The Disingenuous Elements Damaging the BBC

Desperate or insincere journalists continue to seek a new demon that satisfies the human propensities of looking for simplistic reasons complicated things happen and the need for something or someone to blame. Eyeballs are migrating to media that presents an uncomplicated picture of reality; for most people mundane worries make investing time and energy into gaining a modest understanding of myriad, complex societal maladies inconceivable. Who could be more welcome than a person who is portrayed (and often portrays themselves) as a professional informer who does the leg-work before presenting refined, concentrated truth in an easily digested sound bite or one-minute newspaper column?

During much of my teens and well into my twenties I looked to the BBC News for a factual presentation of world events. The BBC News was, to the best of my knowledge, a bastion of sincerity, thoughtfulness and excellent journalism that had earned world-wide respect. Excellent documentaries about science and the natural world are a staple of BBC programming as are highly enjoyable fictional programmes.

I play video games. I know through this “confession” that I will be derided by many as an adult wastrel engaging in a childish frivolity. However, I can state with conviction that to me they have frequently been a source of emotionally engaging, fantastical interactive escapism that have exposed me to private and shared experiences I had never thought possible. Unfortunately, video games are also the modern whipping child of hand-wringing worriers and outrage manufacturers who need something to point to as the cause of society’s ills. Once it was rock and roll music, then it was television, for a while it was pen-and-paper role-playing games, now the viewer-hungry media points at video games and laments the corruption of “our youth”.

If an organisation wishes to continue to be seen as a respected provider of factual information there must be a standard of behaviour in place that ensures that this hard-earned, quickly lost, reputation is maintained. Thus, it should be obvious that broadcasting an alarmist, sensationalist, inaccurate and patently biased programme presented as a documentary could be highly damaging. The programme is entitled “The Dark Side Of Gaming — The Females Fighting Back” in which a number of opinions are presented from predominantly female gamers who appear to suggest that gaming is an especially hostile place for women. A teaser was posted on the video sharing site YouTube [1] with the description “We meet the gamers, developers and journalists who are also calling out sexism in the industry, fighting back against the trolls and making their voices heard”. Soon after, to the inconvenience of the presented narrative, a number of comments were posted by interviewees describing having been mislead as to the intent of the programme or having their opinions distorted by the creators of the programme.

Three individuals who posted complaints under the aliases “0Apes0”, “Ms 5ooo Watts” and “YOGSCAST Hannah”.

0Apes0 commented [2]:

Being the manager of the HoG (shooting the shot gun) I am very disappointed at the finished edit of this. This was supposed to be a film about women in gaming but ‘sorry we had to change direction’ in the last couple of weeks. It’s only purpose is to make women feel like victims when we’re not. MEN and women experience abuse everyday online, the best thing to do is to ignore it and ban the stupid people on Twitter, live, psn and twitch. Not worth the worry. I said this but clearly this was deemed too logical to show and we must all remain victims. Not happy with the finish product only that it’s appeared on YouTube and not real TV. Also lol good job at bringing KSI in.

Ms 5ooo Watts commented [3]:

I’m honestly disappointed with how this turned out. I was approached to speak about women in gaming as a whole not to only talk about the negative side. Even during the interview I was asked to give my positive experiences with being a gamer as they didn’t want this to be a one sided thing. None of my positive comments about my community and the gaming community as a whole were included at all. The initial email that I received asking for an interview said, and I quote “I’m working on a BBC3 documentary looking at the experiences of female gamers, how experiences are changing (and how the games themselves are changing)” No where in there does it say that the program will be about “the dark side of gaming” I never signed up to be some kind of warrior against sexism online, I was asked to talk about the experiences of women in gaming, how things are changing and how games themselves are changing to reflect women in gaming now being more represented. Not happy at all.

The YouTube user Azure commented:

Just want to point out this issue is not just women exclusive, when it comes to this stuff this is not a sexist issue (your sex will be used as ammo against you because you let the trolls use it, react to it and they will just eat you alive). Also as many will state [Brianna] Wu is well known for inciting her own harassment even forgetting to switch out her main account for a dummy account when posting a bait post to start a harassment topic towards her which in one case was on her own forums on steam.

to which YOGSCAST Hannah replied [4]:

I pointed this out during my interview, and said online gaming companies need to step up and help support reporting and banning like DOTA 2/Valve did — looks like that didn’t get through, they just kept the bit where I said abuse happens to everyone :(

Clearly all three women consider the programme creators to be inventing a view of gaming that they do not recognise. 0Apes0 added:

+YOGSCAST Hannah I was told about two weeks ago that ‘the direction of the film has changed’ I then made it clear we dint want anything to do with the show and to remove all of the filming at the arcade and interview with our customers. We won’t be working with the BBC again and have since stopped the filming of another show for them last week. ITV, CH4 and GinxTV are far more knowledgable and do their research. Working with a small production in the future to deliver a much needed film on real women in gaming. No harassment focused BS.

I decided to submit a complaint to the BBC in the hope that they would recognise the clear agenda of the programme creators and how their misrepresentation of interviewees would damage the BBC’s reputation. The reply I received was a disturbing mix of facile excuses:

Thanks for getting in touch about a BBC Three documentary called The Dark Side of Gaming. We’ve discussed your concerns directly with the programme team.
We know that gaming is important to BBC Three’s audience, and it’s a topic we’ve tackled on many occasions and from various angles.
When we began production of this particular documentary we didn’t know exactly which direction it would take, beyond the general outline of “female gamers sharing their experiences”. At this point, we didn’t know what those experiences would be.
As the director — herself a keen gamer for many years — conducted interviews, one major theme she found emerging was the abuse that some female gamers experience. As this came into focus, we were keen to make sure we maintained a range of viewpoints and opinions.
We’ve tried to be very clear in the documentary that this abuse makes up a small proportion of the gaming experience, enacted by a small but often vocal proportion of the community. There was no suggestion that the experience for female gamers is entirely negative, but we felt it was important to reflect the fact that this abuse does occur.
The documentary acknowledges that anyone playing games online can receive abuse, whether male or female, and this point is expressed several times by various contributors. We certainly didn’t mean to present female gamers as “helpless”, and some of the contributors discuss taking positive steps to address abuse — for example Julia blogging her comedic responses, or Alanah contacting the mothers of those who send her such messages.
It wouldn’t be possible or practical to cover every aspect of such a complex subject within a single programme, so difficult decisions have to be made on where the focus should be. Since the documentary went live we’ve been back in touch with several of the original contributors and we’re hoping to revisit and expand on some of these wider themes.
We hope this has helped to clarify the situation and address some of your concerns. We do appreciate the feedback we’ve received, all of which has been circulated to the programme team.
Thanks again for contacting us.
Kind Regards
BBC Complaints

It’s immediately obvious that the BBC considers the programme to be a documentary, and thus they consider it to be — as the dictionary states — “presenting facts objectively without editorializing or inserting fictional matter, as in a book or film”. This is clearly contrary to the statements made by the interviewees who unambiguously describe being misled or misrepresented by the programme creators who sought to craft a harassment narrative. Their positive experiences were explicitly minimised or removed in an effort to create a programme that is blatant in its agenda, all while assuring the interviewee that the programme was not intended as a “one-sided” portrayal. The video’s description certainly leaves little room for “a range of viewpoints and opinions” to be maintained. This is lamentable given that an actual documentary reflecting the experiences of women and girls in gaming could have been informative and interesting.

The BBC’s representative provides the most tenuous of rationales when ignoring the criticism of the aforementioned interviewees. In stating, “As the director — herself a keen gamer for many years — conducted interviews, one major theme she found emerging was the abuse that some female gamers experience.”, the BBC’s representative and, by proxy, the programme director use selective quotation to imply abuse is something female gamers are more likely to experience. Contrary to this narrative, available evidence suggests that online abuse occurs, in general, to males and females with similar frequency and is far more nuanced than this BBC programme wishes to present [5]. Moreover, the bombastic programme title implies gaming specifically has some deep evil embedded in it female gamers are fighting against. This malady is not bullying as a societal problem, it’s portrayed as focused endemic misogyny in gaming. The inconvenient testimony of those female gamers who report positive or non-gender-centric views and experiences is diluted to serve the narrative.

Inexplicably, the programme’s creator argues that the intent was not to portray female gamers as victims. The inclusion of Brianna Wu — a person widely recognised in the gaming community as almost exclusively perpetuating the ‘females are victims’ narrative and more generally as an agitator [6] — can only have been to ensure a conspicuous and ludicrously negative portrayal of how female gamers are ‘victims’. Brianna’s disingenuous allusion that she was the inspiration for a fictional, cartoonish crime drama mirrors a previous assertion that she is the primary target of an ‘online harassment campaign’ [7]. Why would the programme’s creators include a person (who undermines the suffering of other people to engage in overt self-promotion) unless they knew there would be a regurgitation of the victim narrative?

The final excuse presented for mistreating the views of the interviewees and manufacturing a harassment narrative is that gaming is simply too big a subject to give comprehensive coverage to. If the experiences of female gamers was genuinely too big a topic for the programme’s creators to objectively cover, perhaps it would have been conscientious to suggest that the programme was unworkable. Alternatively, that it could have been (minus the agenda-heavy approach) one of a series of programmes describing the whole range of experiences of female gamers.

This programme’s likely consequence is that the next time a BBC crew asks a female gamer about their experiences, they will wonder if there is an ulterior motive. In addition, it will no-doubt further entrench the general media’s already negative portrayal of a widely enjoyed, unfairly disparaged pass-time.

Neither outcome supports the BBC’s reputation as a quality broadcaster.

References

[1] https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tZMjGwjCAuQ (accessed 2016/02/21)

[2] https://archive.is/kKhv1#selection-44717.0-44717.683

[3] https://archive.is/kKhv1#selection-16865.0-16865.982

[4] https://archive.is/kKhv1#selection-35453.0-35453.253

[5] http://www.pewinternet.org/2014/10/22/online-harassment/

[6] http://i3.kym-cdn.com/photos/images/newsfeed/000/911/071/09d.jpg_large (posted as “bait” from Brianna Wu’s own developer account)

[7] https://archive.is/C6KLe