Games journalism has been under fire for years, with good reason: it’s been viewed as corrupt because of stories like:
- Doritosgate, a complex controversy that involves blatant product advertising by games journo Geoff Keighley; a Eurogamer article about conflicts of interest faced by certain journos; and legal action by Lauren Wainwright, one of the journos mentioned in the article.
- Gerstmann-gate, where games critic Jeff Gerstmann was terminated at GameSpot due to pressure from publisher Eidos over the website’s low Kane & Lynch review score.
- GameJournoPros, a private mailing list of games journalists and industry insiders who discuss what to cover/ignore, and how to handle said coverage.
Some may scoff at the idea of ethics in games journalism – maybe because they think the idea of consumers pushing for honesty in games journalism isn’t that important, especially when compared to other global issues like armed conflict and poverty.
Others may even laugh at the very concept of games “journalism” because ever since its inception, members of the press were more fans than journalists, and that the medium functioned mainly to promote games, as opposed to actual journalism which is essential in helping democracy function.
Clearly, games journalism doesn’t hold as much weight as key international problems. This, however, doesn’t mean that games journalism doesn’t matter because it does.
Influence of the enthusiast press
According to the article “Too Human versus the enthusiast press” by Rebecca Carlson, games journalists affect the consumption and production of video games in several ways:
- They bridge and divide the knowledge of producers and consumers.
- They determine what kind of knowledge is passed on to consumers.
- They articulate appropriate consumption knowledge by creating and reinforcing categories, distinctions, criticisms: what makes a game good; what game or gameplay is worth consumers’ attention; and how much particular types of games should cost.
So how does this affect you? There are at least a couple of ways:
- Think of any upcoming game you’re excited about. Your knowledge of that game and why you’re excited about it is directly caused by games media (e.g. the amount of coverage it gets, the details you’ve read, and the gameplay videos you’ve watched).
- Think of an ongoing issue in gaming (e.g. piracy, microtransactions, on-disc DLC). Your stance regarding the issue is likely influenced by the commentaries published in websites you frequent and the videos you watch.
With good, responsible games journalism, you’d be well-informed in either scenario. Your knowledge would help you make intelligent decisions with your purchases, and adopt a smart view on gaming-related issues.
For instance, you can choose to avoid buying games with microtransactions and urge your friends to do so as well. If the practice becomes prevalent enough, it could eventually dissuade publishers from adding microtransactions in AAA games.
Effects of bad games journalism
However, when games journalists are irresponsible, a host of problems may occur. This may include the following:
- If a journalist who gave a game positive coverage has a conflict of interest (e.g. has a lover working for the publisher, or contributed to a game’s crowdfunding), it’s likely for them to give the game preferential treatment. If the positive articles/videos persuaded you to buy the game, then you do so under false pretenses.
- Controversies don’t always come in shades of black and white. The supposed “facts” you read in one website doesn’t always accurately detail all sides of a story. If the commentaries you’ve read are one-sided (and the site’s editors try to pass it off as “news”), then you might end up sharing their views even if your knowledge of the controversy is incomplete.
The second issue may be particularly insidious because the press usually refers to stories written by their colleagues. All it takes is one journalist in a major website to misrepresent an issue; when peers echo an inaccurate view, the whole narrative snowballs. The results are potentially devastating as reputations, careers, and lives can be ruined.
Hope for the future
While games journalism has seen better days, there is hope. We’re not talking about the old guard changing how they do things; they’re already set in their ways. We’re referring to the future.
Thanks to Web 2.0, more have taken the challenge of putting up their own games website or YouTube channel. Interestingly, many of these amateurs seem to do a better job at ethical games journalism than some professionals who’ve been at it for years.
If this is something that resonates with you, then consider creating your own game website or channel. The audience is seeking alternatives so now is a great time to do so.
There’s actually a change occurring; a mass exodus from written content to video that’s shifting influence from the large traditional websites to smaller video channels run by individuals.
Take note, however, that this shift isn’t a guarantee that every story or video put out there is accurate. As consumers, we should sort out and verify the information that we read or face the risk of being deceived and making wrong decisions.
Perhaps more importantly, we should seek a more transparent games media by demanding for disclosure, especially if there is a potential conflict of interest that can skew any coverage. Many games websites have recently published their own ethics policy so that’s a great first step.
The rest, however, is up to us. As consumers, we see this through by remaining vigilant.