Games and Journalism are two fields of cultural production that have not always gone hand in hand. Games have enjoyed the freedom of being considered an unimportant pastime whereas journalism has been at the center of empowering the public. Therefore, two very distinct functions; pastime and empowerment.
However, this presumption has been proven wrong. For example, the communist regime’s neglect of the digital games’ importance as a medium allowed the medium to empower the public where other media were prohibited or limited. Censoring media was a frequent endeavor at the time but exclusive to the familiar forms of communication: the newspaper, radio, and later television.
In Communist Czechoslovakia, digital games were a frequent medium of communist propaganda subversion (Švelch, 2018, pp. 185-214). Therefore, it should not be taken as a given when digital games journalism is associated with citizen journalism or meets a lower standard than traditional journalism due to it reporting on a leisure activity or ‚soft‘ news (Hanusch, 2012; Carlson, 2015; Perreault & Vos, 2019).
In my research on Reddit moderators associated with subreddits dedicated to various digital games, I explore the conditions of this type of volunteer community moderation. I focus on the participatory cultures and the actors that Reddit moderators interact with on an everyday basis. In this short article, I will present some of the material that I gathered, as examples of journalistic inquiry that could be conducted, as well as material that specifically addresses the contemporary practices of game journalists.
Game Journalism: Lifestyle Journalism
Digital games journalism has had a long history of an intimate relationship with the industry it is reporting on, causing several controversies from both industry actors as well as players, raising questions regarding the legitimacy of games journalism (Stuart, 2017).
This was especially the case during the GamerGate controversy in 2014 (Suellentrop, 2014). The history of controversies heavily focuses on the form of lifestyle journalism; “access to preview and review material”, which suffers from being tightly controlled by the digital games industry making the journalist depend on it and therefore largely uncritical.
According to Perreault & Vos (2019), this is why digital games journalism receives its place in Hanitzsch’s (2007) category of lifestyle journalism that gives prominence to consumer needs over civil empowerment. As such, being a digital game journalist requires balancing a relationship with the industry reported on and the readers, and due to its history, this balance can be a thin line to navigate.
This paradox outlined above begs the question; how ought digital game journalists conduct journalistic inquiries into an industry that is heavily influenced by secrecy and control of intellectual property while empowering the citizen in the decision-making moments of their pastime?
Gaming subreddit Moderators: Gaming Culture in the Periphery
To start with the contemporary practices of game journalists, in my interviews with Reddit moderators of gaming subreddits, some moderators showed frustration towards game journalists when going about their everyday tasks of maintaining the subreddit. In subreddits, moderators also act as community managers in the sense that they curate content and keep the content relevant to its users, this can be a source of frustration when game journalists enter the subreddit, with their agenda, as Informant A explains:
…there are a lot of people who see the subreddit as a tool for exposure and indirectly for monetization. Content creators, influencers, and journalists can launch their careers off of the subreddit […], and as such, they have an ideal view of the subreddit that tends to differ from what other users that don’t stand to make money have…
Reddit moderators of game subreddits are usually fans of the game that the subreddit is dedicated to, which makes them a part of the play culture around the game. Game journalists tend to pay attention to players and studios, whether it’s players’ reaction to a new release or feature in a game, or studios‘ commitment to public events such as Electronic Entertainment Expo (E3), to take example.
I argue that members of the play culture that reside in the periphery, such as Reddit moderators, are very much relevant to report on as well. This serves as a case example of precarious labor conditions in the digital game culture, which is otherwise a topic that is frequently reported on in the case of game developers.
Game Journalism does not convey what is going on
Informant A’s statement suggests that moderators‘ volunteer activities reign over a social sphere of conflicting interests and value systems. When engaging in subreddit communities, users agree to follow a set of rules that are intended to assure that content stays relevant and enriching for the community and its members at large.
By enforcing these rules, the moderators have to assess whether the content abides by the rules in nature of the content itself as well as pay attention to the potential motivation of the user for submitting the content. In many ways, the practices of moderators, and especially moderators of gaming subreddits, are where the convergence culture (Jenkins, 2006) comes together as a back-and-forth power struggle over the distribution of user-generated content.
Informant A critique of the inability of content creators, such as game journalists, to translate their value system to something valuable to the subreddit, is an example of the difficulties that game journalists face today when trying to reach the correct audiences and competing in the digital attention economy. In many ways, the labor of game journalists falls outside of the professional scope of conventional journalism and is anything but watchdogs (Nieborg & Sihvonen, 2009). Soler (2014) illustrates this precisely when quoting the Swedish video game critic Oskar Skog:
“I wouldn’t refer to myself as a video game journalist, because being a journalist is a profession and occupational training that I do not have. I prefer the term game critic or editor…”
As such, the occupation of being a digital games journalist is arguably a case of academic jargon and an attempt to fit this profession within our understanding of journalism at large. However, inquiries into the labor of journalism suggest that the term is misplaced and does not adequately convey the meaning of the practice of being a game critic or editor.