Video game journalism is a broad term that deals not only with reviews but previews and general coverage of the industry. Recently, Gamer Gate has claimed that their aim is towards the ethics in this industry as outside influences, such as bribery and personal relationships, are feared to be infiltrating what some believe should be a bias-free industry. Whether weight is placed in Gamer Gate or not, there are some areas of the video game journalism field that should be changed to better reflect what a reader can expect and how game reviews, arguably these journalist’s most important function, should be taken.
Overall coverage within the video game journalism medium, as with just about every other wide-spread industry out there, is dictated by popularity amongst the masses. Sites such as Game Informer, IGN and Polygon cover triple-A titles quite a bit in part because those are the titles that a larger percentage of people are interested in reading about. Where some of the ethics questions come into play, for some people at least, is when borders, backgrounds and ads begin to fill the screen for one specific title, and questions are raised about what else companies are paying to see. There have been instances of paying for a “high score” on YouTube reviews and other sites, and this is alarming to a lot of people who put their purchasing stock into a specific review score range that video game journalism members are expect to deliver with honesty.
Paid for or not, video game journalism members have to keep that in mind when writing reviews as a part of the responsibility of their position. All three of the aforementioned gaming sites review by a loose scoring system that allows for creative and writing freedom for their reviewers to work within. When an honest review is posted, a problem emerges when the reviewer become too focused on a specific aspect of a game. Some reviews for The Evil Within, as an example, cite a lack of “fun” for the game, and while that is a part of any gaming experience, that cannot be the sole currency of a game’s final review score, especially not one that intends to put itself against players in several ways. Other games such as Dark Souls and The Last of Us are not “fun” experiences top to bottom, but still grab high scores and praise with some perceived opposites of that word—punishing, difficult—used in official reviews.
The Gamer Gate path of completely unbiased reviews not only seems like a red herring for the group as a whole but is asking for a video game journalism overhaul throughout the business. Game reviews, then, would all have to call the game fine, list a few features and offer a kind of audience ala Kotaku’s current system, but be even lighter and devoid of any supposedly opinionated wording. This probably will not happen and video game journalism should not change this way. Instead, reviewers can simply be subject to accuracy instead, clearly labeling through YouTube, Steam or any other appropriate medium when payments or personal relationships from outside sources have effected a reviewer, serving as a disclaimer for the anyone interested in seeing such. That being said, even an opinion wrangled under a single review score should, concurrently, take in the entire experience and not just the memorable flashes of fun, tedium or a single ill-designed level.
Reviews are opinions and should be treated as such, but the expression of those opinions can still influence hundreds or thousands of dollars to change hands. A lot of people reading are interested in receiving as clear a picture as possible for their possible future purchase, not going off of a score that boils down to how much fun someone has while playing a game like Papers, Please. There will always be a place for opinion and debate in video game journalism and gaming in general, but an imaginary fun level should not be used as a tell-all centerpiece for titles that do not follow the same path to a satisfying gaming experience.
Opinion by Myles Gann