Stop Sensationalism In Games Journalism
As a games journalist, I hate sensationalism. With a passion. It’s something that riles my bones in all forms of journalism when it’s done deliberately. But let’s pause for a moment. If you’re unsure or you’ve struck a blank on what sensationalism in this context is, it’s basically writing in a way that is designed to get the reader startled or worked up, or to please vulgar tastes. Think shock value, trying to invoke a reaction without substance or meaning. Have you ever tried reading SkySports? As a football fanatic I read it often, but it’s so full of sensationalism in its article titles that it’s nearly unbearable.
- You’ll Be Able To Play (Expensive) PS2 Games On Your PS4 Now | 2 months ago
- Jessica Jones Disempowers Its Male Characters And The Effect Is Refreshing | 2 months ago
- Hell Is 30 000 Deathclaws Tearing Through Boston And It’s Glorious | 2 months ago
- Sony Santa Monica Is Teasing Something Truly Strange | 2 months ago
“Assassin’s Creed IV’s single player requires an internet connection for next gen consoles.”
Of course, many people reacted harshly to that because they interpreted it as the game requiring a permanent internet connection in the form of DRM, which Ubisoft has slowly gravitated away from in recent times. However, when people actually read the article, they realised that nowhere in the article itself is this fact mention, and proceeded to call the website out on sensationalism.
Here is the direct quote from Ubisoft, found inside the article:
“ACIVBF will also be available on Next Gen consoles. In addition to improved graphics and physic, Next Gen versions will bring to the players new connected features allowing them to feel that even if they remain “Single Player” it will be better to be a “Single Connected Player.” “I mean, that Next Gen Consoles will allow players to have a solo experience that benefit the presence of a huge community.”
See what I mean? Even more disturbing is that directly after that quote the writer of the article said: “They did not clarify if the requirement means an “Always On” connection is needed or if the single player is playable and/or impacted without it.”
Now you’ve got to ask the question. What purpose did the header of the article actually serve? I’m not going to throw accusations around and condemn the writer for being sensationalist. It could easily be that he misinterpreted the information or came to the conclusion based on Ubisoft’s past. That doesn’t make the writer a sensationalist, although it does make him or her a bit wrong.
For me, sensationalism is the bane of journalism. Sure it’s nice to get hits and stir a bit of a riot up, but sacrificing the importance of your words and message is a very dangerous thing. However, it’s important to understand that there’s very little wrong with an attractive, eye-catching or direct header designed to grab the attention of readers, provided that the article is largely or entirely about that subject matter. But when you deliberately place the header to get attention even though the article you’re writing has very little to do with it, or the information you’re referencing and conclusions you’re drawing don’t actually support the title of your article, then it’s a seriously bad thing.
Sensationalism can also occur when you’ve put a very attention-grabbing header, yet your article lacks substance to properly support it. For instance, if you say “God of War: Ascension – Sony’s biggest mistake?” and then write an article that barely supports that or hardly gives much of an argument, then you could easily be classified not only as a sensationalist, but a bad writer.
I’d liken sensationalism to the recently released game, Aliens: Colonial Marines. That probably confuses you, so let me explain the analogy. My theory is that the publishers spat out the game despite its state so as to capitalise as fast as possible on fan interest and ignorance, and make as much money as they could to recover their losses before people realised it was a detestable and worthless game. The short-term benefit? They made quite a bit of money. The long-term consequence? The credibility and reputation of both Gearbox Software and Sega took a damaging hit that will stick with them.
I would apply the same idea to sensationalism in journalism. It’s basically the journalist trying to get as much of a reaction and stir up as big a controversy as possible, getting as much traffic as he or she can before people realise that the piece is nothing more than sensationalist tripe. It really isn’t worth it, and it’s a bad practice. Sure, in the short-term you rake up the traffic, views and maybe even advertising revenue, but in the long-term, and arguably the short-term as well, you could easily lose credibility and fan support. And of course, you contribute to the bad reputation of journalism in general.
If I have to be honest, I once wrote a column on Dishonored in the wake of its release that was titled like this: “Tody’s Take: Please Ignore Dishonored Hype, It’s Not Worth It.” In my mind, I was trying to play on words by saying that the hype isn’t worth it, not the actual game, but many people didn’t see that or didn’t read the article to find out (not to their fault, but my own) and I was accused of sensationalism and bullshitting for hits. I then felt terrible about that header, even though I know that I had a good argument in the article and wrote an informative and helpful piece. My intentions at the time of writing were innocent, but the consequences were severe because I went into sensationalist territory and, based on reader interpretation, my article gave off mixed signals. And I didn’t want that.
Out of the 2324 articles I’ve written as a journalist in my last four years, that is the one header that I can’t take back and change. But you live and learn, and I vowed never to repeat that mistake.
As a journalist I know that sensationalism is a huge problem, especially in the news. But maybe we can start by changing it in games journalism. Pure journalism, is the best journalism. Designed around honesty and benefiting the reader with the best information possible. My thought pattern is that you always have two options. You can either stand back and criticise the way the world is and lament about our dark days, or you can start by changing yourself and how you do things.
Make your choice. Mine is to try my best to never practice or encourage sensationalism.