Quick & dirty
Ad-supported revenue models strongly encourage bad journalism, and outlets in crisis who live on shoestring budgets leave journalists incentivised, and sometimes forced, to be the first to report, to write frequent low-effort articles rather than few well-researched ones, and to jump on controversial social, race or gender issues. To maximize clicks.
While sensationalism is a problem in all media, certainly games journalism is dabbling in it quite a lot, and has seen it backfire hard — leading to huge mistakes, and, sometimes, even ruining innocent people’s lives.
When I was a ‘journo’ I'd use sources like Eurekalert to find nice stories that I could rewrite so they were unique [ ] Then when I wrote it up, I would purposefully try to avoid anything that highlighted how meaningless the study was, and I’d try to write something even more Buzzfeedy than the actual article. AIDS cure ‘around the corner’ [ ]
And I was churning out 5,000 words a day, often researching and spinning a 200-word article in 20 minutes. I would honestly just skimread the original source, I'd only actually read it to fully understand it if I was personally interested in the research. Furthermore, my understanding of complicated science is nowhere near good enough to be able to criticise a scientific study, all I’d do is ‘spin’ it. Churnalism, it’s called.
Gamers are used to their medium being targeted, mostly by accusations of violence. Mainstream media journalists always enjoyed making mountains out of molehills, when not brazenly inventing issues altogether. One of the major examples involved psychological horror game Rule of Rose, which made the cover of Italian political magazine Panorama in 2006, with the sensationalist title “He who buries the little girl wins”, starting a rumor about a ‘child-torture game’. As the news spread to other outlets, EU Commissioner Franco Frattini—belonging to the Italian party Forza Italia, headed by the infamous Silvio Berlusconi, also owner of Panorama—called for a ban of the game. The French National Assembly directly described the game as “an unacceptable incarnation of sadism and perversion”, whose goal involves “raping a little girl in the most horrible conditions then torturing her before killing her in the worst of sufferings”—a description that sounds not so much inaccurate as downright invented to anyone who has any experience with the game.
Game journalists are also quite commonly accused of manufacturing scandals. The largest outlets which have built a reputation for sensationalism are Kotaku and Polygon. It’s the latter which published a piece where Colin Campbell accuses videogame Grand Theft Auto V of violence and sexism, specifically due to the fact it allows the player to murder prostitutes—expressing “admiration” for the petition that caused the game’s Australian ban. Campbell deliberately ignores the fact that prostitutes in the game function like any other character, and the game neither mandates nor rewards attacking them: his article was criticized from multiple and different sources.
Like Campbell’s, many of these scandalistic articles take the form of pseudo-feminist writing covering gender, race or social issues, subjects that are frequently associated with clickbait even by feminists themselves.
Unlike Polygon, Kotaku explicitly states that their reporting is also focused on “inclusivity”, so it’s at least debatable whether their coverage is deliberately sensationalist or gives the appearence of being by following certain subjects, but there are times where it is very difficult to give them the benefit of doubt. One such instance is Nathan Grayson’s infamous agenda driven non-interview of Ubisoft’s Mark Thompson, titled “Ubisoft refused to talk to me about women”, and spent entirely offering Grayson’s proofless, subjective perspective on things his subject allegedly refused to say. This interview followed another article by Grayson over a manufactured racist controversy involving a Ubisoft game’s cover, and, by its timing, it may have been the cause of Kotaku’s claimed blacklisting by Ubisoft. That was hardly Grayson’s only scandalous interview: one of the most oft-quoted examples of agenda-driven game journalism is his interview with Blizzard, which he concluded by accusing the developer of sexism for the presence of sexy costumes in the game Heroes of the Storm. His questions and preachy followup caused a large amount of controversy and criticism.
Other accusations of courting scandal involving Kotaku were Kate Cox’s accusations of misogyny towards Twisted Metal and God of War creator David Scott Jaffe, for a juvenile joke about oral sex during an interview. Cox was defended by her then-EiC Stephen Totilo in both a dissatisfied Kotaku comments section and a fairly famous conversation with Jaffe. The Jaffe accusations occurred in July 2012, just a month after Cox had kickstarted the perhaps best-known manufactured scandal in the history of game journalism.
Primarily known for his stance against DRM, his pro-consumer “Gamer’s Bill of Rights” and strategy games such as Sins of a Solar Empire, Stardock’s CEO Brad Wardell had a great reputation when Kotaku’s Kate Cox, in 2012, wrote about two ongoing lawsuits between his company and a former marketing employee.
The former employee was suing for “hostile work environment, sexual harassment and battery”. Kotaku reported her allegations in detail and without any counterpoint. They stated Wardell had not replied to their requests for comments. Wardell was also accused of having counter-sued the former employee—who had destroyed critical marketing data right before leaving the company—as retaliation for the harassment suit.
The Kotaku article had a large reach, and many follow-ups. Ben Kuchera, then at Penny Arcade report, reblogged it, saying it contained “some pretty damning evidence”. James Fudge of Gamepolitics also wrote about it.
The lawsuits were settled in 2013, with Jason Schreier reporting that the suits were being dismissed with prejudice and the former employee having to publicly apologize to Wardell for filing her suit and destroying Stardock property as a condition for the settlement, but still framing Wardell's suit as taking place after his employee’s.
Wardell has stated that, despite the dismissal, “Any time I speak on a given topic, this comes up”. In September 2014, after Breitbart used the Wardell story as an example of sloppy reporting, former Bioware developer Damion Schubert brought up the Kotaku accusations in his blog, but, after Wardell replied to him and showed him more complete documents, he issued an apology, condemning Kotaku for “shitty journalism”. The documents he had seen showed that Kotaku had reported the date of Stardock’s allegedly-retaliatory lawsuit inaccurately (it had preceded the harassment trial by a full year), Wardell had been given an unfair timeframe to comment, and the employee’s grievances had been laughed out of court.
Shortly after this, Fudge also offered his “long overdue” apology for his article.
Within days of the article hitting, forum posts, follow-up articles and abuse started flooding the net. I received numerous death threats including one so specific (it was clear they had driven up close to our house) that we called the police. The death threats included rape threats against my wife and disgusting vile threats against my children.
For the past two years since, not a week goes by where someone doesn’t send me a hate message […]
Kotaku’s “shitty journalism” has not yet stopped haunting Wardell. Just two months later, he encouraged someone on Twitter to send Stardock a résumé. Wardell was unaware that this person had made a crude, already removed, cartoon, and was viciously attacked by a controversy-hungry minor indie dev and her followers—who, again, brought against him the false and well-debunked sexual harassment accusations.
Kotaku Editor-in-Chief Stephen Totilo didn’t publicly weight in this contoversy until late 2015, when he stated that the original article, in retrospect, should have allowed Wardell more time to reply—but also stated that Wardell wouldn’t have been able to talk of the lawsuits at liberty, that the original article already gave space to both sides of the argument and that Schreier’s followup properly fixed the first article’s mistakes. Wardell himself replied to him and denied that Kotaku had been impartial, saying he would’ve been able to show his former employee’s claims were fabricated had Kotaku given him enough time—pointing out Cox had received cherrypicked documents from the former employee and had given him only a day to reply despite having worked on the article for a month, by her own admission. Although Wardell blamed Kotaku for having permanently tarnished his reputation—comparing his accusations of hostile work environment with Stardock’s excellent worker retention—he left Totilo on a fairly positive note.
So while I have no animus towards you personally on the story, and have warm regards for you generally, it would do everyone a net good if we could both agree that in this instance, Kotaku blew it. They allowed a hyper-political feminist to use your platform to spew out a hateful story that completely misrepresented the facts.
A review score that strongly differs from the competition is not necessarily a symptom of impropriety—often, it’s an act of virtue. But Polygon has been called out for outrageous reviews so frequently that it’s very hard to give them the benefit of the doubt—making them no less suspicious of manufacturing scandals as the articles above.
One example being Arthur Gies’ reviews of Bayonetta 2 and Killer is dead. Both reviews evaluate the game a lot lower than the press average, and motivate this score with what Gies feels is “gross” sexism. Gies’ politics take center stage and are presented as factual, when there would have been other options. These reviews have sparked significant controversy—which Gies’ lack of problems with sexuality elsewhere and Polygon’s attitude in other reviews also seem to hint at being manufactured.
Gies’ review of Witcher 3 follows the very same path, giving the 2015 Game Awards game of the year its lowest score in a major publication due to an “oppressively misogynist” world, and inciting a colossal amount of controversy in the process. Peculiarly, Gies takes this road one step further, and accuses this game—which takes place in a fantasy version of eleventh-century Poland—of not having enough black characters. Polygon ran this road all the way just a few days later, with an editorial by guest writer Tauriq Moosa, which singled out Witcher 3 with implied accusations of racism due to the fact that “not a single human” was black, accusing the game of dehumanizing black people—despite the fact that the game not only has racism (towards elves and dwarves) as one of its main themes, but Moosa’s request for a token black character is actually fulfilled in-game with a (non-human) black character. This editorial, again, generated extremely strong criticism, with Moosa going on a social media temper tantrum where he even compared his detractors to white supremacist organization Stormfront, before partially withdrawing his accusations.
This behaviour is certainly not exclusive to Gies, and can be seen from Polygon’s other reviewers. Danielle Riendeau—accused elsewhere of letting her aquaintances influence her scores—follows an identical pattern with her review of popular Vanillaware hack & slash Dragon’s Crown, which she panned for its allegedly “alienating and gross” depiction of women, again with huge backlash following. Dragon’s Crown—and particularly its stylized artstyle when applied to a specific character—has been a favorite of journalists wanting to stir controversy: Jason Schreier, also quite famously attacked the game both on Kotaku and forums, reaching the point where he called the game’s artist and Vanillaware president George Kamitani a “14-year-old-boy” and accused the its large-chested sorceress character of inciting pedophilia. Very negatively received as his criticism was (to the point that his Editor-in-Chief had to address it, claiming Schreier was misunderstood) he was strenuouly defended by future Polygon editor Ben Kuchera—then at Penny Arcade Report, where he also had to defend his writer Andrew Groen when another infamous muckracking review generated another wave of backlash.
The exaggeratedly politically correct stance of some reviewers even reached the point where Adam Sessler docked part of the score on his video review of God of War: Ascension due to the “gut-punch of misogyny” of an achievement’s name—getting flayed in the comments but succeeding in stirring a series of discussion articles that soon pushed the developers to change this detail.
Polygon’s scores have been coming under fire quite frequently even excluding the episodes listed above. Examples include, among others, Codename S.T.E.A.M., reviewed by Justin McElroy, Mad Max and The Last of Us, both reviewed by Phillip Kollar, all receiving rock bottom scores. The Mad Max reviews have been provoking discussion, and accusations of the critical canning being motivated by the lack of ‘progressiveness’ compared to the recent Mad Max movie—a debatable accusation, given the review only mentions this aspect in an aside. The Last of Us review also generated lots of controversy, even accusations of corruption that again are certainly not proven—yet another reminder that, while the articles or reviews mentioned in here have unquestioningly created controversy, whether this controversy is coincidential or deliberately seeked is, to an extent, up to debate.
The only way any site survives and the only way anybody gets paid is via ad revenue […] I had one editor tell me flat-out that the site needed a boost one month, and I needed to give a big-name release a low score.
He even said he’d post it before the embargo because as everyone knows, early reviews get a huge amount of attention. Plus, early reviews that have a low score for a super anticipated game get the most possible attention. […] I do know that site still issues that directive to its writers whenever ad revenue is low.
On November 2014, the Rolling Stone magazine published a story that is now considered one of the largest journalistic failures in recent history. In this 9000-word article titled “A rape on campus”, contributing editor Sabrina Rubin Erdely tells the highly-dramatized story of University of Virginia freshman “Jackie”, who is lured by a junior student to a frat party where she is horribly gang-raped and beaten, with the trauma bringing her from straight-A student to suicidal—and she also has to endure her friends’ callous minimization of her problem (in a textbook example of ‘rape culture’), the unhelpful faculty and a climate of “misogyny” symbolized by things like rauchy anthems. Erdely proceeds to basically describe rape as a routine event at the campus, and accuses UVA of actively covering it up to preserve their prestige and wealthy students—with actions such as discouraging victims from reporting, lying to them and even refusing to install on-campus lighting to facilitate rape.
The article spread widely, caused several investigations and the immediate closing of the accused fraternity, but its credibility was soon questioned, with information progressively emerging to contradict it completely: among others, the party where the alleged rape happened never took place, the junior accused of luring Jackie to it didn’t exist, faculty members and Jackie’s friends contradicted her version of the facts and stated Erdely had never talked to them, though she claimed to. Eventually, a police investigation concluded there was no reason to believe any rape had taken place at the fraternity, as Rolling Stone went from defending the story to progressively retracting it, finally publishing an apology and third-party report about their mistakes—which didn’t stop the accused faculty and fraternity from filing lawsuits, while managing editor Will Dana left the magazine.
[Jackie] remembers every moment of the next three hours of agony, during which, she says, seven men took turns raping her, while two more [ ] gave instruction and encouragement
One need only glance around at some recent college hijinks to see spectacular examples of the way the abasement of women has broken through to no-holds-barred misogyny. [ ]
You can trace UVA's cycle of sexual violence and institutional indifference back at least 30 years[ ]
In the face of new information reported by the Washington Post and other news outlets, there now appear to be discrepancies in Jackie's account [ ].
We published the article with the firm belief that it was accurate. Given all of these reports, however, we have come to the conclusion that we were mistaken in honoring Jackie’s request to not contact the alleged assaulters to get their account [ ].
We apologize to anyone who was affected by the story and we will continue to investigate the events of that evening.
While the UVA rape story is the quintessential example of media taking advantage of the public outcry towards rape to farm clicks, game media has certainly not shied away from fabricating rape scandals, and in situations where not even fictional video game characters were being sexually molested. For instance, Kat Bailey, in her preview of Castlevania Lords of Shadow 2 for US Gamer, compared a scene of Dracula drinking a woman’s blood to rape, comparing it with controversial hentai game Rapelay and advocating for its censorship. She generated significant controversy. The 2013 Tomb Rider reboot also got its fabricated ‘rape’ scandal, courtesy again of Jason Schreier, who wrote three articles about the scene leading up to main character and future adventurer Lara Croft making her first kill—a scene where the worst the heroine gets from the man she’ll kill is a caress on the neck.
Cara Ellison managed to generate even more scandal when she started a moral panic about a 4-second scene in Hotline Miami 2. She spent the majority of her hands-on preview explaining that this problematic, upsetting scene made her feel betrayed and unsafe in her “safe space”, and quoting discredited statistics. Often called a “rape scene”, while it’s closer than the completely fabricated examples above, the scene not only cuts before anything happens, but is immediately shown to be fictional in-universe. The controversy following Ellison’s article —and then-colleague Nathan Grayson’s heavily opinionated interview that followed it— prompted the developer to reply, noting that worse scenes haven’t been met with similar reactions in other media. The controversy may have contributed to instigating Hotline Miami 2’s Australian ban.
There are times when the distinction between deliberate clickbait exaggeration and legitimate—if strongly political—output might be questionable. With some articles, it’s very difficult to argue good faith on the side of the author: having an opinion on Hitman: Absolution’s trailer is certainly legitimate, but when Brendan Keogh’s “Quit pretending there isn’t a videogame rape culture” article states that this video upset him to the point it made him lose sleep it’s difficult to take him seriously, especially when he uses the word “rape” 46 times, states that 99% of game protagonists are male, and makes dubious claims that the Rodriguez-esque trailer is rape symbolism. Some might see Patricia Hernandez’s infamous Gears of War article (quoted by Keogh) as an opinionated reflection by a rape survivor on the use of language in online interactions, other may see it as making a mountain out of a molehill while making unverifiable claims. What is certain is that—as lamented by her Editor-in-chief in multiple occasions— Hernandez is frequently accused of writing about gender-issues clickbait, with many parody articles existing. The deciding factor there, though, might be her involvement in the Temkin scandal.
Reading the Columbia account of the mistakes and misjudgments in my reporting was a brutal and humbling experience. I want to offer my deepest apologies: to Rolling Stone’s readers, to my Rolling Stone editors and colleagues, to the U.V.A. community, and to any victims of sexual assault who may feel fearful as a result of my article.
In 2014, one woman on Facebook accused Max Temkin, co-creator of the popular board game Cards Against Humanity, of having sexually assaulted her while in college—causing a boycott of Temkin’s work on social media.
Temkin replied stating the accusations were fake, going on to explain he had briefly dated the woman, broken up with her on bad terms and has never seen her since. He said he never pressured her into doing anything she was uncomfortable with, and never had sex with her. The woman’s reply didn’t deny any of his statements, or contain much actual information — mostly celebrating the importance of speaking up for survivors of sexual assault.
Despite the admitted lack of any evidence, Temkin was basically treated as guilty by a lot of media, with most of the many articles about him quoting a Medium post saying Temkin should have apologized “instead of issuing a denial”. Arthur Chu on the Daily Beast stated he’d never play Cards Against Humanity again, even if “unequivocal proof” showed Temkin’s innocence. Rab Florence—of DoritosGate fame—called the woman’s accusation evidence that was not denied by Temkin’s statements, said being falsely accused of rape is as unlikely as “dying in a plane crash” and accused Temkin of “perpetrating some ridiculous rape culture myths”.
The most aggressive attacks on Temkin, however, came from the Gawker network, with articles on Jezebel, that accused Temkin of trying to gaslight his accuser, and Valleywag, where Sam Biddle expressed satisfaction for the “accused rapist” Temkin’s exclusion from XOXOfest. The most famous attack piece on Temkin is probably the Kotaku take, where Patricia Hernandez wrote that Temkin spent too much time defending himself, and not enough time contemplating the idea that he might’ve messed up. To the credit of Hernandez and Kotaku, the article was amended after receiving heavy backlash, and Stephen Totilo admitted it was one of the worst misfires in his career as Kotaku Editor-in-Chief.
There is no evidence for this story. I will never have a chance to defend myself. The structure of the modern internet is such that these things never reach resolution and never go away. This is just baseless gossip that will now haunt me for the rest of my life.
Lack of effort
It’s no secret that reviewers frequently try to get their impressions out quickly. This can lead to a reviewer bashing a football manager game because he’s not aware the genre exists, or being called out by an online game’s developers because logs show he played the game he lambasted for less than two hours. At least, though, in these cases the review was completed, whereas Justin McElroy ended up producing a non-review of sleeper hit Nier, which he ragequit and called "hazardous to his sanity" because he missed an early-game quest marker and thus spent an hour failing at a minigame because he was in the wrong spot.
Embarassing errors certainly don't affect just reviews. VG247’s Brenna Hillier, in 2015, wrote a preview of video game Uncharted 4, scheduled for a 2016 release, describing it as “repetitive” for an “Uncharted veteran” such as herself, without noticing she was actually playing the game’s 2009 predecessor Uncharted 2. While VG247 did issue an apology, site owner Patrick Garratt acted very belligerent to people discussing the mistake.
Mistakes certainly can be forgiven, but they might be underlied by bad research or even, debatably, contempt for one’s own profession— such as Colin Campbell’s infamous gone-on-a-tangent Rock Band 4 preview, where he stated he deliberately didn’t even play the game at a press event, didn’t “give a stuff about” it and didn’t even like rock music, even stating “all games are stupid”. The preview generated criticism from multiple sources, and even mockery, prompting Campbell to state he had been misunderstood.
Another embarrassing moment was in 2012, when an edited image portraying three fake upcoming Playstation Vita titles was mistaken for a legitimate leak, and was picked first by Eurogamer, then by Joystiq, Gamespot and IGN. These outlets soon edited their articles acknowledging the hoax, but Kotaku’s Jason Schreier initially refused to admit he had been fooled. Schreier dismissed evidence presented to him on Neogaf as insufficient, and then found himself in the center of a multi-forum argument, with many people calling his professionalism into question. He eventually apologized and amended his article, but not before accusing users of various forums of insulting him and lying, dismissing their arguments as “lol game journalism” insults and banning users from Kotaku.
The scandal train
Scandal manufacturing and sloppyness in reporting combine in creating what can be perceiveid as media blitzes—where a journalist’s manufactured scandal gets repeated by other outlets who are either failing to properly fact-check or eager to exploit the controversy for clicks, forming an echo box that gives legitimacy to the sensationalist news.
It’s easy to find examples, such as the infamous “Gamers are dead“ media blitz of August 2014, whose absurdly tight timing led critics to suspect even collusion, or the October 2014 media circus when iOS shovelware developer Brianna Wu made suspicious claims to have left her home following threats.
In July 2015, author Rosalind Wiseman published an article titled “Everything you know about boys and video games is wrong” on Time, quoting a survey she created with voice actress Ashly Burch for the GDC conference in March 2015. The survey, she claimed, showed that teens wanted more girls playing games, more female characters in games, and mostly agreed that females in games were too often treated as sex objects. The survey was discussed of a lot of articles, with such categorical headlines as “The games industry is wrong about kids, gaming and gender” or “Even teenage boys are sick of sexist video games”—but soon numerous flaws with it were pointed out—the survey had no peer review, contained very loaded questions and was taken exclusively over social media with no way to check if the sample truly consisted of teens (who couldn’t take the survey without adult consent anyway). After the criticism, Wiseman backpedaled, saying the survey’s only goal had been to start a discussion, and it had no claim of academic legitimacy—although her original GDC presentation seemed to imply it did.
Another good example of this combination of scandalmongering and lack of research can be found in the manufactured scandal surrounding a relationship conversation in Fire Emblem: Fates. A completely inaccurate translation of this scene was circulated by a Tumblr user, and parroted by such outlets as International Business times, Destructoid or The Mary Sue, which all claimed that the character Soleil was a lesbian who was getting drugged to undergo “gay conversion” therapy. These outlets were not deterred by facts such as the supposingly lesbian character only having male romantic supports, as opposed to the two actually bisexual characters in the game, or the fact that the correct translation clearly shows that the scene was played for laughs and mostly involved Soleil being uneasy around girls—a trait found in several anime or videogame characters, including the previous Fire Emblem title, where a character faces Soleil’s same issues, with his relationships mostly dealing with his problem, including one attempting to solve this with magic. Despite multiple outlets calling out this as manufactured outrage, the scene was eventually censored, to much delight from journalists.
In October 2012, Kotaku published an over 6000 word article by freelancer Andrew McMillen. The article is entirely composed of statements by anonymous sources stated to be former Silicon Knights employees, that explain X-Men Destiny’s problems by painting an extremely negative depiction of Silicon Knights and their founder and CEO Denis Dyack. Dyack is accused of being an absentee, incompetent and tyrannical director, whose previous successes were largely due to former partner Nintendo’s supervision; of considering employees valueless and replaceable and causing them to leave en masse; and of refusing to respond to the requests of X-Men Destiny publisher Activision, keeping them in the dark about the game’s development. The article’s central accusation is that Dyack deliberately lied to Activision in order to squeeze more money out of them than originally asked — lying about development deadlines, progress and budgets, shifting resources to an Eternal Darkness 2 demo to X-Men Destiny’ detriment, not taking the game’s development seriously until Activision forced him to.
At no point does the article contain anything except unverifiable claims made by anonymous sources, with no independent research or factual data to back or test any of its allegations — the only exception being the reduction of Silicon Knights’ staff from 120 to 45 employees. Dyack refused McMillen’s requests for comments before the article came out, on the assumption that no one would have taken it seriously and that his reply would’ve given McMillen his only verifiable source, but replied after seven months, to react to the damage the article had done to his reputation and the attempt to launch an Eternal Darkness successor with his new company.
Dyack showed an email by McMillen that revealed Wired had refused to accept his already near-finished article over nine months before Kotaku published it, due to it containing "no real facts, documentation etc. to back" any of its many "serious accusations" besides "the word of anonymous ex-employees", and that McMillen had asked his sources for hard evidence without receiving any. According to Dyack, by McMillen’s emails several other outlets had refused his article beside Wired, even warning Dyack to "be careful" because McMillen was "out to get" him.
Dyack went on to refute the article, admitting he had made mistakes but saying that Kotaku’s allegations were false. According to him Silicon Knights had a great relationship with Nintendo, as well as with its employees. He stated that Activision had full access at all times to both manpower allocations and X-Men Destiny builds, and that Silicon Knights spent two million dollars on X-Men Destiny more than they received from Activision. He returned to the subject again in 2015, stating that Marvel’s purchase by Disney is what caused X-Men Destiny’s woes and Silicon Knights’ layoffs, with the introduction of Activision competitor Disney creating a situation that, he stated, couldn’t be solved despite the best efforts of the companies involved.
Kotaku’s Editor-in-Chief Stephen Totilo wrote a response to both of Dyack’s statements, denying that the original article had accused Dyack of embezzlement and saying that the fact Dyack also replied to questions from the forums in his video discussing the Kotaku article was not honest. Totilo acknowledged the problem with anonymous sources, but firmly denied Kotaku’s article suffered these issues, defending his and McMillen’s diligence and his choice "to publish a one-sided story" rather than "nothing at all".
The discipline of verification is what distinguishes journalism from other forms of communication. But information is very difficult to verify if we don’t know where it came from.
Anonymous sources put the public at a disadvantage. Pertinent information needed to judge the veracity or reliability of information is unavailable.
If an anonymous source says something negative, derogatory or just plain false about someone, that person has little or no recourse other than to offer an opposing view. And how do we, the citizens, then know who is telling the truth?
Journalists should use information without attributing it to a named source only if these conditions are met:
- The material and the story are significant, and the source is vital to the story.
- You absolutely cannot persuade the source to speak "on the record.“
- You can corroborate the source’s information, preferably with at least two other sources.
- The material does not involve a personal attack on someone else.
- You can explain in your story why the source sought anonymity (if circumstances, particularly privacy considerations, permit).
While game journalists manufacturing controversies seem to be multiplying in the last few years, to the point that some say writing female characters in videogames is nearly impossible, it seems also that backlash against them is getting stronger. With the raise of social media, Youtubers and consumer reviews, game journalism might see its role progressively shrink, with manufacturing ‘scandals’ arguably accelerating the process.
Despite his personal misadventures with it, Brad Wardell has been extremely moderate in his stance on game journalism.
He has criticized individual writers—such as Ben Kuchera, whose double standards brought him to advocate for censorship of a game journalism sex scandal with the motivation of “harassment”, after a pivotal role in spreading slander on Wardell—or events, such as the anti-consumer “Gamers are dead” articles, but he seems to still hope that there’s salvation for an industry tainted by “poor choices made by a few”, believing that “The average gaming journalist has immense integrity” and that most of them would “quit before taking a bribe or writing something intentionally biased”.
Stories such as Wardell’s and Temkin’s should serve as a reminder of the importance of journalistic integrity—the most efficient answer to the continuously escalating criticism of the gaming press. As Wardell says himself, “The media should acknowledge that there’s a problem and that their customers are getting fed up with it”.