Is the gaming media broken?
The reaction around the Mass Effect 3 ending over the last couple weeks, and Bioware's subsequent acknowledgement of players' complaints, has been particularly interesting to me for what it reveals about the gaming media.
Nearly every major gaming website (IGN, Kotaku, Joystiq, Giant Bomb, that I can think of off the top of my head) has published an article blasting gamers for their reaction to the Mass Effect 3 ending. Words like "entitled", "whiners", even "terrorists" have been levied at Bioware's detractors. Vox Games proper hasn't had one of these stories, but the reactions of at least one of their writers on Twitter and comments in Vox Games threads belies the same reaction. Completely independent of whether you think the ending should or shouldn't be changed, this is completely astonishing to me. In fact, I have only read one article on any major video game website that defends the rights of gamers (Stephen Totilo on Kotaku, proving once again why he is at the top of the gaming media class. If there are others I would appreciate links.)
First, let me be very clear: I don't think gaming media is "paid off" by EA, Activision, Ubisoft or any other publisher, developer or PR team (henceforth called "industry"). I also don't know the intricate insider workings of every (or really any) games media. I read Paul Tassi's "takedown" of Game Informer from 2011. He goes too far in suggesting that reveiw scores are directly inflated. (The most likely reason that most major AAA titles get at least a 7.0? Because a lot of time and money went into them, and they're good games.) But his overall idea is completely on the money.
The simple fact is the gaming media as it exists now is inextricably linked to the organizations that they are supposed to be covering. They are utterly dependent on industry for exclusives, for preview code, for early copies of games for review. Media interact with industry on a daily basis. Without this access, IGN, GameInformer, Joystiq, etc. could not exist. They are not, and can't be, independent. Beyond that, they build relationships with people, and they like people in the industry. It's not a great moral failing for media to want to come to their defense. It's a perfectly human response. But it means that they are no longer independent. Some media probably recognize this better than others and at least try to maintain their independence. But the fact is they are human beings, and they are influenced by these relationships whether they like it or not. There is no such thing as truly "unbiased."
It's the same reason that I trust the opinions of independent political bloggers over the mainstream political press (nobody who attends the White House Correspondent's Dinner should ever again be trusted to independently cover The White House). It's why I trust Deadspin or - ironically - SB Nation over ESPN or Sports Illustrated. I have more trust in the opinions of people who's very existence is not beholden to the platform they are covering.
I had high hopes for Vox Games. In the "Introduce Yourself" thread I mentioned my love for SB Nation and the high hopes I had for the same type of coverage of video games. But I realize something now. The people at Vox Games, IGN, and pretty much any other game website I read are the mainstream media. They are the ones who have given up their independence in exchange for access. They sit in the same position now that the mainstream political and sports media sat a few years ago. It's not their fault, really. I don't think they're bad people. It's just an unavoidable byproduct of the current relationship between the industry and the media.
It's sad. I spend most of my 10 hours of commuting a week listening to various podcasts from IGN, Joystiq, Giant Bomb, RebelFM, etc. Now, the only one left that I feel confident in is Gamers With Jobs. I've unfollowed several media on Twitter. I'll probably never read or listen to anything from IGN again.
New, independent voices will arise, and I'll listen to them until they get corrupted, too. I know Paul Tassi has written a few times recently about how he doesn't get the access most gaming media does. I hope he stops trying.