Mainstream Media: If You Must Cover Video Games, Could You Please Do A Better Job Of It?

“You might think games are only played in dark basements by computer addicted geeks but it’s a very big business,” drawls the presenter, repeating a paraphrased opening gambit that’s been rehashed since 1994, with very little change.

I was even involved in one myself.

“Video games were once the domain of super nerds like Mark Serrels,” opened Today Tonight’s segment on ‘Cutting Edge’ games. I wasn’t offended in the slightest; I’ve been called far worse, and it was kinda hilarious to be involved in the matrix of tropes that is mainstream video game reportage.

Today’s Daily Telegraph headline? ‘Video Game Kids Going Crazy?’ That’s part of another trope entirely, a far more insidious type — that of the moral panic, and the ‘we’re losing our kids to this crazy new fangled technology we have no understanding of’ trope. The kind of headline you might expect, and probably not something worth getting worked up about, but when it comes to The Telegraph’s irresponsible story in this morning’s edition, I just can’t help myself.

The story itself is hardly cutting-edge news — a handful of parents and psychiatrists are looking to have “video game addiction” included as a psychological disorder in the next edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM). Laura Parker from Gamespot did a far better job, reporting on this topic in 2009 — two years ago.

And that’s about the sum of it. I’m not going to go into the ins and outs of The Daily Telegraph’s ‘exclusive’ report on an issue that’s been rumbling since the proposed “video game addiction” disorder was rejected from the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual back in 2007 — that would be the very definition of pissing in the wind — but I do have a question to ask…

Dear mainstream media: if you must cover video games, could you please do a better job of it?

Step one would most likely be this: kindly update your stock images. Pictures of children holding PlayStation controllers designed in 1994, surrounded by chocolate, chips and a box copy of the original Crash Bandicoot, is hardly doing your story any favours in the legitimacy department.

Step two: anecdotal evidence is meaningless. Sure, feel free to pepper your story with examples of how ‘Little Timmy’ was up all night playing Minecraft so couldn’t do his homework and doesn’t have any friends, but do not frame this as the norm, and please back up any wild statements with some kind of proper evidence.

Step three: balance. Criticism of he said/she said journalism aside, if you’re going to report on video games, kindly give both sides of the argument a fair and equal hearing. Do not pander to your presumed audience of cranky, scared conservatives — and don’t insult the intelligence of that presumed audience either. If you’re going to open with that oft-used ‘video games are more mainstream than you think’ gambit — believe it. Your audience is likely far more video game savvy than you think. They’ll probably laugh at your hyperbole-ridden headline for a second, blame the parents and move on to the sports pages.

Step four: if you’re going to write about video games, you don’t have to be a video game expert — part of the fun of journalism is the joy of discovery — but kindly show games the respect they deserve. I fully understand that playing on the fears of the misinformed is your modus operandi but, for the most part, people aren’t afraid of video games anymore, they’ve embraced them. Mainstream media — you’re lagging behind.

In ten years time I’ll be 40. If things go to plan I may even have a couple of children myself and I’ll want someone to be thinking of them. At this point I’ll most likely be socially conservative, misinformed on the youth of the day and completely vulnerable and terrified. In short: I’ll be your new target audience…

And you’d better have something better for me than the bloody social dangers of video games.

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