The ethics and integrity of consumer media

I made noises (wrote a Medium post) about maintaining a sense of integrity when reporting and criticising and writing on media that is popularly consumed: particularly tech ones.

It’s really an elongated reaction to the frequent, dirty habit of game and other tech journalists Tweeting pictures of amazing technology, that they didn’t themselves pay for (my follow-up post will argue “not paying” is not the same as “for free”).

I’m ignoring the boring accusations of how it means journalists have been bought by whatever company sent them such swag. I’m interested in what is more essential: that critics and writers and so forth ought not to emulate the base actions of fans.

It doesn’t matter how much they love something – be it an Apple product or the latest Call of Duty – what separates them from every commenter and gamer with a blog, is that they should have a higher (or special) degree of integrity, anchored by their responsibility to us: their readers. When they fail that, they’ve failed their job. And we must learn to recognise it.

(You can probably tell how much I hate all those “unboxing” videos of the latest consoles.)

The “Should” Fallacy in Criticism

I wrote a piece about a common fallacy I see in criticism – particularly video game criticism. I argue that people like to talk about what a game “should” be; often, this isn’t a helpful criticism since it’s a refusal to accept what the game is.

I make my full case here at my regular haunt at GameZone.

Criticism of Islam and Islamophobia

My super smart frenemy Kenan Malik has a new post up, examining the blurry, grey landscape that is the no man’s land between the criticism of Islam and Islamophobia.

Islamophobia is a problematic term. This is not because hatred of, or discrimination against, Muslims does not exist. Clearly it does. Islamophobia is a problematic term because it can be used by both sides to blur the distinction between criticism and hatred. On the one hand, it enables many to attack criticism of Islam as illegitimate because it is judged to be ‘Islamophobic’.  On the other, it permits those who promote hatred to dismiss condemnation of that hatred as stemming from an illegitimate desire to avoid criticism of Islam. In conflating criticism and bigotry, the very concept of Islamophobia, in other words, makes it more difficult to engage in a rational discussion about where and how to draw the line between the two.

I tried tackling this in relation to Sam Harris – who I like but Kenan isn’t such a fan of – some time back, myself.

I find, for example, Murtaza Hussain’s criticisms of Harris misguided, though I’ve not yet formulated a good enough response. Anyway, Kenan’s articles are always incredibly nuanced and thoughtful (compare that to anything Hussain writes about Harris).

I hope you’ll read Kenan since he’s one of the smartest people you’re likely to encounter, whose topics are broad yet consistently insightful. Even The New York Times recognised this recently.

In my first digital magazine

Yes, it’s a (local) gaming one; if you’re interested in gaming, good writing or my writing, I hope you’ll give it a read.

It’s free and lovingly made by fellow South African writers who love games. I love the fact that it’s a magazine, not a knee-jerk, “put up as fast possible” website – where speed of information matters more than quality conveying of that information.

Being a critic and being a fan

In my latest for Big Think, I argue that – in many cases – fandom runs counter to proper criticism.

This can be about films, comics, games, whatever. Passion for the thing can blind us to its flaws, making any form of negative criticism (or, indeed, adaptation) tantamount to an attack in passionate fans’ eyes.

Reasonable, justified criticism is essential to the creative process, which leads to the creation of better, beautiful things (it doesn’t need to be the case that today’s artists are better than the Leonardos of the craft, but it does mean today’s artists try to be and this can be aided by pointing out flaws in the Masters’ works).

Passion is great but can become poison. Sanctifying anything, it seems, is usually a bad move.

Dear “fans”, we need to have a talk…

Fans of a thing embarrass other fans of the same thing.

In this case: Angry gamers do something stupid that embarrasses other gamers. It’s a story we hear so often, these stories have become an indistinguishable mess of frustrating idiocy; a wrong not merely anchored by entitlement and immaturity, but damage to the very thing we all love: the creation of beautiful things.

The latest is a “petition” to get Gamespot reviewer Carolyn Petit fired from the site. This time it’s not for the usual reason of a “low” score (which sometimes sees reviewers get death threats, even for films); instead it concerns her mention that the game is misogynistic. Readers claim Petit has been pushing her “agenda” (adore that word) and politics for some time and this is the last straw(man) or something. [Read more...]

A beautiful game you should buy

I wrote a little essay on the indie title Gone Home. I’m not sure I conveyed just how much this game meant to me; it cements that games, like books, comics, film, is a medium not a genre. It can be as meaningful or -less as we want.

Many games have this effect (the Mass Effect franchise remains one of the greatest experiences I’ve ever had as a person). I think for people like me, who grew up in the 90′s as one of those weird kids who liked ghosts and wanted all those supernatural things to be true, this game will strike a chord.

I still read Stephen King and I still want to write books – that’s about all I’ve carried through from the 90′s. But Gone Home still made me nostalgic.