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Assignment Game Journalism a Post

Assignment Game Journalism a Post

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Published by Arriën Post
Assignment for the course Rules of Play.
B.C.A. Post - 3291111
Assignment for the course Rules of Play.
B.C.A. Post - 3291111

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Published by: Arriën Post on Jun 14, 2011
Copyright:Attribution Non-commercial

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01/10/2014

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Swagtastic!
A short essay on game journalism bribery
B. C. Arriën Post3291111
“…I
f this is the only way to get news, if this is theonly reason to do what you do as a journalist, thatwould be a shame
.”
 (Nieborg, 2010a)In one of his 2010 articles on arstechnica.com game editor Ben Kuchera describes a couple ofcases in which game companies have sent either weird or expensive, or both, things to personswho write about games in magazines and newspapers and on websites and blogs. Among thefree stuff are brass knuckles, huge swords and even a 5000 dollar trip to experience
weightlessness offered to one of gameblog Kotaku‟s writers, Michael Fahey.
Kuchera starts outby explaining that nowadays
“companies are constantly getting creative when they send things
along with their games, hoping to wring another post out of news-starved blogs, or to get theattention of the writer, or sometimes just to straight-up bribe the reviewer
” (Ku
chera 2010).Although somewhat extreme cases are being brought to the foreground, the distribution ofpromotional material
 –
otherwise known as swag or schwag
 –
is a common practice within game
 journalism, and “whether or not this is bad for gaming depends on what the outlets do with thegoods, and if the loot flavors their coverage” (Ibid).
 In this short essay I try to focus more on the notion of influence on writing through bribes, suchas paid trips and swag, on top of the dependence of information provision by the industry. It isan important matter because it is a common phenomenon within the practices of game journalism, critically seen as a way of exerting an even greater influence on the game journalist,who is already dependent on information which is mainly provided by game companiesthemselves. Nowadays many game journalists are being offered trips and stuff, although theydo not all like it.
 
Dependence on information
In the light of the relationship between game industrials, gamers and game journalists, the lattergroup has been identified as both mediators (Carlson 2009) and as the gatekeepers Sihvonen
in a triad which “links
them to audiences and advertisers who together have a mutuallybeneficial relationship
” (Nieborg & Sihvonen 2009)
. What the two terms used to describe therole of the game journalist have in common, is the fact that the journalist is often an intermediarytying the industrials to the gamers and, on top of that, has a great role in this. Game journalists,communicate information which they receive from the industry, to the gamer through articles,news, previews, reviews, etc.Negative writing, however, can affect the sales numbers of game industrials and companies inthis sector know this very well. Therefore, negative writing is something game developers andpublishers try to avoid. And because the information database that is used to write aboutgames is often provided by the industry, industrials provide information to journalists whopromise media coverage and provide positive writings on games to the gamers. Negativewritings can lead to a restriction of access to information in which case the journalist willpractically unable to get the same information as his/her competitors gain with the help of thepublisher. Furthermore, companies can also cut back the advertisement in magazines and onwebsites, which journalists are very dependent of to make a living of (Nieborg & Sihvonen 2009)On top of this control of information exerted by the game industry, trips are organized and freegames and swag are distributed to further influence game journalists. In the domain of game journalism swag
 –
together with press trips, debug consoles and free games
 –
is usually paid forby the game industry (Nieborg & Sihvonen 2009, Nieborg 2010b). Game writers, journalist andcritics receive free trips to game studios and promotional stuff, often accompanied by a demandfor media coverage, sometimes with a request to be worked out by a preferred journalist(Nieborg & Sihvonen 2009). Invitations to grand game events such as the E3 in Los Angeles arealso being paid for by the industry, making sure the writers have enough comfort during theirstay by letting them reside in pretty villas with swimming pools and sufficient cold beverages (formore examples see Nieborg 2010b)
1
. Agreements are being made as game industrials pay forthe stuff and want publicity in return
 –
which can positively influence the selling numbers ofgames
 –
and which can be generated by media coverage, through the work of journalists andwriters.
Caught in the middle
Gamers, on the other side, want to buy the best games. They want to know why a game is agood game and if the game is worth buying. This, obviously, requires game journalists with bothknowledge of games and gamers. Furthermore, a game journalist needs to be honest andunbiased about the matter one is reviewing. Gamers want to know what is going on and how itis going on. As argued by Nieborg and Sihvonen, game journalists have to produce game
1
Available in Dutch.
 
capital, a conce
pt used by game scholar Mia Consalvo which can be seen as a “
fluid andalways changing currency held by those who have gained knowledge and information aboutgames and game culture and are able to voice their opinions or relate their experiences to
others”
(Nieborg & Sihvonen 2009), and is the commodity which game journalists communicate,and sell, to the gamer. The industrial actors, however, distribute promotional material to giveextra flavor to a game and pay for trips to let journalists experience what it is like to be shootingat each other, in, for example, a paintball session (see Nieborg 2010b). This, however, mightaffect the writings of a game journalist.Thus, it seems that game journalists are caught in the middle, between the industry on one sideand the gamers on the other. Heavily dependent on the information that is provided by theindustry and also restricted by it, since the industry is able to regulate the practices of the journalist. On top of that game writers are being bribed with free, promotional stuff and tripswhich might further affect their work, maybe in a positive way for the industry, but murky anddoubtful considering the gamers. From an ethical point of view promoting can quickly turn intodirty bribing, leaving game journalists having to choose between economics and ethics.
The problem and resistance of bribing
Although the dependence of information provision clearly remains a form of influence exertion,the question whether the bribing on top of that really has that much influence is an interestingone. Do bribes directly cause positive writing? To answer this question, quantitative, empiricalresearch would clearly not be the best choice. Bribing is a social phenomenon and itseffectiveness would only be properly measured
 –
if it even can be measured
 –
when taking allvariables into account. When looking at bribing in practice, all kinds of aspect matter: the form ofthe bribe, the value of the bribe, the actors involved, the individual gain from social, political andeconomic perspectives, the mutual benefit, etc. To gain more insight in the matter, I suggestlooking at statements of journalists.The interpretations of doling out promotional material are often opposed: Some game writersthat receive swag and other forms of funding such as free trips do not care about the ethics ofthese practices. Why be bothered when someone is offering you some extra cool stuff? In theeyes of mainstream journalists, however, those writers are seen as enthusiast press which is
“positioned over time primarily as a marketing venue, with a clear hand in encouraging
consumers to buy a
nd play the games that benefit the press‟s relationship with gamepublishers” (Carlson 2009), and are often labeled as not “real” journalists.
 The problem, according to game academics David Nieborg and Tanja Sihvonen, is thatpractices such as offering trips and swag
“undermine journalistic integrity and neutrality,
arguably leading to an attitude of
do not bite the hand that feeds you
2
 
(Nieborg & Sihvonen2009), and
, as video game production scholar Rebecca Carlson puts it, “a dismi
ssal of
2
Although this statement describes consequences of these
‘bribing’
practices, Nieborg & Sihvonen do not dive intothe ethics of the matter. However, albeit not very explicit, the article hints their pessimistic stance towards thesepractices.

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