Like persistent groin ache the topic of ethics in game journalism refuses to go away (as it bloody well shouldn’t) and is still causing no small amount of discomfort (as it bloody well should). Since the Eurogamer incident back in October a lot of gaming sites have either instated their own Ethics Statements, similar to that of gaming news site Polygon, or used pre-existing rough guidelines about their code of conduct as the basis for something more formal. This has also led to more games journalists crying foul on any perceived shenanigans, as UK trade publication MCV found out today after posting a round-up of overwhelmingly positive reviews for Hitman: Absolution.
Overwhelmingly positive that is except for “grumpy” Eurogamer’s score of 7/10 that MCV’s Ben Parfitt described as “the odd one out at the moment.” A somewhat curious statement and in blind ignorance of similar-or-worse scores from Videogamer, GameSpot and particularly PC Gamer, whose own review called Hitman: Absolution “crushingly disappointing” and received a fair bit of attention for awarding the game a less-than-stellar 66/100. Attention from everyone except MCV it seems, who only included these less than stellar reviews after enough people like Rock Paper Shotgun’s John Walker called them out on it. “The truth is we hadn’t seen them” was the reason given for these omissions by MCV writer Ben Parfitt.
MCV’s review round-up currently has a rather vanilla “just-the-facts-ma’am” title of “Reviews go live for Hitman: Absolution.” Its original headline, “Critics delighted with Agent 47’s return in Hitman: Absolution”, was much more PR-friendly and more in-line with nearly all of MCV’s Hitman coverage in the months leading up to release. Amongst this coverage was a glowing two-page spread (pages 40-41) in the “Recommended” section of MCV’s November dead-tree edition written by former MCV staff writer Lauren Wainwright, one of the key figures at the heart of the Eurogamer incident last month.
And yes I meant to writer “former MCV staff writer” there because it seems MCV quietly dropped Miss Wainwright from their staff on Friday. MCV only confirmed this today during this review furore and only after some prodding on the matter by other games journalists. According to MCV “She did not pass her probation”, which to me reads like an ominous euphemism for execution out of some science fiction dystopia. “We wish her well” would be the state-approved final eulogy delivered before the firing squad took careful aim with their fusion rifles.
Regardless of my own opinions about Miss Wainwright, her work and ethics in games journalism in general, this is a shitty thing to do on MCV’s part. Whatever her prior failings may be she has been treated despicably by her previous employers, in a manner more disgusting than I have words to describe even with my over-inflated lexicon. Perhaps she genuinely didn’t pass a probationary period as staff writer. Who knows for sure except Wainwright and her former employer? In light of recent events however, well…it rather looks like MCV quietly chucked her under the metaphorical bus when it thought nobody was looking.
Meanwhile the sound and fury of all this appears to have broken the person in charge of MCV’s official twitter account, who has gone on the warpath by retweeting batshit crazy diatribes about “sucking choads” (since deleted, although evidence still remains). They’ve also taken some pains to remind us that MCV is not a consumer site. “We don’t offer purchasing advice,” they say. “We serve the trade.” Which is fair enough I guess. A 12yr old Pokemon fan doesn’t give a Squirtle’s fart about a bunch of profit margins and your average middle manager doesn’t care much about game characters have the most rippling thews. MCV is a trade publication so it writes for people in the gaming trade. I can respect that.
Yet The Financial Times also writes for people in business, and it covers catastrophes as well as triumphs. It wouldn’t be the respected business organ it is today if it only dished-up happy business news where everyone is making money and everything is great. So as a publication whose purported aim is to report accurately for the gaming industry, doesn’t MCV’s cherry-picking of positive Hitman reviews while ignoring the negative ones seem rather dishonest? At the very least it does a disservice to its audience of retail outlets and industry members, who are just as deserving of honest reportage as gaming enthusiasts.
Not-reviewing games doesn’t give you a free pass in games industry journalism’s New World Order. Write honestly, whatever your audience, or go home.