Video game journalism doesn’t have a great reputation, and Eurogamer just did their part to sink the bar even lower. In an article on the relationship between gaming media and PR, which specifically named names and called out some highly questionable behavior, Rab Florence made some people highly uncomfortable. Here’s the short version-
The Games Media Awards is a PR event where PR reps and video game writers vote on giving the Games Media, as you might tell from the title, a set of Awards. It’s the kind of thing that leaves one wondering why people whose job it is to talk about things are getting along so fantastically with other people who may not want those things talked about. The job of a PR rep is to get as much good coverage for a company’s games as possible, while a major part of the job of a games journalist is to not care in the slightest how difficult the things they write make life for a PR rep.
A giant awards ceremony where games journalists and PR reps work together to congratulate themselves on their awesomeness is questionable, especially when taking into account the socializing brought about by the huge volume of freely flowing booze. When a PR company runs a contest at the GMAs giving away free PS3s to games journalists for using a Twitter hashtag mentioning the game they’re promoting, that’s a conflict of interest. When a gaming writer works for a games company and also reviews their games (like Lauren Wainwright working for Square-Enix and reviewing Deus Ex: Human Revolution) that’s also bad, not to mention stupid and unethical. It probably goes without saying that filing a complaint against Eurogamer for pointing this out, which causes Eurogamer to edit the article without the writer’s approval, causing the writer to then quit, might not be the smartest way to sweep the affair under the rug. At the moment there’s some confused information floating back and forth as to whether the complaint was a legal one under UK libel laws or not, but that’s hardly the point. Editorially unethical things happened, were pointed out, and then edited out of an article. You can’t have journalism if you’re afraid of reporting easily proven facts.
I don’t want to be a cheerleader. Nobody at Hardcore Gamer, or in fact most gaming sites, is here to shake the pompoms for a publisher simply because they’ve had free goodies waved in front of them. Some people write for pay and some for the fun of it, and generally when stupid things like this happen it’s due to lack of thought, not ethics. Gaming is a tight-knit community despite its size, however, and when something like this gets pushed to the forefront everyone has an opinion. Some are worth reading (like John Walker’s pair of articles) and some will be just part of the general chatter, but the important thing to take away from it all is this- We’ve got a long way to go before the phrase “game journalism” has any real meaning.
One last note- if this entire silly affair has a punchline, it’s that editing the article brought exponentially more attention to it than leaving it alone would have. Lauren Wainwright’s complaint to Eurogamer simply goes to show that some people don’t have the slightest idea how the internet works. Forgetting is a thing that only happens when you don’t set up a three ring circus, as evidenced by the following passage that was cut from the article and is now readily available pretty much anywhere you hear about it.
One games journalist, Lauren Wainwright, tweeted: “Urm… Trion were giving away PS3s to journalists at the GMAs. Not sure why that’s a bad thing?”
Now, a few tweets earlier, she also tweeted this: “Lara header, two TR pix in the gallery and a very subtle TR background. #obsessed @tombraider pic.twitter.com/VOWDSavZ”
And instantly I am suspicious. I am suspicious of this journalist’s apparent love for Tomb Raider. I am asking myself whether she’s in the pocket of the Tomb Raider PR team. I’m sure she isn’t, but the doubt is there. After all, she sees nothing wrong with journalists promoting a game to win a PS3, right?
Another journalist, one of the winners of the PS3 competition, tweeted this at disgusted RPS writer John Walker: “It was a hashtag, not an advert. Get off the pedestal.” Now, this was Dave Cook, a guy I’ve met before. A good guy, as far as I could tell. But I don’t believe for one second that Dave doesn’t understand that in this time of social media madness a hashtag is just as powerful as an advert. Either he’s on the defensive or he doesn’t get what being a journalist is actually about.