Monday, September 13, 2010

Media Incompetence and Gaming: Perfect Together!

The actual SmallWorlds.
Look, I've been a career journalist for 20 years, and even I hate the media. Journalism has become a rank fever swamp of incompetence, mendacity, and bias. Look at the recent "Koran burning pastor" fooforaw. There was a time when a knucklehead with a congregation that could fit in my den would say something crazy, people would ignore him, and the press would do what they do best: pay no attention and go back to the bar. Now, they splash his idiocy all over the 24-hour news stream, and people die.

It makes me wonder if there ever was a golden age of journalistic competence. Was there a time when writers did the legwork and checked their facts? Or were they always phoning it in from the bottom of a glass, only we didn't know because there was no army of internet fact checkers watching the store? 

One thing always strikes me when I spot a piece of journalistic media malpractice on a subject I know (primarily history, religion, or gaming): if I can spot hard errors all the time in reports in which I already know the facts, how many untruths get by me on a subject about which I know nothing? 

Sorry, just had to bleat a bit before I got to the latest bit of media stupidity. Now go check out this story, and tell me what's wrong with it. Addicted to a fantasy world: Mother obsessed with computer game let her children live in squalor and left her dogs to starve to death

It's a tragic and horrifying story of a woman who lost her grip on reality. It's hardly a new story. People have suffered tragedy and spiraled into madness as long as there have been people, but when there's some clever "angle" for the media to play, suddenly human anguish becomes a spectator sport. It's grotesque.

If the writer of the story got the name of the game right, then it was an online game called SmallWorlds. It's a social network game made from bits of other games like Second Life, Sims, Farmville, Nintendogs, and so on.

But writer Jaya Narain couldn't be bothered to figure out that much. Not only is the entire story illustrated with multiple photos from Days of Wonder's Small World, which is obviously a board game, but super-journalist Jaya Narain actually smooshes together descriptions of SmallWorlds (the online game) and Small World (the board game) in the text of her story, creating nothing but a gibberish stew. The two games have nothing to do with each other, and have no common characteristics other than the word "game" somewhere in their description.

And as if to prove the old saw that a lie gets halfway around the world before the truth gets its pants on, CNET blogger Chris Matyszczyk glossed the story and failed to correct any of the errors. [NOTE: The CNET story was subsequently amended and the correct illustration inserted.] Since his spot at CNET is called "Technically Incorrect," maybe this is just some kind of ironic new-media meta-parody? I used to write for CNET. I remember them being a pretty tight ship. I guess standards have slipped.

Days of Wonder has already responded rather caustically, but as of now (9:00 Monday evening) the story has not been altered or corrected, leaving people with the impression that a charming and inventive board game is some kind of mindsucking epicenter of internet addiction.

Heck, I wouldn't even say that the online SmallWorlds (or any online game) is capable of that. In the electronic age, people who may have once escaped from mental suffering with drugs, alcohol, food, or any number of compulsive behaviors now find that escape in virtual worlds. It's no less tragic, but we need to realize that only the instrument of escape is new: the illness underlying it is the same age upon age.
Screenshot from original article


Gary said...

Yeah, except for everything I have first-hand knowledge about, the local papers seem to get everything right.

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