Comments on Ethics in Online Game Journalism
commentson 10 April 2003 : 18:40, Terence sez:

Nice article Justin!

After reviewing games for a while, I developed my own idea of reviews - "You shouldn't care what game reviews say." Why? Because you should make your own opinion on games. In the end, isn't the only person who's opinion matters about a game your own? What do I care if Justin likes Black & White and I think it's garbage? I don't like it, so I'll stop playing it.

(And I won't even mention that I think 99% of game reviews suck because they don't really analyze the games and the writers are terrible at putting their feelings in words...)

I know that game reviews are a necessary evil - most people need to be told what to do, so they need critics to tell them so. But there are much better ways to make intelligent gaming purchases. If you have to read reviews, find a reviewer that has similar tastes in games. If you don't like Rainbow Six and you're not sure if you want to get Blackhawk Down, read reviews by writers who have the same opinion on Rainbow Six. I'd even advocate warezing a game to try it out over blinding following a Gamespot review.

For console games - just rent the damn thing. Hell by the time you're done renting it, the price will probably have dropped by $10 and you'll end up saving money.

And if you're a fanboy of a game before it comes out, why the hell are you reading reviews on it? You're going to buy it anyway (and probably enjoy it). Forget the reviews and spend more time playing; isn't that what you got the game in the first place?


commentson 11 April 2003 : 01:07, Joel sez:

Nice article, Justin Hall.

In entertainment journalism, the pundit, the strictly giver-of-opinions is as needed as the facts guy. What, for example, are reviews if not ninety percent "I liked this, I hated that." And as shoppers, we want opinions, because in the realm of upcoming entertainment products, facts don't tell us much, unless we're scoping for particlar creators' work, like -say- the next Spielberg film.

Amateur reviewers on the web are really just an extention of word-of-mouth. Any marketer will affirm the usefulness of personal recommendations and how common its use. In life, knowing a person's tastes helps validate the recommendation. The ethical water only gets murky when an amateur passes himself off as a journalist, even if no deception is meant; a professional-looking web site may say "pro" to a reader. At such a point, the recommendation becomes editorial, and generally the reader takes it as truth.

Again, personal opinion is valid in a review, but the reader should take it only in context, considering the author's likes and dislikes. A solution, then, may be to publish -beside each author's review, a list of his previous recommendations. The review is then in context and the reader free to disregard the opinion, or even the article altogether.

commentson 11 April 2003 : 21:36, Liz sez:

Off topic I know, but... I love this quote, this is a great new feature.

"actually, I jade very quickly. once is usually enough. either once only or every day. if you do something once it's exciting, and if you do it every day it's exciting. but if you do it, say, twice or just almost every day, it's not good any more. Nothing in-between is as good as once or every day."
- the philosophy of andy warhol, page 166

commentson 12 April 2003 : 01:59, Anderson, Paul thomas sez:

I don't know where the war is? Is it over in the sands of ancient people, or here in the US where we are brainwashed by TV and fear?

Talk about fear, please. You're of much greater scope than the make believe of games and gadgets.

commentson 13 April 2003 : 17:34, Damanda sez:

..and you're "of much greater scope" than porn biopics and raining frogs.
heeheehee :-)

commentson 14 April 2003 : 06:49, kurt sez:

Don't know if Anderson was entirely serious.. but it does feel like "Links" is happening in some alternate dimension where there is no war in Iraq worth worrying about. It's kind of, well, appalling.

J. can talk about whatever he wants, of course, it being his personal site and all. Techno-geekery is as good an opiate as any. I like it myself.

commentson 14 April 2003 : 18:58, benjamin sez:

i wish our federal legislators would adopt those ethics recommendations.

commentson 15 April 2003 : 15:14, wayne sez:

When he had a post about Iraq (against the war), people told him to stick with video games, travel and his regular banter. Now he wants to talk about probably the most serious issue facing his desired career - whether or not it has any credibility. And that is not important enough?

This topic is of huge importance, yet rarely discussed. It applies to any consumer/product related journalism: computers, games, cars, guns, camping gear. Some say: Who gives a shit about whether computer game journalism is ethical? How can it possibly matter to anyone besides the millions of people spending their free time with the PS2? I'm not a gamer, but I would argue that it has broad implications.

The most culturally important magazine of the 90s was Wired, which steered coverage of tech issues away from the traditional nerd/geek to a much wider audience. Wired's cheerleading, the constant pro new new new, was copied by many mainstream news magazines, financial publications and daily newspapers. Why? They didn't really "get it" and Wired got it, so they blindly followed. Wired was hot and they wanted to be hot.

Serious journalism is more skeptical than Wired. With the bright oranges and yellows, the wacky jargon, the sense of humor, it's clear that there is a constant wink in Wired, an optimism about the future of tech that makes it fun to read. This wink was not conveyed in Time, Newsweek or Forbes. Serious journalism and technology criticism could have reduced, to some degree, the insane bubble culture that brought on the absurd rise and painful crash of the stock market.

Depending on which statistics you believe, video games are more popular than films. Yet video games don't get much coverage in mainstream publications - a fraction of what film gets. Unlike film, video games are still changing dramatically, new systems, new features, online, wireless, convergence, all the buzz words to be skeptical of. But when you read articles about video games being considered for education, you start to realize the medium still has vast untapped potential. If that potential blows up in the next decade, who is going to be there to cover it? Will there be any quality journalism for mainstream publications to follow? Or will they jump on a bandwagon filled with cheerleading gamers?

commentson 16 April 2003 : 11:10, jane sez:

wayne, i clap my hands in your general direction!

commentson 16 April 2003 : 11:23, Ben sez:

BTW, isn't Paul Thomas Anderson a director? The director of Boogie Nights and Magnolia to name a few. Coincidence or fake handle? I think if one is going to make a criticism at least use your real name (or part of it). Silly rabbit, nicks are for kids.

commentson 19 April 2003 : 00:04, Anderson, Paul thomas sez:

I guess you could say that, and you did. But if I had a real fake name or a fake real name I would be a sinner in the eyes of my parents. I choose to remain anonymous not because I am unwilling to stand by what I say, or respond to disagreeing voices. I do so primarily because I think that the issue is bigger than the person – the focus should stay on the discussion and not be distracted by the details of personality.

-- heeheee,
Arianna Huffington

commentson 19 April 2003 : 08:58, Chet sez:

I don't get your article.

You lead with this:

But despite these signs of a fast-growing industry, the print and online publications that cover video games often employ fans who unwittingly make poor ethical choices.

If you notice the title of the piece doesn't state that, but it is in the top paragraphs. Just so we know - you are an investigative reporter who already has the answers, regardless of just rehashing some pieces covered 100x in other stories. You then point to the LA times story, then offers nothing more - because there is nothing more.

But you then spout this gem:

Game publications and Web sites still mostly employ low-paid hobbyists who are easy targets of lavish marketing events that encourage inappropriate ties between game makers and game critics.

Why is this important? Because until at the end when you point to your low-fi buddies, the rest of the article deals with sites and magazines that do not employ low-paid hobbyists, you are confusing your stay at with the way the rest of the industry works.

You then go on about being invited to the Tom Clancy shindig. You can go to sites like which is where many if not most professional game reviewers hang out - not one went to the clancy deal, but you did, because you are the perfect patsy they aim for.

You then try to get the lowdown on IGN and gamespot. Ignoring IGN because I really doubt humans write their reviews, you see at gamespot a giant hole shot in your theory - but never mind, press on. Lets move to previews - which as has been covered ad nausea, do not get poor reviews, because they are not reviews, they are previews.

So far, you have no story - So onward! The sims online! Heavy coverage for a multi-player version of the biggest selling video game ever - MUST BE INFLUENCED BY FREE JUNKETS... not the fact that it is the biggest selling game of all time. AND FINALLY THE PROOF.

Site's (conveniently now lumping in all sites, not just the sites previously mentioned as the only sites to get a benefit of pregame hype) review scores for TSO give it a 70. BUT ON AMAZON.COM READERS GIVE IT A 40!!! SCANDAL!!! STOP THE PRESSES!!! Ignore that many of the reviews on were posted before the game was released, ignore that a 70% is a bad score for most magazines or that the "time card" for the simsonline gets a 60% at amazon. JASON HAS HIS PROOF!!!!!

A game where you cannot show any big pre-game spoils of free plane rides, car rides or anything past reader interest - has proven your point that game reviewers are influenced by the freebies?


But don't worry - the reader is saved!

Fortunately Internet readers have easy access to multiple viewpoints.

Which is where you got his 70% from - but now this same source damned 10 seconds ago is now our savoir?

The real focus comes in at the end where we find the only place for thoughtful journalism is at some site with 10 reviews posted. Jason your buddies?

So I am less worried about reviewers being influenced by junkets, than I am as a poorly written story like this given any weight or truth. You tried to prove something you had in your head, and on paper were unable to prove it, so you just went ahead and concluded it was true anyways.

Why not? You have your fans, who will flock to you and say great piece!!! No need to actually take the time to learn the subject, then report on what you learned.


commentson 21 April 2003 : 09:23, justin sez:

Chat, I did want to press game journalists to think about ethical issues. Some of the people I spoke with, like GameSpot, had already formulated an approach. At the Clancy event I attended, there were scores of game journalists. Some of them expressed outright glee at riding the gravy train of free stuff. That's not necessarily a problem, except if it colors their coverage. One person I spoke to said, "Well, I feel like I should cover their games because they threw this nice party." His offhand remark told me that it was still important to discuss these issues.

The tendency towards high-scores I find on the meta-rankings sites reinforced my sense of reader/writer disjuncture. I've been playing a fair number of AAA titles, for Xbox in particular, and I find them all scored over 80%. I think that's a bit of grade inflation. Why does that happen? Maybe junkets, maybe fans writing, maybe because they get the games for free, maybe because writers want to keep their friends in the game industry. Either way, I want to see more honesty about the process of writing about games - more pulling back the curtain on journalists, so they might be inclined to pull back the curtain on games themselves.

February 2005 - comments are closed on Thanks.