It was just about a year ago. I felt a bit unsettled after reading a Kotaku article by Patricia Hernandez, an article that asked the question "is it wrong to say 'I raped you' in a multiplayer game?" I felt a bit unsettled because the article came across as manipulative. Why was Kotaku spending their time on such a topic? "Oh," I thought to myself, brushing off my doubts "It's written by a woman who was actually raped in her past, so I suppose they think it adds credibility".
But I haven't stopped feeling unsettled from that point on in regards to Kotaku.com. Increasingly, Kotaku has championed an agenda in their articles. Whether it's hunting for racial slurs in an innocent animal-based flash game, or making sure animated breasts aren't too big, or calling out developers for making what can vaguely be called a "gay joke", Kotaku is here to save the day!
I'm feeling unsettled because I know I'm being manipulated. I knew it couldn't be a coincidence that Kotaku was ramping up their gender-equality witch hunt. There had to be something going on. There's nothing wrong with a news site posting opinion articles that differ from my own. That's just a normal part of life. However, when I realized I was rolling my eyes in disbelief at virtually every single Kotaku article that was linked here on N4G, I stopped and wondered what the heck was going on.
So, I did a little digging. I'm here to let you know, my fellow N4G browsers, that something is indeed going on with Kotaku. Please, feel free to yell at me, disagree with me, high-five me, or say whatever you like in the comment section. This topic should be talked about.
First, let's establish that something is indeed going on. Starting about 18-24 months ago, the number of hot-button gender-related articles on Kotaku.com has skyrocketed. Topics that are years old (like crude remarks commonly made towards women on Xbox Live; nothing new) have suddenly found new light on Kotaku's article list. Setting aside the fact that Kotaku failed to report on these issues of harassment when they first cropped up years ago (in spite of their job titles being "journalist"), Kotaku has also been hiring - and posting articles from - female-focused industry icons. Whether highlighting Anita Sarkeesian for the tenth time or picking up on the most recent anti-gay slur, Kotaku has been picking up a lot of click-through, whether from like-minded individuals or angry readers and everyone caught in between. We've gotten articles (two, actually) like how Sony is sexist because there were no women on stage at the Playstation 4 reveal (what?), how Far Cry 3 is homophobic because it has a vague gay joke (ignoring the fact that the game is based on rude, crude, politically-incorrect '80s action-movie cliches), and my personal favorite, the dedicated and malicious attack on Vanillaware president/artist/designer George Kamitani for being a 14-year-old boy (apparently) because he drew a female videogame character with massive tits for a game that was announced nearly two years ago.
Remember how I mentioned that these sort of articles have been growing exponentially for about 18-24 months? Hmmm, what happened 18-24 months ago for Kotaku. Oh. That's right. About 27 months ago, Kotaku's parent company, Gawker, decided to revamp all of their site designs, which resulted in a MASSIVE decrease in site visits (and naturally, a massive decrease in ad revenue). Gawker fumbled and struggled to bring back readership by making a "compromise" in the site's design, and it was during this time that Kotaku also began to increase their number of tabloid-like, hit-seeking articles. All of this info is publicly available on Wikipedia, by the way. I'm not claiming to be some sort of insider.
"Okay, dude," you might be thinking. "So what? Gawker (and therefore Kotaku) hit a rough patch two years ago. It doesn't mean they have an agenda." You know what? You're absolutely right. If that one coincidence was the only thing I had, then it would be a bit tinfoil-hat of me to imply that Kotaku was engaging in some sort of targeted manipulation.
But that isn't all.
Surrounding the hubbub of Patricia Hernandez's two (yes, two) articles about "no women @ PS4 announcement!", Stephen Totilo gets on his high horse and says to his readers (you know, the people who put food on his table through their click-through) "if you don't like Patricia, then I don't want you to be a part of the Kotaku community". What? I'm sorry. It is one thing to ban lewd comments or discourage immature talk on a website, but to say such a thing to readers (who were understandably miffed at Patricia's incredibly one-sided and poorly-researched articles) stinks of an agenda.
And it gets deeper.
In a document regarding Gawker's future plans (found in about 20 seconds using Google here: http://paidcontent.org/2013... it is detailed that Gawker planned on hiring several new "commerce specialists" for Kotaku and sister-site Jezebel (a female-focused website where a lot of Kotaku's gender-issue articles are cross-linked for additional ad revenue). This was just a few months ago at the end of January 2013. What is a "commerce specialst"?
"The job listings describe the position as “a new type of service journalism” that includes “everything from posts about the cheapest deal on something our readers need to introducing them to new things they’ve never seen,” and notes that Gawker will be deriving revenue from those posts"
The phrases that really caught my eye were "introducing them [readers] to new things they [readers] have never seen" and "Gawker will be deriving revenue from those posts". Is Kotaku's recent explosion (or should I say exploitation) of gender-driven articles something new, something the gaming industry has not seen? Yes, yes indeed. Is the s***-storm stirred up by these articles generating ad revenue for Kotaku and their parent company, Gawker? You bet.
In another article (here: http://adage.com/article/di... that addressed the same announcement by Gawker this past January, we see another side of the same story:
"The company [Gawker] is working on ways to show past posts that have generated high revenue through affiliate links to readers who haven't yet seen them, Mr. Denton said."
Interesting. So, Gawker (and by extension Kotaku) is trying to up ad revenue by cross linking posts. Even if you've only read a few Kotaku articles, you've probably noticed that they hyperlink the crap out of their own articles, giving you links to at least a dozen other articles they've written before you're done reading. You want to know an easy way to get ad revenue from these cross-links? Talk about the same topic over and over again. You want an even easier way to get ad revenue from these cross-links? Drum up an artificial controversy where the reader HAS to click back to other articles to get the full story. Oh. Gee. That's exactly what they've done with stories like "no wimmenz @ PS4 announcement" and "Vanillaware is run by juveniles", because those so-called stories have multiple pages on Kotaku, and of course they all link to one another, just to make sure you're getting the full story.
Does Kotaku care about gender issues? I'm not sure. Their coverage of all these "controversies" comes across as Baby's First Feminism, and now they're hunting for the devil under every rock, or rather, they're hunting for the dominating phallic symbol in every box art, the male-privilege hate-speech in every line of dialog, and an oppressed female behind every pair of oversized cartoon breasts.
But I think that's giving them too much credit. It seems to me as though this is intentional. Kotaku belongs to a company that has been down on its ad revenue for two years now. Kotaku belongs to a company that wants to aggressively expand its media holdings. Kotaku belongs to a company that paid a mole to steal footage from Fox News and got caught. Kotaku belongs to a company being sued by Dr. Phil for stealing portions of his exclusive interview and airing them before he could. Kotaku belongs to a company that violated Reddit's free speech and privacy policies (and was subsequently blocked) in order to get a "scoop" on users who were posting pornography on an adult-only sub forum. Again, these factoids aren't secrets. I found them by spending less than 10 minutes Googling Kotaku and their owners, Gawker. Kotaku already has a reputation for making sensationalist (and poorly-researched) articles about gaming for the purpose of stirring up artificial controversy and raking in the ad revenue when people come to watch the train wreck.
It would be one thing if they were doing this with videogame-related news (which is something they've always done anyway and it is annoying but ultimately harmless). However, Kotaku is using a real-life issue - gender inequality - and abusing it so that they can make Gawker a few extra bucks. The videogame industry has an opportunity to grow and mature, and gender equality is one issue where we have been growing. However, now Kotaku is stepping in, calling the shots, and pointing the "sexist" finger at everyone who disagrees with their take on the topic. They are co-opting the discussion and cramming their own agenda down everyone else's throats. No, it isn't for the purpose of championing a noble cause or crusading for the rights of the oppressed (even then, they would be doing a poor job of it if that was their intention). Kotaku's actions are for the purpose of dredging up ad revenue by any means possible, and this behavior should come as no surprise based on the actions and attitudes of their parent company, Gawker.
Gamers, these are your journalists. Are you happy about that?