Sensationalist Media and Gaming: Why Does It Continue to Happen?

Greetings everyone. Today I wanted to open up a bit of dialogue relating to a few key pieces of media aimed at the video game industry as a medium so far this year already. Gaming has been in the headlines far too many times already in the 17 days of 2013 so far, and almost all of it has been sensationalistic "news" pieces which don't really help or inform anyone in any positive way. Me going to the effort of putting the thoughts floating around in my head  in writing in this little post, rant, blog, whatever you want to call it, was brought on by a few things:

  • The first straw was seeing the absolute tragedy of the Sandy Hook Shootings being blamed on everybody's favourite Scapegoat, yep you guessed it, us.
  • The second straw was when I posted some info on Deep Silver once again proving they have one of the stupidest marketing teams in the business in relation to a rather garish statue they foolishly decided to include within the collector's edition for that Dead Island sequel that nobody wanted, which btw was followed up in a nice article by Zaknaberrnon which can be seen here.
  • And the final straw was waking up this morning to find quite possibly the most sensationalist headline I've seen in a good long while (you've probably already seen it if you clicked on this post):

No sadly I'm not making this up, oh dear. I'll throw a link to the story at the bottom of this post though I take no responsibility for the loss of brain cells you may experience reading it. I would discuss that article in particular but I don't think that is really getting down to the root of the problem (TV and Computer Craze? What is this, the 90's?). The problem is that gaming is getting thrown under the bus more and more over the years, whether it be the aforementioned school shooting tragedy or the equally as tragic Norweigan shooting from back in 2011. Is it something intrinsic within gaming that keeps it in front of the firing line? Or is this just crappy journalists jumping on the bandwagon of blaming whatever is popular with the kids at the time? Let's take a brief history lesson before we go and answer that.

Back in the days when I was a young lad, we didn't have these games with fancy 3D graphics or DX11 support. Sega had just introduced the world to the wonders of blast processing with its first home console the Sega Mega-drive, and the Super Nintendo wasn't too far behind it. Gaming was at the time considered by most to be a fun little diversion, and games like Mario, Sonic, Donkey Kong Country and Street Fighter reigned supreme for children and adults alike, though a much younger demographic than what gaming sports today. Also at the time, the sunday morning paper and the nightly news on TV were your main source of informing yourself; there were no smartphones, no twitter, and certainly no EpicBattleAxe (though let's be honest, it would have made the world a much better place).

In relation to journalism itself however, it goes way back before I was born. Since the late 1600's we have had print media, typically in the form of newspapers, which give us a source of news and commentary about the top stories of the day. Exclusive stories were your deciding factor between which publication to pick up, and each issue tried to beat out the others with increasingly outlandish headlines to ensure you were picking their newspaper up and not a competitors. This naturally progressed over the years (to varying degrees of success) from print media, to television and now to the internet. However, the sensationalistic mentality has stayed constant throughout even though the landscape of how we access and consume media and information has changed so dramatically. Whilst it is arguable that the golden age of journalism has passed in our current climate of social media and getting the same information from many different sources (which was actually discussed on a recent episode of the Axe Factor as a matter of fact), why is it that we still see these bloody big headlines that are obviously there solely for shock value without any real merit, meaning or discussion potential? Whilst I do intend to leave this section mostly open so I can hear your thoughts, I will throw my two cents in just a little.

Marketing teams think in funny ways sometimes (especially Deep Silver's it appears). Most media providers are under the impression that the more outrageous the claim the more publicity and revenue this will bring in. Whilst as much as I would like to think that this isn't an effective strategy its hard to argue with the premise, at least on the surface. Sensationalist media as a form of communication typically boils down to something journalists (good ones) call 'infotainment'. Sensationalist pieces tend to have a much higher emphasis on emotional writing or drama rather than reasoning or factual content, and this is where problems typically tend to spawn as the news is no longer focused on delivering information but rather creating a story. There are tons of books on this kind of thing so I won't bore you with all the details (I have linked one below though if you want, its a great read).

Sensationalist media also tends to find someone or something to blame rather than address the real issues, such as blaming video game violence for the Sandy Hook shooting rather than examining gun control laws in the US and facilities and avenues to improve the criminally under-funded mental health system... a spot of involved and engaged parenting wouldn't go a stray too, but I digress.

The medium typically used as the 'scapegoat' tend to be an industry that at the time is A) popular and B) isn't big enough to fight back. Movies such as Oldboy and Grindhouse have been blamed for such heinous acts as the Virginia Tech shootings, music from Marylyn Manson and Judas Priest have been blamed for such events as the Columbine Massacre (along with Doom, we've been taking a beating for a while) and now news outlets have found their newest and perhaps favourite scapegoat, video games.

In relation to gaming in particular, the commercial media typically focus on the violence aspect, though there are other social implications such as addiction which are targeted on occasion too. The argument typically comes down to "does shooting someone in a game condition you to be desensitised to the act of violence", with a great deal of paraphrasing on my part. Whilst I do think the implicit nature of interactivity in an interactive medium such as gaming does desensitise you to acts of violence in an interactive space to a certain point, which is where arguments such as whether or not aligning the loss of human life with gaining experience or essentially using violence as a reward mechanic is morally sound mechanic or good idea (which is a good and worthwhile discussion to have don't get me wrong, but not one I'm gonna comment on here, but if you do want a fantastic commentary on that dynamic go play Spec Ops The Line right now). Whilst I can see 'some' arguments that could be levelled at gaming here, the vast majority are either completely exaggerated and/or untrue, and most in fact are even scientifically proven to be untrue. There has not yet been a single study in the world correlating virtual violence to real life violence, and the fact that this headline continues to catch on is disheartening.

Again, I'm not here to shove whatever theories I have on the subject down your throat, but rather open it up to you guys and see what you have to say on the matter (let your voice be heard and the such), but bare with me for another few paragraphs or so cause technically I haven't really answered my own question yet.

Why does sensationlist media continue to cling to gaming like it has whilst movies and music have seeming been left alone for years now? I think the interactive element is a key one, and its one that is tangible enough to someone that doesn't really understand all of what gaming has to offer to be plausible. The urban housewife that doesn't play video games outside of Angry Birds or Wii Fit Plus or an Older Woman or Gentlemen who has never played a video game in their life is able to fairly easily grasp and compartmentalise the concept that something like the hyper-violence of Grand Theft Auto could potentially lead to violent behaviour. They have no point of comparison or reference as they didn't grow up using this technology, or at least having this technology there in their existence. Obviously to someone that knows a little more on the subject knows there isn't a correlation between the two, but these headlines aren't aimed at people of intelligence or knowledge on the subject, frankly; its easy for someone to accept criticism when they are unfamiliar with all the details and semantics. Sensationalistic stories such as the "Video Games Cause Cancer" one I cited earlier are also very easy traffic. Let's be honest here, sensational stories are the junk food of our news diet, the ice cream sundae that everyone is eager to gobble up even though you know that it will go straight to your thighs, the popcorn you get stuck in your teeth of news stories... okay I'm gonna stop these terrible analogies now.

That is, more or less, why I think this sensationalism in relation to gaming keeps happening, but I think we're on the verge of quelling this to a degree. In an age where everyone can be a journalist through a blog or website, opinion pieces don't hold the importance they once did such as in a time where trained actual journalists were the only ones facilitated with a platform for their opinions to be heard. The papers no longer have the wide-reaching audience they once did, and TV ratings are on the decline in favour of more instantaneous forms of deliverance such as Netflix, Cable, the internet etc... the same goes for news. As the news is almost solely a consumer based product (for lack of a better word), whatever is getting the most views will also be getting the most coverage. You do have the problem now however of more and more gaming sites commenting and covering that one outrageous headline with its own commentary, but here's hoping that dies down once we've got some better topics to talk about in the coming year. I do think this will naturally die down as time goes by as the medium matures as an art-form and becomes a more ubiquitous and accepted social medium like movies and music before it, but for the time being I think we're stuck with these outrageous claims, merit or no merit. At least for now.

There are whole other issues relating to this too obviously, like whether or not this kind of thing is actually hurting the industry to begin with (I'd argue no, as gaming is in my opinion the best it has ever been and continues to grow at a faster pace than both movies and music both did. Plus thanks to a renewed interest in the industry brought on by a new batch of consoles this year I feel we will just keep going from strength to strength), but that's another discussion for another day.

Again, the whole point of the post is because I would like to know your opinion on anything I talked about here: sensationalist media, video game violence, the growing pains of the medium, where gaming is going in the future, ice cream etc... Sound off with your thoughts, I look forward to reading them!

~Aussie Legend


Sources utilised:

Video Games Give You Cancer

Journalism in its prime

Gunman using Call of Duty as practise

Media and The Pass to Peace

History of American Journalism

Let's blame violence for my bad golf swing

Michael Moore's interview with Marylyn Manson

An in depth look at journalistic integrity and sensationalist media


PS. Congrats again to the Axe Factor crew on reaching 100 episodes!

Views: 244

Tags: Aussie, Australia, EpicBattleAxe, Game, Gaming, Integrity, Journalism, Legend, Media, Sensationalist, More…Video

Comment by Docwoor on January 17, 2013 at 9:16am

Awesome post Sir!

I have to say it saddens me that people like to lash out at stuff that they don't understand or don't want to understand. Mostly I think it comes down to the older generation just having no connection to the younger. Times and technology have changed so much in the last 2 decades that I feel until there is a change of generations in the leadership of media and governments, there is not going to be a lot of change in their attitude. Whenever I hear someone criticising new media, they seem to be in their 50s or older. I just don't understand if they actually believe what they say, or if they are acting it out, assigning blame, because they have an agenda.

It's obvious they want to sell more copies of newspapers, with sensationalist headlines like that, but do you think they actually believe the shit they write? 

I just hope I live to see that day when we don't have to deal with bullshit like that any more.


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The Axe Factor Poll!

What do YOU think the game industry should do to address social injustice?
Nothing, everyone should make the games they want to and include whatever they like0%
Provide players a choice with regard to gender/ethnicity/sexuality0%
At every stage of the process, simply ask "Are we being exclusionary?"0%
Other (Post a comment on TAF 156)0%
Not much needs to happen beyond raising awareness, people will make better choices once they understand why its important0%
Accurate information needs to be injected so publishers understand that being inclusionary doesn't equate financial loss0%


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