I don’t watch a lot of reality tv shows. To be more accurate, I don’t watch a lot of tv. I don’t say that as a judgment on anyone else. I just had to unplug my cable for house renovations years ago and realized I didn’t miss it when it was gone. Since I didn’t miss it, I never plugged it back in.
Having said that, sometimes I get on a Netflix kick and watch a show that everyone else has been keeping up with for years. This time around it’s been Kitchen Nightmares (US), and I was surprised when I started seeing a connection to gaming. Confused? I’ll explain.
For those who don’t watch the show, each episode of Kitchen NIghtmares follows the same basic premise. There is a restaurant that is struggling and they’ve called in Chef Gordon Ramsay to check things out and provide feedback on what needs to change. It’s reality tv so, of course, the places they go tend to be utter messes and have a lot of interpersonal drama. The middle part of the show is often full of the owners, chefs, and managers a) denying they are doing anything wrong and/or b) insisting that what Ramsay says they’re doing wrong isn’t actually the problem. I kept a list of the phrases I heard the most often during this part of the show:
“It’s a conspiracy, they’re all just giving bad reviews because they want to bring us down.”
“There’s nothing wrong with the food (or the service, the management, etc.)”
“It’s the way we’ve always done it.”
“I’ve never heard any complaints.”
“It tastes fine to ME.”
“He doesn’t understand how to cook Italian food!” (or Greek, soul food, sushi, etc.)
“The customers are lying.”
“If they don’t like it, they shouldn’t come here. If they don’t like it, they can make it themselves.”
“The customers don’t know what good food is.”
“Ten years ago everyone loved this!”
“It’s supposed to be like that!”
I also notice a lot of general arguing and finger pointing, more effort to place or deflect blame than anything else. The idea that there is nothing wrong, but if there was something wrong, it’s not the speaker’s fault.
All of these are pretty clearly statements (or actions) meant to resist change and preserve a status quo that is no longer working, if it ever really did. They highlight the resistance any person can feel when they’re talking about changing something they are deeply invested in, something they are so close to that they may literally not see the problems. From the outside, we think these people are being willfully ignorant, and that may be a part of it; but there’s an excellent chance that they are legitimately too close to the business to see its flaws without help. The bigger problems come once those flaws are pointed out and they still attempt to bend reality to prove their previous assumptions were correct.
And yes, somewhere in the middle of the marathon viewing session it started reminding me of some of the pushbacks to game critique. Sub in “games” for food and pick a gaming critic – especially those with an interest in, say, gender issues – to sub in for Chef Ramsay and the comparison is right there to be made. “Nothing is wrong with the way things are, this is how it’s always been done, you are an outsider and don’t understand, it’s a conspiracy.” It’s more important to prove things are right as they are than consider ways it could be better.
As a viewer, do I always agree with what Ramsay says in his show? Nope. Not that I can critique food from over here, but I’ve got to say that some of his redecorating looks horrid to me. To me. In one episode he took a lovely dark Irish restaurant/pub and brightened the place up – I have always preferred dark wood and dark colors in an Irish pub! However, I can 100% entertain the idea that just because I like one color scheme or another, the restaurant goers in that city or even in general would prefer something else. I also don’t agree with all game critique, but I can still understand and accept that disagreeing with a critique does not necessarily make it a false critique. I can also still learn from a critique I disagree with instead of ignoring the entire thing.
Kitchen Nightmares is a reality tv show, it’s filmed and edited in a way that highlights any drama and tries to keep the viewer watching. So it’s more than a bit concerning when this exaggerated version of reality starts sounding an awful lot like folks I’ve seen talking about gaming in real life. Do we really feel the need to defend everything about the medium to the point that we sound like reality tv? And that’s without talking about threats and personal attacks thrown around online, I’m only talking about the sort of blinders it takes to discard any and all critique!
It’s not directly related to my previous comparison, but I was reminded of something else while watching the show. See, Chef Ramsay’s thing is “telling it like it is” and “not holding back.” I’m sure not everyone appreciates his style, but overall this is something he’s been able to build a brand on. I see a lot of folks, primarily men, involved in gaming critique who do a similar thing. “He’s kind of harsh sometimes, but you know, the man tells it like it is!” I rarely see the same thing said, in a positive way, about women who do gaming critique. The idea that in general people are more ok with men being “loveable assholes” than women is related to all kinds of things that I’m not super qualified to discuss. If I was going to try, that would take its own blog post. But I will say that it’s awfully odd to me that while I know a lot of guys praised for being very blunt and combative in gaming critique…I more often see women yelled at for it.
If you really want to take gender out of that comparison, it’s still more than a bit hypocritical that folks tend to be ok with someone being harsh about things they agree with, but feel the person is stepping over the line if not. Not entirely fair, is it? “You can speak your mind freely, I want honest, blunt critique…but only if I agree with what you’re saying.” The entire point of an outside critique is that the person may see things you have not noticed!
A very intelligent friend of mine once shared a quote with me, the gist of which was that when you disagree with someone, one of the first things you deny them is comparative language. I realize that comparing a reality tv show and the gaming community as a whole isn’t going to be point-by-point perfect. If someone felt like it, they could respond with all kinds of “Well, actually’s” to refute the points I’m making. The thing is, even that’s reminding me of an episode of the show – one where the restaurant owner was repeatedly saying, “No, I’m not in denial,” instead of accepting the problems and working towards solutions.