Trendy Journalism


I am sick and cranky, so this is a sick and cranky post.

Via Joystiq, we learn from Reuters that The Guitar is Killing Your Relationship. Not just any guitar, though: the guitar controller you use to play guitar hero. The piece cites minimal evidence, all anecdotal, and leaves the reader less informed for having read the it. Welcome to the exciting world of trend journalism.

Trend journalism happens when a journalist doesn't have an actual story but faces a deadline. The reporter rounds up some friends, gets a couple of anecdotes on the article's subject, then hashes out a few hundred word relating the anecdotes and trying to fit them into some broader trend. Does the trend actually exist? Who knows? Who cares? So long as you make your word count and don't buck conventional wisdom enough to draw attention to yourself you'll clear the bar of your minimum obligations and noone's the wiser.

This article's premise is that the proliferation of new and unusual video game controlers is putting a strain on relationships. For evidence we've got two anecdotes, some speculation by an expert, some background analysis by an expert, some speculation by a non-expert, a barely-related statistic, and a tangential anecdote. This article doesn't even meet the Trend Journalism Rule of Three ("If you can cite three anecdote, you've proven a nation-wide trend").

Let's look at the anecdotes first.

Consider Chris Blessitt. He had so much fun with his buddies playing "Guitar Hero II" he decided to buy his own copy of the popular music game -- and the nearly life-sized plastic guitar that goes with it -- much to his girlfriend Kate's dismay.

As the 27-year-old stage actor went looking through the shelves at a Best Buy Co. Inc. store in New York this week, he recalled his girlfriend of nine-months' reaction when he approached her with the idea.

"She rolled her eyes," he said.

I'm not entirely sure this is on point; did the girlfriend roll her eyes at the specific addition of the controller to the boyfriend's collection, or did she roll her eyes for reasons unrelated to the trend? She may have rolled her eyes because she doesn't like that specific game and he plays too much of it, or because of a general aversion to video games. In either of those cases, there's nothing about the specific controller that differentiates it as more relationship-straining than any other video game. But let's grant the benefit of the doubt. Next:

Then there is the issue of safety.

Maybe that's why self-confessed game junky Brenda Brathwaite, whose 10 or more video game consoles and over 20 controllers once ruined the living room decor, drew the line when her "Guitar Hero" guitar fell on her head.

Brathwaite, a professor and game designer at Savannah College of Art and Design and author of "Sex in Video Games," took it to heart after her husband -- a stay at home father of two who is definitely not a game player -- suggested her games and gear might be happier away from the family living space.

"I'm allowed to have my sprawl in my office," she said. "The living room is for the family.

"With all the new controllers, it's getting out of hand," she added, saying her living room once looked like "a large spider was crawling out of the television."

This seems like a genuinely on-point anecdote, to the extent that anecdotes prove anything. Getting hit on the head, while possible with traditional controllers, is less of a problem than with new ones, and while most controllers cause big messes of tangled cords in living rooms bulky specialty controllers have much more potential to take up space.

Finally we have some speculation by an expert, Carrie Sloan, editor-in-chief of dating magazine Tango. She claims that large collections of video game controllers are to women what large collections of shoes are to men. I suppose I can grant her expertise in the field, but I note that her statement is so broad, and the specific part about video game accessories is summarized rather than quoted, that I'm a little suspicious about whether what she actually said was on-point for the specific issue of new controllers.

Backing up this suspicion is the enthusiasm she shows for Guitar Hero in the story's closing anecdote:

Tango's Sloan, the authority on relationships, in fact recommends "Guitar Hero" and "Dance Dance Revolution" as games that could bring couples together.

Sloan and her boyfriend were recently invited by another couple to a "Dance Dance Revolution" double date.

"So maybe the accessories are twofold: they may take up space, but also serve as a his-and-hers social elixir," Sloan added.

On balance, it seems that Sloan's testimony doesn't point one way or the other on the issue of whether new-fangled controllers are putting unusual new strains on relationships.

Then we have non-expert speculation from "game player Festus Williams": "For whatever reason, girls just don't like you spending time playing video games. And then you come in with a guitar or steering wheel, that could get people in trouble." This really feels like a quote that the author solicited from a friend of his because he needed some sort of extra evidence to add. It's not a story, it's not a particularly strong statement, it's just idle speculation.

Finally we have some background statistics related to sales figures on video game peripherals and an expert discussing why new peripherals are needed for games. These don't even pretend to speak to the trend at issue, they're just there to provide context.

Trend journalism annoys me because it tends to be shoddily researched and hastily written. Moreover, it almost always confirms some sort of conventional wisdom. In this case, the piece reinforces the idea that gaming and dating are incompatible, as well as providing weak support for the gender stereotype that games are enjoyed by guys, endured by girls. As for the trend itself, I'm dubious. I don't doubt that some non-gaming SOs have been put off by specific purchases of video game peripherals, but I'm not sure you can attribute any special animus to the new peripherals rather than to video games/obsessive hobbying in general.


I feel like trend journalists are high school journalists who are still writing for their stupid high school paper. Here's looking at you, The RB Silver Spur.

....RB had a newspaper? whoa, go figure

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This page contains a single entry by Zach published on April 15, 2007 7:00 PM.

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