Mainstream media and pushing false narratives in gaming

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City Press recently published an article discussing Overwatch and its esports scene. With the context that the intended audience would know very little about gaming, it started well enough. The author highlighted the praise Blizzard’s crown jewel has received regarding its diverse cast as well as its rapidly growing esports scene.

Things quickly unravelled as the lack of basic research and selective information began to pile up in the article, stating that Doomfist was the first black character in the game despite Lucio being in the game when it launched  This was followed by ignorance surrounding Symmetra and her spoken Hindu roots.

To top it all off, the discussion in the article surrounding Overwatch esports highlighted the various scandals but failed to mention how these issues were dealt with by both the teams and Blizzard itself. The result was an article that lacked credibility and served merely to paint gaming in a negative light to a non-gaming audience.

Mainstream media and a pattern of bad faith

The City Press article is just another in a litter of insufficiently researched and biased articles written by mainstream media looking for easy clicks by bashing gaming. Even when they attempt to tackle issues that are absolutely worth talking about in the gaming scene, it is done with inadequate research and a lack of nuance which illustrates how little they understand of the industry or the complex issues it faces.

The City Press author was guilty of these offences and instead of what was seemingly trying to be a thoughtful piece that explored important issues in gaming; it merely served to unjustly vilify the industry and attack a game that is arguably one of the most progressive titles we currently have. City Press is hardly the only mainstream publication to produce abhorrent articles on gaming – BBC, Forbes, ESPN, the list is extensive and global. They all seem to follow a similar method: Next to no research, selective with information and pushing a narrative without a clear understanding of the scene.

The constant stream of inaccuracies ultimately lends itself to one conclusion. Mainstream media write articles on gaming in bad faith and to push a false narrative that provides them with cheap clicks and outraged retweets. It’s a tactic that has become prevalent in recent years – people have learnt that outrage sells. Companies are often accused of deliberately causing outrage to gain publicity.

Heineken was accused of it with a recent advert that had Grammy-winning American rapper Chance The Rapper incensed. Sony was found equally wanting when they had their advert implying “white” was better than “dark” with their consoles. The fake stories that go viral on Twitter, the public shaming posts on Facebook that are shared by so many – they all so perfectly illustrate that outrage makes the world go round.

More than anything, we need to stop seeking approval from mainstream media. The gaming community still celebrates gaming and esports being given coverage from mainstream media. Why is a heavyweight industry trying to impress external media? There are a ton of brands, and with them money, coming into a scene that is constantly growing, particularly esports. The gaming industry already outperforms heavyweight entertainment industries like Hollywood. We have the financial credibility and there is no reason we need to jump through hoops to establish social legitimacy.

The false narratives pushed within the industry itself

As easy as it is to dismiss mainstream media and badly written articles, it would be remiss to ignore the false narratives that are maintained within the scene itself. Mainstream media isn’t wrong in bringing up the fact that racism, sexism and a host of other social issues plague the gaming industry and gaming culture.

There were sections in the City Press article that brought up issues that had already been discussed and covered by gaming media long before the author wrote the article. No matter how badly mainstream media butchers the coverage, these issues do exist. These subpar articles serve to undermine the progress made in tackling these issues as well as harm the voices within the scene that are fighting to eradicate problematic behaviour in the scene.

All too often, gamers use anecdotal evidence to justify denying that issues exist in gaming. Other times, gamers attempt to gatekeep the industry by saying they were here first and this is how things have always been. More often than not, however, there is just pure ignorance that leads people to believe there is nothing wrong in gaming and media are simply overstating things. Badly written articles by mainstream media gives these people ammunition to continue to believe in their own false narratives.

The gaming industry has obviously come a long way and there has been so much progress made, but we can’t simply rest on our laurels. Just recently, Valve decided to announce that they would stop trying to police what games are published on their store aside from games that are illegal or trolling. This approach to a complex issue is disappointing to see, especially from the largest digital distributor of games.

Companies should be held accountable and made to take a stance against racism, sexism and any other inexcusable issues or behaviour. And just like we take mainstream media to task for pushing false narratives, we should also hold the community at large responsible for the same offence.

Gaming doesn’t need mainstream media. The industry has progressed long past the need to have the BBCs or City Presses provide poor coverage. The industry owes it to itself to take care of its house without external influence.

There are serious issues in gaming and gaming culture that need to be addressed. So much progress has been made over the years and that is something worth celebrating, but that doesn’t mean more can’t be done. Don’t give mainstream media the openings to get cheap clicks at the expense of one of the biggest entertainment industries in the world.

[This post has been updated to reflect that while published on Channel24, the original article stemmed from City Press]
The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of Critical Hit as an organisation.

Last Updated: June 8, 2018

Glenn Kisela

I've always loved video games as well as writing, so mixing the two together was inevitable. When I'm not doing that, I do photography and design. May or may not report you to the relevant authorities. I'm also a big fan of English Cricket. Ask me about the ICC.

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