At first glance, the recent scandal with Jian Ghomeshi seems to be a perfect point of comparison to GamerGate. You have a man accused of a number of gross behaviours, many of them sexual in nature. He was part of the more “progressive” movement, speaking up as an ally for feminist issues and causes. You have random Twitter accounts. Harassment. Cries for lawyers. People coming out to speak up. So yeah, it seems that this is perfect fodder for Yet Another GG Piece.
But that’s not what I’m here to talk about.
The Toronto Star published an article Wednesday talking about other details of Ghomeshi’s life that are now coming to light. The now disgraced CBC posterboy apparently had a rather large conflict of interest going on with guests booked on his show: a great deal many of them shared the same booking agent as Ghomeshi.
The Star piece points out that this is a huge issue: for emerging bands to get exposure like this from Ghomeshi’s radio show Q was a huge thing. That Ghomeshi didn’t see the need to point out this conflict of interest seems to feed into the picture I have of him in my mind of a narcissist who doesn’t give a shit about anyone.
The fact that Ghomeshi’s show could be seen as an extension of Ross’ agency to promote his artists is a huge fucking deal. For those of you who may have forgotten, Ghomeshi worked for the CBC. CBC is a public broadcaster, funded by taxpayers. Thus, what may be in the best interests for the CBC or for Q may not necessarily jive with what are in the best interests of Ghomeshi, his agent or his lawyer.
It also meant that other deserving artists who could have also used the exposure were getting the shaft. Not because they weren’t necessarily good enough, but because they weren’t operating on an even playing field.
So what does this have to do with GamerGate? Well, I think that the Star piece highlights just how much of an uphill battle anyone who is seriously concerned with “ethics in gaming journalism” has in front of them. The CBC themselves said that this was a non-issue with Ghomeshi because “Q is an entertainment program and it’s not bound by the same standards and practices we have in place with our news and current affairs programs.”
An entertainment program. Well, that is certainly fair, and the CBC has been fairly inconsistent with not giving a damn about crossover with their programming. Ask anyone who has ever had to endure Don Cherry’s pontificating on Coach’s Corner. But I think that sentiment really illustrates why anyone who is seriously trying to speak out against issues in games media coverage is hooped: it’s just video games. Entertainment. Why are you getting so worked up about such a minor thing?
It’s something I’ve had problems articulating myself — I’m not really what you’d call a hardcore gamer. I do play video games, but not with any real gusto and I tend to stick to old games that I used to play than going out to pick up new releases. For me, personally, I find GamerGate to be interesting because I love media issues and GG tickles a part of my brain that I fully understand the vast majority of the world simply either does not have or does not use. That’s fine.
But I do think that GG, on some level, is important. Video games are a massive industry — sales figures in 2013 were $21 billion. Granted, that’s about a quarter of the revenue generated by the film industry which is estimated at $88 billion, but it outstrips the $16.5 billion that the music industry is touted as making.
There’s been a lot of concern over music over the years, just ask Ozzy Osbourne or KISS. Music is also something which I’ve been passionate about pretty much ever since I was able to give a damn about anything. It has the power to inspire, to motivate and to draw out some real raw emotions from people. Video games are a big business industry that are slowly starting to take on the same level of cultural importance as music has.
I don’t necessarily know if that video games as a medium has gotten to that point yet (cue Are Video Games ART? Debate #1,003,564…) but I think that if the medium is going to continue to evolve into something new or different, legitimate, serious coverage needs to start happening.
I mean, Christ, why not? We live in a world where some people choose to live their life per Carrie Bradshaw. Why can’t video games take a seat at the cultural influences table and be taken seriously?
Well, again, this goes back to the common public perception. They’re video games. They’re entertainment. While yes, it’s okay for cinema or music to be taken seriously, there’s a weird disconnect between those forms of entertainment and video games which are in some weird, nebulous zone where they’re written off as unimportant.
And please don’t think I’m shitting on people who are doing interesting work, or think that I am unaware that there hasn’t been scholarly work done regarding video games. The problem is with the general perception. Folks have been conditioned for years to see video games as a corrupting influence in society — Columbine, Shawn Wooley, Jack Thompson, the numerous stories of people who have let themselves or their children starve to death, etc — so it’s become easy to believe that there’s nothing else to GamerGate than harassment, death threats and other antisocial behaviour. Trying to distance oneself from the elements that do engage in behaviour like that is going to cause a lot of eye rolling.
In my mind, that’s why GamerGate has legs and has still been trudging on: people are actually interested and care about this beyond online trolling and harassment. Yes, there is online harassment, but I really do think that GamerGate is moving in two different directions — there are those who are still bent on harassment, and there are those who are trying to move beyond the harassment narrative.
And if the general attitudes towards Jian Ghomeshi, a guy who is facing several counts of sexual assault and is damaged goods up here in Canada, is “that’s entertainment’, good fucking luck.