“Either you repeat the same conventional doctrines everybody is saying, or else you say something true, and it will sound like it’s from Neptune.”Noam Chomsky
It is a tale as old as time – Some hot gossip or horrible truth takes over the fighting game community section of Twitter and other social media, and within hours the same story, its truths glossed over in pursuit of the almighty “discourse,”is plastered all over various gaming sites, YouTube pages, and Discord forums. Sometimes heads roll, sometimes only eyes, and after a few days the discussion cools to a lukewarm, poaching temperature until it boil overs once again, usually around similar topics.
The question has to be asked: why does this keep repeating in perpetuity? A good question, though sadly answered rather simply: the boiled-over runoff is what pays the bills. In a world where corporate consolidation has effectively massacred the news industries, most of these websites become little more than the tiny vagrant with a newsie hat shouting “Extry extry!” in order to grab attention, no matter how fleeting. Eyes on the product means website views, which means higher amounts of website hits, which means advertisers are pleased with how many eyeballs their ads are getting and spend more money to mine more personal data, and so on and so forth. Editorial teams (and likely advertisement firms hired to punch up the site) are usually charged with intuiting what aspects of the work would fan the flames of “discourse,” so salacious headlines, which may or may not be the truth of the piece, often get put front and center to get people talking and, more importantly, sharing. This tactic is certainly not new, but when gain for these corporations have never been simpler than clicking on a hyperlink and it has also never been easier for the average person to “go viral” thanks to easily accessible content-sharing websites. With those factors, it has taken on a new degree of shamelessnes.
Part of fanning those flames is appealing to the base levels of tribalism, particularly in video game content. Positing [x] as superior on whichever level the creator prefers to argue (morally, technically, historically) is one of the most popular, although nearly equally popular is the opposite – framing [x] as inferior on those same levels. While much of this stock of content is made to have as broad an appeal as possible, it should be noted that many have their content rooted in a firm ideological stance as well. None of those things are wrong in a vacuum, but because that style dominates corporate news media cycles today, many recognize the inherent emptiness in the presentation and disassociate to look for alternative media sources, who ironically do the same thing.
What can happen, however, is a curated ecosystem gets created that can sometimes lead into what writer and Cato Institute senior fellow (Again, the author is extremely aware of the Milky Way-sized irony at work) Julian Sanchez dubbed “Epistemic Closure:”
While this was intended to analyze the mindset of someone embroiled in far-right wing ideology and media consumption, it could just as easily explain many aspects of fandom that get similarly nasty. In that sense, a piece of “negative” information might be something as simple as “[x] is good,” because it contradicts the information that one absorb from their carefully selected sources. A truly contrary opinion has even less of a chance of actually being absorbed.
This has become very clear whenever it comes to a certain type of FGC response whenever the website Kotaku posts something in regards to the community. Kotaku is a gaming website owned by G/O media group, and formerly under the Gawker network. While it does provide new updates, Kotaku, like many other websites in owned by G/O, tends to look under the hood, with introspective pieces on video games, longform scoreless reviews, and deep dives into the working conditions and controversies surrounding video games and their culture. The “rivalry,” if it can be so called, goes all the way back to 2012, when Kotaku was one of the sites most active in calling attention to the sexual harassment committed by Aris Bakhtanians when he was a contestant on the Capcom-sponsored reality show Cross Assault, publishing no less than three separate posts about the scandal.
None of these were objective and harshly condemned the actions of both Bakhtanians and the Wednesday Night Fights’ commentary immediately following. The apotheosis of the divide was after writer Jason Schreier posted about Noel Brown’s arrest after a domestic incident at the Florida hotel where the CEO tournament was taking place. The organizer, Alex Jebailey, had this to say when asked for comment by Schreier:
Clearly no love lost.
This endless war flared up again recently when Ian Walker, who has spent in excess of a decade covering FGC stories during both his time at Kotaku and as editor-in-chief of Shoryuken.com’s front page, wrote an article about a recent dustup during the popular weekly online tournament hosted by the moderators of the subreddit r/Street Fighter. Long story short, the usually mellow tournament decided to have a little fun during a match by playing flatulent sounds over the commentary microphones rather than commentate the match. One of the players was hurt by that, and the organizer reached out not long afterwards to apologize and make amends, which was accepted by the player.
Curiously, this article caused a brief smattering of outrage amongst some notable FGC Twitter accounts, who lambasted the publication once again for spinning “negative” stories consisting only of “drama,” rather than “actual content.”
To preface, it should be noted that Kotaku is by no means a perfect organization. The site’s insistence on combining the steady drip of news like most journalistic websites with a bite-sized, blog-like presentation of said news could be puzzlingly reactionary at times, as is the norm across social media. This has largely been corrected as the years have gone on, with the addition of stronger writers who had a formal background in journalism as well as clearer editorial goals. But as the site continues to be absorbed by bigger and bigger corporate enterprises, Kotaku has also seen a mass exodus of those same employees, who have all alleged discriminatory practices and meddling from the higher-ups as cause for their resignation. In addition, the killing off of a subsection of the site dedicated exclusively to e-Sports was shut down due to budget cuts, further kneecapping truly strong coverage of competitive gaming. Like any business run solely for profit, its top staff has an interest in divisive, outrageous headlines and titles that drive good or bad interest, much to the chagrin of many of its writing staff. There is no shortage of areas to critique the site, the most scathing of which is often from its own former staff.
Having said that, gaming communities are probably some of the most profoundly reactionary groups on the planet. Many in these communities have a massive victim-complex, seeing themselves as a discriminated sub-culture that is forever fighting for legitimacy and recognition against an ignorant and unfair mainstream that belittles their hobby of choice. This, despite the gaming industry making hundreds of billions of dollars a year, with single games generating more in their first weekend than most motion pictures and recording albums do in their lifetime. E-Sports, too, will be worth almost a billion dollars soon, albeit in a far more precarious position than the games industry it is held up by. Hard to play the victim when videogames are one of the world’s most lucrative and thriving industries.
Fighting games have never had anything more than a booster seat at the e-Sports table, but that is slowly changing as well. More and more companies are investing in half to a year-long competitive tours with thousands of dollars on the line, and integration with Sony to advertise and host online tournaments for fighting games through PSN has the idea of competitive fighting games more visible than ever. In addition, there are independently-run websites and other content from intracommunal sources with a specific focus on fighting games. One could never click onto a page at Kotaku and still receive all of the latest news on various tournaments, world tours, player achievements, and so on.
So why the hyper focused hostility towards Kotaku? Answers seem to differ, but the prevailing theory seems to be that Kotaku has (of all things!) an agenda to attack any gaming community that doesn’t conform to its ideology, in particular the FGC which is more “grassroots” (read: less politically correct). These aren’t attacks in good faith either – it comes from “outsiders” who have never even attempted to be good at fighters. If it was legitimate, it would post both sides of the community, highlighting all the good and all the bad equally, elsewise it will promote a false image of a community to its large readerbase, which in turn hurts the FGC because ignorant readers will then only remember how parts of its community are abusers or otherwise not great. In order to fulfill their agenda they actively seek out the bad parts and hide the good, only interested in their business model and callous toward the lingering damage it may cause.
Or, at least, that’s the gist of it.
There is an idea, certainly not just amongst gamers but a good-deal of the news-consuming populace too, that “objectivity” is a virtue cast aside in mainstream journalism in favor of an extremely partisan bias that has rendered every news story into an illusion of truth presented through ideologized lenses. This has almost certainly never been true – newspapers began under monarchies that wanted to spread their propaganda to its own vassals, who then passed it down to the uneducated, illiterate serfs. Later on they became useful tools for political parties in both Europe and the burgeoning United States to widely spread their ideologies and paint the opposition as foolish. Even later they became useful for wealthy elites like William Randolph Hearst and Joseph Pulitzer to springboard into the US Congress by offering sensationalistic, attention-grabbing, but rarely entirely truthful stories meant to influence the general, non-partisan public. This is not to say that there has never been honest muckrakers looking to expose corruption and bring necessary truths to the public eye, nor that there is zero truth in any news media, but to assume that journalism is an inherently noble tradition “supposed” to be free of non-ideological partisanship or propaganda is a completely false, ahistorical notion.
Even then, the idea that Kotaku‘s own ideological lens (again, this is impossible to not have) are laser-focused on attacking the FGC is ludicrous. Through just the lens of its now defunct ‘Compete’ section, there have been countless examples of writers not only expressing their passion for the unique drama of competitive games, but also for the games themselves, including fighting games. Former editor Maddy Myers had an interview with Dominique “SonicFox” McLean, getting to the heart of why fighting games were so important to their life and identity, that would make any enthusiast proud. This is just a small sampling; even a cursory glance through the archives would reveal a host of writers who are as infatuated with fighting games, their history, and their competitive culture as one could hope for from someone who is covering the community.
So that only leaves a so-called obsession with “negative” stories, but that framing begs the question: negative for whom? The story that caused the hubbub, about the flatuluence? This is how it ended:
r/StreetFighter organizer Joe Munday immediately reached out to FGC Jesus and apologized publicly, saying that the decisions made during commentary were his and acknowledging that both players were treated disrespectfully.
I’ve always loved that the fighting game community doesn’t take things too seriously. We’re playing video games, after all, so why mimic sports to such a degree that everything is sanitized? But sometimes a joke can be taken a little too far and end up discouraging someone who deserves recognition. I’m happy that, in this instance at least, folks were willing to examine their inappropriate flatulence and apologize for making a fellow player feel less than.Ian Walker, Street Fighter V Tournament Organizers Apologize For Playing Fart Noises During Match
“I’m happy that…folks were willing to examine…and apologize for making a fellow player feel less than.” Does this sound like a deeply negative condemnation of a community? The end result is seen as a positive interaction, of how to resolve an issue of someone feeling someone isolated and wronged by a small but tight-knit community. In much the same way, there is an article concerning the conduct and subsequent punishment of Victor “Punk” Woodley, who was punished by Capcom for inappropriate conduct after a recent online tournament loss. Walker here frames Woodley’s behavior as “understandable” if “a little overboard,” while far more critical of Capcom for “inconsistencies” in their judgements and “need[ing] to improve.” Wouldn’t holding the large corporation attempting, poorly, to enforce boundaries on community behavior be a net positive for the community of players those rules would effect? Ditto this for anytime the website reports on a major sexual harassment or abuse scandal – bringing attention to a real issue and the efforts to fix it from within should be seen as a positive, even if the original behavior was deeply harmful and negative in nature. It lets others who have maybe felt alone in their experience that perhaps they are not, and that more attention is being shone upon that behavior so it can be eradicated from the community.
When the knee jerk reaction to these articles being posted is to simply read the headline, a few paragraphs, and call it “negative” because it tackles an ugly or seemingly harmless event, it reeks of the epistemic closure problem discussed earlier. Most people in the community would report that they have had nothing but positive experiences, and hearing contrary information can hurt their perception of the community they care so much about. The only natural response to that would be to decry that coverage as “toxic” or “negative,” to denounce that source as public enemy #1, rather than one who is not, nor should be expected to be, objective about issues they see in the community. To nitpick and say there “isn’t enough positive coverage from [x]” is to do a great disservice to the number of individuals who, independently or at another website/publication, give coverage to donation drives, perspectives of queer and BIPOC players, individuals who make a positive stamp on the community through smaller actions, and more. In fact, as noted by gaming documentarian Esteban Martinez, even “positive” and “good” content can be denied by epistemic closure
The reality is that there is nothing Kotaku could do to change the minds of many people. It is clickbait garbage, nothing less, and objectively worse than a site whose content is derived from sources who don’t give permission to be featured and throws its own writers under the bus when convenient. But that’s better because at least that site “tries” to be positive, they say. However convincing that might sound deep in an epistemic closure, it denies the reality that Kotaku is not the enemy, and even has or had writers that greatly love fighting games and their communities, wanting to focus on bettering those communities rather than gas it up all the time. That is only one perspective, a valid one, and is in no way a threat to the other great content creators who focus on strictly uplifting content. Certain circles of the FGC need to get over their aversion to the uncomfortable realities that plague the community, especially in light of every terrible instance that has come to the surface over the summer. “Negativity” is not the voices of those who share your interests and goals but say it in a way you don’t like – ignoring those voices for that reason is.