Recently on Bitmob, the integrity of games journalism has come into question. I found this amusing because, frankly, there’s no such thing. Now, who am I to talk about this subject? Well, I’m a journalist in Canada. I’ve covered elections, city council, tragedies, triumphs, and sports games.
I’ve also written reviews on my own time and hosted a current affairs web series. So I have some knowledge and experience to back up my claims.
There’s journalism and video games, but the two don’t go hand in hand in the way some may think. These “games journalists” are actually reviewers, commentators, columnists, and (at the end of the day) entertainers.
I don’t think anyone confuses Daily Show host Jon Stewart for a journalist.
Just to be clear, reviewing a game isn’t journalism. That’s an opinion. Being critical is fine, but it isn’t what makes you a journalist.
To help illustrate my point even further, I looked at a few video game news sites. Most of the time the articles I read had one source (or no source at all) meaning there was no balance to the story.
For example, if you are doing a story about Nintendo’s 3DS and the spokesperson is telling you how awesome it is, shouldn’t there be another side to that story? Who is in opposition to that person’s comments? Who can say that this system is flawed or needs work?
If someone is saying their game is pushing the envelope of graphics, who is disagreeing with them? How are games journalists keeping people accountable?
Matt Clark at 1up recently wrote an article on the Native American heritage of the main character in Assassin’s Creed 3. Not only did he have two sources, but they were relatively balanced.
He talked to the spokesperson for the game and then an expert. That’s not a bad start, although I would have preferred for him to find an actual Native American whose culture is being depicted in the game and speak to them as well. I also didn’t like that he put himself into the piece, but I don’t want to nitpick too badly because it was a well done story and it should be the norm not the exception.
But is that games journalism? No, because the fact that it was about a video game isn’t as important as the character and the possibility of raising more awareness for Native Americans in leading roles. That’s what’s missing in a lot of these so-called journalism stories. Having an impact on society is the whole point of the profession.
Recently, people brought up the whole problem with that infamous photo of Geoff Keighley surrounded by product placement. Well, he’s already giving free advertisement to the game. In my opinion, he’s selling things anyway. If he truly felt strongly about it, that it compromised his ability as a journalist to conduct the interview or forced him to misrepresent himself in any way, then he should have walked away. But Keighley isn’t a journalist. He’s an entertainment host.
There’s nothing wrong with advertisement, but you have to keep it away from your journalists. That’s why we have commercials and ads in newspapers.
In Canada, if Peter Mansbridge started wearing a Nike hat on his show, I would be upset and question his objectivity. But when he appeared in a Gangnam Style parody for an organization’s commercial, I was totally cool with it. He separated that from himself and who he is on the news desk.
I also take issue with a writer on Bitmob saying that journalists need public relations. Don’t get me wrong, PR makes my job way easier. Are they necessary? They want you to think so. That’s all I’ll say on that.
If people want to bring up the standards, they have to come to the realization that there’s no such thing as a games journalist, just journalists who cover the video game beat. They need to find multiple sources and not simply go to industry representatives all the time. If you want to raise the bar, then start at home.
I also want to point out that this is simply my opinion. I am no authority on this subject. I don't work in that particular field, I'm a general news reporter. This is one man’s opinion from the outside, but I’d still like to see the standard raised.
I wish everyone the best of luck.