Opinion pieces or editorials have become a huge part of journalism in recent years. With a lot journalism moving online, and the rise of social media, journalists and writers have been able to have more interaction with their readers than ever before. Journalism has gone beyond just reporting on current events or people of interest, it has moved to wanting to provoke discussion and promote ideas to it’s readership. In actuality this is nothing new, as much as we like to think journalists have a responsibility to deliver news with impartiality and integrity the influence of news media is a well known and documented occurrence.
Of course these days it’s expected that opinion and news be kept separate. However this is something that video game media seems to find very difficult. Long have gamers lamented the rise of the click-bait article in gaming journalism with game sites being seemingly unable to report on what’s happening in the game industry without injecting opinion, conjecture and sensationalism. The problems of the game media, a medium still in it’s infancy, are many and game journalists do not usually come to the medium through traditional journalism means. These journalists rarely have any qualification or education in journalism, they are often bloggers with a modicum of talent that got lucky.
One of the favourite things these journalists and pop culture critics like to do is to make opinion based videos or write opinion pieces about video games, particularly in the context of social issues. This in itself is no bad thing, discussion of video games in the wider context of society is of interest to a great many people and can be fascinating as an exercise in critical thinking if done well. In my experience (and opinion) gamers are very open to thinking critically and understanding relationships of cause and effect. I’d even go as far as to say it’s something that long term gaming actually improves, gamers become conditioned to logically view causality in relationships and to ask for evidence and verification. Gamer logic is a very real thing, we immediately acknowledge that choices have consequences and that events can have recognisable indicators, we joke and even make memes about it.
But here’s the thing, in the land of the opinion piece it is the emotion and not the fact that is king. The idea of any opinion piece is to express a point of view, an emotional response, however increasingly they are also becoming a tool to ‘sell’ a point of view to an audience. Any good opinion piece will explore the opinion, it’s origins and context and any supporting evidence or examples it may have. A great opinion piece will examine differing points of view and may even give the appearance of a balanced perspective. However, it is always worth remembering with any opinion piece that the writer has already made up their minds. They’re not examining evidence in order to formulate a point of view, they already have one and want to lead you to understand it and maybe feel the same way. Why would they be writing the piece otherwise? Some may even go as far as to dress up that opinion as fact or critical analysis by peppering it with academic terminology and buzz words to make it sound more credible. Does it give an opinion more validity to add the bells and whistles? That’s really up to you, as the reader, to decide whether the writer has the knowledge, experience and integrity to give their opinion any validity.
For example, I LOVE Star Trek. Right now I could write an entire piece about how Star Trek can be used as a Buddhist propaganda tool. I could talk about how the prevalent plot point in Star Trek being that the human race of the future had left behind Earth religions in exchange for the pursuit of enlightenment through scientific and cultural exploration and co-operation with other races. I could talk about how the absence of a ‘God’ and the focus on humanity working together to benefit the whole rather than pursuit of individual happiness or wealth is a clear representation of the Buddhist concept of karma and the four noble truths of Buddhism. I could write about how there’s clear evidence of karma and even reincarnation in that the same faces often appear in Star Trek, such as the characters of Colonel West in Star Trek VI The Undiscovered Country and Odo in Star Trek Deep Space Nine. Both characters were played by the same actor, Rene Auberjonois.
Another example would be the characters of Admiral Cartwright in Star Trek VI The Undiscovered Country and Joseph Sisko in Star Trek Deep Space Nine, both played by Brock Peters.
Both Colonel West and Admiral Cartwright were villains attempting to ruin a peace treaty between warring alien races, karma wise they both had a lot to answer for. The Buddhist karmic principles of people who have done wrong being reincarnated in order to lead better lives would fit. In conclusion Star Trek promotes a future in which Buddhist ideals of the importance of the whole rather than the one (the needs of the many…) the emphasis on mutual co-operation and exploration of other cultures rather than a blind faith in a divine entity and the fundamental Buddhist principles of karma and reincarnation.
And what does any of that mean? Absolutely nothing. In fact worse than nothing because it ignores the intentions of the creator of Star Trek, Gene Rodenberry, a dedicated secular humanist.
Any opinion, any review, any critique, any analysis of art only has value and importance if it is given them by those that read it. It is up to us as consumers to read an opinion, analyse any data provided, do our own research and verification into the subject and the writer’s credibility and make a decision about whether or not that opinion really means anything. This is equally true if we disagree with the opinion as it is if we agree, how many times have we seen opinion pieces that are written in response to other opinion pieces? By acknowledging the opinion and giving it attention, for good or bad, we give it meaning. We give it a larger audience, we give it POWER.
So how does this all fit into the context of video game journalism? Well in my opinion (getting kind of meta now) there seems to be a clear problem with the way that video game news is presented. Video game journalism sites seemingly cannot or will not stop the personal opinions and prejudices of the writers bleeding through into the news items. If you look at many gaming news websites like Kotaku and Polygon there are often labels above articles as to whether they are a news item or an opinion piece but looking at some of the news items there seems to be clear intention of some writers to only provide news through the lens of their own perspective and an inability to present news without bias. While researching opinion pieces I stumbled across this, a guide on how to write an opinion piece, I then compared it with some of the items labelled as news on game journalism sites, such as this. The guide defines an opinion piece as ” a type of guest column, expressing an opinion rather than a news item. Op-eds tend to be lively and provocative and are written in a more conversational style than regular news items.” Looking at the news item example above it is written very conversationally and it seems very clear that the writer has some very definite opinions on the sale of video games that have been recovered from a land-fill.
So why is this a problem? The video game media is under a massive amount of scrutiny right now, it’s reader base is beginning to recognise the problems in video game news media sites and ask that those problems be rectified. However instead of listening to it’s audience and making the required changes the media is stubbornly burying it’s head in the sand and refusing to admit that any problems exist, even attacking their own audience for daring to question them. Video game media writers are not interested in learning how to deliver news without bias. Instead they consider their own opinions, their own feelings, to be more important than delivering game news with impartiality and integrity, even at the expense of gamers. If this is the way that video game media, those that are supposed to represent and advocate on behalf of gamers, treats it’s own demographic then is it any wonder that this attitude is starting to seep out into the wider news media? Why is it “fitting” for these gamers to have been robbed at gunpoint while queuing for a game? It seems to imply, in the least, that they deserved it for their choice of game.
In conclusion, opinion pieces have their place in gaming media but we as consumers should be wary of giving them too much credence. They are too often used not to examine a point of view but to market one. Look at evidence yourselves, examine, analyse, verify. It is no bad thing to question the opinions offered to us in these pieces, neither is it bad to have our own opinions questioned. Critical thinking and analysis is a wonderful thing but it should remain separate from actual gaming news stories, which should be delivered without prejudice or bias. However maybe you don’t agree, maybe you think I’m an idiot or perhaps even crazy for spending paragraphs rambling about Star Trek and Buddhism. But you know what? That’s ok, because it’s only my opinion ;o)
Thanks For Reading