Editor’s Letter is a series of ongoing articles on the state of PSLS, its future and the future of the industry as a whole.
Last night, Dan and I published our latest Daily Reaction, discussing the ethics behind reviewing a short, story-based game after playing half of it, after Penny-Arcade’s Ben Kuchera reviewed Beyond: Two Souls.
Today, I booted up Twitter and saw Kuchera telling one of his followers that, in the game, decisions didn’t matter, and major characters didn’t die/live as a result of your actions. Now, before you get worried that I’m going to spoil anything, I haven’t played the game, so I don’t know if that’s true. The problem is, neither does he. The second half of Beyond is a mystery to us both, although other games critics from other sites have said that near the end is where decisions seem to matter. But it doesn’t matter if Beyond is good or awful, it’s not about the game, it’s about the reviewing process.
This annoyed me, Kuchera was sharing his thoughts on the whole of a story-driven choice-based game, despite not seeing half of the story or seeing where his choices led him. So I said as much. The result was less than pretty.
I’ll try to be as balanced as possible here when summarizing our discussion, but I’m obviously massively one sided, so feel free to check out most of the conversation here and here (some comments are randomly missing). It began with Kuchera using the defense that the first half of the game should have been better, so I again explained how reviews and Twitter comments that take a whole story into account when the whole story hasn’t been played are harmful. His response was to say that “Basically the only people getting upset about that review have PlayStation in their bio”, continuing “The day I take fanboy complaints seriously is the day I hang up the pen. So yeah. You’ll be okay.”
Now, if you’re reading this, you’re probably a regular reader (thanks), and know that we’re far from a fanboy publication. We call out Sony when they suck, we don’t score games higher for being exclusive, and we join the rest of the web in making fun of the Vita. It’s put some people off us, and those who come expecting a Sony mouthpiece soon leave. We just happen to cover PlayStation as it’s an important part of the games industry. As a journalist myself, I also have written for other multiplatform websites, and have a documented history of calling out journalists for unethical actions.
But let’s be honest, I shouldn’t expect Kuchera to know that, he probably isn’t an avid PSLS fan. He can’t know I’m not a fanboy. What I didn’t expect, however, was for him to ‘know’ I was a fanboy. He had jumped to a quick conclusion – the whole reason the discussion was taking place.
His next defense was that “for every one complaint about that review we have a few dozen thumbs up.” Dear lord. Majority rule is a dangerous excuse, and why governments have checks and balances. The fact is, his site has fans, and he’ll always get a certain level of support no matter what. Hell, that same excuse could be used for any number of issues, from sexism to homophobia.
The problem is that he had yet to respond to the question of why he’s giving full story feedback on a game he played half of, all he had done was attack my person. Ad hominem is when an argument is made against a person, rather than focusing on a topic, and is generally seen as an informal fallacy, a terrible tactic to distract from the issue, rather than confront it.
I’ll be honest, at this stage I did become a tad ruder than I needed to, frustrated at the blatant question dodging and the personal attacks that dismissed me as a fanboy rather than a journalist. In an effort to give full disclosure, I’ll admit I said “If you genuinely believe you actually answered any questions, and defended your position in an intelligent and mature manner that assuaged any concerns over the sloppy nature of your work, then you are an egotistical, delusional and broken human being. And yes, this bit is an insult.” I could have been more civil, and ‘he started it’ is not a good defense. So I’ll hold my hands up to my fallibility there, but I nothing I said changed the fact that he wouldn’t face the question.
I tried again, going back to being polite. Next up came sarcasm as a tool to highlight the fact that he’s a better known journalist – “Yeah, one day my career will take off. I can’t wait! :-)… Sorry, I’m new to this whole thing. I’m glad your here to explain the ropes. :-P… Can you give me some more tips for how to write about games? I’d really love to some day make a real go of this as a profession ^_^” [It’s “you’re”, by the way, that’s one tip].
Finally, he repeated an ad hominem attack “Okay. I’ll note that the guy who runs a PlayStation site didn’t like my review. I give those complaints super extra weight.”, later Tweeting “Literally two days of complaints from an editor of a PlayStation site about my Beyond review. Finally pulled out the block button”, “This was another editor trying to “shame” me for a lack of ethics. From a PlayStation site. :-P” [For the record, we tweeted a couple of times yesterday very briefly, so my next tip is to understand what literally means].
Our very own Chandler Wood chimed in with “I think it was more a question of the ethics of not finishing a game and writing a “review” than the actual review itself” and “It’s not inherently about lecturing other writers. It’s about improving the industry for all involved. Success is a fickle bitch”, to which Kuchera politely replied “I’ve been doing this, full time, for almost a decade. It’s my career. When you move past the hobby stage, come talk to me.” Nice.
Kuchera also decried the use of Twitter as a discussion tool for raising discussions, saying I should have found his non-public email address and emailed that. [Tip three: This works better if you haven’t publicly attacked writers on Twitter before]. On top of this, he Tweeted “I can’t stress this enough: If you don’t like an article or review, it’s childish to demand that the author “answer for it.”” [Tip four: This works better if you don’t do this with PAR all the time].
See, a lot of people ask me why I do this. Some say it’s airing dirty laundry, a guy I met at the Eurogamer Expo called it career suicide, another bought me a beer.
But that’s not what it’s about. It’s about a journalist doing an unethical review, and then spending an hour on Twitter attacking characters and changing the subject instead of actually standing by his review and misleading Tweets. I don’t want that to be the direction the industry is heading.