There’s a lot of internet-based musings and sadness and profiting being had with the recent passing of “TotalBiscuit” John Bain. But the one thing no one seems to be asking or musing about is the nature of video game criticism as a whole.
Bains’ fans mourn his passing. The industry and the rest of the world as a whole are indifferent. And this indifference, or even the rare criticism from some random industry-insider, has Bain’s fans in an uproar.
And, true, speaking ill of the dead is a quick way to piss off a lot of people. I’m not usually one to judge such things–some people are awful, fleshy bags of carbon in life. and their death shouldn’t give them a hall pass (permanent or otherwise). But in this case, it seems to be a matter of professional grievances with Bain being aired in an aggressively tasteless manner. These few morons are twisting a professional matter into a personal one.
But Bain’s passing, and the non-controversy surrounding it, do bring up a good question:
Where is the professionalism in video game criticism?
The vast majority of gaming “journalists” these days lack any degree of professional etiquette (or even training or education in journalism, it seems). They don’t adhere to any notable set of professional ethics. They largely act in self-interest, saying and doing whatever they can to ensure they get the clicks and views needed to sustain self-employment in an industry (journalism itself) they have no reason being in.
When did Roger Ebert or Leonard Maltin publicly foam at the mouth about movie studios refusing to make a sequel to their favorite film franchises? When did they produce immature, long-winded diatribes about how the movie industry fails to tailor to the smallest minority of obsessive “hardcore” movie watchers? When has any respectable film critic play to an audience of foul-mouthed adolescents and manchildren.
(Manchilds? Menchilds? Menchildren?)
These individuals are no different than any other blogger save for the lone exception that they have a much larger audience at this point in time. It’s not for their credentials and notable degree of professional integrity and dedication in their work. It’s almost entirely rooted in their popularity among a very specific, niche audience.
And what’s so odd about this is that other fields of criticism that have had their gates torn down–such as film, food, and literature–do see the more relatively professional of the bunch rise to the top. The low-effort, poorly spoken variety continue to exist, sure. But they don’t necessarily thrive in the way their video game counterparts do.
Roger Ebert’s passing was mourned by his audience and peers just as much as it was by those in the film industry. And this was because he carried himself in a respectable, professional manner. His work itself was respectable and professional. He loved and respected and cherished film as a medium, and that love and respect carried through his work.
Bain and others’ love of video games can’t be questioned. The passion is certainly there, otherwise they’d have given up the moment a steady paycheck was in question. They’d have never been so obsessed with video games in the first place. But the love and respect for the medium itself–for the work and efforts and realities of the industry itself–is always lacking. These are individuals who, by and large, are fans catering to fans such as themselves. They have little interest in acting or speaking in a way that goes against the image that has made them popular, in a way that distances themselves from the financial support of their audience. Their work is more often self-indulgent rather than informative or insightful. A knee-jerk, primal reaction filled with anger or contempt than anything substantial and contemplative.
In short, they’re pundits and entertainers more so than they are either journalists or critics. And as a result, they receive less consideration and empathy in their passing.
Compare nearly any YouTube video about the state of the video game industry to Roger Ebert’s 2010 blog post about his thoughts on why the movie industry was struggling at the time with low attendance. The difference in approach–in degree of professionalism, word-choice, brevity, insight–is mind-boggling.
Some will point out the obvious: Ebert was a much older man who had much more time to develop his voice and attitude. And this is true. Most of the current top “video game journalists” started in their early 20s, or even in their teens, back when YouTube was barely getting off the ground. But ten years of experience is more than enough time to shed the immature, unprofessional bullshit of one’s teens and early twenties if that were a goal at all. The quality of one’s work, if it were graphed, should always be an upward trend rather than plateaued near the initial starting point. If it’s plateaued and stagnated, it’s because there’s no self-reflection involved. Pandering to a niche audience is involved. Little to no respect for one’s work, the audience, or the subject matter is involved.
Bain arguably carried himself in a more refined, professional manner than the majority of his peers. But he wasn’t free of speaking out of turn or from a place of ignorance. He wasn’t above inserting himself into the story or controversy. He wasn’t above self-indulgent, long-winded ramblings that arguably should have–and likely easily could have–been well-written, thoughtful, and significantly shorter and to the point.
Whether or not he was a good man or particularly good at his chosen career is for others to decide. But if he was one of the better self-made video game journalists, where does that leave that field in the wake of his passing? Will others see this as an opportunity to rise to the occasion and showcase that Bain influenced a new generation to be better? Or will it go on as it always has, catering to the lowest common denominator and putting self and money above things like professionalism and integrity? If the former, who will that be and when will it happen? If the latter, then what. if anything, is Bain’s legacy?
Something to consider the next time any of us sit down and play our favorite game.