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Friday, August 03, 2007

Rant: Out of context reporting

Browsing my RSS feeds earlier this morning, I saw a Joystiq item on an African Women's Blog that has taken offence to recently released footage of Resident Evil 4. I am by no means surprised and had predicted to my colleagues (and fellow gamers) that this title would cause some kind of 'racist' outcry. It got us onto the topic of how non-gaming media seems unable to get away from reporting on gaming and other technology related news without taking context into account.

Games, social websites and virtual worlds often require a significant investment of time to be able to fully understand the context of their characters and functionality. In the above example, one would have to play Resident Evil 5 to understand the context for these enemies, which happen to be black-they are diseased zombies, the need to shoot them has nothing to do with their race. It would appear however, that mainstream publications do not consider this legwork as necessary as if they were reporting on a political story, a new (physical) social spot or even a movie. A reporter that made unsubstantiated claims about a neighborhood coffee shop harboring rabid pedophiles would be brought to task, why is the same standard not held to when reporting about 'virtual' activities? By contrast, when reporting on the likes of supposed terrorist training camps in Second Life or the rise of a 'new' kind of bully online it would appear that any sort of real journalistic investigation is an optional extra.

Second Life has been the target of many such articles, ranging from exaggerated claims of the business potential of the platform, to numerous sexual scandals. The most recent trend in misguided reporting about the platform (note: not game) is that of it having been over-hyped and now being on the verge of collapse. The irony of this is that this supposed hype was all generated by the same publications now predicting Second Life's doom. Of course in terms of subscriber numbers and concurrent users, it is healthier than ever. Reading through any of these articles quickly reveals that -at best- the author has signed into second life and spent a few minutes wandering around the welcome area and does not really comprehend what the virtual world is about or it's potential.

As someone that thrives on technology, I tire of seeing otherwise respectable publications (both on- and offline) degraded to the level of a common tabloid whenever they report on technology. Is it really that difficult to find a staff member that is knowledgeable about technology? Are freelance technology writers that know their stuff really that few and far between? Or does the problem lie higher up the chain, with editors that honestly don't believe editorial responsibility extends to technology reporting?



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