Fri. Mar 24th, 2023
Addressing allegations of

A little over four years ago, before joining Ars Technica (and while working as a freelance writer), I started a Google group called “Game Journalism Professionals.” As I said in an introductory post at the time, the group was meant to be “a semi-private way to connect and talk” with colleagues based well outside my home base of Pittsburgh that I only saw in person a few times a year.

Yesterday, that group came under fire for being a secret clearing house where “elite” journalists discuss how best to conspire to cover the video game industry in order to “shape the entire industry’s attitude to events.” to give’. In reality, the group was and is simply a place for business competitors (and journalists are competitive!) to discuss issues of common professional interest.

Unfortunately, after the initial attacks on game developer Zoe Quinn, I wrote a message to the group saying several things that I soon regretted. In private conversations, we’ve all had the experience of throwing ideas away, only to realize after further reflection that they weren’t appropriate or productive – and life moves on. The bad ideas are forgotten. However, thanks to the internet, such conversations can now be archived and then dredged up for public display weeks or months later.

Since that’s happening now, I’ll explain a bit more about what this not so “secret” group is and why I started it, and then address some more specific concerns about the post in question.

A place to chat

GameJournoPros, as the group is called, was created as a place to “talk about that horrible PR person who is giving you trouble and ask for a solution to the problem,” as my introductory post says. It was supposed to be “a place to discuss your impressions of that embargoed game you’re reviewing and maybe find a multiplayer partner to help test it out. Let’s share.” It was intended as a way to spread the word about trustworthy freelance writers looking for work or discuss ethical conundrums. And that’s exactly what GameJournoPros has been for the past four years.

The group is “private”, so posts are only visible to other group members. Members are encouraged not to share internal materials outside the group to create the safe environment necessary for professional discussions among colleagues. That said, everyone in the group knows that anything can be easily copied/pasted and made public at any time, as the list’s introductory post explicitly noted.

I didn’t do much to promote the group after initially sending invitations to dozens of colleagues I’ve known and respected throughout my career, but the group wasn’t a secret either. GameJournoPros has indeed grown from 52 members in that first month to 150 members today; if someone met the “professional” criteria (i.e., they made all or part of their living writing or publicly discussing games) and asked to participate, they participated, with no questions practically asked. The group has never had litmus tests, partisan streaks, or any other viewpoint-based membership criteria. Many group members have mentioned its existence on Twitter and other discussion forums in the past.

(Ars Technica management was unaware of the list’s existence, and while a few other writers at Ars were nominally members of the list, they rarely participated in discussions – and to my knowledge none participated in group discussions of Zoe Quinn or “GamerGate.”)

This led to a diverse membership that I think inspires a sense of camaraderie and lots of friendly (and sometimes less friendly) arguments between peers. The more than 2,000 threads and many thousands of messages in the group are far from collusion over some messaging agenda, but more often heated discussions about issues such as the proper way to deal with the kinds of ethical dilemmas and reporting dilemmas that have been so hot in the public eye. the past few weeks, and about which I had written publicly and often since 2003.

The death of the print media was a common topic of discussion. So did the rise of popular video content, different media monetization methods, how to handle awkward embargoes, how to handle awkward interviews, how to handle anonymous sources, approaches to responses game journalism layoffs and hires, job openings, the rise of Kickstarter, the rise of Polygon, what to do with swag donated by publishers (Ars is giving it away), links to quality examples of writing on the web, attempts to create multiplayer sessions organizing for pre-release game builds, and – much to my chagrin – Pro wrestling. (Game journalists that I’m not seem to do Love Pro wrestling.)

In other words, the group promotes the kind of “inside baseball” discussions that colleagues in almost every field have over drinks at various conferences.

Members do not share coordinated messaging roadmaps or discuss how best to present a united front for or against a product or person. Members often make suggestions as to what they “should” do in relation to some problem, but these are rightly understood as ready-made opinions to be considered or ignored, not marching orders from some major clique. The group is made up of opinionated people vying for the same firsts and the same reader’s eye — not people usually prone to sharing classified information or undermining their own independence.

I won’t betray the group members’ trust by sharing their posts or membership, but they should feel free to discuss their own involvement in any way they choose. There are no dark secrets here.

As for Zoe Quinn

As for the specific allegations and interpretations that a Breitbart writer made based on one of my posts, a few clarifications are in order (along with a me a culpa or two):

  • The post in question was written in the immediate aftermath of Eron Gjoni’s lengthy blog post detailing many alleged and rather salacious details about developer Zoe Quinn’s private life.
  • At the time, I was skeptical that there was any merit to the actual journalistic ethics issue raised in the blog post about Quinn’s relationship with Kotaku writer Nathan Grayson, who never reviewed her game and only mentioned it in passing as part of a “game jam”. round up.” i used to be however, appalled at the kind of doxxing attacks and threats Quinn says she’s already received, as well as the publication of intimate details from her life.
  • I wanted to write about this kind of attack on a game developer, but at the time decided I couldn’t do it without drawing undue attention to Quinn’s private life – which seemed unfair since she was far from a major public figure. (Remember, this was long before #GamerGate was a thing and exploded in a million different directions, many of which had nothing to do with Quinn.) These are the kind of tough reporting decisions journalists make every day, and this was the issue that was discussed with colleagues in the thread.
  • In the heat of the moment, I suggested that game journalists organize a “public letter of support” for Quinn. Later in the discussion thread, cooler heads got the better of me and I realized that this would transcend our primary roles as reporters and observers (which is exactly the kind of productive, self-correcting debate the group spawns). No such note was ever sent.
  • i was playing Depression questwith the intention of reviewing it, a few days before the Zoe Quinn saga came online (as I said in the thread, “I was going to Depression quest since its release on Steam”). As I wrote in our review, I was inspired to check out a game that dealt directly with depression after Robin Williams’ suicide the week before, which coincided with Depression quests Steam release. I had no intention of raising the review once Quinn’s accusations surfaced.
  • However, suggesting that Quinn’s work was deserved additional attention because she had been attacked again went beyond my proper role as a critic and journalist. It was an emotional response. No one else in the group took this suggestion seriously, as the game has only one scored review on Metacritic. While I was wrong to suggest it, the utter lack of response clearly refutes the allegations of “collusion” between game journalists. Instead, it shows the independent spirit of those who participate in the group.

In short, some of the private thoughts I shared in the wake of Gjoni’s blog post crossed the line, and I apologize for broadcasting them. It was an error of judgement.

I want to be clear that this did not affect the other coverage of Ars. I don’t have any definitive word on what will be published on Ars Technica, and the two posts Ars made about the “GamerGate” controversy were suggested separately by Culture Editor Casey Johnston, who had followed the issue herself and worked on it directly at her pieces with senior Ars editors. As mentioned above, the decision to review Depression quest had been made before any controversy had arisen. (Due to my lack of judgment on this matter, I will refrain in the future from writing about or providing editorial support for further pieces published on “GamerGate”, Quinn or Depression quest at Ars.)

However, on the wider issue, accusations of “collusion” between group members are completely misplaced. Indeed, I see nothing wrong or even particularly interesting in discussing matters of professional interest in a closed Google group with competing colleagues. GameJournoPros has been a healthy, robust forum for debate among a community of competitors who can rarely agree on anything – let alone conspire to change the course of the gaming industry.

By akfire1

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.