There has been a considerable amount of discussion currently about game journalism, ranging from the debate about the representatives in the field actively pursuing freebies, how objective they must be, their attitudes and demeanour towards various fields, and the list goes on. One thing I have noticed throughout all of this is that one aspect, while often discussed, is rarely brought to the forefront. That aspect is integrity.
A journalist lives or dies by their word. Sometimes metaphorically, sometimes literally. Game journalism however is an interesting exception. Not only is it acceptable to be compromised by areas the journalist is reporting on, it is to be expected. This oddity is baffling as it indicates that not only game journalists have no integrity, but when the consumer side at large finds an exception it is a genuine surprise and awe.
As of late, game journalism integrity has hit a particular level of controversy due to various activities such as reviewer Geoff Keighley actively involved in a Halo 4 cross promotion with Mountain Dew and Doritos as well as journalists willingly promoting a game on their Twitter accounts for a chance at a Playstation 3. These activities are being actively shunned by consumers because of the realization not that game journalism is little more than publisher funded promotions, but that such promotions have been allowed to become so blatant that there's no longer any effort to disguise it. The fact that some of the journalists who participated in these actions are trying to defend it and still declare they are objective is laughable at best.
That's not to say that any of this is new or unique. Tommy Tallarico is an accomplished and well received video game music composer and has under his portfolio involvement in more games than I care to list. What most people do not know is that he also likes to think of himself as an objective game reviewer. This can at best be put into question as his primary career is to compose music for games so he has at best a conflict of interest when reviewing and it shows. A number of his reviews have been modified because he wishes to stay in good graces with certain developers who he would like to work with and will openly review games he has worked on describing the music as “perfect”. To say that he is objective is at best misinformed. But he's not the only one. There have been countless cases of reviews being “bought” whether directly or indirectly by publishers and developers looking for the extra dollar.
Once again, journalists live or die by their word. It is not, nor it should be the journalist's job to promote or endorse a game, publisher or developer. It is their job however, to promote themselves as an honest person whose opinion regarding the aforementioned areas comes from their own perspective and not that of a company's public relations office. When they are unable to do that their integrity is not only in question but is outright nonexistent. When this happens their opinion becomes worthless. Much as I would never trust Mr. Tallarico to review games, the same can be said about Mr. Keighley and the journalists who participated in that PS3 contest. Even if such journalists do something positive afterwards such as Dave Cook donating his won PS3 that he declared he did not need, the fact that they so willingly participated in a corporate promotion is not erased and they can no longer be considered honest and impartial in their reviews. At that point they have lost the ability to call themselves journalists and should be only refer to themselves as corporate promoters as that would be more accurate.
Journalists rely on their integrity to ensure they have work, and the game journalism industry clearly needs more integrity or it will vanish, most likely sooner than later.