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Content and Controversy

Isabelle Parsley Posted:
Columns Player Perspectives 0

Thanks to all for the warm and sometimes not-so-warm welcome from last week’s column comments! One comment in particular made me think about how gaming sites these days seem to be much more into opinions and less into information. About how most of the content in the meta-gaming community seems to be all opinions and very little actual news; and about how controversy is more important than accuracy.

Like much of the discussion about games and gaming, it’s a valid opinion, though it’s not one I entirely agree with. Yes, there are a million more opinion columns, blogs and sites than there were 10 or even 5 years ago, but that’s because there are many more sites in general – and because we gamers have become content-creators as much as content-ingesters. For every new opinion column floating around there are also a ton more information and news sites or items to be read.

A couple of decades ago, back in my pen’n’paper days, I would buy and devour a handful of magazines about tabletop role-playing games and a bunch more about computers and/or computer games. There weren’t all that many of them out there, at least not compared to what’s available online these days, and they were indeed mostly full of news and reviews and didn’t contain much in the way of opinion pieces. The only opinions I read or heard were either on primitive bulletin boards and mailing lists – or those of my friends as we frothed about some game or other on a Friday night with chips and beer.

Maybe those were the good old days, but I don’t think so. They were certainly easier old days – when there are only a dozen mags to choose from, you can pick one or all of them and still get through them in a couple of days or a week. Today, I could name a dozen major gaming websites off the top of my head – this one included, of course – and I’m sure I could come up with another several dozen smaller or more specialized sites if I had a few minutes to jog my aging little grey cells.

And that’s without counting the gajillion one- or two-person sites that cover everything from WoW to SmallGameOnlyThreePeoplePlay, including my own. These days there are sites devoted to a single aspect of a single game, like being a particular class, that have several thousand dedicated readers each – if not more.

That’s the thing. We live in an age of information- and communications-glut, which isn’t about to go away. The upside is not only that everything we want is out there somewhere, but also that we’re no longer passive readers: we’ve become passionate contributors and content-creators. The downside: there’s so much info out there that finding what interests you means you’ll probably stumble across stuff that doesn’t. Bookmark what you like and ignore what you don’t – and change your mind in a week or a month or a year, when your interests have changed or when someone comes on the scene whose content you do enjoy.

There’s nothing easier these days than taking that step beyond simple content-ingestion and becoming a creator yourself; and if the actual creation part fazes you a little there are plenty of people out there who gather and share whatever they find interesting. Yes, there will be a lot of chaff in that, but that’s the beauty of this age: one man’s chaff is another man’s information goldmine.

As for being controversial for the sake of it – eh, that’s nothing new. We were being publicly polemical about what we love and what we hate from the second the printing-press was invented. I don’t find polemic for its own sake all that interesting myself, but I know lots of people who derive a great deal of entertainment from it and others who actually thrive on it. Controversy has always sold far more copies (or attracted more pageviews) than cats stuck in trees, and there will always be people ready to exploit it more for shock value than for any “purer” journalistic purpose. As far as that goes the gaming world is just like the rest of the real world.

I don’t do controversy unless I intend to spark discussion on a particular topic or unless I want to rant about something – and even then I’m usually far more interested in actual debate or in being humorous. Because that’s another thing about this new age: when someone publishes an opinion or a piece of information, others can start discussing it pretty much immediately. We’re not writing articles weeks in advance for a print-magazine that will come out in two months; and readers can actually respond to those articles without having to write into some editorial office that may (or more likely may not) print what they had to say.

This is a good thing.

It can also be a bad thing, of course, as anyone who has ever seen the insane posting storms on larger sites like the WoW forums will know. A blue name says something and suddenly the sky is falling – or it’s in better shape than it ever was – or it’s a giant conspiracy – or it’s nothing to be worried about… usually all at the same time.

I can’t speak for everyone who writes for a gaming site out there in the gaming internet universe, but I can speak for myself. I don’t post to shock and I don’t post to complain about something just for the sake of it. To be fair, I would guess most contributors and bloggers don’t, it’s just that controversy is louder than reasoned discussion. I do expect to be challenged on the views I express here and elsewhere, because that’s what the gaming community is these days: it doesn’t just consume, it comments. It has things to say – not always useful or interesting things, but just as often very valid things. It wants to be heard.

Don’t we all?

(There’s a lot more I would have wanted to cover on this topic, which fascinates me, but space runs short. Fortunately Bill Murphy seems to be plugged into the same hive-mind, and you should check out his piece this week too: We don’t HAVE to agree.)


Isabelle Parsley