With every new week comes a shit-storm of controversy. In the past we’ve had Tomb Raider rape, Agent 47 making the act of killing women ‘sexy’, and even motor-boating. Last week was no different. We saw BBC comedian and Eurogamer feature writer, Rab Florence, discussing the shady underbelly of the world of videogame Public Relations. The one big difference however, is that despite the story being a week old, it’s still being talked about today.
Are people questioning how the PR world works? Are we seeing a resurgence of the 90’s style of PR, whereby editors are sent on all-expense holidays? Should we journalists be pictured alongside obvious product placements? Foolishly, none of these questions are being answered or even looked at. Instead, the internet has decided to focus on one journalist and seemingly blame her for everything that’s wrong with the industry.
The first problem in this mess is that Rab Florence is not a journalist. That might sound somewhat vindictive, but it’s not. Florence even admits this in the original piece. There’s absolutely nothing wrong with being a high-end blogger. Hell, I make my living from being a high-end blogger. The problem herein lies that if you put a blogger on a mainstream journalism site, they are then seen by the masses as a journalist, and are journalists not supposed to report based on fact?
Eurogamer, IGN, Gamespot, they are all mainstream factual websites. So if they say something it must be accurate, you could presume. Florence may not see himself as a journalist, but the masses do, therefore his words carry enormous weight.
In the latter of the original, unedited article, Florence goes on to single out MCV’s Lauren Wainwright and calls into question her behaviour regarding the forthcoming Tomb Raider title:
“And instantly I am suspicious. I am suspicious of this journalist’s apparent love for Tomb Raider. I am asking myself whether she’s in the pocket of the Tomb Raider PR team. I’m sure she isn’t, but the doubt is there.”
This section, that has since been removed, is what turned this article from a simple story about how evil the PR world is, into an internet-wide hate campaign.
Following the publication of the original article, Penny Arcade stated [also confirmed by Eurogamer] that Wainwright contacted Eurogamer’s Operations Director Tom Bramwell, who cites “she intended to pursue the matter with her lawyers and made it clear she would not drop it until it was resolved to her satisfaction”.
The first question we’ll look at is:
Should Wainwright have threatened legal action?
The general consensus of the Internet is that legal action is akin to murdering babies. So at the risk of going against what’s popular, or what’s the easiest to back, she took exactly the right course of action.
On the Internet, anyone can say anything about whoever they want. Unless you’re in the UK, of course. Here in the UK, if you slander someone without clear and concise proof, you can get sued. In the world of games journalism, slander is our cancer. Without trust – trust that we will remain unbiased – people won’t read what we write. It’s that simple.
What is the worth of a writer’s voice if there’s no one around to hear it?
Removing trust damages a writer’s public image to no end. Stating that you think someone is being ‘paid off’ to promote a product does exactly this, and once the seed of doubt is sown, there’s no getting away from it – Wainwright loves Tomb Raider, I wonder if she’s biased in everything else she does?
I don’t believe that Florence set out with the goal of attempting to taint another writer’s career, but that’s what he’s done with his subtle accusations of corruption.
Florence employed the South Park tactic to help his point while leaving himself wiggle room should he need to get out of it if anyone takes offence.
During an episode of South Park, Cartman becomes the school’s morning announcer. Later in the episode he writes a book. In said book he writes about Stan’s love interest Wendy. He says “Wendy is a big fat whore who’s fucked the entire South Park football team,” That’s a pretty bold a serious accusation to throw around, correct? He then ends that sentence with “Or has she?”
“Wendy is a big fat whore who’s fucked the entire South Park football team. Or has she?”
Ending with “Or has she?” absolves Cartman of any responsibility. It’s a question, not a statement. Should anyone get offended, he can play dumb and say “It’s a question”. It doesn’t matter that he’s just called someone a whore and flung wild accusations around, it’s a question, so it’s okay.
What would happen if Cartman was hired by Eurogamer, a journalism site that reports factual news? People would read it and draw the conclusion that Wendy is a whore, because the brand of Eurogamer is a trustworthy one, so they can’t be wrong…
“And instantly I am suspicious. I am suspicious of this journalist’s apparent love for Tomb Raider. I am asking myself whether she’s in the pocket of the Tomb Raider PR team.”
Wendy is a big fat whore who’s fucked the entire South Park football team.
“I’m sure she isn’t, but the doubt is there.”
Or has she?
Can you see the similarities? Florence flings these wild accusations based on a single tweet where she confessed her love of all things Lara, a few images, and a Twitter header, and then insinuates she’s biased, before carefully saying (and removing the blame from himself) “I’m sure she isn’t, but the doubt is there.”
If you’re going to call another writer bent, call them bent. Don’t publically ponder their bent-ness where it can be read by millions who will take your word as gospel. Then don’t insult our intelligence by using the Or has she? get out of jail clause. In 99% of the world Or has she? may stop you from getting sued, but in the UK, if you’re going to damage someone’s career, Or has she? won’t keep you safe.
The next question, that goes hand-in-hand with the fist is:
Is Lauren getting paid off by Tomb Raider’s PR Team?
Nein. Aucun. Dim. There’s no other way of saying it, other than ‘no’. Anyone who knew the name Lauren Wainwright for longer than a few weeks will know that she is a massive Tomb Raider fan. If you follow her blog, or Twitter, then you’ll know that for the past year she’s been counting down to the release of Tomb Raider.
It’s not just Tomb Raider though. You see, Wainwright isn’t just a journalist, oh no. She’s actually a gamer. Shocking, right? Someone who writes about games, is secretly into games? That’s like a Burger King employee eating burgers. It just doesn’t happen. How is it possible for someone to like the subject matter they write about? If Wainwright is to remain impartial, then she must uniformly be apathetic to all news, and events, and all future releases.
I know it’s hard to get your head around, but we nasty writers are just gamers who talk about games in a written form. Yes, we occasionally use fancy-shmancy words, but at our core, we just like playing games, so much in fact that we managed to turn our addiction into a job.
If you accept that we are just gamers with a dictionary, then are we not allowed to get excited about forthcoming releases? Don’t get me wrong, if a journo is over-selling a product, I’ll be the first to call them out on it. The practice of pay for coverage is a vile one and we as an industry have moved away from it. But all Wainwright did was have a Tomb Raider header, a few images, and talked about it with excitement and conviction. She is a gamer after all and, like many of us, has been into Tomb Raider ever since Lara first descended into that pit to fight that T-Rex.
Now, because of the accusations, Wainwright may have to actively consider becoming biased. If she gives Tomb Raider a glowing review, because it turns out to be great, she’ll be called corrupt – that the article’s outcome was already signed off by Square Enix. Or she could fake the review if the game’s great, and make sure it comes out saying it’s awful, to prove how she hasn’t been paid off – thus settling the ‘is she dishonest’ argument.
Journalists shouldn’t have to think like this, ever.
All of this stupidity comes from Florence’s original accusations. Words are like a meat cleaver. In the right hands, they’ll cut a juicy steak. In the wrong hands, they’ll cut you to ribbons and get you sent to prison.
Let’s roll on question three, shall we?
What’s the deal with all the free stuff you lot get?
On average, three games come out a week. Three games a week, times fifty-two weeks in a year, equals over a bazillion pounds a year! It doesn’t, I made up that sum, but my point is that buying every single game that comes out to review them is costly, and believe it or not, a journalist’s pay is rubbish. If we were to pay for the games we needed (and those we don’t), we’d be broke. That’s why we need the PR folk. We need to get our games prior to launch, for free, so that we can buy ourselves luxuries like food, gas and electric, central heating, rent, and council tax.
Some of us are so posh, that we use what little money we earn on extravagances like food for our better halves, or even our kids! Just the other day, I bought my eldest a new school shirt. I know it was a conceited thing to do; spending money on one of my kids instead of buying a game for full price just so I can appear unbiased to a select few, but hey, I couldn’t resist.
If journos don’t get games from PR staff, games don’t get reviewed. No articles. No coverage. Nothing.
But don’t you get sent a load of other free stuff? That could leave you biased?
True story: Nintendo sent me a 3DS. At the time, the package retailed for £170. They later sent me a copy of New Super Mario Bros. 2. Did I return their generosity? Did I fall in line and praise another unimaginative Mario title? Nope. I ripped the game to pieces. Why did I do this with the Wii U launch on the horizon? Because no amount of expensive freebies will change my stance when it comes to a review. I’m not reviewing Nintendo the company, or Nintendo the friendly PR people. I’m reviewing a singular product. Anything outside of the game doesn’t factor in.
The same can be said for Wainwright. Again, if you’ve followed her for longer than a week, you’ll know everything she writes, matches up to her Twitter, her website, and her Facebook. She’s never done a sudden 180 and praised something that’s shit. Everything is consistent. But of course, the internet doesn’t like looking at the bigger picture, and looking at what’s in front of them. They prefer to find a tiny hole, stomp it until is a gaping crater, then cling to any kind of negativity, blindly I might add, without any sense of objectivity.
Wainwright’s evil! Quick! Let’s get her!
Onto our final question:
But, but, she worked for Squeenix! How can she do both?
She worked as a consultant. She works for MCV as a journalist. MCV is tightly run ship. Do you think she declared that she worked for Square Enix in her job interview? Probably. With how big MCV is, do you think it’s possible they’ve already looked into whether there could have been a conflict of interest? Sites like these vet them to high-heaven. Imagine how the process is for the mainstream press. I trust MCV and Intent Media and had corruption ever been an issue, she wouldn’t be working there.
But she said she worked on a game and never did reviews then did a review! ZOMG!!!111one
After being called every word from whore to c*** she fibbed, and that’s open for interpretation. Maybe it was to avoid even more unfounded drama, perhaps. Let’s be real though, guys ‘n’ gals. Journos are human. Some may sit on a pedestal, but let me tell you, we’re human, and we fuck up, a lot! It is indeed possible to work for a publisher and remain impartial. Lots of journalists work both, but for some reason, they aren’t being called into question. The reason being, they’re established, everyone knows their name so they can do no wrong. Whereas Wainwright is still relatively new, and a much easier target to attack.
The crying shame in all of this is that a writer’s reputation is at stake and without our reputation, we’re forced to go work at the local Walmart. The worst is that the PR people are sitting round their PR tables smiling facetiously as the focus shifts from them onto one of our own.
Some of those in the PR world are a joy to work with. Some are repeatedly above-board and have no interest in using us as a tool to further their own careers. And then there’s other PR’s who go out of their way to ignore you – and if you do get a response, you’re treated like a gone-off, bottom of the barrel. And then there are those who employ the underhanded tactics. The ones we need to keep an eye out for, because it’s those PR people who can damage our reputation.
Let me end with a question and a thought. Who’s benefited out of this? Florence left his job at Eurogamer and Wainwright has been subjected to mistrust and the dark side of the internet. On the bright side, Doritos are everywhere thanks to Florence’s article, and so is the name Square Enix thanks to those clever little news-hounds. Bad press is good press when it comes to PR. For the rest of us though, bad press is just that … bad press.