Games Journalism: Of libel and free PS3s

Ah, controversies, don’t people love them? A few days ago an article appeared where, Robert Florence–Scottish comedian and games writer–exposed how games journalists were behaving in inappropriate ways, in a hard-hitting piece that was quite certainly an excellent read.

It was a harmless piece too; one that not only awakened many people who write about games, but also informed readers about the practices that currently plague the games industry. However, the article was amended by the host site Eurogamer citing complaint from Ms Lauren Wainwright, who is currently a staffer at UK trade industry website MCV. There were reports of the host site being threatened with legal action which, I personally think, was one of the most shameful things that has ever transpired in this industry.

Soon events unfolded one after the other, and Rab stepped down from writing for his weekly columns for the site, and rightfully so, as no writer would want his hard-hitting article to be amended. It’s not Eurogamer’s fault too, since they did what they had to do, and it’s simply not the fault of Rab, for calling out two journalists publicly. Although, one would argue that it breaks the basic principles of media laws.

The article was about Geoff Keighley, one of the best gaming journalists in the industry, promoting Doritos and Mountain dew (reference pic above). It was also about some UK journalists promoting a specific contest for free PS3s which, by the way, was a very unethical thing to do, reminiscent of E3 2010 where people cheered when Microsoft gave away Xbox consoles for free; people forgot about that obviously, and most will forget about this incident as well, but the nasty way how these events have unfolded have taught us one thing–PR people and games journalists have a very interdependent relationship. It’s a very close club, and it really shouldn’t be, because it indirectly influences the way we write about games.

Of course, it doesn’t apply to a lot of sites, but considering how deep a hold the games publishers and PR people have in this industry, it’s simply not possible for games writers, especially from smaller sites, not to get influenced in some way. Ms Wainwright was also directly responsible for another writer stepping down, which I think is pretty bad and an apology is in order, since I believe the original article was pretty harmless.

Protecting one’s reputation is a normal human instinct, so Ms. Wainwright reacted in the way she did, throwing all logical thinking out of the way and acting with only one specific goal in mind–to take down the references to her in the article along with some help from here current employers. I’m sure the concerned parties involved have an explanation for why they behaved in that way, and they even think it was the right thing to do, and of course we can’t take sides on who was right and who was wrong, but the main center of the attraction here is undoubtedly Rab’s piece and the can of worms it so spectacularly opened.

He might have stopped writing on Eurogamer, but his exposure is something that will still have far reaching consequences. It’s no secret that games journalists and PR people cooperate together to get things done, but it’s when this relationship goes beyond a basic need to something that becomes completely unrelated to work, that’s when the real problem begins.

Games journalism is still something that is quite under appreciated in most circles. Most people still have a negative view on the industry as a whole, especially in countries where gaming itself is treated as something negative and a waste of time, and in a way it’s our job as people who cover this industry to change that. However, when people hear about such events occurring, the value of the entire industry goes down in their eyes.

People mock gaming journalists; they call us corrupt; they call us unethical; they see the ads everywhere and call us sell-outs, and that view cannot be changed anytime soon particularly when things like these happen. People tend to scrutinize everything a lot closely when such controversies erupt and the side effects of that are irreversible.

Bonus: Here’s a scan of Amiga Power 1995 issue documenting the relationship between games journalists and PR people.