This Is Not A Love Song

2000: I’m at E3. As it turns out, it was both my last E3 as a blogger, and my next to last E3 in general (the show went on hiatus shortly thereafter). E3 had just discovered what blogs were (though I don’t think the term itself had taken off yet) and had issued me a media pass based on my site having X number of readers. I was there with a few friends and we cackled occasionally at the irony of my using a silly rant site to wedge myself into the drink tickets usually soaked up by the more respectable chattering classes.

During one interview for an MMO about to release I ran into the head of the company outside their booth. He looks me up and down with a gaze that could make the wombs of virgins barren, and finally manages to spit out one word while staring at my chest: “Media”.

What an ass, I thought to myself all throughout the next hour’s carefully contrived smoke and mirrors show for a game that I didn’t particularly care about and had no intention of playing for a website readership that really didn’t want to read my recap of a game I didn’t care about and had no intention of playing. I’m not good enough for him? Fuck him. I’m just as much a writer as everyone else stumbling around the hall in a vodka-fueled haze, only I occasionally use cooler words.

But, what bothered me the most was that he was right. I wasn’t “media”, this wasn’t my career, I knew very well that all I did was post drunken Facebook rants a decade before Facebook actually existed. People didn’t come to my website looking for reviews or news, that was just a side effect to my daily snark on which GM was screwing which player (literally or figuratively depending on the day). I was, as I would sometimes yell at people at the top of my lungs, most definitely not a journalist. I was a ranter. Which, sadly, really did not catch on as a description. Blogger sounds better at parties.

It was popular, sure, and a lot of it was because I was doing not-journalism better than the supposed journalists. When everyone else just accepted free trips to studios to watch the dog and pony show for an hour and then indulge in preferred vices copiously on the publisher’s PR tab, I would occasionally actually talk to people and post what they had to say. It was new, I didn’t have an editor (actually I was kind of the editor for a lot of folks, though I usually did very little editing to the dismay of people who wanted more Lum and less Not-Lum), I didn’t have a gatekeeper, I just found Truth (or what I thought was truth, which really is the same thing when you’re intoxicated by the presence of an audience) and put it up for everyone to look at.

No one else seemed to be doing that, which alternately confused and astounded me, save some guy in a funny hat named Matt Drudge, who by 2000 was making his own headlines out of upending the journalists reposting spoon-fed press releases. I kind of liked him, even though our politics were a bit dissimilar (I still called myself a conservative in those days, this being pre-9/11, pre-Patriot Act, pre-bailout, pre-1%), because I could see the impish glee in his eyes when talking on a morning news show. I bet some politician probably sneered at him in the green room, too. Funny how that works.

2012: I’m at a cocktail party, feeling about as much like a fish out of water as one can be without gills, at a mansion that could be best described as fin-de-siecle Lifetime special, talking to a college student whose ambition in life is to be a cable news reporter. Not a newspaper reporter – print is dead. Everyone knows that. The real action is on CNN and Fox, but it frustrates her knowing that someone will most likely write what she has to say and whisper it in her ear in place of actual thought. I suggest that maybe she should aspire to be the producer doing the whispering but that doesn’t seem to go over very well. No, the real action is in blogging. That’s where reporting is happening now. That’s why they teach it in schools.

Wait, I interrupt. They teach blogging as coursework now?

Oh, of course, she says. The next day, still somewhat stunned at the thought, I find that yes, journalism schools do actually have you set up a blog as part of coursework.

I don’t think anyone would sneer at a name tag any more.

I am not merciful.

Not in a world where Sean Hannity interviews James O’Keefe about Andrew Breitbart’s legacy. Journalism is dying, and ranting has taken its place, because people are becoming Joaquin Phoenix as Commodus watching the gladiatorial games, demanding blood and circuses. It’s where the money is, it’s where the eyeballs are, it’s where the future is.

It’s not journalism. I am not a journalist, and I never was. I was (and to a lesser degree today still am) an opinion writer, which used to be understood as not the same thing.

Used to be.

The spark for this soapbox? A piece up on Gamasutra today, which should have been clearly noted as opinion, but which is posted as a “feature”, essentially ripping apart Star Wars: Old Republic’s free-to-play model. There’s some opinions I agree with, some I disagree with, but the whole thing is essentially a long rant about how Bioware killed the author’s baby. Said author, Simon Ludgate, is credited as an “MMO consultant”. Does such a thing actually exist? Do people need to pay ranters thousands of dollars to fly out, thoughtfully rub their chin after a demonstration, and say “yes, that is an MMO!” Because that sounds like a nifty gig, if not one with a really long-term future. Oh wait, it means he has a blog. OK, seems legit to me!

The core of his article, that a free to play player in SWTOR seeking to achieve parity with a subscriber, would have to pay $56 a month, is hilariously wrong. It’s poorly sourced, as he even notes himself breezily, before making it the entire subject the rest of his rant. And it’s a really bad rant, full of Internet slang that makes the whole thing look like it was ripped wholesale from a typical official MMO message board, complete with the author saying that Bioware should have instead implemented about 30 pie-in-the-sky features ignoring the fact that SWTOR’s team just went through massive layoffs and may have some limits in what is possible – something an “MMO consultant” with industry experience would, I assure you, be *entirely* too aware of. But of course, if you’re a ranter – er, sorry – blogger – er, wait – journalist, all things are possible, and the only reason Company X hasn’t implemented your shiny pony is because they hate you and are too busy rolling around in their own filthy money which they stole from YOU.

Which is fine. Not everyone can be Matt Taibbi. But Gamasutra hasn’t marked this as an opinion piece, but as a featured article. This is essentially Gamasutra’s editorial position on SWTOR’s monetization scheme – that SWTOR didn’t implement player housing, so it failed.

Am I biased? Of course. I play SWTOR and enjoy it. I know a good portion of the development team, past and present. I hope it succeeds because the Austin development community in general needs more successes. And I’ve been in the trenches myself on similar projects too many times.

Of course I’m biased. I am not a journalist.

And in game writing, neither is anyone else.

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