A radio interview with Bungie’s Joseph Staten conducted by Chana Joffe-Walt on behalf of National Public Radio caught my attention this evening when it was reported by Joystiq.com. It was just a short blast calling the piece condescending and saying that Joffe-Walt “might not have been the best choice” to cover a story about the release of the new Halo novel Contact Harvest. After listening to the interview I feel that Joystiq’s Scott Jon Siegel was out of line using language like that. I would have used the words “ignorant”, “vacuous” and “irresponsible.” There would probably also be a whole score of expletives if I weren’t worried about sounding unprofessional.
Seeing as I only listen to public radio when Prairie Home Companion is on I wouldn’t have found this gem without the help of Joystiq. I have a passing acquaintance with All Things ConsideredI encourage readers to listen to the piece, which can be found here, before reading the rest of this commentary. From here on out it gets kind of nasty, so I’d hate to taint any reader’s view of active reporter Chana Joffe-Walt.
Joffe-Walt has made her name in the indy radio circuit by covering stories that are extremely socially relevant to the early nineties, when bleeding-heart feigns of interest in other cultures and having empty causes was all the rage. It’s so incredibly, like, hip to be a Buddhist, feminist civil rights activist who wants an end to the suffering in Tibet. Don’t get me wrong with the tasteless attack, they’re all fabulous causes, but an educated audience can tell right away if someone is truly behind them or if they were just rejected by the Greek community in college and needed something to get attention, no matter how vapid the words that come out of your mouth end up being. Enough of the personal attacks, that was just an example of how easy it is to do research for an article and then use the knowledge to voice an informed opinion that fits in with your initial agenda. This is something that Ms. Jaffe-Walt only managed to do half of.
The Seattle journalist and editor saw fit to release this report to the highly respected NPR, who in turn saw fit to put the drivel on air, after having obviously done no preliminary research and having an agenda of superiority. Her lack of preparation managed to land her in a very difficult position. That position is one of maintaining a façade of smug brilliance in the face of desperate idiocy when dropped into an unfamiliar world. With what seems to be no clue what a video game is beyond Duck Hunt Joffe-Walt walks into Bungie offices to interview Staten and with the tone of a Jewish mother visiting her son’s first apartment refers to them as “something he calls a conference room… with office-like furniture to hold up all the Xbox consoles.” Thanks for that, but next time could you put a little more rancor in your comments, me am gammur and I notte so kwik.
Apparently she takes requests. To explain where she’s coming from she makes a point to address all of her ”fellow non-gaming luddites” as though to be diplomatic and self-effacing. Then she undoes all that false modesty by lashing out with a vengeful commentary on Staten being the “story guy” by incredulously stating, ”there is a story in Halo,” as though she had to regain her dominance and prove that we, the gamers, are the Neanderthals while she and her private audience of “luddites” are the culturally and intellectually superior. I’m not sure how she can maintain this posture when asking questions along the lines of “Isn’t gaming all just, like, shoot-em-up? Why do you need story?” It’s difficult believing her to be anywhere near the superior she claims to be when her questions, voice and delivery sound like a Valium depressed valley-girl.
We then hear Staten explain the teaser setup for Halo ending with the usual developer rhetoric of saying it’s up to the player to save the world. In response she makes the leap of “that’s it right there, the entire Halo story.” Her implication is that there is no immediate story beyond zipping around with guns and saving the world. She also wants the listener to understand that the games display none of the back story either so when given an explanation of some of Staten’s favorite stories that weren’t included in the games she says “but you wouldn’t know that” presumably to her fellow “luddite” aristocracy. She then presumes to tell us to “put down [our] joystick and read a book” revealing that her special friends are no longer listening and she has to be debased by reporting to addle-brained gamers.
There are many indications that she has a lot of less than flattering opinions of gamers. For a reporter who is making her name as a cause-head and being very sympathetic to the plight of others, she sure seems to not be understanding of people who do and enjoy things differently than she does. Poor Joseph Staten had to wade his way through insensitive questions like “do gamers read?” Eventually he tried to bring a little respect into the piece by discussing gamers as critics and the fear of being flayed by “Highly literate gamers” and saying that they are an “internet connected, savvy audience” The attempt to bring a little deserved respect in the direction of gamers in general was not lost on Joffe-Walt who snaps back with “Geeks, in other words” without missing a beat.
This abomination of a report has done a great disservice to gamers and journalists. Since this was on All Things Considered I believe the intent to have been an attempt to enlighten the otherwise unsuspecting audience on the intricacies of video games and storytelling while reporting on the next Halo novel, but just came off as an incredibly vacuous and offensive assault on anyone who plays games. She may as well have been a forum monkey who just doesn’t know the exact moment when the point evaded her.
I won’t deny that I’ve said my fair share of nasty thing about the Halo books. I only choked one down and then threw it on top of Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone in my refuse bin. However, that doesn’t mean that video games in general have no story. In fact, most video games made since the days of the NES have had intricate storylines and character development and as a journalist, Chana Joffe-Walt should have known that. For me to attack such a report after the many gaffes, blindly opinionated comments and insensitivities I’ve written in the past might seem like owl telling sparrow she has large eyes, but then again, I’m not reporting for a nationally syndicated and well respected radio news source. We have no respect here.