Blimey, things got a bit heated over the weekend didn’t they? What with Zoe Quinn revealing the identity of the folks behind her harassment and the accompanying storm of FURY, etc.
Interestingly, regardless of whether or not it was started by 4Channers, the #gamergate hash-tag, seems to have developed a bit of a life of its own: There is now a mass of people demanding more open and transparent games journalism, and the Escapist has even gone so far as updating their ethics policy in response.
So, whether or not it was originally deployed cynically as a tool to attack Quinn and her associates, do the gamergate people raising the questions of journalistic integrity actually have a point? I think it is difficult to argue that they do not. The most modern examples of dodgy business within journalism are obvious: We all know now, for example, that Gamespot sacked Jeff Gerstmann over his reasonable review of Eidos’ dodgy shooter Kane & Lynch, and we’ve all seen a certain picture of Geoff Keighley sitting next to a strategically placed crisp packet and some drink bottles.
But dodgy games journalism goes back further than that, of course. Much further. Who could forget GamesMaster magazine trolling the industry with their 65% review of Sonic 2 on the Megadrive, for example? In fact, as much as it pains me to say, even one my favourite games mags wasn’t immune. In issue 71 of the generally-lovely Your Sinclair, James Leach wrote of the Speccy version of Outrun Europa:
“The graphics are big and dead colourful as well, this causes a wee bit of colour clash occasionally, but nothing too drastic”
Which was interesting, considering the final game was completely monochrome.
This wasn’t just an isolated example of dodgy journalism on the 8-bits either. In his fantastic book about the development of his 8-bit version of R-type, Bob Pape remembers:
This was not to be the last time that magazines would print plain untruths about games that I was either working on or connected with, probably best summed up by one
‘review’ of Karl’s ST version of R-Type that gave it six out of ten for Sound. The only problem was that as I was reading this in the office Karl was still
working on the totally sound-free and music-less game code and didn’t expect to have a beep out of the machine for at least a couple of weeks!”
So then i think its fair to say that games journalism has always been a bit dodgy. . . and that’s without even touching on the likes of Driv3r or the various suspect review scores which have spewed forth from ‘official’ magazines over the years.
Why now? I think thats a reasonable question. Aside from the incidents listed above there have been a good few whistle-blowers over the years, such as the rather excellent (but long since defunct) RAM Raider blog. Sadly this takes us back to Ms Quinn and down a blind alley. I sincerely doubt the biggest ethical dilemma haunting games journalism is whether or not some journalists are writing favorable reviews for their mates. The real issue is the games publishers who are big enough to black mailing outlets into producing glowing reviews and running free advertising for their games. Unless we’re willing to wait a few extra weeks after release for reviews, i’m not sure that this will be such a simple problem to resolve.