What happens when the line between journalists covering a business and the business itself becomes indistinguishable? when honesty and integrity is trampled upon by profit and fear? One new form of media has given us an unsettling glimpse at what this looks like.
Most forms of media have long-standing traditions surrounding their criticism. There is a clear sense of separation between critic and content creator. Even a sense of antagonism.
Unfortunately, this is not so for one particularly new form of media and the journalists who report on it: video games.
Only recently has this niche media reached some level of widestream success. The industry is new enough that it is still establishing boundaries and distance between itself and those who cover it. With that lack of boundaries and distance comes corruption and failure of journalistic integrity.
A perfect example of this was the 2007 firing of Gamespot Editor in Chief Jeff Gerstmann. Gamespot is one of several websites which purport to provide in-depth coverage of video games, including reviews.
One of the games Gerstmann reviewed was “Kane and Lynch.” At the time, the publisher of “Kane and Lynch” was running a heavy ad campaign to promote the game and bought numerous ads for it on Gamespot. After Gerstmann gave the game a review that highly criticized the quality of the game, he was promptly fired from Gamespot. Later, Gerstmann said this was in response to pressure from the advertiser.
In any other news industry, this kind of blatant corruption would never be allowed. But, it has become a common occurrence in the journalism covering video games.
More recently, in 2012, journalist Robert Florence was fired from the website Eurogamer. His final article with Eurogamer, the one that got him fired, was a critique of the relationship between gaming journalism and game publishers. He pointed to examples of clear bribery, exploitation, and an overall level of camaraderie entirely inappropriate for an industry and the journalists who cover it.
Florence specifically called out one fellow journalist who had posted a positive comment about a game on Twitter in an attempt to win a prize. This journalist threatened to sue Eurogamer for libel, and Eurogamer decided to fire Florence.
As it turned out, this particular journalist was a former employee of the company whose game she had advertised. She had previously reviewed several of their games, and had given them glowing praise. This sort of cross-pollination is not an uncommon occurrence between gaming journalists and game publishers.
Even though Florence was clearly in the right, Eurogamer was afraid of angering the wrong people.
As time has gone on, game publishers outright lying to consumers about their product has become more and more prevalent.
Recently, a lawsuit was filed against game publisher Sega for false advertising, and fellow publisher Electronic Arts could potentially face a similar suit for lying about a game it published called “Sim City.”
“Sim City” required a constant internet connection to play. Electronic Arts claimed numerous times that this was due to necessary complex processing that had to be done on a separate dedicated machine in order for the game to function properly. It was later revealed that this was a lie, with no complex processes taking place. Electronic Arts refused to acknowledge or explain this revelation.
Electronic Arts has a history of anti-consumer behavior, being voted worst company in America by The Consumerist magazine two years in a row, and it has been called out on several occasions by the Better Business Bureau for false advertising.
Any other press would have ripped them to shreds for their dishonesty and abuse of their customers long ago, but the gaming press largely ignores Electronic Arts behavior, fearing a reprisal.
This sort of behavior is common within the gaming press, and shows no signs of ceasing. It is an example of what happens when corporations are able to fully flex their control over the industry meant to protect the public from their misdeeds.
With such widespread corruption present in this industry, it begs the question: how long until this level of corruption makes its way into other areas of journalism? The even more disturbing corollary is: how do we know it has not already?