Tobold's Blog
Friday, September 05, 2014
Absolute power corrupts absolutely

In 1887 John Emerich Edward Dalberg Acton wrote "Power tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely.", making a link between power and corruption. In the past weeks all game journalists as a group have been accused of absolute corruption. So I couldn't help but ask myself the question whether they actually hold the absolute power that would be needed for that.

In my opinion, being a journalist in 2014 sucks. If you work for a regular newspaper, you get your news from a news agency, and then just put in some minor editorial effort in to fit those news onto your page. Read the same story in several newspapers and you'll see how much these stories are the same, and how little input the respective journalists had. Game journalism is even worse. A lot of the "stories" are actually press releases or "media kits", and the job of the journalist again is just to fit those to the pages of his magazine.

As a result, if you buy a games print magazine or browse a typical games website, there is far more reporting about games that haven't yet been released than actual reviews where somebody sat down, played a game, and reports his honest opinion. The whole "game journalism" machine is mainly occupied in creating hype in advance of the release of games, so as to increase the sales of those games. And again, because everybody gets the same press release and media kit, if you read the preview of game X in two different magazines, you will see the same phrases repeated, and see the same screenshots. Not to mention that those screenshots are often staged and do not necessarily correspond to anything you'll be able to see on your screen once you buy the game. Me, personally, I have long ago stopped to consider game previews as a useful form of information. I sometimes get sent the same media kits, and just ignore them together with the articles that have been written elsewhere based on those media kits. The publisher thinking that his next game will be the best game ever is just not useful information.

But with journalism, and especially game journalism, being reduced to presenting the material that has been handed to you, I would not use the term "corrupt" to describe game journalism. I feel kind of sorry for people who with some enthusiasm and idealism went for a career as "journalist", with some vague ideas based on what journalism was in a bygone age. And now they find themselves in a job as glorified layout setter for game press releases. I don't consider them as "corrupt", because they don't have any power. No gamer in his right mind makes a game purchase decision based on the shiny bullshit previews in a games print magazine or website. Even for the reviews people rather look at Metacritic than believing any single game journalism source.

People simply don't get their news from newspapers any more. And they don't get their information about games from games journalists anymore either. Why bother reading a long preview of a game with no useful content, or a review which even without influence from the game industry would be subjective, if you can watch the game played on Twitch or YouTube and get a much better impression of whether it is something you would like? Why believe a "game journalist" if you can read the opinions of thousands of other players on so many blogs, game forums, and sites like Metacritic or even Amazon? Game journalism can't be corrupt, because for corruption you need power, and game journalism today doesn't have any. Players have long ago eliminated the middle man and just talk to each other to get information about games. Game journalists have very little influence.

Power tends to corrupt, and little power corrupts little.

Absolute corruption was never alleged.

If they have such little power, why do publishers give them hundreds of free Nexus Tablets?
You can't just switch up a maxim and expect define it as truth. Cause drives effect not the other way around.
Increasing an individuals power without corresponding checks and limits will tend to increase corruption but that does not imply that increased corruption requires individuals to have access to greater powers. The corrupt petty official trope is an example. In that situation the individual is corrupt precisely because they feel they do not have enough power.

Journalists are the gatekeepers to an audience. They can choose what to present and how to spin it. As such they control what the public sees so they do have some significant power.
Good points dobablo.

The power is with the consumer and the journalists gain a modicum of power by being able to manipulate the consumers power.

The corruption varies depending on whether you are talking about indie or AAA titles.

As I already stated, the publishers of AAA titles clearly believe that journalists still influence purchasing choices given that they hand them expensive gifts or use embargoes to grant exclusives (clicks) in return for positive spin.

Journalists can't choose what to present (they need the traffic generated by articles on big titles) but they can control spin.

In the case of indie devs you are right that it comes down to what they present as much as the spin.

The market is saturated and developers desperately need coverage. This grants the journalists power. Power to potentially earn sexual or financial favours or promote friends and relatives titles.

Indeed many indie devs claim to have been threatened into silence else their work would no longer be covered.
I have no idea what power newspapers and print journalism have in your country, Tobold, but n the UK they are still a vital and powerful force. Their power to shape popular opinion may not be absolute, as it was in the 1980s an 1990s (when The Sun was so certain of its own power that the headline the day after the 1992 general election result was "It's the Sun wot won it") but politicians remain in thrall to to the opinions and aims of newspaper editors and owners.

On the other side of the moral coin journalists all over the world put their lives on the line every day to tell truth to power. Here's a running tally

It's ridiculous to compare or conflate so-called "games journalism" with the actual thing. Writers for games "magazines", whether print or online, simply aren't in the same business. At best they align with travel, film and music reviewers, although I think it would be very difficult to come up with a single Games reviewer of comparable status to Paul Morley or Greil Marcus , let alone Graham Greene or Pauline Kael. These are honorable professions in their own right, with a great tradition and culture, but they are definitely not "journalism".

Mostly, writing for gaming magazines is a purely technical job. An appropriate comparison would be with advertizing copywriters or commercial artists.

We have a reasonable expectation that people undertaking these roles should show professional competence and work within the law where corruption and bribery are concerned, but that's as far as it goes.
My major concern is the quality of the writing.

I read this blog (and others like it) because the posts and subsequent debate are of higher quality and reflect a more diverse range of opinions than you will ever find in the mainstream gaming press.

I haven't been following this gamergate thing that I read about in the last post, but I did cringe at the generalisations made in the link:

Are we, the readers of this blog, also part of gaming culture ("The petri dish of people...")?
Absolute power corrupts absolutely
Game journalism can't be corrupt, because for corruption you need power

This is a basic logical fallacy, called the Fallacy of the Inverse.

In fact, "Power corrupts" does not imply "corruption requires power".

I do not totally agree about replacing Pro Game reviews by comment on steam or video watching.

What I expect from a game review :
- description of the game
- Judgement of the game
- Judgment on parts of the game (eg : short term please VS long term pleasure)

By watching video, you only have information about short term action, and you do not know if it feels good.

Customer review often only give Judgment on the game as a whole, not on its parts - for exemple you can love the tactical part of Xcom and hate the strategic part. And they can also be tainted by out-of-game emotion : I hate F2P thus this game suck, their DRM is crappy, this is not the same game as the 10 years old ancestor, etc...

Blogger reviews are one of the best source of review : you know the type of gamer they are, and thus their review have more values for me than Pro one. But they are often less exhaustive and descriptive that Professional one.
On the other hand, there's the old saying "academic politics are vicious, because there's so little at stake"...
Interesting point Bhagpuss.

Question to Tobold: do you think you have a less skeptical and more positive view of the press than a British person would given the nature of our press and of course the recent scandals?
First of all, the power of the UK press has been much diminished in the past years since the News of the World phone hacking scandal.

Second, you can't take a few names of iconic journalists and claim that they are representative of the profession. Small exercise: Go to Google New, take one random story, for example this one about pot brownies. At the time where I checked that, there were 71 links here, to 71 different publications. And they were all largely identical. THIS is what modern journalism looks like, not Graham Greene, or Woodward and Bernstein.

Game journalism is comparable to that: The journalist gets handed a pre-made text and only does minor modifications to it for whatever his magazine or website is.

In fact, "Power corrupts" does not imply "corruption requires power".

Wrong. While I agree that A->B does not mean B->A, it also does not EXCLUDE B->A. And in this case you need some sort of power in able to be corrupt. Corruption is acting in an official capacity for personal gain. If you don't hold any power, how do you want to wield that power for personal gain?
Can you reword that last sentence Tobold, I can't make much sense of it?

I think you might be underestimating the power or influence some of these gaming sites can wield. I can almost guarantee that whenever an article on RPS so much as mentions an indie game in a positive manner that it will lead to an uptick in sales of that game. And that is probably true for any website that gamers frequent in large numbers, on a consistent basis.

To see an example of this kind of affect at work just look at what happened to Minecraft when Penny Arcade ran a strip about it. And they aren't even a gaming news site. But when they started talking about it the servers for processing purchase transactions melted down. I was part of that, a friend mentioned the game because he heard about it on Penny Arcade. I tried out the outdated web version they had up and decided I wanted a copy of the latest build, and was stymied because the servers were crushed.
Power tends to corrupt, and little power corrupts little.

This is flat out not true. Have you ever interacted with a third world bureaucracy?

In fact, it's possible to argue that corruption is more prevalent the less power someone has, because their price is lower and thus more people can pay it.
It is not so much that power corrupts but that power attracts the corruptible
"In fact, "Power corrupts" does not imply "corruption requires power".

Wrong. While I agree that A->B does not mean B->A, it also does not EXCLUDE B->A."

Sorry, Tobold, you're the one who is in the wrong here; none of Dacheng's arguments assume that B->A is excluded; putting it in all caps does not constitute a valid argument on your part.
To clarify: I don't think it's possible from reading Dacheng's comment to know whether he agrees with your larger point or not; he's making a very limited point about one statement only.

I agree with your larger point, and also agree with Dacheng that one could easily read your first section as a fallacy. Your response to him of : "Corruption is acting in an official capacity for personal gain. If you don't hold any power, how do you want to wield that power for personal gain?", if inserted into your post in place of everything in the first paragraph following the quote, would make it much more readable. I think that's all he was trying to say.
I pointed out that

"Power corrupts" does not imply "corruption requires power".

to which, Tobold, you replied

Wrong. While I agree that A->B does not mean B->A, it also does not EXCLUDE B->A."

As A is the proposition "Power currupts" and B is the proposition "Corruption requires power", what you are saying here is that I am wrong because while you agree that "power corrupts implies corruption requires power" does not mean "corruption requires power implies power corrupts", it also does not EXCLUDE "corruption requires power implies power corrupts".

I hope it is clear that that is not logical in any sense.

What I think (hope) you mean is that while A does not imply B it also does not exclude B.

Nobody argued that it did, but you also did not offer any alternative evidence that proposition B is true. Are you taking it as an axiom?

Nobody argued that it did

I disagree. If you reply to a post of mine where I say that corruption requires power with saying that it is based on a logical fallacy, you imply that you think I am wrong. When in fact the only thing you proved was that the saying about the link between power and corruption is not on its own sufficient to argue for the reverse relation.

But as I said before, that was never my ONLY argument. I believe that corruption necessitates power, because corruption implies the corruptor paying for *something* from the person being corrupted. If the person being corrupted has absolutely no power, he doesn't have any market value either.
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