I often wonder if it’s worth it. You know, this silly dream of mine. I spend a lot of time thinking about if I actually want the things I’m working towards here. Sure, I’d love to work around games full time and build a huge audience, but with that audience comes… a responsibility that I don’t know if I’ll ever be prepared for.
I mentioned last week that I wasn’t sure what I could say about the Counter-Strike GO controversy that hasn’t already been said, but then the whole issue of WB and their sponsored YouTube content came to light. Both are similar in that the primary issue is one of disclosure, though obviously the guys profiting off of children gambling are a bit more egregious than some dude saying Shadow of Mordor was good. I say “some dude” even though the only one anyone wants to talk about is Pewdiepie.
There’s a name I never thought I’d type here.
Though it can often be funny to rant about the things you don’t like (and I’ve done so quite frequently in podcast form), I try not to lead the kind of life that breeds negativity, especially on the internet, so if I think a Pewdiepie or a Markiplier or Smosh makes terrible content, I don’t really feel the need to announce it to the world. They make a lot of people happy, so more power to them. But when it comes to the kind of things I want to create, I do use them as a template as to what I’m trying to avoid; the wacky faces in thumbnails, the obnoxious clickbaity titles, the loud, vapid personalities that they present. When I look at who I want to pattern myself after, I usually think back to old episodes of Mystery Science Theater, improv comedians, and Ryan Davis.
Now that’s a name I’ve wanted to talk about for a while.
Ryan, for those that don’t know, was one of the co-founders of Giant Bomb and was the weekly host of the Giant Bombcast until his untimely passing in 2013, not even a full week after his wedding. The thing about Ryan that always stood out to me was the respect with which he treated his audience. There was a transparency and genuine quality there that I’ve always tried to emulate. Anything less, after all, would be insulting.
As we continue to go in circles talking about “ethics” in a field where everyone is suspected to be paid off by someone, these recent events have been pretty eye-opening as to what an audience is willing to tolerate. Zoe Quinn raised a very salient point the other day, pointing out that an entire harassment campaign was created because she was suspected of influencing her game’s coverage, yet, the most popular YouTuber in the world wasn’t exactly transparent in his sponsored content and those same people shrugged. While it could have something to do with the fact said YouTuber is a male (just saying), there’s also the divide between professional journalism and entertainers/hobbyists in terms of trust.
For some reason, we, as a people, have a weakness for trusting celebrities or those we perceive as our peers, even though they’re much much easier to influence than critics. I’ve had discussions with an alarming number of people that say the only opinions they trust are that of Steam reviewers. Think about that for a second. Steam. Reviewers. The same people that bombed the Superhot page with negative reviews when Oculus exclusivity was announced, most of whom never actually played it. Steam Curation groups are notorious for their deals with developers, many taking the stance that they simply will never give bad reviews. Yet journalism is the one with the ethics issue.
I actually went to Pewdiepie’s channel today, to see what kinds of things he was creating. Surprisingly, it’s not even really about video games anymore. Just a lot of short Vlogs, reactions and mocking of “haters” with the occasional gaming spotlight. This really shouldn’t come as a shock, the demands of content changing with the growing audience, but he’s never really been a reviewer or a critic. I don’t even think he’d ever define himself as that, more content with the broader label of “entertainer”. That’s fine, and most definitely more accurate, though I do wonder why we neglect to expect the same sense of ethics and responsibility from entertainers, especially considering their bigger reach. Not holding celebrities to any sort of standard is the exact reason that people like Jenny McCarthy were allowed to mis-educate the public on vaccinations, which leads to actual endangerment of that willing audience.
I’m sure Pewdiepie is a nice guy. We’ll never meet. It’s not even really about him, more the opportunity to shine a light on a perspective that seems to go ignored in the greater “discussion” about ethics in games. I use that term loosely since a discussion is usually the last thing on the minds of those engaging with the argument. Social media is the worst avenue for that kind of thing, but also the most common place to see it dealt with, never to any sort of satisfactory conclusion, of course. I can’t even sit here and say that I have all of the answers, but maybe it’s time we, at the very least, start asking some different questions.
For me, whenever I think about my platform and where that may go in the future, I do consider the possibility that I may one day be approached to create sponsored content or do mock reviews. I have to ask myself what I’d do in that situation. Ironically, the answer to that is another question.
What would Ryan Davis do?