Following a scandal now known as “Dorito-Gate”, the gaming journalism industry is suffering an identity crisis as game developers and journalists begin to take inventory.
Sparking the scandal, GTTV host Geoff Keighley conducted interviews comically flanked by a bag of Doritos, several bottles of Mountain Dew and a large cardboard cutout advertising Halo 4 emblazoned with more Mountain Dew branding.
One games journalist, Robert Florence, was pushed over the edge by the advertising spectacle.
“The information is controlled. Everyone stays friendly. It's a steady flow of Mountain Dew pouring from the hills of the money men, down through the fingers of the weary journos, down into your mouths. At some point you will have to stop drinking that stuff and demand something better,” wrote Florence in an article for Eurogamer.
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Games journalists rushed to their own defense, even threatening Eurogamer with libel suits and legal action. In the end, Florence resigned and Eurogamer amended the article on the advice of legal counsel.
“Following receipt of a complaint from Lauren Wainwright, Eurogamer has removed part of this article (but without admission of any liability). Eurogamer apologizes for any distress caused to Ms. Wainwright by the references to her. The article otherwise remains as originally published,” wrote Eurogamer editors after editing the piece.
While games journalists still argue over the specifics, the simple fact is that Dorito-Gate would have never happened in the world of traditional journalism. The ethical standards applied to most sectors of the journalism industry are, for unknown reasons, sometimes not applied to gaming.
Florence wasn’t the only one getting fed up.
Earlier in October, games writer Rich Stanton had a few cocktails and commenced tweeting, something any internet denizen with a taste for fine libations knows is never a good idea.
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“Anyone remember that Dragon Age 2 Review? :P http://www.pcgamer.com/review/dragon-age-2-review/ It was my personal breaking point as to deciding not to trust ANY "professional" reviews anymore, since it was just so bloody obvious,” wrote Stanton.
Like any drunken tweeter, he spent the next morning deleting what he had written the night before. But Stanton pointed fingers and called out developers that actively and aggressively pressure publications into giving good reviews of games.
It’s difficult for games journalists to make a decent living in the industry. Often, readers have a difficult time deciphering the difference between advertisements, editorials and hard news copy.
Game journalists must also accept free copies of gaming products for reviews that many of them write. Many of the journalists work as freelancers and buying the games themselves may simply be too expensive. The relationship between the journalist and the developer sending free copies of games for review is also an important point that must be elucidated.
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“However, from the inside, getting the basic tools you need to be able to start doing your job really doesn’t feel like a benefit, nor does it – in all of my experience – make me favourable toward that game,” wrote Rock Paper Shotgun writer and editor John Walker.
Perhaps the most important piece of information to be gleaned from the games journalism identity crisis is that the industry isn’t all that different from traditional journalism. Building credibility with readers and editors is just as important. The tone of an individual’s writing is more telling than one might imagine and integrity must be proved.
One way to destroy a journalist’s integrity is to surround them, physically, with product placements.
The solutions to such problems may be simple. Ideally, the answers will come from the ethical standard already adhered to by so many traditional journalists.