In this series of articles over the past few days, we’ve seen that 2012 has not been the year where gaming, as a medium, put its best foot forward. In fact, we seemed to have been working overtime to make our medium look as appalling as possible. From terrible marketing campaigns, to false advertising, to overly angry fans and spineless developers, to attitudes towards women that wouldn’t have been out of place in the 1930s; it’s been a difficult year and one that’s been rather saddening to have to document here.
But now, we have at long last arrived at number 1. The absolute worst thing to happen to gaming in 2012. This entry is aiming to be shorter than the others because it really legitimately depresses me to have to revisit this topic and it’s a relatively personal entry for me. Now, you may be thinking, “Callum, you talentless British hack, what on Earth was so terrible that it managed to beat the horrendous treatment that women suffered this year? You are, after all, a feminist, so that stuff should be at the top of all of your lists!”
Well, brace yourselves, here it is…
1] Rab Florence and Lauren Wainright seriously make me reconsider becoming a games journalist.
In October of 2012, an image of GameTrailers journalist Geoff Keighley sat between a garish Halo 4 standee and a table containing copious amounts of Mountain Dew and Doritos made the rounds on the Internet. That image above, to be precise. Games writer and contributor to Eurogamer, Robert “Rab” Florence used that image as a jumping off point in one of his columns for the site to critique the games journalism machine in general. It named names and one of those names was Lauren Wainright.
The rest of this story I do not want to go into for two reasons. 1] Revisiting this topic just makes me depressed. Legitimately down, I’m not exaggerating. 2] There is no way that I could write up this story anywhere half as good as some other sites have put it. So; allow me to direct you to over to Wings Over Sealand for a concise, up to date and in order factual breakdown of the whole saga, NeoGAF has a full archive of articles on the matter from all over the Internet if you have the time, and the always great Jim Sterling had a great little editorial on the matter over at GameFront. Go and read them if you need a refresher about this whole mess.
Instead, I want to talk about why this affected me to the extent that it did. I noted up top that this was a personal entry and that that was the reason why it beat the horrendous treatment of women in the gaming community in 2012 (which, again, as a feminist and a decent human being, should really be number 1 with a bullet). That’s true, because this whole sorry mess almost made me quit games journalism.
Confession time, folks, I am not exactly the most emotionally stable human being. My general mood switches between good ups and bad downs, the ups last fleetingly (though I’m currently in one of my more lengthy ups in recent times) and the downs are lengthy and heavy. There can be weeks where I just simply won’t feel good at all and will be an utter drain to be around. I’m not depressed, things can still entertain me and get me to laugh and smile, but I’m never particularly great to be around in real life. Just ask my family.
There are a number of things that can break through my downs and make me feel genuinely great for a while whilst I’m doing them: podcasting, watching cartoons (my Twitter bio proudly says “Animation Geek”, you have no right to judge), watching Community (and who doesn’t feel better watching Community), playing videogames and writing about videogames. I’ve pretty much set my life path up so that games journalism is the only job that I can go into when I leave university in the unspecified future. I love writing, I love videogames, I love writing about videogames and I’m (apparently) halfway decent at it. It’s not exactly rocket science.
This whole controversy broke during one of my down periods and, as a result, its effect on me was far greater than what it would have been if I was feeling up. Now, obviously, this wasn’t my first experience with the ugly side of my chosen profession, I was around for Gerstmann-gate. However, I was relatively young and immature at the time so I didn’t get the full impact of its implications until months later. The case of Wainright/Florence is the first time since then that such things have come to such a public light since then.
It’s not the accusations that got me, it’s how quickly we all turned on each other. Debates raged on all sides, people started insulting one another, writers were practically queuing up to throw each of those involved under the bus… It depressed me. Infighting broke out – myself included, I’m not going to pretend that I’m better than that, you can check my tweets, I too got involved in the heat of the moment – and it made me wonder why we couldn’t just get along. I know, that that sounds childish (and if you think that sentence did, the rest of this paragraph is going to make you vomit rainbows), but it’s true. I kind of saw games journalism and writing about games as full of good people who got along well with one another. Full of friends who were welcoming of younger talent and people trying to make a name for themselves in this field.
Call me naïve, call me childish, that was my viewpoint. And this whole fiasco; with resignations, threats of lawyers, firings, shouting matches in the comments; broke that. The games journalism industry was the one thing in the world that I saw as fun and a great place to work with great people, untainted by human nature. It seemed ideal, it seemed perfect. And this mess broke it. It let reality in.
This did not help my mood at the time (which was the lowest it had been for five years, as is) and I seriously considered not bothering with games journalism anymore.
You may be wondering, then, why I’m still here. Why I am still writing when this controversy broke me and made me want to quit the one profession I have ever seriously wanted to do. Two reasons (and, advanced warning, this is probably going to sound very mushy. I’ve realised recently that I’m just that kind of guy). 1] About a day after the controversy started, I saw that I’d gotten a comment on my DmC preview a few days earlier. This was my first ever comment on a piece that I’d written from somebody who didn’t work on the staff of the site I was working for and who I wasn’t already a friend with. That meant a lot to me, the fact that it had positive comments for my writing was honestly just a bonus (though it really helped my self esteem).
2] A few days later, I got a Twitter DM (Direct Message) from my Big Boss Man, Mat Paget. It was short (as Twitter is meant to be), but he thanked me for all of the work I had contributed to the site over the previous month (thanks to the Eurogamer Expo pieces), how he enjoyed them and when could he expect my Far Cry 3 preview. It made me feel wanted, for one, but that DM and that comment let me know that there were people who read my work, liked it and would like to read more. It reminded me that the profession I was choosing was full of genuinely nice people who were great to interact with and it reminded me that I’d never actually worked for or with a bunch of arseholes. Maybe my deluded daydream was true? Maybe games journalism was that nice and that perfect?
In any case, there were people who wanted to read my work and I wasn’t about to let them down. It’s that knowledge that keeps me going and keeps me wanting to write. The fact that I find this stuff fun also helps a bit, in all honesty. The Wainright/Florence mess opened me up to the darker and more depressing side of games journalism; reality, if you will, and seriously questioned my beliefs in this career. My first commenter, my editor and my journalism pals that I’d amassed from my time with other sites (shout outs to Scott Emslie, Dan O’Connor & Nick Nguyen) got me through it and strengthened my resolve. This is what I want to do and nothing is going to stop me (if I have a crisis of faith now, it’s thanks to the risky “all-or-nothing” path I’ve put myself on more than anything else).
Despite that, I’ll always remember the ugly mess that severely got me to question my unshakeable commitment in the first place. And that is why the Rab Florence/Lauren Wainright story is my number 1 Worst Thing To Happen To Gaming In 2012. Also, it’s my list and I can do whatever I damn well want with it.