Click-Bait Is The New “Gamer Entitlement”
Anyone remember the whole Mass Effect 3 ending controversy? Of course you do. I think most of us will take that one to our graves. Anyway, that saga in March 2012 as well as others like the Diablo III and DmC: Devil May Cry Dante debacles (so much alliteration), spawned a massive thing in our culture about gamer “entitlement”, to the point that it went past being an extreme and the word became so overused that you’d hear it every single time some poor old sod so much as made the slightest complaint about anything – even Satan. Or petrol prices. I’m exaggerating, but the point is there.
There were two problems with the over-usage of the word. Eventually, it not only lost the plot and started being used in the wrong contexts, for instance when gamers were making valid complaints constructively or when they were actually in the right about something they should be getting, but it also became the ever-so-reliable ‘fall back’ argument to throw at anyone whose opinion differed.
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A gamer complains about on-disc DLC? Entitled! A gamer complains that BioWare misled them about the variation of the endings in Mass Effect 3 – which was factually true? Definitely entitled! A gamer complains about being unable to play Diablo III after buying it off the shelves? Must be entitled! A gamer complains that a developer has released a massively buggy game? Obviously entitled! A gamer complains that Games with Gold needs improvement? There goes that entitled asshole again!
I think I made it clear. Obviously, entitled is fair-use when someone is throwing toys out of the cot, becoming destructive, flat-out whining and acting pretentious, or doing something else that warrants the term. I’m referring to when “entitled” just got used because, hey, it’s an easy accusation.
Now, I’m starting to see a similar thing happen with the term “click-bait.”
Let’s be honest here. Man to man. Potato to potato. There’s plenty of click-bait articles out there. Sometimes SkySports annoys the hell out of me with the way it almost prides itself on sensationalism and trying to add gasoline to fires at every turn in order to keep the fights alive. Destructive journalism. Similarly, I get annoyed when I see an article that is like “three reasons PS4 has won this generation!” and then the reasons are like A) it is a smaller box, B) it has 1080p and 60fps and C) Sony love us. And there’s the article. Before you jump to call me an Xbot, cool your jets I’m a Sony fan.
It was just an example. Don’t hurt me. I feel that, this is a core problem we face in the digital age. Sheer volume. Of anything. And with the volume of click-bait out there, it can easily put a lot of skepticism into the heart and mind of any reader. That is understandable. No one can really hold that against you.
But where I get annoyed, personally, is when the term gets used in the wrong context and basically becomes like the entitled issue again. I feel gamers forget that journalists are writers. They actually have to entice people to read their content. The headline is how that happens. It’s not rocket science. Nine times out of ten the headline is why someone will read anything. So naturally it needs to be something that attracts an audience. It is a bit of a myth that simply writing good content will get you readers. There has to be an initial attraction; a hook to get the first or new readers.
My gripe comes in when readers slam something for being sensationalist or ‘click-bait’ when it actually isn’t, and the term is used incorrectly. I’m going to break it down using an example. Let’s say you stumble across an article (I’m fabricating this) with the headline:
“Five Reasons Why Microsoft Has Lost Consumer Trust.”
It’s fair to say that by just seeing this headline on its own, you can argue both ways. You could be on the side which says it’s click-bait, or you could be on the side which says it’s an okay title. But it’s just a headline. It’s just the initial pull. People forget that often what actually determines whether something is sensationalism or click-bait is the content of the article itself. Dumb analogy here, but it’s like first being drawn to a person because of their appearance, but then discovering what’s on the inside.
Now, let’s explore two scenarios.
Let’s say that in scenario one, you proceed to go to the article itself and the content is less than stellar. Maybe it’s too short, completely shallow, no points are elaborated on, it’s badly written or, well, the actual reasons given are invalid, silly, factually incorrect or filled with holes. I’m being extreme here, but it’s to illustrate the point. Now you could make a good case for the writer being sensationalist or writing a click-bait article. Sure you can’t always prove it, because you won’t know the intention of the person behind the keyboard, but you can certainly dismiss the article as a good piece of journalism.
What about scenario two? Now let’s say that you go into this article and the writer has given five logical arguments, backed it all up with good reasoning and/or facts and research, has given his or her opinion constructively and without malice, and has been as thorough as possible. The content is an exploration of the headline. How do you call this click-bait then? The headline is suitable because the content is a complete exploration of it. The content was genuine and the tone was appropriate.
Of course those examples are basic, and you get far worse cases of sensationalism or click-bait where for instance a tiny quote is taken and blown completely out of proportion. But focusing on the scenarios above, the problem comes in when both get accused of being click-bait crap just because it’s easier to do that than think on the content, or the reader doesn’t like what the writer has had to say, or the reader is simply making an assumption. I suppose they’re free to do that, but like the entitled thing it can be accused incorrectly and unfairly. And I don’t believe journalists should exist to be robots. Not when gaming is so exciting too. We should have opinions, or be allowed to try and create discussions.
There’s a responsibility on both sides I guess. You need to understand that at the end of the day we also are trying to get you to read what we write. And headlines are the tool to do this. The initial impression, the first few seconds of exposure, is often what gets you to do anything, whether it’s go into a store, browse a website, try a new product and so on. That’s why, on the topic of articles and click-bait, I feel it falls on the content to determine whether something is done for attention or because the writer was genuinely interested in talking about it. And it’s our responsibility to make sure that when we use a potentially attention-grabbing headline, we actually explore it in our content, write sincerely and refrain from being malicious or half-assed. I think that’s the least you should expect from us.
To wrap this up, I’ve just been getting a bit annoyed when I see click-bait accusations flying left, right and diagonally (centre is too mainstream) even when an article is well-written or uses the headline in an appropriate fashion. It felt a little like revisiting the days of ‘gamer entitlement’, where you couldn’t even make any kind of complaint about something gaming-related before someone would accuse you of being whiny or entitled. It’s just a bit exhausting, and sometimes illogical too.
You should judge based on content, and not the headline. The headline is the catch. It only tells you what the content will be about (hopefully) – but says nothing of the quality or validity of the content itself. It can’t be assumed that every article with a catchy or controversial title is click-bait.
On a side note, if you think sensationalism or click-baitness in gaming journalism is bad, I challenge you to read websites like SkySports during controversies like the Luis Suarez biting saga.
It’s like the journalists are twirling their moustaches and scheming how to get people to eat each other.