OPINION: What all journalists can learn from the gaming press


Patrick Smalley

It’s rare that anyone says anything positive about the state of video game journalism–and for good reason. The field is infamously laden with corruption and the relationship between gamers and gaming press has always been tenuous. It wasn’t until just a few weeks ago that major games journalism site Kotaku prohibited their journalists from reporting on conflicts of interest. The recent rise of the #gamergate on twitter as a means for gamers to vent their frustration at the perceived corruption of an industry arose in part as a response to gaming “journalists” like GTTV host Geoff Keighley, who conducted interviews literally surrounded by Doritos and Mountain Dew. Though the hashtag later got hijacked by vocal misogynists in the industry, a healthy dialogue did continue on #gameethics.

It’s worth noting that some games publications do uphold generally high ethical standards, such as giantbomb.com, who chose not to review “Bastion due to a conflict of interest after the game’s developer took up a position at the publication.

The storm brewing right now about the generally loose adherence to journalistic ethical standards by the games press has prompted the emergence of a relatively new glimmer of transparency and honesty–a policy that mainstream media ought to consider adopting.

Back in July, independent journalist and talking head John “Totalbiscuit” Bain promised full disclosure of all sponsored content he produces, along with all favors he receives. A few months ago, this would have been more or less unheard of in an industry where nearly a dozen YouTube stars have been paid for their coverage of games. Bain hit the nail on the head when he later tweeted, “Promotional videos are going to happen, and they can not be stopped. We should be pushing for full disclosure and transparency.”

Many others have followed in Bain’s wake, such as entertainer Steven “STAR_” Serge, who recently disclosed which videos he had been paid to make in an environment where journalism often mingles inseparably with entertainment.

This is what all journalists should be doing. Just as prominent new media sites like The Escapist are in the process of reforming their ethics codes to require writers to disclose conflicts of interest, old media establishments need to do the same.

In the Journalism and Communications magnet, we’re required to study and understand journalistic ethics. The Society of Professional Journalists’ Code of Ethics requires that journalists “disclose conflicts of interest, real or perceived”. For many people in the gaming industry, avoiding these conflicts is impossible. What’s important is that that all journalists remain transparent about any biases or personal connections which could cloud their reporting.

There have already been numerous calls to require disclosure from journalists, and it’s our job to advocate and push for transparency reforms from more than just the games industry. Next time you see a reporter with a political beat attend a exorbitant dinner at the White House, remind them to share that with everyone else.