I’ll be honest: I think that store chains removing GTA5 from their shelves is a non-issue. If there was a government ban then yeah it would be serious, but as it is, it doesn’t much matter. No, what really matters is how the videogames press acted around it. As it has been the case throughout GG, they can’t go a week without demonstrating just how much, despite its sins, GG still has the moral high ground.
A few months ago, several journalists and some devs circled the wagons to protect one of their clique, despite all the signs of her being a textbook example of an abusive personality. In order to do this, they declared war on their own fans and readers. Well, some of these same folks that rebelled against their own fanbase and audience have now taken to tiptoeing around justifying the GTA5 censorship, like fairweather consumers’ rights that they are.
And let’s not mince words here, it is censorship. It’s perfectly legal and it’s utterly insignificant in its cultural impact, but it is censorship all the same, because a cultural product was removed from shelves because of its sensitive content. But again, since it’s just a few stores doing it, that itself is a non-issue. The real issues are: first, that members of the videogame press are supporting an anti-consumer measure; second, and far more important, they are defending or justifying censorship at all, no matter how mild it is.
This craven behavior reminded me of another issue: the role of media and criticism as art.
One of the most fallacious accusations against GG has been that it opposes games being criticized as cultural products, which is essential to artistic validity; ergo we’re standing on the way of games being elevated as art. Aside from the fact that the people who like to bring this up the most happen to make the most outrageously uninformed and pseudo-intellectual cultural criticism this side of the Sokal affair, there one much more important fact at work here: celebrating, endorsing or even excusing censorship, even if the censorship is as absurdly mild as stores refusing to sell “adult content” for ill-defined, spurious reasons, is a far more serious charge. Put simply, the press acting against the very medium they claim to study is a massive barrier to videogames being recognized as art.
Much can be said about what exactly is the role of a trade press such as in videogames. As for my take on it, they should serve at least one very basic function: helping protect both creators and consumers against abuse, whether it comes from, say, unfair trade practices by the industry or attempts at censorship by the public.
We all know that videogames journalism has already failed spectacularly to protect its consumers, and indeed has actively worked against them. Now it has become obvious that they are failing to protect creators too. Yeah yeah, I know Rockstar is a massive corporation and doesn’t need any more defenders (especially when it has been named in anti-consumer accusations itself), but it doesn’t change the fact that now they’re creators being attacked for their would-be piece of art, and the press has not only failed to stand by creators against censorship but are actually working against them.
I was reminded of an old copypasta that been making the rounds on the internet ever since the controversy surrounding Dragon’s Crown. Some familiar names were pulling the same trick: saying that this is that game is “harmful” and made by a “homophobic” “14-year old”, and when confronted they fall back to the old “hey I’m just criticizing, you’re not against criticism are you?” in a perfect exmaple of the motte-and-bailey fallacy. Except this time, someone with actual experience with both an established artistic medium — photography — and the role of the press surrounding said medium schooled a certain Kotaku journalist. I don’t give much credence to internet screencaps as arguments, but this is a rare case when it deserved to be screencapped as read as widely as possible.
I honestly think this is as relevant as the infamous pic of a dead-eyed Keighley besides his table of Dew and Doritos, in that they deserve to not only seen but studied. Because the videogames press has gotten so bad it has become not simply an anti-consumer circlejerk, but actually detrimental to videogames’ claim as an artistic medium. Of course, the irony of the fact that the people doing the damage are the same ones who think they’re saving it is lost on them.