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As many of you are aware, there’s been something of a controversy in the video game industry recently, which started late last year. I have little interest in diving into the heart of that topic. Its been talked about extensively on this site already. I will be focusing on a side issue. A lot of people are concerned about the coverage of this controversy in the media, which has brought a negative portrayal of the video game industry by MSNBC, CNN, and others. I’ve heard people claim that we had finally gotten past the negative portrayal of video games in the media, and this is setting the industry back several years. People claim video games can never be taken seriously if they don’t have the approval of old media. Another group smugly declares victory because their propaganda is being disseminated by the old media.

Here’s the thing, video games don’t need to earn the respect of old media. At least as far back as the 90s, old media news outlets were pushing the notion video games led to real world violence. Disgraced lawyer Jack Thompson, infamous in the video game community for his many lawsuits against game developers, was a media darling who made appearances on several news programs. Grand Theft Auto III in particular was decried in numerous outlets, after its release in 2001, for its violence and depiction of criminal activity.

What was the result of this massive propaganda campaign to discredit video games? Not a whole lot. Thompson’s lawsuits against game developers over their supposed connection to shootings were laughed out of court. There were attempts to create laws restricting the sales of games, which either failed to pass or were ruled unconstitutional in court.

Did the media campaign affect the popularity and sales of video games? Well video games have absolutely skyrocketed in popularity. The video game industry now generates more profit than Hollywood movies. Though much maligned by the media, Grand Theft Auto V recently became the best-selling game of all time. The massive propaganda campaign by news outlets hasn’t had any effect on the growing popularity of video games. Now video games are more popular than ever, while the old media outlets are declining in viewership. If media outlets couldn’t discredit video games when they were at the height of their popularity, how can they do it now that they are in decline?

msnbc video game

Just as a side note regarding the people who think video games have been set back by the recent negative coverage of the video game industry, they are either lying or ignorant. Old media outlets have always portrayed video games negatively. Even before the recent controversy started last year, MSNBC and Fox still ran occasional pieces blaming video games for real world violence. It got to the point where popular Youtubers would rant about MSNBC using clips from their videos to push this anti-video game propaganda. It is simply not the case that we got past this kind of coverage and old media outlets would cover games fairly.

Aside from the declining popularity of old media outlets, there’s also the growing recognition that they have no idea what they are talking about when it comes to new media, even by the people who still view them. Whether its video games or the Internet, old media outlets have shown a remarkable ignorance of the subject matter they are talking about. A quick Google search of “the hacker known as 4chan” reveals numerous discussions all over the internet just eviscerating CNN because their technology expert had no idea what 4chan was. Old media outlets are a joke. They don’t deserve respect, and no one should be trying to earn their respect.

While this article has mostly focused on news outlets, fictional television series are also part of the old media, and some of them have decided to jump in with their own anti-video game propaganda. Law & Order: SVU recently aired an episode so terrible that even game developers felt they had to speak up about its portrayal of the gaming community. This piece by Erik Kain may be the best deconstruction of everything terrible about the episode, but it isn’t the only criticism you’ll find. All over the Internet you will find discussions, videos, and memes tearing this episode apart.

Like the news outlets, the writers of the SVU episode displayed their massive ignorance of the subject matter they were talking about. Just about every single detail was wrong: from the completely fake gamer lingo, to the treatment of women at video game conventions, to the actual video games depicted in the episode. The best part is pretty much everyone recognized it for what it was: complete garbage. In this propaganda war, the old media is completely outmatched by the new media. They can’t compete with thousands of individuals across the internet making blog posts, tweeting, and posting videos telling everyone how awful the episode was.

Another reason the video game industry should not try to win the approval of old media is simply that it will never work so there is no point in trying. As far as they are concerned, video games are competing with them for attention. Old media also thrives on sensationalism and fear mongering. They want to put out the most outrageous stories they can in a desperate attempt to hold the attention of the viewers they still have.

While we might think of MSNBC and Fox as the worst offenders when it comes to sensationalism, ABC has shown itself to be no better. They deliberately set out to construct a story blaming a very large group of gamers for harassment and rejected any evidence to the contrary because they needed something “visually enticing” to a broad audience. One of their reporters even admitted to it in an email conversation. After all these years, its time to give up trying to win over old media, because they have decided it’s not in their interest to report truthfully on video games.

So the next time MSNBC runs a news story about the evils of video games, just relax. It shouldn’t bother you at all. Even if they ran a negative story every single day, it wouldn’t make the slightest bit of difference. If there are any game developers reading this, I hope you take this to heart. You need to make the games you want to make. Don’t let any media outlet intimidate you.

Max Michael

Senior Writer

I’m a technology reporter located near the Innovation District of Kitchener-Waterloo, Ontario.

  • Brian Hall

    Excellent op-ed, mirrors my thoughts exactly on issues of ‘Mainstream Media’ and ‘PR’.

  • Hear hear! Old media will always be scared of the media that is trying to replace it, and TV news is such a dinosaur at this point that it’s only a matter of time before the generations kill it underfoot. Games are mocked because they are successful, that’s the true victory behind the harsh words.

  • 33

    It’s ‘hear, hear’ not ‘here, here’.

  • Fixed and noted for the future :p

  • Nelson Whitaker

    Excellent piece.

    Thank you

  • LunarArchivist

    I don’t think the problem here is wanting the approval of old media and more just wanting a fair shake and accurate reporting. We might know what they’re saying is BS, but a lot of people – especially the ones in positions of power in the government – don’t. So simply leaving things the way they are will end up causing increasing amounts of grief along the way.

  • Morningstar

    I don;t think it will ever happen, not just with games, but with most topics, At this point, all news old media is now essentially propaganda meant to push an agenda. and anything expecting fair and balanced coverage form them are deluding themselves and drowning in Kool-Aid.

  • Anonymoose

    Every time someone says that video games has been set back 10 years or so, I celebrate. In terms of quality and creative freedom, the industry was better off before it went mainstream and attracted all the hipsters who care more about how people see them playing video games rather than playing and/or making good video games.

  • Camarouge

    Well said, guys. I was a bit of a defender of gaming from the old media while Jack Thompson was prowling about, spreading messages of “Think about the Children!”. What I discovered was a very authoritarian attitude that was, at the time, poised to turn the video game community and industry into an Orwellian nightmare.

    It’s good that this article mentions Thompson and his deeds. But what he used as a springboard were people David Grossman, a retired army officer who went after video games in much the same way. Grossman wrote of dishonest effects that video games had on kids, unironically comparing the violent deeds of a few isolated incidents(such as Columbine and the Heath High School shooting of 97) to a soldier suffering from PTSD. Grossman considered himself the expert on soldiers suffering from mental health post-combat, and had never been to combat or anything close himself.

    It is these sorts of appeals and dishonest tactics that the old media clings to in an effort to get games changed, censored, banned et al. as part of the overarching authoritarian agenda. And while the people and places change, the tactics do not. Political Correctness is now ‘Social Justice’. ‘Think of the Children!’ is now ‘Think of the women!’ It’s reasons like these that I cannot truly take that SVU episode seriously. It’s not a portrayal or reenactment at all, it’s satire. Veiled satire of extreme anti-video game attitudes. And it’s subtle; you won’t notice the imitation of disparagement for video games the first time watched. But the clues indicating “You should think this is all ridiculous by now” will slowly come together.

  • Zanard Bell

    The good thing about all of this is that the comment section of these news stories are rife with people decrying the slanderous articles/reports. No one, except the old and the gullible, is buying it.

    Also, while the authoritarian right is extremely idiotic in trying to ban video games, the authoritarian American left, as those in the GamerGate movement are now finding out, are using video games for far more sinister purposes. People that are ingrained in the most influential parts of society, and, behold, that includes the old traditional media. So, please, don’t be surprised if Stephen Colbert had ran that Anita Sarkeesian interview, because the ‘game’ was cutting close to their monopoly on culture.

  • Syndromic

    Video game is the new heavy metal in the eighties, just an easy scapegoat for serious crimes committed by young people.

  • Ben Jeanotte

    Great article Max, and some great points. Though I never really caught myself caring much what “old media” thought about video games. Pretty much neither me or any of my friends watch those news outlets.

    I am moderately more concerned that all this politics in gaming is leaking into game development. Obligatory trans and gay people in games, where you can tell they were just shoe-horned in. Not that I mind trans or gay people, but I hate anything inserted as a token simply to be PC. When Borderlands The PreSequal has more gay people than black people, it just seems a little contrived. Anyhow, not to derail your topic… it all kinda ties into that, because developers become concerned about this media portrayal… even if certain awesome gaming websites are not. This concern from developers is beginning to taint and hold back certain franchises. If anything it is more perilous for developers to push boundaries than it ever was before. We’ve gotten over video game violence, but now it’s all about “rape-culture” and including every single marginalized type of person in your game to the point of ridiculousness.

  • Penguin

    Absolutely agree!

  • Patrick Toworfe

    Well said. Those media clowns will latch onto anything if it serves them a quick buck. Gaming has thrived without the approval of the media and it will continue to do so.