Recently, one of my biggest fears came to fruition: Games journalists admitted to — and defended — promoting video games to win free stuff. I take this issue to heart, not because I'm also a games journalist, but because I'm a regular gamer who wants to trust the things I read and use that information to make decisions about which games I play. This isn't about people getting perks because they're in the industry, this is an issue of integrity.
How am I supposed to trust a journalist when they've accepted freebies from game companies (and no, I don’t count a game for review as a freebie), or actively try to get free things by promoting a product? The obvious answer is that I can't trust them, not anymore. Perhaps they’ll say that they don’t care if I trust them, but I’m their readership. They write so I can read it, plain and simple. When the readership doesn't trust the writer, the writer's words are meaningless. Site traffic goes down, and a black mark is put on that writer in the eyes of gamers.
I work in the healthcare industry. It’s an environment where drug representatives are constantly present and persistently trying to sell, sell, sell. I've seen the healthcare professionals I work with accept luxurious items without batting an eye, and I've made a mental note to never have them check on my health or prescribe me any sort of medication. These same healthcare professionals consistently prescribe medications that may or may not work, and it's always from the drug companies that bring catered lunches or hand out free items. This is honestly not the norm. Please don't take away from this that doctors are corrupt puppets being controlled by pharmaceutical companies. I've just seen the corruption firsthand and wondered if the doctors intended to be this way, or if it happened gradually without them fully realizing it.
My personal boss, a man who has been in the healthcare industry for over half a century, is one of the most honest, well-respected doctor's I've had the pleasure of working with. He doesn't allow any staff member to take anything (even a pen) from a drug representative. He understands that this course of action will only serve to diminish a doctor's integrity, and certainly he's in it for his patients and not the perks. This is how it should be in the healthcare industry, and this is how it has to be in games journalism.
Integrity is tantamount to a respected opinion, whether it’s that of a healthcare professional or a games journalist, and anything that skews that perception — like taking freebies or endorsing products meant to be reviewed unbiased – is, quite obviously, a bad decision.
It boggles my mind that there's any question as to what is expected from games journalists, as if gamers and readers are simply going to brush it aside and say, "It's just part of the job, a perk." This type of thinking will only play into the hands of the companies trying to corrupt these journalists. It's like us saying, "OK, we'll turn our backs while you do your business." Stand up against it. Let journalists know this isn't OK and it won't be tolerated. Call them out on it, even.
I've read two outstanding pieces on the issue just today, one from John Walker, and one from Robert Florence. Both of them stand up to what's going on, calling people out on their actions and ridiculous defenses of those actions. These are two people that I can trust, because they have integrity. Although Florence specifically says he's a writer, not a journalist, I still admire his ability to cut through the muck. I've read similar things from other games journalists, and I've always admired their honesty. It would be really easy for any journalist to simply pick up the freebie and keep it hush-hush. Who would know? Certainly not their readers.
If your hopes and dreams mean becoming a games journalist, please don't allow other journalists to tell you that it's OK and nobody will find out, or that it's just part of the job. It isn't. Don't let them fool you, and don't fool yourself. I want to read from journalists with integrity.
Be honest with your readers. They'll respect you more than you know, and probably more than you'll hear from the outspoken cries of paid puppets bemoaning their perks becoming public.
This opinion piece originally appeared on my personal blog, Humor Noises, and can be found here: Humor Noises.
GamesBeat 2014 — VentureBeat’s sixth annual event on disruption in the video game market — is coming up on Sept 15-16 in San Francisco. Purchase one of the first 50 tickets and save $400!