I’m a really irritating person.
I irritate myself.
I’ve probably irritated you.
I read something and if there is an incorrect fact, one that’s simple and easily checked I find it hard to get past. Especially when the writer did not bother to do a Google search or just actually read the source. Worse I hate it when things are just made up.
For most of the world particularly journalists and sometime academics there seems to be a universal get out of jail free memo that I did not get. The memo seems to say:
“If you are writing about video games it’s ok not to check facts”.
I think the memo also gives some examples.
1/ If you are writing about Second Life feel free to say it has well over 10 million subscribers, don’t bother thinking about what ‘Residents’ means or looking extensive debate about it.2/ Feel free to say World of Warcraft is the biggest online video game in the world. Ignore anything from Asia or anything Asians play – we are working hard on ignoring them so you’d kinda be helping.
I find the number of academic papers that I peer review and have to correct simply things like this in to be frankly disturbing.
Now I want to talk about the UK national news paper The Daily Telegraph but before that, let’s talk about PBS.
PBS (a public service broadcaster based in the US) has an online site and (I believe) series of programs titled Digital Nation or ‘digital_nation’ when they are feeling all internety’ (http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/pages/frontline/digitalnation/).
I’m given to understand that in the US media landscape PBS is a name you can trust. So good, this is going to be all fact all the way then,,,
I started to read the Digital Nation site. I saw good stuff from the people that you would expect to be talking about these matters, Jenkins, Gee etc. Then I started to stumble. First off was the feature video on ‘Internet Addiction’ (http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/pages/frontline/digitalnation/virtual-worlds/internet-addiction/a-self-confessed-addict.html?play).
This was the summary:
"Jeesoo Park & Devin Dwyer sat down with Adam Brown, who says World of Warcraft took over his life for 10 years. In a special collaboration, Columbia School of Journalism students are contributing short video reports to Digital Nation"
Yup. Not only did the person not say anything in the video about playing WoW for 10 years, WoW of course has not been around for 10 years. Now this was a student work. But as I snarkly commented I guess Columbia School of Journalism does not teach fact checking. Neither does PBS editorial it seems. Following my comment the summary has now been changed. What is shocking here is the staggering falseness of the statements – you don’t have to be a WoW expert to know that it’s not been around for 10 years. It’s really easy to find out the launch date.
This got me interested in what the site was saying about WoW. Next I came across a post by Rachel Dretzin the Producer / Director of the series (http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/pages/frontline/digitalnation/us/#dretzin). So someone who you might think would have a clue and would not be up for misrepresenting things. ‘Friad not
But when David decided to do a bit of snooping around his son's computer, he discovered that his son's profile in the online game World of Warcraft included a link to a hardcore porn Web site, among other things.”
So let me get this straight PBS are saying that there are links to hardcore porn in WoW. In WoW profiles in fact.
Anyone know what a WoW profile is?
Ever found hardcore porn in WoW?
Here we are not just talking factlessness about WoW, we have misrepresentation - let’s look at what ‘David’ actually says (http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/pages/frontline/online/open/2008/05/welcome.html)
“[…] I "Googled" my son's World of WarCraft nickname.
Directly, I was taken to his gaming profile page and it looked as I had seen it many times on his computer. Then, I noticed that there was a listing for "his" website. I clicked on the link and it took me to the most hard core porn site I had ever seen
As I reviewed his WOW profile site more closely ".
- David did not say he snooped around his son’s computer, he googled his character name.
- He did not find porn links in WoW he found them on a gamer profile site.
He does conflate things a little, but David is a civilian here – Ms Dretzin is a PBS producer – one that is in my view misrepresenting David and WoW and indeed WoW and VW’s in general.
But it’s a game – why bother fact checking or researching eh?
And so to The Daily Telegraph
"Average age of adult computer game addicts is 35, US study shows"
You will not find the content at the end of the link. It has been removed as a result of my complaint to the UK’s Press Complaints Commission. But you will find lots of links to it.
What’s wrong with the headline?
The story is ostensibly about Weaver III et al, 2009, ‘Health-Risk Correlates of Video-Game Playing Among Adults’ American Journal of Preventive Medicine (see this link for press release and original paper: http://www.ajpm-online.net/content/pressreleases#2009).
This Weaver paper does not say anything about:
- average age of gamers
- average age of adult gamers
- average age of addicts
Now admittedly both Weaver and the press release about it requires a little close reading. The press release actually says:
“While video gaming is generally perceived as a pastime for children and young adults, research shows that the average age of players in the United States is 35.”
But the ‘research’ the press release is talking about here is not the Weaver, it’s Reference 3 of that paper: ESA Essential facts 2008 (http://www.theesa.com/facts/pdfs/ESA_EF_2008.pdf).
That is, the 35 number is not part of the research the press release is about and the Telegraph story is about. It's just a background and it’s about gamers in the US not adults or addicts or adult addicts.
The Daily Telegraph piece takes it further though. The Weaver paper is not about addiction per se any use of the word is a reference to other research – so there was no finding about addicts or their age.
These are just examples. Ones I wanted to go through in a little detail just to demonstrate how prevalent the lack of fact checking around games is, how blatant and how simple many of the facts are to check.
On a side note I urge those that enjoy a good (well terrible) media effects paper to read the Weaver one. Masochists will also be interested in the companion piece ‘Video Games – Play or “Playlike” Activity’ which argues that playing a Video Game is not really play.
Lastly I want to make a
point about journalism, corrections and internet practice.
In the UK we have the Press Complaints Commission you write to them when the press mess up – due to my complaint the Daily Telegraph article has been removed. But that’s not what I asked for. I asked for it to be corrected under the same URL. In that way when one clicks on one of the multiple links to the piece one will not find a 404 but the corrected text. A 404 can simply be a system error and does not indicate that the piece was withdrawn – so the error lives on the net. It’s been suggested that a new correction is published but again I have said no as the 404 will remain and unless you know the sotry is false you will not find the correction.
Thus I feel that there should be a broad online standard for error corrections where:
- the original URL is used
- the original text is also available with an indication of the error
I told you I was irritating.