The Perpetuity of Anti-Kotaku Sentiment

At this point, it'd be folly to assume it has any rhyme or reason.

Seven years out from the first violent outings of Gamergate and it seems as though we’re nowhere closer to solving the puzzle of what the movement actually seeks, if only for their inconsistent demands as evidenced by the latest round of criticism levied against Kotaku for embracing candor in their journalistic output, something they’ve long been reproached for steering clear of. What precipitated this is a streak of explosive headlines—no doubt inspired by Patricia Hernandez’s new editorial direction for the site—with the latest being ‘2K very quietly launches new XCOM game that looks like shit’, an entry that seemed to upset those who would’ve not wavered from adopting such a tone on their personal accounts, now decrying the outlet’s lack of professionalism in merely stating what is a hard-to-dispute fact.

To briefly touch upon the contents of the piece, it lays out what is pretty self-explanatory–a publisher covertly launching a game on mobile from a coveted franchise probably does so explicitly with the goal of avoiding negative press, so Kotaku are essentially doing the public a service by warning them ahead of time that the game is unlikely to satisfy their expectations if they’re a fan of the genre or simply vying for more XCOM.

Quite surprisingly, that’s not how Kotaku’s dedicated flurry of detractors saw it–the contingent of leftover Gamergate fanatics decried it as exemplary of the outlet’s lack of professionalism, and somehow looped back around to demanding that they issue an apology to 2K, something an entity that was long rumored to take bribes from major publishers for favorable coverage could not have possibly anticipated given the relatively-unchanging tone of criticism they’ve gotten since 2014. More so than Gamergate not honoring the original character of their demands—which is to maintain the integrity of ethics in games journalism, albeit under false pretenses—it just highlights that a movement of such reach, breadth and complexity isn’t always equally welcoming of their harshest criticisms becoming tacitly acknowledged as the games press’ style evolves and changes–if anything, listening to Gamergate-adjacent proposals for improvement is unlikely to yield its desirable results given the haphazard nature of the movement.

Why is it haphazard? Because it seems clearer than ever now that its governing principles are better defined by the parameters of the liberal vs conservative culture war, rather than anything ideologically substantive. Gamergaters utterly abhor Kotaku not only because it once took a standard #MeToo stance three years too early–the site’s content is kryptonite for the right-wing-aligned views of what gaming is and who it should be for, given that its editorial slant is resoundingly liberal, if not further leftward. As long as there are minorities to praise within the industry and the makeup of modern games’ characters, the r/KotakuInAction subreddit has their work quite cut out for them yet.

The strand of criticism that is harder for me to empathize with is that which comes from industry personnel, one prescribing games journalism an ‘enthusiast’ character, an interpretation I’d venture to call ‘ahistorical’ of the trade. Why games journalists felt often the need to let developers and publishers get away with so much is largely the result of overcompensating for the (perceived as) superior status of cinema, music and theater, and much like with the nascent tech industry in the early 2010s, there was plenty of discourse over whether game makers were owed positive coverage by courtesy if only to overcome initial obstacles, something those at the cutting edge like Waypoint, Polygon and Eurogamer have mostly gotten away from as writers have come to fully perceive themselves as critics of art, not mere mouthpieces for multi-billion dollar industry moguls.

As the previously mentioned culture war association would imply, it’s now very difficult to filter through criticism and salvage from it what is actionable, versus what would’ve occurred anyway regardless of what Kotaku or any other outlet would do. That’s where editors’ leadership needs to come in–being put in doubt by a cabal of angry nerds that never deemed your trade legitimate in the first place is no good way to operate, and writers need to feel fully empowered to pursue their vision no matter how mine-ridden the field. This is ironically the very thing Gamergaters have long fought to purportedly instill and then preserve—editorial independence—and if you can’t fight for that principle to be upheld, irregardless of what preserve incentive structures are set up for it, then you’re not going to survive long as a journalistic fixture.

Being someone that was previously the target of harassment courtesy of TheQuartering and other troubling figures on YouTube and beyond, it must be greatly emphasized that nothing shy of unconditional compliance would silence their brand of bad faith criticism. It befuddles me still why those who carry their water have somehow changed course and are suddenly protesting in droves against quite valid criticism, but if Gamergaters aren’t too keen on indulging us the rationale, then we’re under no obligation to make our decisions any clearer for them.

I’ve never been a fan of Kotaku for reasons unrelated to the Gamergate debacle—although I still hold great reverence for their alumni, like Maddy Myers, Kirk Hamilton, Joshua Rivera, Cecilia D'Anastasio, and the all-too-infamous Jason Schreier—but important to keep in mind nonetheless is they’re all part of a media ecosystem that has not yet recovered from the post-COVID lull in digital media ad revenue. Games journalism’s brightest days are well behind, and to still consider it this untouchable entity that commands attention and steers discourse however it desires is delusional at best, if not entirely fictitious–Kotaku and its analogues have little if nothing to gain from adversarial reporting, and to treat the issue with such crass binarity does both them and their readers a huge disservice.