The Gamer (Mis)Trust at Crispy Gamer

Get comfortable folks. This is gonna be a long one.

One of my favorite web destinations these days is Nerve’s 61 Frames Per Second, run by John Constantine and his gang of game-loving misfits. The coverage there is decidedly against the grain, with lengthy diatribes and ruminations on topics as diverse as Tiger handheld gaming devices, the merits of Blizzard’s BlackThorne and a Double Dragon ROM hack which strips the clothes off of every female character. Those were all on yesterday’s editorial slate, by the way, and all were accompanied by thoughtful analyses from Constantine’s gathered players.

Also published yesterday, from writer Cole Stryker – a name which is all the more awesome for not being a pseudonym – is some commentary on an editorial published by Crispy Gamer’s Scott Jones. Now I hadn’t read the CG editorial in question before Stryker’s posting, but I’ve always liked the site and Scott’s work alike. Seems that it’s time to re-evaluate.

Said Jones of Fallout 3: “Since Fallout 3 shipped in October, I’ve kept my secret, fearing that should it get out, the rest of the gaming community, including the considerable Fallout fan base, would grab their pitchforks and light their torches and chase me into the old windmill. When it came time to cast my vote for Game of the Year a few weeks back, I spent a series of antacid-infused days wrestling with whether or not I had the stuff to go against the grain, to stand up to pitchfork- and fire-wielders, and be true to my heart. Mostly I wondered if I’d forsake the little credibility I have in this business by picking something other than Fallout 3.

“So what did I do? Weak fool that I am, I voted for Fallout 3 as GotY, wondering as I did so whether or not I’d be able to look myself in the mirror the next morning.”

Well…. What. The. Fuck?!!?! I think Stryker sums up my feelings on this pretty well in his post. We have this frank admission of grossly unethical behavior and no apologies offered, either to the community who trusted Jones to give an honest opinion or to the unfortunate developer snubbed by Jones’ decision. Did it really take you “a series of antacid-infused days” to reach the peer pressure tipping point Mr. Jones? How can we trust anything you say now?

Friends: this is worse than Gerstmann-Gate, which is by far one of the most high-profile examples of alleged unethical behavior the gaming press has yet seen. The thing is, with Gerstmann-Gate no one other than the main players (and possibly not even all of them) has the facts straight. We don’t really know the full extent of what was going on at GameSpot and we likely never will.

Here, instead, we have CG’s full-time Senior Writer owning up to exactly what he’s done – a good thing – and showing no signs of remorse for having done it. That part’s not so good. It’s actually downright terrible. Siding with the masses because you’re too afraid to offer your own personal criticisms is the very antithesis of journalistic integrity. Dammit Jones, volunteering personal opinions – no matter how unpopular – is what we critics do.

In fairness, one of Jones’ defenders in the comments makes a discussion-worthy point. From commenter RyanKuo:

My favorite (music) critic, Simon Reynolds, wrote this about end-of-year lists the other day:

“…for a certain kind of person there’s always going to be a fatal confusion of Favourite and Important, matters-to-me and Matters, pleasure and ‘truth’ … You can see various impulses battling it out–the gigantism of all-inclusiveness versus whittle-it-down brevity … The shorter the list (the thinking goes) the less likely it’ll succumb to worthiness, tokenism, dutiful eclecticism that doles out praise across the genrescape, and other liabilities of the profession.”

It arguably takes a more sophisticated critic to realize that these two concepts (favorite vs. important) exist side-by-side, let alone are often at odds with each other. That you cultivate a personal taste, with its own rules, alongside the supposedly objective critical one, which is built up by readers and some righteous critics to be some seamless, deterministic slide towards the Truth.

Getting caught up in “worthiness, tokenism, dutiful eclecticism” is part of all criticism — as a RESULT of striving for objectivity — and it speaks volumes about games journalism that this is an alien concept, gets immediately mis-read as simple peer pressure.

Also, this is the Scott Jones who dissed LittleBigPlanet (http://www.crispygamer.com/gamereviews/2008-10-28/littlebigplanet-ps3.aspx), to much consternation. So much for a lack of “honesty” or “objectivity.

It sounds like a compelling argument, but it comes apart around RyanKuo’s idea that “’worthiness, tokenism [and] dutiful eclecticism’ is all part of criticism.” No my friend, it is not. Perhaps it is a part of unethical criticism, but certainly not the real thing. These are definitely factors for a proper critic to contemplate and comment on, but for public opinion to influence a final judgment in the way Jones describes is just straight wrong. At least according to the standards hammered into me by my college professors.

Really, you readers are the judge and jury. Writers like Stryker and myself can get worked up into a frenzy over Jones’ post, but it’s you people out there reading this who ought to be responding in anger. Don’t any of you feel cheated after reading Jones’ admission? Because he flat-out lied to you, then admitted it, then brushed past it as if it was nothing. He even went as far as implicating “a [sic] least a half a dozen other writers who included Fallout 3 in their top-10 lists who… didn’t invest more than three or four hours in the game (if that).” Pretty staggering, don’t you think? I’m certainly insulted, both as a member of the gaming press which now sees its reputation further tarnished and as a lifelong gamer who treasured press coverage of the medium long before I ever considered it as a line of work.

Since this is pretty much a ‘me-too’ post tacked on as a companion to Stryker’s own eloquent thoughts on the matter, I think it’s only right to end with his own words. Especially since his final summation is pretty damning and, in my eyes, right on target:

I suppose Scott wants a pat on the back for being so honest. Not from me. All this article does is illustrate a bankrupt rationale for his reviewing philosophy, one that he seems just as likely to draw from in the future. There isn’t even an apology here! The navel gazing article is just as worthless as his original rating.

That this guy has a full time, senior writing position in games journalism is a testament to how fundamentally broken the press is. These bloggers are supposed to be the outsiders. If we can’t expect an ounce of journalistic integrity from the little guys, who aren’t beholden to special interests, why are we surprised when the major players drop the ball?

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10 Responses to “The Gamer (Mis)Trust at Crispy Gamer”

  1. Cole Stryker Says:

    Thanks for the kind words, Adam. Glad you enjoy my ranting.

    There is definitely room for plenty more criticism of this guy. I’m praying that the reason why so few are speaking out against it is because Crispy Gamer is a marginal site, but I imagine that its simply because so few people realize how systemic and damaging this cancer is.

    I mean, at least Gamespot was getting paid for their unethical behavior!

    I also think it explains why the canon of “essential” games is so inbred, full of sequels and obvious high-selling picks.

  2. Thanks for this, guys.

    I’ve been sort of toying with the idea of going into journalism for awhile now, and perhaps writing about video-games in particular. However, I find myself in the same trap that Scott fell into, in that I find it very difficult to assert my own voice even when it means going against popular opinion. However, instead of writing stuff that panders to the crowd, I just keep my trap shut altogether.

    I suppose that’s not much better than what Scott’s doing in the scheme of things, but I’ve always had self-confidence issues. It’s something I need to work out if I’m going to write stuff with the intention of having people read it.

    Anyway, I’ll be checking Stryker’s site now that you’ve turned me on to it, though admittedly I’ll be reading his work with the voice of an X-Men villain in mind the entire time. 😛

  3. Cole, I think your first inclination is the correct one. Crispy Gamer is a marginal site.

    But really, if you’re worried that this is going ignored because people aren’t aware of how big a problem it really is and how damaging it can be, I would suggest that you expose the story yourself. Get it out there. Make people aware of it. Writing an opinion piece on a site that is just as obscure as Crispy Gamer is isn’t going to turn people on to the bigger picture. You need to be willing to do more than take a stance of moral superiority on the matter, otherwise you’re not doing anything of any real value.

    That’s not to say that I don’t appreciate that you guys called the guy out, but consider that it’s not really going to accomplish much in the scheme of things. The underlying problem will still persist.

  4. geminibros Says:

    Ah Darrell… it’s not so simple to just make some bit of news proliferate. It takes the effort of a lot of interested people.

    Frankly, Scott was in error but does he really deserve to be turned into some sort of pariah for it? He made a mistake and then compounded it with his offhand admission, but Cole, myself and a fair few others have taken him to task for it. Better that we all learn from his mistake and grow from it than continue to dwell, I say.

    Good luck with the writing. I’m not really someone you should be taking advice from, but I will say that writing for the Internet makes it very easy to stop caring what anyone else might think. Your first round of hateful criticism will callous you up right quick. Or send you screaming into the night, despairing at our race’s capacity for unleashing vitriolic streams of hatred.

  5. Yeah, you’re absolutely right that it does, which was sort of my point.

    See, that was in response to Cole, who seemed to put the lack of serious conversation on this issue down to people being unaware of how systematic and damaging this sort of thing is. I agree that this may be a possibility, and believe that Cole, being an insider, is in a great position to educate people on the subject. In my opinion, only by exposing the magnitude of the problem and the damage it does will anything ever be done about it. Besides, if you’re interested enough in the subject to write a blog about it, it should stand to reason that you should be willing to do some legwork, so to speak, to ensure that the matter gets the exposure it deserves. Otherwise the ranting comes off as self-righteous moral posturing. It may be justified, and it may be cathartic, sure, but it’s ultimately ineffectual. You can rely on other people to do the work, but if it’s work worth doing, it’s worth doing yourselves. 😉

    Now maybe Scott should be made a pariah. It appeared as if his confession was more a means to an end than it was an earnest, heartfelt apology for his earlier actions. In the absence of any real apology on his behalf, it seems as if he came clean because he couldn’t share his true opinions about Fallout 3 otherwise. Consider that, and tell me if you don’t think it would be appropriate to make an example out of him.

    Then you may consider that his actions have already done him irreparable damage, and that everything he’s ever written for the site, or will write in the future, will come under scrutiny because of what he did. Sure we can chalk it up to an error in judgment and decide to forgive and forget, but it’s folly to imagine that he’s really learned his lesson, especially considering that he got away with it unscathed, save for enduring some tongue-lashing from a few of his peers on their own blogs. Very few of Crispy Gamer’s members see him as anything but a hero for exposing himself, so it’s not a leap to imagine that he may not be adequately discouraged from doing this again in the future. And it’s arguable that if he took anything from this, it’s to keep his trap shut about it next time around. So I don’t think exposing him would do him any additional damage, at least not any more than the situation warrants, and it would serve to give his readership the ability to make an informed decision about whether or not to put any stock in what he writes from this point on, on top of serving to highlighting the underlying problem.

    Perhaps if more journalists go the idea that there are watchdogs on their asses they wouldn’t engage in this sort of nonsense. Perhaps that’s wishful thinking, but consider the state of gaming journalism post Gerstmann-Gate. We ranted about it for awhile, but ultimately things returned to the status-quo not too long after, and Gamespot continues to thrive in spite of the entire site’s integrity having been put into question in a pretty major way. Morover, folks like Scott have no problem from a moral standpoint with engaging in a similar level of deception. Nothing has changed whatsoever. And why? Because we made a little noise, but we didn’t do anything to effect change in the larger scheme of things. And until we do, you guys will continue to have what you do cheapened by folks like Scott, or by the assholes who run Gamespot. I can’t say that’s something that I’d be comfortable with.

  6. But really, what this boils down to is that it’s been nearly a month since this shit went down, so is it really worth dragging it back out and taking Scott to task over it? I’d almost say yes, in that this is a reasonably huge problem, but in the end…I dunno.

  7. Oh, and thanks for the…psuedo-advice. I’ve been dealing with the worst of what humanity has to offer for years in the form of fan-boys and jaded douche-bag gamers, so that’s not an insurmountable obstacle.

    Now the thing that may pose a challenge is that I’m not great at videogames, and as such I have a hard time feeling qualified to write about them. I’m not bad, mind you, but I’m not one of those people who can plow through a game and find all the secrets. Hell, three-quarters of the time I may need to check an FAQ just to find the solution to a situation or puzzle that has stymied me for awhile. It’s hard to write about ’em when you’re not too great at ’em. 😛

  8. geminibros Says:

    I won’t speak for Cole – though I imagine his response would be similar – but I do plenty of my own legwork.

    For me, it boils down to a situation of choosing one’s battles. There’s a systemic problem in video game journalism which is bigger than the misdeeds of any single writer, PR firm, publisher, etc. Launching a crusade against one guy for a single mistake – one which was admittedly compounded by an apparent attitude of ambivalence towards the transgression – is just going to obscure the larger picture.

    Gerstmann-Gate is a PRIME example of how the big picture can be obscured. Whatever happened there with Jeff and his superiors, none of us really know for sure. A lot of the so-called “controversy” from that incident was built on inferred conclusions. Gerstmann leveraged his martyr status very well to get the ball rolling on Giant Bomb, but it doesn’t make the internal CNET picture any more clear. All we have to go on are the facts: Gerstmann was fired, and the superior responsible for that firing followed some months later. It’s counter-productive to argue in a one-sided debate, which is essentially what happened in the aftermath of Gerstmann-Gate. It’s also what one would risk in continuing to take Scott to task for his mistake… lots of noise, no real solutions. If he won’t come forward and engage in the dialogue which has sprung up around what he wrote, then there’s really no reason to take it any further.

    These are just my views. As a journalist, I think it’s more productive to give people as much information as possible and let them make up their own mind. Your “self-righteous moral posturing” is my dissenting viewpoint, though there’s probably a little of the former in there too given that it was written in the heat of discovery. I also happen to be a firm believer in the idea that people who behave badly will eventually suffer for their mistakes. Therefore, I’m not willing to take this any further. Not because I think it’s hard, but rather because I think there are better, more constructive uses for my time.

    Heheh… pseudo-advice indeed. Seriously Darrell, if you want advice you should ask someone with a steady, secure job. Follow my path at your folly; freelancing is not fun, particularly not in the world we currently live in. The sole reason I keep at it is that my love for games is eclipsed only by my love for writing.

    I will say though, I don’t think being “good” at games is as important as understanding them. We all – gamers that is, not just game journos – have our strengths and weaknesses. Play to those (no pun intended). Find different angles to discuss things from. Who cares in 99% of the playas on the pro gaming circuit could wallop you. If you can play through a Silent Hill and walk away with something valuable to say about it, then you’re most of the way there. And if you, as an “average” gamer, DO need to turn to a strategy guide, couldn’t that be attributed to a flaw in the game design? Write from your own perspective, and you can’t go wrong. That’s exactly where Scott fouled up, so learn from it if this is a path you pursue.

  9. You win this round Mr. Rosenberg!

    All kidding aside, you make some fair points. And I have to apologize for the “self-righteous moral posturing” thing. I can assure you that I don’t even know what three out of those four words mean. 😛

    Again with the kidding. The apology is sincere, but…yeah. It’s early morning, I’m heading off to work, and instead of waiting until I had the time to respond, I’m wasting my time and yours by rambling in a half-awake stake. You DO make some very good points indeed, especially on the Gerstmann-Gate matter.

    We’ll talk more later if you don’t mind. 😛

  10. No apology necessary, seriously. I’m never offended by criticism, particularly when it’s valid. And there’s definitely a fair bit of high horse riding in the above post.

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