I don’t trust game journalism.
I never have. By the time that shameful picture of Geoff Keighley surrounded by Doritos advertisments and reading lines for a commercial spread like wildfire two years ago, I was so desensitized by similar events that I barely reacted to it.
I was already tired of game journalists being flown to five star resorts or being pressured to the point of firing to give games a different score. Seeing another well-known figure sell his integrity on live TV was not so much a turning point as it was additional proof that something was rotten in game journalism.
Still “Doritosgate”, as the internet gaming communities were quick to call it, would prove to be an ineludible part of my mistrust. Only a few days later, Eurogamer writer Rab Florence would be legally threatened by another games critic, Lauren Wainwright, after he expressed his worry that her love of Tomb Raider could be misconstructed as her being on Square Enix’s payroll after she saw “nothing wrong” with participating in a marketing campaign to win a free Playstation. To no one’s surprise, it was later found out that she, indeed, was on Square Enix’s payroll. She even tried to hide it, too. One would think that having two journalists being shown as corrupt and one of them trying to censor would be the kind of event that would merit a strong response in the press but not all outlets saw it that way. Stephen Tolito, Kotaku‘s Editor-in-Chief famously wrote off the controversy as “the same tired nonsense about game journalism” and of notbeing “an important story”. By the time he decided to publish an article on the subject, not only it was too late, but the dismissively titled “The Contemptible Games Journalist: Why So Many People Don’t Trust The Gaming Press (And Why They’re Sometimes Wrong)” (sic) spent more time defending critics against the “bashing” of its audience than actually condemning corruption. It would not be the first time that Kotaku looked the other way in these matters. A few months earlier, game publisher Ubisoft gave free Nexus 7 tables to journalists attending their Watchdogs preview event. These tables, valued in more than 200$, were a clear example of a bribe as they had no other goal than influencing the press. But Kotaku didn’t report on it, and neither did most publications. IGN, Eurogamer, Gamasutra, Polygon, Edge, VG 24/7, Gamespot, Gameinformer…everyone remained silent. The field remained silent in the face of shameless bribery done in public and that everyone could see. Out of all American publications, the only one of importance that reported the event was The Escapist. But perhaps I shouldn’t be surprised. Some time ago, on a Twitter conversation, Keza McDonald, recently named Editor In-Chief for Kotaku UK and previous editor for IGN, said that she was saddened to see “that it’s just become Internet Truth that the games press takes money for coverage now, even though it DOESN’T EVER HAPPEN” (sic). A few comments later, she defended accepting paid trips arguing that it’s not a conflict of interest, but that it’s “doing a job like an adult” and they wouldn’t be “able to have access (to the information) any other way”. Personally, accepting expensive plane tickets from the people you are supposed to cover is too similar to accepting payment for coverage to make me feel comfortable. But paid trips nor petty bribes are what really worries me. No, what worries me is the culture surrounding those acts, the way writers mock ethical concerns with a chorus of marketing representatives. It worries me that critics are given luxurious editions of games but, at the same time, “refuse to believe those things have any substantial role in our review-scores”. It worries me because when scores aren’t great, game companies silently blacklist the offenders and block them from the circle of news, interviews and review copies. Even John Walker, editor for Rock, Paper, Shotgun himself, was forced to admit to have partaken in that corruption, having been invited to ride quads during the excesses of the 90s. It was simply not possible for me to trust the field of game journalism once I became aware of all this. Corruption is too visible, too widespread and too hastily dismissed for me to feel at ease with a field that already has enough problems. Last year the average score was around 70 out of 100, sites routinely indulge in marketing-like previewsand experience with the medium is seen as something as unimportant that someone who has never played a Japanese roleplaying game is seen as being fit to review one. It shouldn’t be surprising that even the smallest of issues can shatter the trust of our audience. Ultimately, trust is not something critics are entitled to just because they picked up a pen and published an article on the internet. Rather, it’s something that must be earned, article by article and that can be lost with the smallest of missteps. Brushing off distrust in game journalism as the mad ravings of an audience that can’t tolerate a dissenting opinion is not only unfair, but also furtherly cements the idea that game writers are corrupt and tone-deaf. The only way to fight corruption in the game press is to stand for ferrous ethical standards and defending the truth instead of the corporate apologism and ignorance so common in our field. We, as critics, need to accept our current lack of credibility and overcome it, or open ourselves, not the nasty, counterproductive logic of Gamergate, but the silent trickle of disappointed readers turning to Youtube and message boards. It will be hard and the reputation of sites like Polygon, who accepted 750.000 dollars of funding from Microsoft for a “documentary”, may never recover. But good, honest critics will. And it will be up to current publications to decide if they want to join them or wither away like a stale tortilla chip that was left under the table for too long.