We can be absolutely certain that the mainstream media – broadsheets, tabloids, perhaps even televised news – will report on how Double Fine studios last week raised over one million dollars to make an as-yet unnamed videogame in less than 24 hours.
Double Fine did this through Kickstarter, a crowd-funding website where ordinary people can give money to nascent projects. They initially asked for $400,000 in order to fund the development of a point-and-click adventure game, and to film the process, but as of writing, the contributions to the project exceed $1.6 million. This is by any measure an extraordinary response.
However, we know that the mainstream media will report these events, because money – huge, stinking piles of money – is one of the only ways that the mainstream media is capable of understanding videogames. There are a small (but growing) number of exceptions to this, which is encouraging. However, as I wrote in September of last year, mainstream coverage generally falls into three categories: moral panics (videogames corrupting children), profits (videogames making bucketloads of cash), or the exotic (the unfamiliar worlds of those who play videogames).
These categories can, and frequently do overlap, but largely, they represent strategies of reporting from a safe distance. They are strategies that allow journalists to acknowledge the existence of videogames as a cultural phenomenon while simultaneously reinforcing a perceived difference.
This difference exists mostly in clichés. The videogame that broke all those records and got reported on by the mainstream journalist (you know the one – the one that you read about a few times every year) was able to make all that money because that mainstream journalist’s friends and relatives are now sitting at home unwrapping the game, while the journalist files their article on this strange niche interest.
It’s nice that videogames will make the front page (metaphorically speaking, of course, as it’s the kind of news that will only make the front page online). Equally, I’m certainly not saying that the Double Fine Kickstarter is not worth reporting on. It is. It’s a lot of money.
At the same time, it’s not hard to image that many of these stories will only pick out the sums involved and will continue to stare, uncomprehendingly in their own way, at these strange things called videogames. The things that make all the money.
I’d be genuinely thrilled to be proven wrong. All it would take is a little time and curiosity. What kind of a studio is Double Fine? Are point-and-click adventure videogames popular? How does this compare to other internet-led business ventures across other media, like Radiohead’s In Rainbows, or Louis C.K.’s Live At The Beacon Theatre?
What’s the interesting story here? It certainly isn’t just that videogames can make lots of money.
After all, we’ve known that for decades.