Wednesday, December 05, 2007

Controversy has been swarming in the video game community since last Friday, as the news leaked out that Jeff Gerstmann had been fired by Gamespot, a video games news and review site I rely on extensively. I first heard the news from this Penny Arcade comic, and upon learning the details (Joystiq seems to be keeping this post up-to-date with the latest news on the subject), immediately lost a lot of respect for Gamespot, and deleted their bookmark, vowing not to return (though I have, to read various posts about this very scandal).

To summarize, Gerstmann gave Kane & Lynch a bad review. Said text review was reedited, the video review was removed from the site, and Gerstmann was fired shortly thereafter. Coincidentally, the Gamespot home page was inundated with ads for Kane & Lynch at the time. The rumors quickly spread that Eidos, maker of Kane & Lynch, pulled their advertising, and pressured Cnet, parent company of Gamespot, to fire Gerstmann. Whether true or not, Gamespot's reputation has taken a major blow.

I hadn't posted about this previously, since there's plenty to be read about the issue online, and I really have no way of knowing if Gamespot really succumbed to advertiser pressure to fire Gerstmann, or if he was fired for legitimate reasons. But Joystiq has now presented a comparison of the original and edited review, and as this will probably be the only objective evidence the general public will have to determine if Gerstmann's editorial freedom was compromised, it's a major discovery. Having read the article, I am now convinced that Gamespot has no journalistic integrity.

The edited review had a disclaimer: "Editor's Note: This review has been updated to include differences between the Xbox 360 and PS3 versions and a clarification on the game's multiplayer mode." So tell me, how does changing the sentence, "So whether you're doing the shooting yourself or hanging back and letting your men do the dirty work, the game is a real letdown," to instead read, "So whether you're doing the shooting yourself or hanging back and letting your men do the dirty work, the game is a real disappointment, especially when you consider how well this same sort of stuff worked in the developer's previous squad-based game, Freedom Fighters." That to me reads more like shoehorning in praise for another of the advertiser's games than clarifying anything.

Several edits involve Gerstmann's criticism of the game for its ugliness, its gratuitous profanity, using lazy cursing for shock value and to avoid crafting gripping dialog. I had much the same reaction to Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas, which makes me wonder if Gamespot's corporate overlords feared similar complaints might be raised against GTA: 4, which will no doubt spend a pretty penny on Gamespot advertising. I imagine Jack Thompson would have a field day, with this evidence that the gaming community will not tolerate dissent on the issue of violence or profanity, were he not too busy being disbarred.

I will say, I don't think Eidos pressured Gamespot directly to fire Gerstmann. They pulled their ads because they didn't want to advertise on a site that says the game is crap. That's reasonable enough. I believe Gamespot themselves made the decision to fire Gerstmann, to avoid future controversy. I don't know for a fact that's what happened. But reading the changes to the review, I can only conclude that their editor's note attached the the amended review was a lie, and thus I cannot believe another word they say.

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