Alex shines a light on the complex relationship between gamers and game journalists.
Power. Plenty of video game characters, from Kratos to Batman, clearly hold it inside their virtual worlds, but who holds it outside of video games? How strong is the influence of the gaming mass media upon their audience, or is there an influence at all? The false dichotomy within that question ignores the fact that maybe it’s not a case of either/or, but rather somewhere in between.
Certainly, gaming journalism has only grown as the gaming industry has become increasingly mainstream. The number and diversity of those who browse IGN or GameTrailers is currently on the rise; which means the voice of game journalists has been getting a little louder. Additionally, some gamers will interpret a review by a particular publication or person as the definitive factor determining the quality of a game and whether it is worthy of their time and money. I’m no stranger to this rather unhealthy habit, having believed IGN’s 9.0 review of Call Of Duty: Modern Warfare 3 right up until the day I bought and played it. The idea that the opinion of one person can be treated by some as if it were fact surely suggests that game journalists hold a powerful air of authority over their audience.
Media coverage of certain gaming news can also affect how gamers interpret things; I’ve talked about this before, but the fact that the Mass Effect 3 ending was given so much attention by gaming journalists for so long significantly (yet almost subconsciously) transformed my opinion of what I had previously thought to be a perfectly good game. Judging from these observations then, it appears as though the model of the media as a ‘hypodermic needle’, which can directly insert certain opinions into our heads, holds a scary amount of truth to it. And yet…
To declare that the passion of the gaming community is like no other is so widely recognised that it has almost now become a cliché to say it. You don’t have to look far to see how vocal and opinionated a bunch of people we are; EA and Maxis have just allowed SimCity to be played offline, despite previously and on repeated occasions adamantly stating that it would never happen. You can therefore scroll down to the comments section of literally any online game review and you will find plenty of people who adamantly dispute the opinion of the reviewer and will even give their own comprehensive thoughts and critiques on the game as a mini alternative review. What’s more, I know plenty of friends who deliberately don’t read reviews, previews, or anything of the like specifically because they don’t want their own opinion of a game to be unhealthily distorted by the views of a few game journalists.
One could go so far as to say that it is gamers who control the media, since the latter (which is a ‘service’) must give the ‘customer’ what they want. Considering this, one could view the Mass Effect 3 scandal in a different light. Since so many gamers were so passionately critical of the game’s ending, the media responded by interviewing BioWare developers on the issue and expressing the general resentment found among the community in their publications. This theory is known as the ‘reinforcement’ model of the media; since journalists will simply reinforce and reflect the views and opinions of their audience, rather than influence it.
There is no black or white conclusion to the relationship between game journalists and their audience. In some areas, particularly concerning game reviews, it appears as though journalists can have a salient level of influence on the minds of certain gamers, yet in other scenarios the media appears to have either no effect or simply just acts as a mere mirror with which their audience can project their own opinions onto. However, my own thoughts are clear-cut. Whilst gaming media is great for keeping up to date with the latest news on the industry and game journalists do often hold qualifications and expertise which renders them credible as a source, it is healthy to remember that the opinions of journalists (which aren’t just found in reviews, but can be embedded into apparently objective news reports) are just that, and the authority of this opinion should always be kept in check and balance by the our own opinions as gamers.