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Ethics in video game journalism


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I just came across this well-written article: http://www.ojr.org/ojr/ethics/1049994303.php

 

It's about the use of enticing freebies and trips by PR agencies to wow and (hopefully) sway the opinion of video game journalists. I find it especially interesting not for the "professional" game journalists but for all the smaller web review sites out there (like LCVG). I know a few people who have received all expense paid trips to London simply because they operate a small gaming website. For other sites, simply receiving free copies of games might be enough to affect the final game review.

 

Many smaller sites are simply game fans and not professional journalists. The efforts of a PR agency's campaign may be more powerful to these budding reviewers.

 

Many of you here have experience reviewing games. I'm curious if you have been given free stuff or have knowledge of such events? Do you think it has some effect on the final review or at least the attitude toward that developer? Does it get the game (or the developer) extra attention in previews?

 

Finally, to the LCVG gang: What is LCVG's official policy on receiving free stuff from developers?

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Very interesting read. Side note: Justin Hall used to run "Justin's Links from the Underground," one of the first sites of its kind way back in like 1994.

 

Anyway.

 

I used to write game reviews almost on a daily basis. We would get free games in the mail every week, divvy them up, take them home, and write the reviews. I don't recall any pressure from the publishers to be favorable. As far as preview copies, while there was always an air of "they have time to fix this," it was up to us to point out exactly WHAT needed fixing.

 

For the few reviews I've written most recently, the editors have always been keen on objectivity and honesty. One's POV going in, of course, goes both ways, though. While some reviewers may be swayed by a fun weekend (you shoulda seen what they did for Fatal Frame!), others may be swayed by a bad taste left from previous titles from the same developer, or a general disdain for a particular genre.

 

For instance, I used to absolutely hate FPSs. Not sure why, but they just reminded me of the stinky IT guys who would play Quake all evening at the office, and it just wasn't my scene. No offense. Anyway, when I was given a copy of Marathon to review, I went into it already annoyed by the whole thing, especially since the IT guys were clamoring to get a look at the thing running in my office. The whole experience no doubt tainted my review, and I wrote a sophomore thesis on the redundancy of the FPS genre. It didn't go over well.

 

No matter what the subject matter, journalism can fall to subjectivity. Video Game journalism isn't the only sub-sect populated with underpaid college interns who love their wares. Ever read David Lynch or Tarantino movie preview in a college newspaper?

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A good code of conduct should protect the public from unethical reporting as well as protect the journalist from accusations of unethical behavior.

 

With that in mind, I would recommend looking over codes of ethics like those promulgated by the Society of Professional Journalists.

 

Look at the following from their Code:

 

+ Avoid conflicts of interest, real or perceived.

+ Refuse gifts, favors, fees, free travel and special treatment ... if they compromise journalistic integrity.

+ Disclose unavoidable conflicts.

 

Above all, be accountable and disclose, disclose, disclose! If you get a free review copy from a publisher, say so in the review. If you work in the industry and review a game, disclose the potential conflict. When ABC does a story on the Disney Corporation, I expect disclosure of Disney's ownership, whether the piece was favorable, unfavorable or neutral -- and whether thay disclose or not.

 

The best approach is Roger Ebert's, who pays his own way. When that isn't possible, I believe accountability and disclosure are the keys to ethical reporting (or reviewing).

 

-j

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Above all, be accountable and disclose, disclose, disclose! If you get a free review copy from a publisher, say so in the review.

 

I totally agree with that. If the author got a free copy of Mario Kart and a trip to Japan on Nintedo I want to know. It's probably extremely tough for most video game reviewers to pay their own way but I would find it very refreshing to see them revealing what (if any) was provided to make the review/preview possible.

 

While some reviewers may be swayed by a fun weekend (you shoulda seen what they did for Fatal Frame!),

 

Don't leave us hanging like that! What did they do?

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Originally posted by Robot Monkey@Nov 24 2003, 09:52 AM

If you get a free review copy from a publisher, say so in the review.

I wrote the software that powers the site I occasionally write reviews for, and my initial version would automatically print a disclaimer based on whether or not the game was a screener copy provided by the publisher. The webmaster removed that code, which I was somewhat disappointed to see. I do like the way portions of that site are structured, though; the webmaster acts as a buffer between the publishers and the reviewers, so there's no direct communication between the individual reviewers and the companies providing review product.

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