Kane & Lynch & Enough of the Bullshit

Russ Pitts | 3 Dec 2007 21:00
Op-Ed - RSS 2.0

Most people who call themselves game journalists, and with whom most people who digest game journalism are familiar, are reviewers. So these folks, and how they operate, tend to be representative of the industry as a whole. So when an event like the Gerstmann firing happens, it validates the negative perceptions of reviewers, their executives and the publishers who'll happily exploit both as just another arm of their marketing machine. It degrades the trust essential for maintaining an open dialogue about the quality of games in general, and of a specific game in particular. And it makes us all look like chumps and pretenders, when, in fact, there's little more separating game journalists from any other kind of journalist than what we happen to be writing about.

You wouldn't know it to hear how information in games is handled, though. Game-makers act like every crumb of information on a game's stats, content and staff is a national secret, akin to where the bombs are stored, and dole them out like a Democrat handing out tax refunds. Requesting an interview with a game's producer is like asking the Mayor's daughter on a date; even if she agrees, you're not getting laid. Interviews are conducted with PR agents in the room, and a question asked the wrong way will end it.

For example, I asked Red Octane a few months ago to quit playing around and simply release the song list for Guitar Hero III already and the line went dead. Apparently there's a marketing strategy to the revelation of things like that, and attempting to spurn it results in being ignored - or worse. Which is why it's so unusual when a developer actually speaks his mind and admits his game has flaws. We treat it like it's Christmas when someone speaks honestly, and what you probably don't know is that even the smallest game companies have someone employed solely to keep you separated you from information they don't want you to have. It's called "community management," but it's actually marketing. It's less about keeping you informed than it is about selling to you. The dirty secret in games is that it's less about journalism than advertising. Sorry. I know some of you guys had hopes of changing the world through writing about BioShock, but Ed Murrow we are not.

The worst part is when something truly does go awry, and an editor gets fired for telling the truth about a game his company has accepted money to promote, all parties involved then go into lockdown and pretend it never happened. We were all a bit shocked last week when this happened - not because it did happen, but because we now finally had something approaching evidence that it does happen - but I suspect, once word starts trickling down the editorial trees of the other sites in this industry who also take money for editorial consideration, that following the money too closely may lead us places like Getting Fired Town, we'll start to hear the riotous voices taper off.

I don't know Jeff Gerstmann, but I can't imagine what's preventing him from telling the truth about what happened last week. I know CNET and Gamespot have a vested interest in not revealing they're on the take, if that is indeed the case, and I imagine the folks of a similar stature who received the same deal from Eidos may be loathe to admit it. But if Gerstmann had any balls he'd be on every website and podcast he could find, telling his story, and if this industry had any self-respect, he'd be offered every job available as a result. Unfortunately for all of us, neither seems to be the case.

Russ Pitts is an Associate Editor for The Escapist. His blog can be found at www.falsegravity.com.

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