Experience Points: Ethics Are Dead In Games Journalism
In 2012, I wrote a column that argued games journalism to be problematic ascertaining that truth and ethics in games journalism were all but dead. I had come to the conclusion that many gaming journalists were nothing more than vehicles for PR and the money of publishers. However, I was highly naive and somewhat blinded as an individual who appreciated the indie scene to see that manipulation and deceitful behaviour lurked in the indie development community. I think this needs to be discussed and deliberated upon, because as it stands the professional separation between the creators of games and those who write about games has by all means broken down over the past few years.
Much of what I’m talking about stems from the latest Zoe Quinn (the developer of Depression Quest) scandal which I think represents a turning point about how we view the relationships between the gaming press and developers. What this whole incident highlights is the necessity of the professional separation between the gaming press and developers. This has been a continuing trend where lines between the gaming press and developers have been crossed on many occasions.
From what I’ve seen, a number of “journalists” and indie developers want to be more than professional acquaintances. It can be a mutual benefits kind of deal between a developer and a member of the press. Of course, journalists may in some instances get exclusive coverage, and developers get both coverage and potential sales with good PR. Many indie developers understand the essential importance of PR, be it positive or negative. With the likes of Zoe Quinn and Phil Fish it has been predominately negative. Phil Fish has been decried as the one-hit-wonder with an out-of-control ego, and Zoe Quinn has become the darling of feminists and Social Justice Warriors across the internet. Lines have been crossed and we now find ourselves in the precarious situation where much of the gaming press are no longer impartial when it comes to coverage, and this has been notable with the indie scene. Close ties between indie developers and members of the gaming press has led to instances of unbalanced coverage and ultimately positive reviews for games that don’t cut the grade.
It makes you wonder if there are writers or gaming journalists left with professional dignity. I would never truly consider myself a professional nor the most well informed writer on the face of the Earth. But I do feel strongly that when you’re writing about a game, especially reviews, maintaining a level of neutrality and separation is key. If one of your good friends is an indie developer and you’re writing a review of their game, there is definitely a conflict of interests. One shouldn’t be writing about a game where direct benefits lie in wake, be it monetary or any other kind of physical benefit. Yes, I understand that this may be an unattainable goal because it by its very essence is ideal, and the assertion that ethics in games journalism should be a necessity is probably falling on death ears.
Truthfully, it is disheartening to see the respectability of the gaming press be reduced to the point of non-existence. Many of us who write about games from small websites do this because we love games, and when developers and the press are in bed with one another it leaves a sour taste in one’s mouth. When writing about developers and their games the gaming press should attempt to be impartial, especially when it comes to reviews. We shouldn’t alienate our audience for the sake of Twitter friendships, positive social media engagement and some physical benefits.