Booth Babes as Prismatic Side Show
Posted on Thursday, March 20 2014 @ 12:18:06 PST
This post began life as a simple rebuttal to Daniel Bischoff's essay, "Join Game Revolution in the Fight to Ban Booth Babes from E3" and has since grown into something a bit bigger.
Concerns about the industry's image are, fundamentally, the industry's concerns. Journalists writing about this and other issues seem to need a quick reminder - you are not in the games industry. You are in the games journalism industry. Colin Moriarty can't seem to keep it straight either but who knows who is really underwriting his paychecks anymore? So one forfeits one's position of journalist when one tries to participate in or lead a campaign to transform some aspect of the thing covered. One has clearly ceased to report on something and has become a part of the story itself. A real journalist may cover that campaign but not take part. One may even freely editorialize in the most grand fashion about it. Carl Bernstein and Bob Woodward covered Watergate extensively but they never testified at any of the hearings related to it. They were journalists covering the story and not participators in the story.
Lastly, a couple paraphrased quotes from Joseph Schumpeter to illustrate my own stance on the issue:
"The prettiest girl in the scantiest clothes could never sell the world's worst game" --in other words, I think it's a stupid practice which should stop.
"The enemies of video games have the sentence of death in their pockets. The only thing spirited defense will gain is a change in the indictment." --Ten years ago it was video games cause violent behavior. Now it's video games cause sexism. In both cases the people making the claims are full of bull and they knew it the entire time. It's hilarious to note that John McIntosh, Anita Sarkeesian's puppetmaster, sustains both lines of argument absent any empirical evidence to back his claim. Hidden just out of sight is a desire for legislative control which will be imposed in waves. First the industry would have to set up its own ratings and regulatory body. Then it would have to start censoring itself for fear of negative PR. Finally legislation similar to the Hayes Code or the Comics Code would be imposed by either statutory law or administrative law. Video games enjoy only tenuous protection as speech so this could go on for a long time unless someone takes a case all the way to the Supreme Court and wins.
It is my perception that coverage of and participation in these relative non-issues enables, whether tacitly or overtly, several degenerate problems in the industry at large to go unscrutinized and the public remain largely unaware of them. To wit, I can only offer a few token examples which are well known and which are part of storied histories of bad practice.
-Abusive work conditions. Crunch modes including double overtime with no overtime pay is quite common. Rockstar Games has become infamous for operating in perpetual crunch. Team Bondi used up personnel like a McDonald's uses foam coffee cups. Even during 'normal' work twelve-hour days are common, even though the resulting 60-72 hour work weeks are not in turn specially compensated. Working in games requires developing special skills to professional muster and in turn not putting them to the most profitable use. The core programmers on big budget projects, for example, could increase their salary by switching out of games and going into general software development. The working conditions are generally better. Turnover rates are immense and due to the logistics of retention good people can be driven out even after shipping something which goes on to sell millions of copies. The economically illiterate are calling for unionization which would almost certainly end in disaster.
-Power relationships. Right now the cards are generally in the publisher or license holder's hands. They enjoy a great deal of power for which they largely cannot be checked and abuse of which is not punished or even much scrutinized. How many articles are there about Adria Richards? How many about how Lucas Arts drove Free Radical into bankruptcy and illegally witheld milestone payments from them knowing full well that if FR sued they could simply tie them up in court because they had no money to pay for a lawsuit? One is a serious problem and there are more skeletons in that closet. Instead of digging into the industry's dark underbelly the journalist instead goes for the low hanging fruit - some guy made a dirty joke within earshot of a histrionic woman who in turn compared herself to Joan of Arc (who, if one is not keen to remember, burned at the stake for her beliefs) for being insulted on the internet.
-Industrial/Reportorial Incest. No one wants to air fellow professionals' dirty laundry but the empirical evidence that, with the exceptions of smaller community-oriented websites like GR and Gather Your Party, games journalism and review is a bad joke with no punch line.
Ben Kuchera got his sleazy pseudo-intellectual blog for Penny Arcade fifteen minutes of fame and early hopeful notices by saying what everyone knows in a straightforward way. If low-rent hustlers like Kuchera can earn applause by saying that, if only for a while, and the whole operation couldn't appear more corrupt if line-item financial records from EA's 2013 annual shareholders' report included dollar-amount and payment dates with attached memos for bribes to Colin Moriarty to defend Mass Effect 3's incorrigably bad writing while simultaneously attacking anyone who was stupid enough to pay to play it then where is the hard-hitting honest-to-God journalism unearthing this? The problem is out there but reticence prevents productive discussion.
There is a gold mine of serious writerly work out there in turning over the stones and revealing the grubs crawling about underneath. This is, by and large, not getting done. Most of the content anyone can reference comes from obscure, often anonymous, always pseudonymous weirdos from places like 4Chan. No one talking about this stuff in a serious way in print or other media is actually connected to the establishment of games journalism. They're outsiders or amateurs, often both, and their lack of insider connections automatically commends their credibility if only because they can't be shown to ever have received money or non-monetary compensation from the same parties whose less than savory practices they claim to scrutinize. While their position may be credible their claims may not be. They lack the insider knowledge to back them up with who, what, where, when, why and how. Someone with both of these two traits appears to be rarer than lips on a chicken.