Another year, another convention, another incident. Sigh.
It seems that Eurogamer’s Rezzed this year attracted some particularly unsightly behaviour from a certain party. A particular YouTube channel (which I won’t name) was allegedly running around the Rezzed floor harassing people, in order to film it and post it as a video for their channel. It was a particularly unsightly event, and left a negative mark on what is a progressive, friendly, and inclusive convention. Dutifully, and thankfully, Rezzed’s organisers, when they found out, immediately cancelled the duo’s press passes and banned them from future events.
There were further ramifications, too. The man on screen was largely apologetic, expressing regret at his actions and apologising. The cameraman, however, was less repentant, tweeting that he planned to continue producing videos in the same vein at other conventions later in the year – tweets which he later deleted. The video was taken down by the channel, and later the channel itself closed down.
Two guys, both of whom were presumably making money from their channel (very little money, since it was a very small channel), have been blacklisted from an event, had their channel closed, and have been publically castigated (rightly) by well-respected people in the gaming community. And why? Because of one stupid, stupid, STUPID mistake.
And not only that, it’s a stupid mistake that has been made by others before – although they’re not always damaged quite so critically as those in this instance.
Take, for example, a very well-known YouTuber (again, whom I won’t name) who made a video sexually harassing and sexually assaulting women at a video game convention. You know the one. While he did cop a lot of backlash from many sources, he had the good fortune of having a large enough fanbase to continue enjoying relative popularity. I personally don’t think his punishment was severe enough, and it set a bad precedent for up-and-coming YouTubers. It said “this behaviour is acceptable”. It said “popular people do this”. It said “this behaviour is what you need to do to be like popular people”. And that’s a bad message, especially considering the generally toxic, exclusionary “gamer” culture.
What makes these people think this behaviour is acceptable?
Well, a few things – and everything from here on down is broad generalisations. First, there is the general context of video game culture. For the most part, if you’re not a young nerdy dude, you’re constantly reminded that games are not for you. It’s in a lot of games, it’s in a lot of media, and it’s in a lot of culture. Despite the actual statistics of who plays games (average age is 30, with an even split between genders), we’re constantly positioned by a number of factors that games are just for boys and kids. This is a big thing that needs to be tackled systemically, and it is being worked on slowly.
Next is the nature of internet popularity. We live in a culture of internet media extremity. Everything is the “best”, the “worst”, the “most”. To be heard, we’re constantly told we must be “unique”, and uniqueness is reflexively synonymous with “extreme”. So we have a loud rabble of people trying to out-shout each other, all vying to be unique by being the most extreme of the extreme. Can you spot the irony here? It isn’t helped by the nature of press – and more precisely the “enthusiast” or “hobbyist” press. They’re often young and immature, looking at the big names and trying to emulate their behaviour, except more extreme, and without the years of experience or careful media management the big names have. They’re kids who don’t know how the job works, often without the training or understanding of the professional standards or general social experience needed to navigate a fraught space. These kids are given a soapbox, a megaphone, access, and the idea to be extreme, and dumped in front of the hounds without any instruction manual.
No wonder so many of them stuff up disastrously.
It’s a sorry state of affairs that so many promising young talents (and unpromising ones too) fail to recognise the importance – and responsibilities – of their voice before coming a cropper. It’s also sad that there is an active perception and expectation that this kind of behaviour is acceptable, eve necessary, at all.
So here’s my advice for any budding YouTuber or member of the “enthusiast” press:
1 – You don’t have to be crass and offensive towards anyone to be “controversial”. Look at Jim Sterling or Yahtzee. Sterling is highly successful, thanks to a biting wit and uncompromising stance. He frequently tears apart games, tropes, ideas, themes, and publishers. But he never (well, any more) attacks groups based on their inherent worth. Sure, he’ll punish bad behaviour, but it’s never unwarranted, it’s never personal, and it’s never against a group with less power. He always punches up, and he always fights fair. Yahtzee is similar, focusing only on games themselves rather than people or groups of people. Their controversy comes from challenging the status quo, rather than enforcing it, and they don’t target vulnerable groups or make anyone feel uncomfortable.
2 – You don’t have to be “controversial” to be popular. Look at PewDiePie. He has 25,890,572 subscribers. That’s more people than the population of Australia. The most controversial thing he does? Scream loudly and frequently. He doesn’t court controversy. He doesn’t provoke people or groups. He doesn’t try to get a reaction to get attention. He just has a personality. And he isn’t the only one – a quick search of the top Lets Players will show you that a vast majority aren’t controversial in any way. This idea that you need to be controversial to be seen is a fallacy – something that only exists in the minds of the most desperate.
3 – Long term positive relationships will get you a lot more than short term controversy. Every time. Don’t burn your bridges, because you never know when you’ll need to come tearing across them in a panic. The gaming media community is a very small one, and we have a long memory. Positioning yourself as the maverick outsider, the lightning rod, the bad boy, will get you ostracised very quickly. In a game that’s all about clicks and traffic, the perceived boost of acting like a jerk in one video to gain attention at the expense of others is really not worth the long term hit to your access. There are blacklists, there is gossip, and there are some very unforgiving people. Build your audience based on trust and honesty, and don’t rely on the quick influx of visibility courting controversy will get you. That old saying “any publicity is good publicity” is patently false.
4 – Basically, don’t be a jerk and you’ll be okay.
While inappropriate behaviour is a big problem in the culture that surrounds video games, it is a lot better now than it once was, and many are now identifying unacceptable conduct as such and calling it out. Rezzed is very strict with its conduct rules, and the overwhelming majority of attendees – fans and press – by all accounts behaved spectacularly. But a few bad apples, especially visible ones, can give a bad impression, and if we want to mature as a medium to be taken seriously, we need to act maturely. Well done to all the people doing the right thing – be the role models.