One night in an apartment building, an African American man is walking to his domicile and hears one of his neighbors screaming at the top of his lungs. He catches one particular line that upsets him quite a bit. “We need to separate the colors from the whites! This is disgusting!” Suddenly, the African American neighbor bursts through the door and begins beating his neighbor up. It’s in the midst of this that he knocks over a laundry basket, and sees a bunch of Fruit of the Loom shirts that are tinged an odd color of pink. It then dawns on him. His neighbor was talking about the laundry.
No matter what anyone tells you, context is important. In fact, in any discussion of events or storyline, context is the most important element of letting someone know what is and is not going on. One of my former professors put it best; context defines meaning. Without context, statements can seem incredibly obtuse, out of character, or even downright offensive. If context is not included, a situation can be manipulated via word of mouth to mean just about anything that the person stating it feels the need to do. As shown above, laundry can become racism. You can turn part of a Biblical story into a phrase that makes Christians look like genocidal maniacs. Lo and behold, you can make Mario look like he’s the worst sexist in the history of fiction.
The reason that I bring this up is because I feel that the video game journalism as a whole seems to have forgotten the importance of context, and what a lack of it can do for a storyline. If you say that your neighbor has killed a man, the first thought that pops up in a person’s head is that you’re living next to a murderer. Well, if the next statement is, “my neighbor was a Navy SEAL,” then the whole situation becomes something completely different. The human brain often times will have a tendency to jump to a certain conclusion unless it has all of the information to process, and then decide on. Though I do have several examples like the ones above, ultimately I’d like to focus on potential damage.
If you assumed that the first person that comes to mind who uses this tactic is Anita Sarkeesian, you’d be spot on. Anita has a very bad habit of taking storylines out of their context and boiling them down to their base elements, but she’s not the only critic that I’ve seen do this. Noted game journalists have a tendency to do this whenever they’re upset by a story or simply have a slant against a franchise. Statements such as, “It’s just corridors and shooting,” or “the only point is to increase your level” give no justice to the content within any video game. Though it’s possible that someone can be frustrated to the point where that’s all one sees, ultimately one’s frustration does not dictate truth.
To continue on that point, the problem with blanket statements without context is that they’re far too broad to really carry any meaning. “It’s about a bank robbery.” Well, you could be talking about the film Heat, Grand Theft Auto 4, Grand Theft Auto 5, Payday 1 and 2, etc. “It’s a Indiana Jones ripoff!” Well, you can say that about any Tomb Raider game, any Uncharted game, the National Treasure movies, Duck Tales, etc. What do such broad terms tell the audience about the medium being discussed? Nothing. It’s an intellectually bankrupt tactic. The writer is essentially giving the audience the information that he deems relevant, but that’s not something that benefits his audience.
So, how is such a thing avoided when one is discussing media? The simplest explanation is often the one to look for. Tell the whole story. Ultimately, people come to critics for analysis from someone who either is knowledgeable on a subject, an expert on it, or at the very least someone with a similar set of tastes. This particular relationship is completely and totally based on trust. By taking the context out of any commentary that you are putting forward, you effectively lie to your audience, and will lose their trust in the end.
To be completely and totally frank, I believe within my heart of hearts that many modern video game critics and media critics in general will not change in regards to this. They have come to the point where they see neglecting context as a useful tool. It can help to push their agenda by taking advantage of the trust that is put in them by their audience. It can be used to destroy a video game whose developers or publishers may have angered them at some point. Deception is a great tool for those who know how to use it.
However, if recent events have taught us anything, it’s that the truth always surfaces in one manner or another. Consumers know how much trust they put in the media and in critics, and if people fail to do their job, they will be held accountable. I would hope that in the future the new generation of video game journalists would take these things to heart, and make sure that their audience always gets the information they need. To quote Commander Shepard,
“You have one job: information. If I can’t trust your intel you’re useless to me.”
For the Future