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Opinion: Some videogame journalists go too far to generate traffic

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gamertell journalist flippedThe field of video game journalism places writers in opinionated positions. They write the same types of stories as newspaper journalists – news, features, opinions and reviews – but also must entertain their audience.

In addition, the news stories are often regurgitated press releases. Take a six or seven paragraph press release and condense it down to three or four. This gives writers a bit of freedom as to how to handle their articles.

Especially if said video game journalists are working at a blog, much like this one. They are often called upon to be witty, to provide information and entertainment that 20 or 30 other sites aren’t to get more web traffic.

However, some blog writers are willing to go too far by isolating and insulting a portion of their audience in order to appeal to the largest – males age 13-27 – demographic.

The bleeding Hello Kitty image from the Destructoid article Buy a DS and you're guaranteed pussy: Hello Kitty pussy, of course A recent example of this is a news story by Destructoid Reviews Editor Jim Sterling about Hello Kitty: Big City Adventure, titled “Buy a DS and you’re guaranteed pussy: Hello Kitty pussy, of course.” In an attempt to be clever when reporting on new screen shots for the new DS game, Sterling attaches a sensitive title, a picture of Hello Kitty crying tears of blood and the following closing sentence, “Also, pussy. Pussy pussy pussy.”

The two paragraphs in the article describing the new screen shots aren’t offensive, they’re simply discussing new screenshots for a children’s video game. Only the title and final sentence stand out. In order to call attention to Destructoid and stand out, Sterling was willing to isolate and insult women and children, the two audiences that would likely purchase Hello Kitty: Big City Adventure. It seems counter-intuitive.

And then there is Ripten’s “Vagina Hero: Exclusive First Look” by Editor Dan Landis. While the Destructoid article simply featured a brief moment of adolescent humor designed to extort a chuckle from teenagers at the word “pussy”, this parody article by Landis goes a step further towards possibly permanently alienating female readers.

The article discusses a hypothetical game by Arctivision called Vagina Hero, obviously a play on the uber successful Guitar Hero franchise. Landis goes on to take cheap shots with statements mentioning a Pro Bundle costing $600 extra that isn’t any different, displaying a HodgePodge controller (with 18 different buttons) designed to look like the female anatomy and having each stage be a different woman.

Clearly the intent of the story is to get attention but you have to consider the cost. Landis’ story may have more than 140 Diggs but there are also multiple blog entries by writers who didn’t find Vagina Hero so funny, like Shakesville, Feministing and The F-Word. Clearly “Vagina Hero: Exclusive First Look” isn’t for everyone but perhaps Ripten may have stepped over a line in writing and releasing such a story.

Yes, racy and juvenile articles could mean a momentary spike in readership. I’m sure every blog or video game site would love to have a post hit 100,000+ hits and sit on the front page of Digg for a few days. Does the end justify the means? By running stories like the two above, sites could be losing loyal fan bases.

So how do these kinds of articles affect you, the readers? How do you respond when you come across a “Buy a DS and you’re guaranteed pussy: Hello Kitty pussy, of course” or “Vagina Hero: Exclusive First Look”? Would you overlook a few off-color articles and continue frequenting the site? Or would you search for news at a different source? Would you, perhaps, be less likely to trust news reported by sites which would publish controversial fluff stories?

Read [Destructoid] Also Read [Ripten] Via [Shakesville]

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  • Alien

    The quest to be irreverent yet still provide actual details within a few minutes window can be rough. It forces some things to get out of hand and if the writer knows that certain words or phrases will boost the visibility, even in Google searches that have nothing to do with gaming, they might do it. Some will say there is not such thing as bad traffic even though the visitors bounce out of the site in 10 seconds.

    The Destructoid item is a good example and even though it's gaming-related, clearly the audience it was written for is not the audience the game will appeal to. So when a Google search by a woman or young girl that likes HK brings them to the site there's a good chance they'll be a little miffed. Great you got another pageview but that reader will never come back and we all know loyal readers are the ones you want.

    I attempt to be witty, as much as my mood and real job allow but sometimes it just doesn't come out and I stick with the bare essentials. For the most part, that's probably enough. For some though it won't be and the news is secondary, it's their opinion that is paramount. For some this works though (for a good non-game site go to wwtdd.com for an example of wit over substance).

    I've gotten a bit off track but the gist is – good article, I agree with you. This is a good piggy-back off of the GamaSutra item about gaming journalism found here: http://www.gamasutra.com/php-bin/news_index.php?story=19746

  • Jenni Lada

    Oh wow! What timing – I didn't even realize Gamasutra had an article like this go up today as well. :D Great minds think alike perhaps?

    You make some really great points, especially about some sites putting news second and entertainment first. Plus the mention that you make about women and children likely never returning after reading the article is sound.

    Glad you enjoyed the article, and thanks for the link to the intriguing GamaSutra story!

  • oliemoon

    Great article and thanks for writing it. The gaming industry and especially a lot of gaming "journalists" really need to grow up if they ever want games to be taken seriously. It's good to see another journalist holding them accountable for their reprehensible behavior.

    I've never been a regular Destructoid reader, but I've made sure to steer far clear from the trash that they post ever since someone linked me to an article where Destructoid equated raping someone with being really attracted to them. As for Vagina Hero…wow. The author clearly doesn't know all that much about women, does he?

  • Jenni Lada

    Thanks oliemoon – I'm glad you enjoyed it.

    You're exactly right – videogame journalists will always be considered fluff journalists or looked down upon unless they realize that some kinds of humor and wit is okay in reporting, but others aren't.

    I hadn't heard about that Destructoid article before. Do you remember what game it was addressing?

    I guess some sites have an audience in mind and really want to get that audience visiting.

  • oliemoon

    It was an article on video game crushes actually: <a href="Video" rel="nofollow">http://www.destructoid.com/video-game-crushes-wanting-to-rape-your-imaginary-friends-45569.phtml#ext">Video Game crushes: Wanting to rape your imaginary friends. I don't know about you, but "rape" certainly isn't what jumps to mind when I find myself attracted to someone. The people at Destructoid honestly just disturb me. I don't understand how that a "joke" like that would be considered funny by anybody with even a just a basic sense of decency. But there you go…

  • Jenni Lada

    Oh wow. That is probably one of the most offensive titles I have ever read. I'm just kind of sat gaping at my laptop's monitor for a second trying to figure out what would possess an outlet to run a story with a title like that.

    I think I'll follow your lead and steer clear as well.

  • Robert Torel

    This begs the question, do games journalists actually care that they are looked down upon? The hobby itself certainly has a track record where that's concerned, particularly by media itself.

  • Sande Chen

    GameSetWatch did at one point discuss the compensation structure for various websites. If pageviews and diggs and traffic are part of how a writer gets paid, then it's not a leap to guess that the articles will get more and more sensationalized or redundant.

    As for copying press releases — no one in film or music journalism would do this… and I'm not so sure the writer should get paid for such as article when it's an unabashed go at promotion for an event, game, or company. Why should game writers be spokespeople for someone else's agenda?

  • Jenni Lada

    @ Robert Torel – Perhaps some don't mind, as long as their readers are appeased.

    @ Sande Chen – That is true. Some sites will pay more for stories that get more traffic, which could drive writers to push the line to try and get more money.

    As for the press releases, those are news in the game world when you think about it. When Nintendo announces it is working on something like Animal Crossing Wii, companies merge or an event is announced, that is relevant news game-wise. I think the idea is that sites should attempt to present the press release in a form that is informing readers as to the new forthcoming game and its features, but also presenting an honest opinion or take, and not trying to "sell" the game. A site shouldn't just copy and paste the press release to their site.

  • Twyst

    thank you for this article! i was only aware of gamertell before because of that ridiculous lindsay lohan article, but with this article, you're now my go-to site for news <3. i just cant stand kotaku or destructoid anymore, it's not funny, it's tiresome and hateful.

  • Jenni Lada

    @ Twyst: Hi Twyst! Glad to hear you enjoyed the article and it struck a chord with you.

    I always tended to avoid Destructoid, because it seems like a boys club there. Then, when I saw the link further up in the comments from oliemoon, it only reinforced my beliefs.

    Wonderful to hear from you and meet you!

    @Jessi: I know, right? I still sometimes run into GameStop people who look at me a bit odd when I pick up a game you normally wouldn't think a woman/girl would purchase.

    And I agree as well. Just because a game is obviously designed and geared towards children or women, doesn't mean it's bad. I actually really want Hello Kitty: Big City Dreams, if I can find it on sale sometimes.

  • Jessica Moen

    it just kinda annoys me that people STILL THINK that only men play video games! Get with the program people! I have been playing games for 25 years and so do all my friends (Jenni being one of them lol)

    I'm also tired of people making fun of girly kid games….they are are geared for girls and kids! so obviously adult males won't like them, that doesn't mean they need to insult them! It's differnt when the game is terrrible and not even women and children like them. then insult it all you want.

    Thanks for getting me worked up Jenni!! ;)