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?