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Hits and Tits

You might be aware of the articles on Play Magazine’s website about breasts in games. Best side-boobs in games, and best under-boobs in games. There was a bit of an argument about it on Twitter, and today their author, Gavin Mackenzie, has published a piece in which he defends his work. And criticises those who didn’t like it.

He doesn’t name the names of people like me, Lauren Wainwright, Lewie Procter, Alice O’Connor and Jennifer Allen, because “it would be unprofessional for one games journalist to openly and directly criticise another,” he says. But he is happy to say that , as an editor, nothing is more important than the hits.

I object to this (and to the notion that I shouldn’t state my personal opinion on my personal Twitter feed because of some notion of professionalism, but that’s another matter). And I don’t object to it because I think it’s exploitive, or sensationalist, or whatever – it is, but in the right circumstances that’s fine. I object because, were I a consumer reading Play Magazine, I would find this tremendously offensive.

Of course traffic is important. If traffic drops at BeefJack, my boss wants to know why. We measure performance by tracking numbers, because it’s a valuable metric. If our week’s big feature only does a couple of thousand hits, this is a problem. But to say numbers are the most important thing seems to show a dreadful disrespect to the audience. Because do you know how good editors ensure they’re bringing in a readership? They do so through market research, through carefully tailoring an editorial style, through identifying a readership and delivering content which suits what that readership wants.

To measure success based on traffic generated by social bookmarking buzz just strikes me as odd. It’s transient numbers. To run with controversial pieces just for a quick hit of traffic is thinking short-term at the expense of the publication’s future. To me – and perhaps, having only been in this job since June, I’m being naive – it’s totally the wrong approach. And to admit that you’re doing that… well, you’re basically admitting that you care more about your advertising revenue this week than your audience. Sometimes, there’s a chance you might have to think this way. But to say that to the people who’re reading your work? Bonkers, if you ask me, because it’s completely disrespectful.

So then Mackenzie goes on to explain another reason why he produced this content, which is that boobs are what gamers want. This is much more defensible. If you’ve identified that in your readership, then by all means go for it. Because ultimately that’s who you should be answering to. I can totally get behind that, but I can’t get behind the underlying implication that therefore this is the RIGHT way to write about sexual issues in games.

In fact, “implication” is an understatement, because Mackenzie basically says this outright. That you’re a bad journalist if you think an article about BioWare’s sexual content highlights an increased maturity is better than an article about side-boobs. Something about not understanding that the games industry loves this sort of stuff, even though it’s ridiculous.

So that means journalists aren’t allowed to be a little concerned to see a major outlet churning out preposterous, quite possibly offensive content?

I dunno, man. I’ll stand up for what I think is right in journalism. I didn’t call Gavin Mackenzie a bad journalist, so what I perhaps find most offensive of all is that this is exactly what he’s suggesting of those who voiced their concerns, simply because they disagree with the idea that this stuff is okay, and that this is what gamers, in general, want.

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8 responses »

  1. There’s a lot of importance in the audience that a site finds, as you are aware. Numbers are critical. Numbers determine whether a site can continue publishing content and paying its writers. Or they mean that a site will forever rely on free contributions from folks. And while some people contribute great free content, a good editor can’t build the sort of site that discerning readers would want to regularly view without paying people… which comes back to numbers.

    As you noted, there’s a reason to be careful about how you build those numbers. You need to give your audience what it wants, but being an editor involves more than just chasing those numbers any way you can get them. It means deciding what content you want to publish, what readers that content matches, then going after those readers and those numbers whole-heartedly.

    The problem, of course, is that it’s difficult to build an audience as quickly using those techniques. It’s difficult, for that matter, to stick around long enough to build much of an audience at all. I can see why people go for a slew of Top 10 lists and side boob articles. Hey, sometimes those are even fun. But they chase away the sort of audience that I’d like to see and that it seems like Beefjack wants to see. From that perspective, they’re the wrong sort of article to post.

    Reply
  2. Hello Lewis. First of all, can you spell my name right?

    Second, I am the games editor of PLAY magazine, but effectively just writer on the website. I have little to know say over direction or tone.

    Attention to detail and research can be important.

    When I said “if you think a piece that lets [BioWare] claim that the sex in their games reflects an increased maturity and sophistication in gaming without making any attempt to question or dispute that claim is better journalism than a piece that calls BioWare King Of The Side-Boob, then you don’t know what good journalism is” my reasoning was as follows…

    When someone from BioWare says, of their games’ sexual content, something like…

    “It’s based on the fact that this is a sophisticated mature experience.”

    A lot of journalists seem to just accept that and regurgitate it in their own views on BioWare games, when it plainly is not true. The sexual courtship in BioWare games is mechanical, crude, simplistic and corny and is more about getting a glimpse of side-boob than about “reflecting real human relationships”.

    Describing BioWare instead as King Of The Side-Boob is better journalism because it’s true.

    The context in which King Of The Side-Boob is written is the real issue though, right?

    I did not mean to suggest, and I don’t think it did suggest, that a boob list is THE right way to write about sexual issue in games, merely that it is A right way. And a better way than taking a respected developer’s claims as gospel, or making the incorrect assumption that boobs only catch the attention of horny teenage boys.

    Speaking of catching attention, I could have presented a methodical, reasoned argument about the representation of sex in games (more like this one perhaps) instead but very few people would give a shit because it has very little to do with the way most regular, everyday gamers talk about games.

    You’re welcome to write one though, Lewis, about exactly how you feel about gaming’s obsession with glimpses of boob (but very rarely any nipple). It would be a much more productive use of your time and energy than ragging on me, claiming I did things that I didn’t even do.

    For what it’s worth, when I said “most of the comments were reasonably good humoured” yours was one of those. The suggestion of unprofessionalism was only directed at those less good humoured.

    Reply
    • Spelling corrected. Apologies for that.

      That’s a more reasoned argument than what came across on Play, certainly, and I agree that BioWare’s sex scenes are dreadful. As it happens, I am writing something on this topic, and was researching the feature before all this kicked off.

      I don’t think I’m accusing you of anything you haven’t done though, am I? Please do point to where I’ve done that, as it’s not been my intention at all.

      Reply
      • Thanks for the correction.

        I did not criticise those who disliked my work…
        “most of the criticism is entirely welcome. Most of it expresses embarrassment and directs ridicule at these pieces, which is exactly what they deserve.”

        And I didn’t call those who voiced their concerns bad journalists. Some of them did seem to be trying to elevate themselves above my work by their comments on it. If that really is what they were doing, and I did not state that they definitely were, then I believe they are bad journalists.

        Good luck with your feature.

  3. Which gamer’s demographic does this guy refer to? The fifteen and under set? A good story, characters you can feel empathy for, and challenging gameplay, far outweigh the er… decorations in my opinion. I’m not a prude by any means but that doesn’t mean I *need* to see boobs (no matter how artisticly represented) in my games.

    Reply
  4. Pingback: Boobgate | Five Players

  5. Pingback: This Week In Video Game Criticism: Game Stories Deserve Better « Games News and Updates

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