The following is an email I sent to a friend of a friend, discussing a fairly recent controversy. Eurogamer writer Robert Florence resigned from his job after an uproar where he accused a fellow game journalist of being biased in favor a company, rather unsubtly hunting that this journalist might have been in the pocket of the company she was constantly promoting. The unfortunately modified version of the article can be found here: http://www.eurogamer.net/articles/2012-10-24-lost-humanity-18-a-table-of-doritos.
In this email, I discuss the role of a journalist, how I completely agree with Mr. Florence's opinion, and discuss where his article went wrong.
I do agree with Robert Florence's main points about the bizarre, corporate nature of video game journalism. It really is something we need to be aware of and keep an eye out for. Could you imagine if someone was like this in the movie industry? If a person of such obvious bias was caught, they would have been laughed out of the industry. [I must admit that I do not know off the top of my head any examples of bribes and obvious bias in movie industry existing, or being penalized or punished.] Critics and journalists are supposed to be the passionate prophets of doom of an industry, reminding us all of the sinister side of the industry we must try and fight against. Video games are a business, but when the business side of it comes in the way of the art, the critic and the journalist must expose this to the public. I often credit Jim Sterling of the Escapist's "Jimquisition" and Destructoid.com, as well as Benjamin "Yahtzee" Croshaw, as the two main examples of this. Mr. Sterling in particular has a reputation for exposing and commenting on EA's and Acitivision's shenanigans and convincing gamers that their behaviors should not be tolerated. The fact that journalists in the video game industry can be bought is sickening and completely against their role in society. Even the guys at Game Informer realize this. Though they are owned by Gamestop, they are perfectly willing to comment on how used game sales can affect the industry. Now, they have to include asterisks and generally avoid condemning Gamestop, but they still talk about it as much as they can legally. [Their journalism IS affected by their parent company, but not to the point where they do not comment at ALL about what Gamestop is doing to sales and the mindsets of developers. In fact, they have featured several articles discussing this, all with the disclaimer about the magazine.]
Where Mr. Florence crossed the line, unfortunately, is naming names. That's when legal action can be taken, and that's what leads to his removal from Eurogamer. But here's the thing. A good critic can simply point out who is responsible and say "get him!" I would say Mr. Florence and Mr. Sterling do so. However, the best critics are the one's that create a mindset in their audience to look for such behaviors. George Orwell is probably the best example of this. His novels Nineteen Eighty-Four or Animal Farm are both about fascism and the horrors of the reigns of Hitler and Stalin. But he does not simply say this outright. He creates a story, a fable if you will, that leaves the reader with a sense of paranoia and suspicion about one's government. It's a word of warning that the reader takes to heart. That is why Orwell's words still resonate to this day with any overreaching government when a book specifically about Hitler or Stalin is more niche. If one points out the behaviors and keeps it vague (especially in a country with such a harsh libel law as the UK), one can create the environment in one's readers where Lauren Wainwright (the woman he mentioned) would be criticized by the fans, and you can't sue everybody who creates a ruckus about it. That's why people mainly criticize obvious sexism in gaming and media these days, magazines and commentators have created a new environment where these things are criticized without even having the journalists say so. We know Dead or Alive 5 is a shameless exploitation of women that should be considered childish because we have learned that it is. Or maybe we have learned that it is, but we frankly don't care. We process the information journalists give us, and then we decide if we follow it or not.
Like Mr. Florence said, we KNOW Geoff Keighley and his "award show" is a load of corporate crock. We pay no attention to it, and condemn the Spike Video Game Awards as not truly representing video game culture. However, the passionate gamer NEEDS to be more aware of what a person is saying in video game journalism. Can this article be truly trusted? Is this review influenced by corporate meddling? That's why I mainly disregard reviews for big name purchases and wait for the player commentaries in the following weeks. These reviews are too liable to A) be influenced by corporate bribes and B) be mediated to avoid fan backlash (think the Rotten Tomatoes/Dark Knight Rises incident).
The video game industry can be a sinister, depressing place. But its the critic's job to point this out, and hope people listen and set the industry on the right path. Most people won't listen, like my roommate, who merely blows off all comments I make about the games we play, saying "It's not impeding my enjoyment of the game, so I don't care; stop bitching." But, hopefully some people will listen and we can improve it. If not...well, then, I hope you enjoy on disc DLC and the Spike Video Game Awards.Soon after, the person I sent this email to wrote a paper, using quotes from this email. I may post the paper here, if I get his permission. For now, enjoy this last post for a while.