What Came Before

Video games were first

The misogyny and vicious trolling that sprouted around Gamergate was, in retrospect, a foreshadowing of the ideology and tactics that would coalesce around the alt-right’s political ascendancy two years later.

For whatever reason, the video game community tends to feel the first tremors of broader cultural and economic upheaval.

A second, less doom-laden example:

Once upon a time, if you wanted to learn about the video games, you went to either Gamespot or IGN. These websites were the most trusted and visited sources for video game coverage, and by the mid-2000s had largely supplanted the print media industry.

In 2007, Gamespot fired editor-in-chief Jeff Gerstmann because he gave a mediocre review score to a game, and that game’s publisher happened to be a significant advertiser on the site.

In 2008, Gerstmann and several former coworkers started Giant Bomb, and over the next several years, Giant Bomb helped to forge the new landscape of video game journalism. They phased out written coverage and moved to 30-60 minute videos of them playing games as they talked and joked, the way you might if you were sitting on the couch with a friend. They were one of the first sites to have weekly podcasts, analyzing the week’s news and digressing into bizarre conversations and inside jokes for hours.

What most differentiated Giant Bomb was that the creators were the stars. Their personalities, insights, and senses of humor were front and center. They didn’t hide their preferences and non-gaming obsessions. Newcomers visited Giant Bomb for the first time to hear about games, but fans returned daily to hear from Jeff, Brad, Ryan, and Vinny, regardless of the topic. As a result, they’ve dabbled in spinoff podcasts about pro wrestling, Formula 1 racing, and life advice.

Giant Bomb happens to be the site where you can hear your favorite people talk about games; if those people leave Giant Bomb (particularly Jeff), the brand ceases to have value beyond its SEO ranking.

This shift in authority from institution to individuals has rippled out beyond video game journalism over the past five years. We see it across all media. Not long ago, if you were a politics journalist, there were a half-dozen publications that might be your ultimate goal: The New York Times, The Washington Post, The Wall Street Journal, etc. If you worked for The New York Times, your reputation was derived from your employer and the 150 years of credibility behind it. If you left The Times, the readers wouldn’t know or tell the difference.

Now, the opposite is true.

Nate Silver built his FiveThirtyEight blog on the strength of his work and participation in social media around the 2008 election. When The New York Times bought FiveThirtyEight in 2010, they didn’t give him credibility – he gave them credibility (and huge traffic). And when Silver left in 2013, he took his fans with him.

Starting with video games, the power of publications to grant legitimacy to people has shriveled. In the age of the internet we care about individuals over institutions. Journalism and entertainment were the first industries to change in the new climate, but every industry historically dominated by institutional authority is at-risk.

And schools are next.