The Zen of Video Games – Right and Wrong


It seems such a simple principle – do the right thing – that sometimes it feels like one would have to be either an idiot or evil to do the wrong thing. And yet, I’ve done the wrong thing numerous times. Sometimes, I was confused. Sometimes, I was just thinking of myself and not others. And a few times, it was because everyone else was doing it, and I was also expected to do the same. None of these are excuses, I still did the wrong thing, but I’ve admitted it and tried to make up for it where I could.

My point is that I have, in the past, been swayed into doing things I’ve believed to be wrong – and now I have to wonder if it could happen to me again.

For those who don’t know, Robert Florence, a British game journalist (though he calls himself a “writer who writes about games” instead) published a very smart, stirring piece on Eurogamer, which raised a very disturbing picture of corruption in games journalism. And he named names. One of those names complained, and Eurogamer took the offending paragraphs out of the article. Robert Florence has since stepped down.

On the one hand, I can understand why he went so far as to name names – his article spotlights some pretty questionable practices in the industry, and without the names, he doesn’t have any real evidence to back it up. On the other hand, he had to know this article was going to cause trouble of some kind. There’s no way he was getting out of this without some flak.

And I originally thought that Eurogamer was behaving cowardly for scrubbing the piece, but U.K. libel laws are different than the ones here in the States, and from what I’ve been reading, it is conceivable that the offended journalist could’ve sued, despite the fact that his sources were tweets from her Twitter account, which were already available for public consumption. I’m no lawyer, but I think here in America, there would’ve been no legal leg for her to stand on.

But she’s a game journalist herself, so I see no reason why she couldn’t just write up a rebuttal argument. One well-thought-out piece from her and the whole incident might have passed unnoticed by the gaming public at large, but that didn’t happen. The company she works for attempted to censor it, and instead, the news has exploded all over the internet, and now she runs the very real risk of being held up as an example of corruption in games journalism – proving Mr. Florence to be correct all along.

You may have noticed that I haven’t used her name myself. That’s because I don’t believe that she’s the villain here. Before Mr. Florence’s article, she was merely doing what many other games journalists were doing – the only reason she’s in the spotlight is because either she or the company she works for attempted to censor the article, and the internet reacted the way the internet usually does with censorship, the censored part has been posted everywhere.

It’s entirely possible that her enthusiasm for the game is genuine and unbiased. But if she was biased by free PS3’s and other PR giveaways, I can’t condemn her. I originally wanted to, and it certainly seems to be the popular opinion at the moment, but on reflection, I know it would be possible for me to be swayed from my principles.

In high school, I was a huge nerd. Those of you with eyes and the ability to reason will have already figured that out. But what I don’t advertise is that I was also rigidly straight – by which I mean no alcohol, no cigarettes, and most definitely no drugs. I was rather rabidly anti-drugs, to the point where I instantly tattled on anyone I found doing them.

Then I went to college as a theatre major, and I wanted to have my classmates’ friendship and respect, but I also knew a good number of them frequently smoked marijuana. So my principles shifted a bit. I stopped lecturing people, but I would always leave the room, and resolutely refused to partake. Over the next three years, my principles slowly shifted some more, to the point where I still wouldn’t try anything, but I no longer got up and left the room the instant the bong came out.

Finally, at some party early in my senior year, my best college friend asked me if I wanted to smoke weed with him – no matter how many times I said no, he always asked if I wanted to join him – and as per usual, I resisted, to which he responded, “You sure?” And all of a sudden, I wasn’t sure. I thought, I’m in college, and I’m a senior, if I was ever going to try something new, when would be a better time than now? Aren’t we expected to experiment in college? Isn’t that a normal part of the college experience? So I replied, “You know what? On second thought, I think I will smoke with you.” His answer was a smile that was like the sun coming up.

I tried marijuana twice that year, but it didn’t seem to have any effect on me aside from hunger and a bad smell. I also tried hash once, and that definitely had an effect. But that was the extent of it. And after college, my principles shifted back to not doing drugs and not wanting to be around them, but I’m still tolerant of people who do them – as long as they don’t do them in my house.

And I can easily see something similar happening to games journalists – you’ve just gone pro, maybe you’re finally making a living in a field you love, and you want to get along with everybody, and that includes the PR people who work with your employer. Maybe the first couple of times, you turn down gifts and trips and parties because they feel too much like bribes. But you notice that doesn’t seem to stop too many other journalists.

It could be subtle, or maybe she has a “what the hell” moment like I did, but for whatever reason, she starts accepting these gifts and swag and party invites. She’s partaking in something she previously believed was wrong, because people she respects are also doing it, or because she’s expected to do these things because it’s a normal part of the industry.

So, as I’ve said, I can’t bring myself to condemn the lady in question. Even though attempting to censor Mr. Florence’s work was an ill-advised decision, clearly, that I can at least understand. I think I’ve said it before in my Zen of Video Games series, and I’ll definitely say it again – everybody has made decisions they wish they could take back.

But the system that fosters this sort of thing, that allows PR to attempt to influence journalists in this fashion, it is that system that is the real culprit here, and PR practices like these will hopefully come under some serious scrutiny in the coming days.

As a fresh-faced, wide-eyed, just-escaped-from-the-vault games journalism newbie, it is my biggest wish to never find myself in her position, credibility, reputation, integrity, all in serious question. And I genuinely hope her career is not irreparably damaged by all this furor. Because I know, given the right circumstances, that I could feasibly have made the same mistakes. All I can promise is that I’ll do my utmost to guard against it.

I hope that, many years from now, I can look back on my long, legendary career in games journalism – oh, alright – my long, not-exactly-noteworthy career in games journalism, and smile with enormous pride.

Like the pride I feel now, for not having once used the “seduced by the dark side of the Force” metaphor.