Tuesday, September 22, 2015

Corruption in Gaming Journalism

Zachary Berry

Bribery in journalism doesn't always involve fancy wines and beluga caviar, such as with the case we read about corruption among wine reviewers in journalism. Sometimes, rather, it involves good old fashioned Doritos and Mountain Dew.

Photo Courtesy of Kotaku.com
The picture above is of Geoff Keighly, a highly respected individual in the world of gaming journalism. Surrounding him are bags of Doritos and bottles of Mountain Dew adorned with images promoting Halo 4. The image, taken from an interview with Keighly, was enough to raise questions about the relationship between the video game industry and those who review the products it produces.

In fact, it prompted Robert Florence, a writer for Eurogamer.net, to publish an article about the controversy. Entitled Lost Humanity 18: A Table of Doritos, the piece criticized the state of video game journalism, suggesting journalists like Keighly were succumbing to the pressures of the video game industry, merely promoting games instead of reviewing them.

Kane and Lynch: Dead Credibility

Bribery and corruption in video game journalism is nothing new. It's been a controversial subject in the world of video game reviews for some time. In fact, it nearly cost video game website GameSpot all of its credibility.

Jeff Gerstmann, a reviewer for GameSpot, gave the game Kane and Lynch: Dead Men a 6 out of 10. Judging from its Metacritic score of 67, Kane and Lynch is no gaming masterpiece.

Certainly not the next Mario or Pokemon
Photo Courtesy of Wikipedia
A 6 out of 10 is not a truly horrible score for a game. Nevertheless, it was bad enough for Sony, the company behind Kane and Lynch: Dead Men. Sony threatened to pull advertising from GameSpot due to the review.

How did GameSpot respond? By firing Gerstmann on the spot. The termination of Gerstmann tarnished the credibility of GameSpot for five long years, and the gaming site has never truly recovered. When GameSpot chose to give into company demands rather than stand with their employee, they gave up the journalistic independence they had.


Another accusation of corruption in gaming journalism erupted into a full-fledged firestorm of controversy that led to questions of corruption and misogyny in gaming culture.

Last year, a rumor began floating around that Zoe Quinn, a game designer behind the Indie game Depression Quest, had used her relationship with Kotaku journalist Nathan Grayson to secure a good review for her game. While Kotaku's staff members have stated that the only article Grayson had ever written concerning Quinn was made before they even started dating, their relationship alone was enough to raise questions of ethics for many critics.

The controversy eventually snowballed into the infamous "Gamergate". At its worst, the controversy resulted in several individuals in the gaming industry receiving death threats. There's even a Law and Order: SVU episode about Gamergate, which was controversial itself for not addressing the issue in a realistic or serious way. Here are some of the "highlights".

Courtesy of Polygon
Just like in any field of journalism where a product is reviewed, be it wine journalism or music journalism, video game journalists must be careful not to trade in their independence and integrity for a bag of chips and a cup of soda.

1 comment:

  1. "... to secure a good review for her game." Please, I am begging you, you have get this straight already. From the very beginning of the controversy very few people were ever under the mistaken impression that Nathan Grayson had conducted a game review of Depression Quest. What you have to understand is that trying to claim that some large group of people THOUGHT there was a review was a clever tactic used by Stephen Totilo to try and discredit the readers who were criticizing his website. It seems at face value like a small conflation to make: game review versus positive press? But it has a major impact in shaping people's conception of the controversy. "Oh, there was no review, so these people must just a bunch of lying, slut-shaming misogynists..." This is the line of thinking that often happens when people are presented with this false narrative/historical revisionism that there was somehow outrage over a game review. The fact is that people were concerned over how Nathan Grayson had repeatedly given positive press to Depression Quest without disclosing his relationship to its developer. While there was no review for the game itself he was still effectively performing PR for Zoe Quinn and in some manner taking advantage of readers who might assume the best intentions.

    I have seen this lie repeated too often now and it really needs to stop already.