I believe I have difficulty writing in quantity because my ambitious nature is squashed by the reality of time and effort. A thousand unwritten stories have found residence in my mind, and I create them to entertain myself. Beside all that, here’s my second op-ed for The Johnsonian. I don’t know how to fix Winthrop’s ridiculous internet standards, but I can, at the very least, formally acknowledge the issue. I’ve been using the word ridiculous a lot lately, and I’m not sure why. Anyway, the positive of reading the article online means you get a super high-definition version of the psychological horror from our newspaper cartoons. The positive of reading the article in tangible form is that you get to see my half-smiling mug. So pick your poison.
To try and cut the details short on this week’s Gaming Journalism~! fiasco, here are the basic details. A columnist wrote a piece about how, while he had no evidence of the press’ corruption, some members of the media seem a bit too chummy with the idea of letting themselves be turned, with corporate public relations’ influence, into walking advertisements. He pointed wildly at a few people who had done questionable things (like surrounding themselves with Dortios and Mountain Dew advertising, or tweeting hashtags to win Playstations), but never called anyone out directly. He had no evidence! It was a worthwhile point, but up its own ass as anything I’ll write here. He did point to one woman who emblazoned her personal sites in advertisements for the not-yet-released, still desperate-for-marketing Tomb Raider game. It was a random potshot at a random person who did a questionable thing that hundreds, if not thousands, of so-called journalists had done. Instead of dealing with the comment with grace and clarity, she had a meltdown and called “libel,” essentially forcing the original columnist to be fired without a good reason. In the confusion, people looked up this woman’s information. She listed Square Enix as an employer. She had written dozens of articles and reviews on that company’s products, consistently praising them. Whether through simple young-person naivete or through a concerned effort to push product and profit off of lies, she was entirely corrupt! Fancy that! The columnist just walked in his town asking, “Are you The Devil?” “Are you The Devil?” “Are you The Devil?” And that third person uttered an unholy roar and grew a second mouth to say, “I AM BEELZEBUB, LORD OF THE FLIES” and vanished. The chances of that having happened are nearly unfathomable. It went a little something like this.
Game fans, at least the ones obsessive enough to read and write about it on the internet every day, are as hypersensitive as anyone else. If a game is scored too high, by their standards, it was obviously a sign that the publisher paid someone off. Most of the time, the reality is that IGN handing 9.0 scores out like they’re free candy is due to fanboyish inexperience, not a bribe. If a game is scored too low, reviewers get death threats that contain their street addresses. The truth there is that no one is out to get games, to put them in their place. Games should be awesome. We should all be happy all the time, but sometimes that can’t happen. Corruption in the media has happened, but it’s as rare as that bird Ash sees at the end of episode one. A lot of the navel-gazing happening in games journalism is about Kotaku being too off-topic or Destructoid being super sexist, not a direct link to corruption to prove all the conspiracy theorists right. This is exciting and important because it proves some amount of conspiracy theories entirely accurate, though we’ve seen nearly all other media personalities, one after the other, come out and state that they aren’t a part of the problem. I hope that’s true.
I remember reading my old game magazines, the old GamePros or Game Informers or EGMs of yore, and occasionally seeing a two-page spread on some upcoming game, written as if it directly spoken to the reader. It would tell you just how great Fear Effect 2 is going to be, see, it has these scientists [disclosure: not real scientists] there to prove it. They were, essentially, infomercials. What helped the situation, what made it not feel so damn shady, is that the infomercials would have big white letters at the top and bottom of the pages that clearly stated “ADVERTISEMENT.” Interaction between advertisers, publishers, and press isn’t necessarily a toxic thing. It can be a great thing for everyone involved, even without absurdly high scores and money changing hands. What matters is transparency. Transparency, transparency, transparency.
It’s nice to see Polygon establish a code of ethics right up front, the very second their site launched. Giant Bomb, a site which was born out of a distaste for the political ramifications of press/publisher relations, has repeatedly stated that corruption is completely antithetical to their own code, and their content keeps proving that. Even writers popping up on Twitter for a mere minute to say “Hey guys, I’m not totally crooked!” is a nicety that goes great lengths to proving that someone’s work is worth it. Love is about opening your heart to the possibility of being betrayed. You trust you aren’t being lied to, but do you know for sure? Of course not. You either give the benefit of the doubt or you spend the rest of your life pretending you live in The Truman Show.
Transparency is putting “ADVERTISEMENT” at the top of your infomercial, and it’s also differentiating between hardcore war zone journalists and the dude who writes for Us Weekly and asks if HD video is going to reveal Britney’s awful complexion. Take Andrew McMillen, for example. This is the dude who exposed the abysmal working conditions at Team Bondi, and now he’s the guy who did a tell-all of why Silicon Knights has been in such a rut for eight years straight. That’s the gaming, super first-world equivalent of covering African civil war. Compare that to Ryan Davis, a guy whom I professionally admire, whose primary duties are to critique Star Wars Galaxies on its final day while he streams on the internet. Those are completely different things, right? Friendship with PR representatives gets a pass as it varies by person, by situation. These are real people involved in real situations, and human relationships are complex. What’s wrong is to cast all of gaming journalism in a bad light because of one mistake (a mistake perhaps executed by more than we imagine) from a stupid person. What’s right is to value each critic or journalist individually, based on their work or their transparency or their entertainment value or kindness. I don’t say gaming journalism is dead because Jessica Chobot is a paid model more valuable to her company than the employees who do the work. I just know IGN is valueless trash to me, and continue to love even more what I find morally redeeming in this world.
This weekend was also spent watching the Rebuild of Evangelion, the four-part remake movie series that updates the brilliant show. I had seen the first film, 1.0, before, but needed a refresher. I still think Evangelion has among the best openings to any program I’ve witnessed before, as it’s one that equally plays to and entirely subverts genre tropes. That first movie is more or less a HD version of the first four episodes, but the final scene lets you know that things have changed. This isn’t 616. This is the Ultimate universe. This is not what happened before.
2.0 (despite being released in 2009 it’s still the latest film) continues in the same Ultimate direction. The similarities and basic plot flow of the television series remains, but wrenches are thrown into your expectations during nearly every scene. There’s a new Lilith on Earth, but the old series’ one remains somewhere else. Even though she’s promoted heavily, Mari, a brand new character, enters and exits the scene dramatically, never answering a single mystery. It’s Asuka in the Angel-posing-as-an-Eva now, not Toji, so she’s taken out of the equation. Hideaki Anno, the series’ creator and auteur, knows what you’re expecting and knows just when to throw you off course. He makes the old new again.
As two individual films, I still can’t recommend Evangelion enough. But what pulled the original series together, what made it all click, was the climax and fallout. It’s a confusing series with an encyclopedia’s worth of lingo and religious interpretation, and by the end of the show nothing was explicitly laid out. Instead, it all worked tonally. My fear with Rebuild is that of, once again, expectation. I’m used to Evangelion wrapping up in a romantic and melodic way, and I’m able to watch early episodes with full knowledge of how they contribute to the greater narrative. In Rebuild, enough wrenches have been thrown that there’s no possible way to figure how the series will tie together. It’s all up to the creator to redo what he has already done, but for a brand new situation. Anno hasn’t failed me yet, but he’s always dangerously close to pulling a The Matrix Revolutions.
I guess love is about opening your heart to the possibility of being betrayed.