not only give reviewers more time for the nuanced narrative and ludic details of games, but it will also result in a complete chronicle of contemporary games, society and media interrelations. Just as Bourdieu criticized the televised news for championing the sympathetic individual story rather than critique the societal structure, gaming audiences should be critiquing the media for providing biased, sales-oriented news coverage. This lack of structural criticism and focus on pre-order sale, reviews and rankings is what led to the confusion and anger that spawned GamerGate—in all its iterations, from journalism to misogyny. The games are what the players love, and the games should be the focus as they exist, not as they may exist. Perhaps a little extra time with games will lead to more in-depth analysis, more meaningful reviews, and more awareness of the many faults in societal representation inherent within the gaming industry.