The subjectivity of objectivity

When I was approached to moderate Keiji Inafune’s panel at PAX, I had no idea I’d be sitting at ground zero of what would amount to be, basically, the announcement of the successor to Mega Man. As I mentioned in one of my USgamer pieces (see my amateur legal analysis and my Inafune interview), the video reel came as a surprise (I knew Inafune was announcing something, but not the particulars). A good surprise, definitely, but I also felt a little weird sitting at the front of the room as the plan and pitch for the game were laid out — being in the press, I really don’t have the luxury of being party to such direct promotion. I haven’t seen anyone criticizing me as a sell-out or anything (probably because I shut up once the trailer started running and the entire room forgot I was even there), but I did feel a bit self-conscious after the moderated portions came to an end.

Honestly, the entire Kickstarter thing makes the press’ role maddeningly muddy. For something like Mighty No. 9, I have no idea where I should stand. Personally, I’m really eager to see it happen; I want the game to be Mega Man minus corporate interference. If it’s “just” a spiritual take on Mega Man 11, I’ll enjoy it but be a little disappointed that it didn’t push the boundaries a little more. But I’m sure I’ll enjoy it regardless, and I’ll be watching enthusiastically as it stretches toward its console port goals and throughout its development cycle.

And, needless to say, as someone who’s been playing Mega Man games since the original was the only one you could buy in America, being on hand as the host for the announcement of its spiritual successor was an honor. It would have blown my mind back in 1988. “I’m your future self. Look, you’re going to make a lot of dumb choices in life and basically waste your potential, but: You get to moderate a presentation by the guy who did the art for his game as he announces his ‘continuation’ of this series. And a few months before that, you’ll get married. So believe in yourself! You don’t turn out to be a total failure. Also, skip Mega Man X6, it’s gonna be awful.”

On the other hand, the press is supposed to be “objective.” Which seems kind of difficult when a project that personally interests me is in the works. Especially when I’ve pledged a huge amount of money to the venture — more than I can really afford at the moment, to be honest. (The “design a challenge” pledge level was just too tempting; how could I pass up the chance to contribute a piece of game design to this venture?) But that also means that I now personally have a stake in the game. Am I even allowed to write about it for USgamer? I know I’m not the first member of the press to wrestle with the question, but it’s the first time I’ve personally had 25 years of fandom and hundreds of dollars invested in a project I’d like to write about, and it bears asking.

I’m writing this because I’m sincerely curious about everyone else’s take. Should someone like me not be able to write professionally about a game they support both financially and emotionally? Where to draw the line? It’s not like I’m getting anything from the game other than the game itself and the assorted ancillary knickknacks, so its ultimate success or failure have no real bearing on me. But still, I can’t be icily objective about the thing, either. I want to hear what you think.

My own thoughts are after the jump, in case you’d like to respond without my perspective biasing you (because, really, isn’t the entire question about unbiased perspectives?).

Personally, I find the idea of objectivity in journalism to be a complete fallacy. Human nature makes it impossible to know enough about a topic to be able to write about it effectively without also forming an opinion on it. And really, who cares, especially for a topic like video games? Who really wants to read unbiased coverage of something that ultimately is about entertainment?

Again, that holds doubly true for video games. What separates games from all other forms of entertainment media is their interactive nature: You read a book, watch a movie, listen to music, and see a play, but you play a video game. Your personal investment is, in part, what defines a video game. That idea permeates my work, and I think the most interesting writing people do about video games almost always involves themselves in some capacity — sometimes simply using video games as a hook to write about a personal experience, or doing more as I prefer to do — that is, not really writing about myself but simply using my own point of view as an entry point to a discussion of the game itself.

With that in mind, I don’t see a problem in my writing about Mighty No. 9, and in fact I think my coverage would be all the stronger as a result of my interest in the game. Where I feel I should step back is in reviewing the game, which is where some objectivity is called for. Not too much — I mean, unless you’re writing a Consumer Reports analysis, you need to approach a review as if you’re a human being — but more than I can probably bring to the table in this case.

But, again, I’d like to hear your thoughts.

44 thoughts on “The subjectivity of objectivity

  1. I think that your role as a journalist is always to report the facts; the readers can take it from there. So long as you disclose that you backed the project, you’re free to write whatever you like.

  2. I’m glad you took the time to both think and write about this. In your opinion, is Kickstarting a game really that different from factoring (or not factoring) the price you paid for a game into your analysis of it? The material difference is that your financial commitment comes at the beginning of the development process instead of the end.

    I can see where this can take another turn: what if the project is canceled due to Comcept running out of funds mid-development? Would you be able to objectively write about those events, knowing that it’s some of your money that was lost in the process? I’m assuming yes, but wondered if you had considered this – your declarations above all make the assumption that the game will be completed.

  3. I think it’s important to avoid the appearance of impropriety, and giving coverage to a game that will have you listed in the credits creates that appearance in a way that simply being a fan of a creator does not. Given that you’ve already recognized this may be an issue to others, I would suggest deferring future coverage of Mighty No. 9 (as well as decisions about what to cover) to one of the other more-than-capable members of the USG editorial crew.

  4. I’ve been involved in newspaper production since I was in high school and have worked as a journalist professionally for the last eight years. One thing I have learned quite well is that total objectivity is impossible. That doesn’t mean it shouldn’t be a goal, but to expect every reporter at every turn to be 100 percent objective is unrealistic at best.

    That said, I think someone in your position should be given leniency when it comes to objectivity. I’ve been an admirer and follower of your writing for years now, Jeremy, and that’s in large part because I know that you are highly informed, intelligent and reasonable in your analysis. I continually seek out your byline BECAUSE I want your opinions, not because I know your writing will be bereft of them. I can get gaming news from a press release, but I can’t always find smart commentary and reflection.

    Now, were you actually filling the role of reporter on things like a presidential election or the civil war in Syria (or some similarly important piece of news), of course direct commentary or biased reporting would be bad form. But for stuff like this, I think that having someone who has an opinion (but who also manages to not let that opinion overwhelm, as you do) is welcomed.

  5. I don’t see a problem with a journalist writing about a kickstarted game like Mighty No. 9, even if they’re financially invested in it. It’s really not that much different than a journalist being a really, really big fan of a given series. Say you have some weirdo who’s really into Sonic the Hedgehog. I mean, like REALLY into Sonic. He’s got all the games, all the plushies, both cartoons on DVD, and he writes Amy Rose fanfiction (18+ only.) He’s put a ton of time and money into this franchise. Ignoring the fact that he’s probably a deranged lunatic who’s likely to hurt someone, would you want him writing about a new Sonic game? Of course you would — he’s the person on staff most likely to know his stuff, and who’s most capable of writing an enthusiastic piece capable of exciting the reader and explaining to them what’s so cool about Sonic.

    And I don’t really see a whole lot of difference between that hypothetical Sonic fan and your position as someone who’s invested money into Mighty No. 9. While the form of the investment is a little different, you’re both heavily invested in a franchise you really dig. You both want the new game in the series to be great for the exact same reasons. And I don’t see why that sort of enthusiasm should bar you from covering the game as a journalist.

    Reviews are a trickier matter, I suppose, as some people want the illusion of objectivity, but frankly, as long as it’s not some inane, fanboy rant… I don’t see a problem with that, either. When I read a review, I’m looking for a recommendation; not some colorless evaluation by some dude who clearly doesn’t give a shit.

  6. I find your writing exciting to read because you seem genuinely excited about a lot of the games you write about. It’s one of the reasons I got into Etryian Odyssey.

    As long as a reporter is able to be honest about any shortcomings, provide a unique perspective to the reader, I think it’s alright to fill spots of USGamer with coverage of Inafune’s adventure.

    One thing I respect about Giant Bomb is how candid Jeff and the team are about their relationships with developers and their awareness that they can’t review certain games because of their emotional investment.

  7. Jeremy, I think, at least in your case, that your case with backing Mighty No. 9 on Kickstarter actually offers more credibility to your thoughts on the game itself. No one else I know in games coverage has a deeper understanding of Mega Man games and their legacy, so as long as you make it known that you are financially invested in the game (as you’re already doing here), readers can take it for what it’s worth. As you said, no one approaches a game for review in pursuit of objectivity, so if you’re still just offering your thoughts on the game from your perspective, I see no problem.

    My only concern is that your own brainchild will appear in some form in the game as part of your “create a challenge” pledge. Though I’m sure it will compose a small percentage of the total experience, that might be a little hard for readers to swallow.

  8. As long as you’re upfront about your status as a Kickstarter backer, I don’t think there is a problem. Also, I think it would be interesting to hear about how backers like yourself work with the team to create a challenge. Kickstarter is a major element of modern game development, and there is probably a good article waiting for you in the exploration of how backers interact with game developers, especially for rewards like the one you selected that guarantee a say, however minor, in the design process.

  9. I’m of the opinion that you should be allowed to write anything about anything, including a review of a game you are involved in as long as you follow one simple rule: be honest. Perhaps it is naive, but that’s really all there is to it as far as I’m concerned.

    I’ll be as interested to hear about this “design a challenge” experience, from your perspective, and any other thoughts you have regarding the game, as much as I will be about the documentary about the making of Mighty No. 9, since I understand the context in which both were created.

  10. I think you got it down. Precisely what you said – objectivity is impossible, and it only helps, not hurts, that you’re more than enough aware of your own involvement with the project. And yep, I too would have said it’s best if you skip the eventual review. But then, maybe not. Why not review it? It’s just a video game review. USGamer writers sometimes pay for their own games; you just happened to pay a lot more for yours. With full disclosure, I wouldn’t have a problem if you reviewed it.

    Could the same be said of every writer who donated to the Kickstarter? Maybe not. But you’re critical enough not to blindly swallow whatever it is you’re fed, and you’re reasonable enough not to hold it up to some unattainable standard based solely on nostalgic memories of the franchise. Which is kind of the way I expect most people to react to this – overly critical, or blind to the game’s possible faults. But that’s the internet for you – no shades of gray in these parts.

  11. I think you’ll be okay writing about it. Heck, I suspect most sites and magazines assign writers by their interests, which means you’re not going to usually have a RPG fanatic reviewing the latest Madden game, and vice-versa.

    Entertainment journalism is a very different beast, because while you have your hard news, you also are effectively rendering an opinion on things, and writing about things you like. It’s like the op-ed page.

    That’s not saying that you need to throw all objectivity to the wind. But I suspect your reverence for the material might actually help in the end, as you’re likely to be a bit more critical of the endeavor if it doesn’t turn out very well. Just hopefully not to the point of the fanboys and fangirls that go nuts if minor tweaks are made to their game of choice. :P

    Everything will be cool, and I have faith that you will handle things well. The fact that you’re even wrestling with the question seems to suggest to me that you’ll be plenty objective.

  12. I guess I’m in the minority, but I don’t think you should be writing about a game that you’re so invested in (both emotionally & financially). At the very least, if you are going to write about it, you should disclose that information clearly in the article.

    There’s a difference between objectivity as an abstract ideal (which can never be achieved) and objectivity as a reasonable best effort for neutral and unbiased coverage. I think if you have a stake in the subject, you can’t meet the latter standard.

  13. I’ll respond as one who’s never worked as a journalist and never wanted to. I’m a bad writer and I know absolutely jack about what it’s like to write for a living.

    But just as a reader? If I wanted objectivity, I wouldn’t read this blog or USgamer. Even a so-called ‘objective’ article often ends up being about the author’s subjective desire to be as objective as possible. Besides, it’s just video games, as you said! I find that the most interesting and informative video game articles always come from writers who recognize and embrace their own subjectivity.

    About Mighty No. 9, specifically… I know many of us are hoping that this project is to Mega Man X what Mega Man X was to Mega Man 1, rather than ‘just another Mega Man.’ No doubt, you’re one of the most knowledgable and articulate Mega Man enthusiasts. In addition, you also recognize the franchise’s spiky pit-falls better than most. That’s exactly the kind of perspective I’ll want when I read about about Mighty No. 9.

  14. OK, some interesting responses here. A lot of them seem to be, “Well, it’s OK if YOU do it,” which is nice but not really ideal — double-standards are a problem. Thanks for the feedback, everyone. I’ll give this some more thought.

  15. Consider game development as an analogy for a moment. A smart developer can take a complaint from a naive playtester and combine it with the problems the tester experienced to suss out an underlying design flaw.

    If you accept that objectivity-obsessed posters can feel when something is wrong, but might not know exactly what makes for good writing, you have to look for the underlying problem.For my two cents, the problem is that most games writing is passionate but poorly-reasoned. An opinion without a strong argument looks a lot like bias.

    You’ve built body of quality writing and that’s much more important to your credibility than how much money you’ve invested in a kickstarter. Write whatever you feel comfortable writing. Whether review, preview, or anything else, I expect a standard of thoughtful reasoning from your work.

    Though it might keep people happy if you disclosed that you were a backer in your writing.

  16. You should definitely write about it! With stuff like impressions there is never a problem with having a strong interest in a game. I hate reading impressions/previews where it’s abvious that the writer has no interest in a game what-so-ever and just lists the bullit points or a dry summary of what happens in some preview build. Don’t underestimate the reader’s ability to notice your view towards a game. I think most people would want to hear about this game from someone who is knowledgable about and interested in it, and I think because of that you can write thought-provoking articles about it. This doesn’t just apply to you specifically, but any writer with a strong interest in something.

    That said, I do your financial involvement does impact your validity when assigning a review score, so you should abstain from that, or be the ‘second opinion’ guy. I know most people here will not care about scores, and think they are biased anyway. However, if a site chooses to implement a scoring system, then it should handle that with some amount of integrity.
    While I do think you’re more than able to give a very well-considered judgment about the game, you should probably give someone else on USgamer the chance to be on the foreground with giving the definite opinion, while you supplement that with your own thoughts perhaps.

    You’ll always have channels like these blogs to say whatever you want to say about the game, and people who want to hear it. So it’s not like you will ever have to keep your thoughts to yourself!

    (I don’t write a lot of commentary in English, so excuses for any weird spelling and/or grammar)

  17. There are certainly people in the press that are enthusiastic about games that are coming down the pike, and it comes through in their text when they preview them. I wouldn’t see anything wrong with a you writing previews for a game that you’re genuinely excited for regardless of personal financial investment.

    I think the real question is the review. You’ve done this long enough that you can discern what makes a good/ bad game (at least according to your tastes), and I’d like to think that your objective enough to know if you’re legitimately disappointed in the finished product and be able to adequately reason why. But if you can honestly say that you might give a game a better/ worse score because you have a financial investment in its production, or, hell, if you still asking yourself these questions when it’s time for the game to be released, then it would probably be best to let a different writer take over covering it.

    Just my opinion

  18. After stewing on this for a bit I think one of the inherit challenges upfront is how any individual writing is defined. Are they a reporter, a journalist, or a critic and what are the inherit differences of expectations, biases, purposes of those different definitions. To me a reporter is pretty clear, try to be factual without any commentary. A critic (as I see you) is someone who writes aware and powered by their biases and options. A journalist in my mind (obviously from someone not holding a degree in the subject) awkwardly gets stuck in between the two. As a result everyone has vastly varied expectations and thus the place where problems tend to start. Maybe the solution is really to be up aware and talking about your biases depending on the specific work because while they can challenge your credibility, as many say here it can also strengthen it. But what do I know? I just know as a reader, figuring out what “role” the writer is trying to take(objective vs not objective) is challenging/frustrating when how it is meant to be interpreted doesn’t line up to how it feels. (Sorry that thought is a jumbled mess) I would much rather read something biased that is aware of where it is coming from.

    As for what to do with MN9, specifically at US Gamer, I think the foundation your site has take provides an opportunity to try something different, ala the multi-review format. When possible, provide different takes, the perspective of supporter vs the position of someone farther out.

    Finally thanks for sharing some introspective insight into the panel. As someone who was there, it is a bit weird how planned everything was. Part of it was that the pace of the panel was different from what I am used to thanks to the need for translation, but reflecting on it so much felt calculated and that was new to me. Thanks Jeremy, you are never boring to read.

  19. On the one hand, I’d say so long as you constantly point out your level of investment in the thing, you’re cleared to write about it all you want. On the other hand, I was once more or less crucified for writing a just-above-lukewarm review of a game someone else at the same site was hired to help localize. Which really just proves that trolls will dig up any excuse to call someone biased.

    I will say though it does seriously suck when you want to talk serious game design/general enjoyment about something you have creative involvement in just on the level that you are inherently signing away your credibility. This board game of mine is legitimately still love playing and will bust out any time, but of course I’M going to say that, and thus it has way less pull than anything I have to say about literally any other game.

  20. Ideally people who write about games are not only passionate about the subject they write about, but also carry expertise in the matter at hand. Any subjectivety that comes into play is balanced out by their sheer knowledge and authority. Indeed, these people are rare and typically don’t write for big gaming sites.

    You’ve been doing these ‘Anatomy of’ things for some time now and by 2015 you’ll have done a lot more. You know what makes a good game and I assume the fact you donated some amount of cash to this project doesn’t turn you in a bumbling fanboy when the game gets released.

    Actually, mention game element X is in the game because you payed for it and go into detail how it benefits / harms the final product. If anything your perspective is more interesting simply you cared enough to have actually contributed more than just money.

  21. Jeremy, you’re bringing up a very intriguing point here that has me debating what I would.

    If you had just backed the game to get a copy, I would say that it is as simple as writing a note at the top of anything that you write about briefly saying that you backed the project.

    However, the fact that you went so far to contribute $500 to create a challenge for the game goes well beyond that. In a certain, albeit limited, way you are now a designer on the game.

    Objectivity is an impossible ideal in journalism and an impossibility in reviews. Any good journalist can turn off their personal feelings when writing a story about something they like. I’ve been an auto journalist for two years, but I can still write about Subaru, even though I own one of its cars.

    No matter what your views on Nintendo are, I doubt they clouded your writing on the 2DS last week.

    However, like @Galbana said, “I do [think] your financial involvement does impact your validity when assigning a review score, so you should abstain from that, or be the ‘second opinion’ guy…, if a site chooses to implement a scoring system, then it should handle that with some amount of integrity.”

    If it were me, I would go to my editor (although, you’re a senior editor so I don’t all that works) explain that you backed the game.

    It does not seem acceptable to give a review score, but you should be able to write about the game as long as you are open about your involvement.

    It is hard to appear to be doing something improper, if you are completely open about it.

  22. I think there’s nothing wrong with backing a video game-related Kickstarter if it’s something you’re personally interested in while simultaneously covering it. That’s the same as going out and purchasing a game to me.

    However, the design-a-challenge tier definitely creates a conflict in this specific instance. I trust you enough, Jeremy, that I don’t think it would skew your opinion of the finished product, but the appearance of impropriety is almost as bad as the actuality of it.

    So basically, as long as you’re not involved in the creation of a game beyond what would be normally expected of the consumer (development tiers or perhaps simply large donations), I see no problem with backing and reviewing a Kickstarted game.

  23. Hrmm. I can see why you feel conflicted about writing professionally about it. If it continues to bother you, might you consider adding a disclaimer about your contribution toward the game in relevant articles. Only for stuff on USGamer and such though as this is your personal blog to do as you please!

  24. I’m torn because I can’t think of anyone else I would want to preview and write about this game more. I don’t think it’s technically a double-standard either. You have been writing about Mega Man games for years. Why stop now? And if anyone can write truthfully and with appropriate enthusiasm of this project being on track, it’s probably you.

    But yeah, going the Giant Bomb route and refraining from a review, or at least a review you are paid for, would be the tactful approach. I don’t think anyone would ever begrudge you writing about the game on this site or talking about it on podcasts until your heart is content. It’s just the ‘getting paid to do it’ part that could create more trouble than it’s worth.

  25. My two cents:

    People have positive feelings about “journalist” as a job category because journalists are people who challenge the powerful to help the disempowered. Based on that definition, there are almost no “games journalists” to speak of. I think I heard you say in a podcast that you thought of yourself as a “critic” not a “journalist” (maybe it was someone else?). I think that’s a better title for what people like you do.

    Once you start thinking about games criticism rather than games journalism, the question of objectivity becomes less important. Journalists need to be objective; critics shouldn’t be misleading, but they’re allowed to have personal preferences and biases. There’s no reason you can’t critique anything, whether you payed for it or not.

    On the other hand, USgamer might feel differently. There’s no rule that criticism has to be objective, but there is such a thing as site branding, and some sites might prefer for their critics to be “more objective” than others as part of their identity. That’s an issue that exists above the level of you as a writer and instead impacts you as an editor.

  26. The notion of objectivity is nice, but not really practicable where people with opinions and experiences are involved, especially when it comes to something that’s as subjectively experienced as a video game (or a movie, or a show, etc.). If you want to be truly objective, a flat description of the game’s features and whether or not they function satisfactorily on a mechanical level seems the way to go. As soon as you bring in any experiential aspect, objectivity is out the window already.

    My thinking is that what’s important is to be forthright, as you’re being here. Let people know, “Hey, this is what I think of this game, but with the proviso that I have a personal investment in it and worked on it in the following way,” and let readers draw their own conclusions. Some will draw the wrong ones, or won’t give you the benefit of the doubt, but that is true whether or not you are forthright about your own stake. Being upfront about your involvement blunts the danger of *credible* cries of editorial bias against USGamer.

    Subjective enthusiasm for and/or involvement in a thing doesn’t automatically taint your opinion of that thing, it just means that you have to be willing to acknowledge that you may have blind spots when it comes to the thing in question, and that your opinion may be colored by it in ways you can’t yourself see, and readers should keep that in mind.

    Personally, I think the media in general could do with LESS objectivity — less treating of absurd notions as if they were equal to sensible ones. I understand WHY objectivity is the goal — because who are YOU to decide if such-and-such idea is so-and-so, etc. — but I also don’t see much merit in treating (for example) some radio show kook’s repeated incorrect apocalyptic predictions with the same gravity as the specter of global warming when it comes to the possible extinction of the human race.

  27. I don’t like New Games Journalism at all, if that is still a thing. In professional pieces I prefer the writers stay as objective as possible, which may be why I’m not a huge fan of gaming journalism in general these days.

    But that’s why I read your personal website. I’m also interested to see how you feel, because I’ve been reading about that for…jeez, almost a decade now. I cited toastyfrog as a source in a paper I wrote in 2004.

  28. I think an interesting take on this situation is to write about the Mighty No. 9 as a participant/developer and Kickstarter backer. This is a new reality for video game enthusiasts, one where they can take their passion and wallet and actually be on the other side of the hobby the love.

    Having said that, a review is probably not the greatest idea… but a kind of documentation of your own thoughts and progress as the project ramps up would be kind of amazing. What is it like to be as involved as you are in a Kickstarter video game project? What kinds of frustrations? It’d almost be like a developer diary, but from a press/fan perspective. That would be cool. Please do something like that.

  29. “Waste your potential?”

    You’re the Senior Editor of a fantastic website, a voice of authority in an interesting (if problematic) industry, and contribute to a number of cool creative ventures.

    Capitalizing on Potential Achievement Unlocked.

    Nothing wrong with a dash of self-deprecation, but … waste your potential? C’mon, dude.

    This is just one stranger’s vantage, but you look like a lucky fella to me, Mr. Parish. :)

  30. I agree with your initial assessment Jeremy. I think you’re a little too close to the subject matter here to be the author of the final product’s review. I think preview coverage or features using your voice and experiences would benefit your readership however.

    What about adding your second opinion to the end of USGamer’s final review of the product? I see you guys have done that for a couple games already. Wouldn’t that alleviate the need to be as objective as possible? (Correct me if I’m wrong, but I thought the second opinions on the other USGamer reviews had no bearing on the final score).

  31. This is interesting to ponder on a project as big as Mighty No. 9. Pretty much anybody interested in playing it will have put money behind it. So the only people left to cover/review it are people who don’t care about it, likely won’t enjoy the result, and just generally shouldn’t be writing about it.


  32. Looking at kickstarter, they tell you that you are supporting a creation. It’s not really an investment. You don’t get financial return on your money. It’s not really a donation. You expect something in return for your money. They for legal reasons emphasize that it is not a purchase. When by all accounts really you are giving money expecting a game in return. And donating to a higher tier to get a reward is really no different than buying a special edition of a game with added art features access to development or betas etc. Kickstarter is a strange thing. So while by their rules you are a backer, in reality since the product is already funded, you are not an investor, you are a special edition preorder customer for all intents and purposes. If the game does well or not, your backing will have no value as a gain or a loss unlike say an investment in a stock. I say this is only an issue because of kickstarter. If you had preordered a game I certainly don’t think it would be a conflict and I don’t think it is here. Don’t let Kickstarters legalese confuse the issue.

    Now if the game was not funded and you were writing in a professional capacity about the game then I would see a conflict of interest as I would have no way to tell if your interest or reporting was biased to get people to back the kickstarter. Being as the kickstarter is funded already there is no conflict of interest for the most part. At this point your involvment is as a purchaser of the game with perks. You didn’t even receive the game for free as a review copy even. In my opinion your conscious should be clear. (And my gut instinct was to tell you if you have to ask then it is a conflict. But I really don’t think it is.) a disclosure on what challenge you helped make for the game may be in order though if write about it.

  33. It all comes down to integrity and personal taste. Writers earn trust through their work. Over time you start to see where their preferences align with yours and where they diverge. You get the impression — through podcasts, blogs, video content — if they’re somebody you want to take seriously or not.

    There are some writers I would trust to review a game they’ve backed for a large sum of money on Kickstarter and some I wouldn’t. I don’t expect or want objectivity from reviews, but I also don’t want blatant favouritism and shortsighted hype, either.

  34. So lets say the game comes out and is for whatever reason deeply disappointing or busted. Would your opinion be impacted because of your investment? Would you be more angry/sad/annoyed than you might be for a normal review?

    Crowdfunding’s rise means that these kinds of questions will come up again and again, in every facet of enthusiast press. You like a thing, so you invest time in becoming extremely well versed in that thing, and thus you are qualified to write informed pieces about that thing in the context of things like it. This also means that your highs will be higher, and your lows lower, by virtue of your investment into the category as a whole. If a fan of hard as hell action games and a fan of turn based tactics games both reviewed dark souls, their results would be vastly different, even if they aimed for objectivity, simply because of the contextual baggage they carry.

    You’re a well known fan of the genre in general and the series in particular, so you’ve built a cachet of trust in your readership that you know what you are talking about, good and bad. I think that as you are a professional, you can look at Mighty 9 with the same critical eye as you would any other platformer, simply because you know the genre conventions in and out. That you threw money at it really doesn’t change your approach, i think.

    A kickstarter isn’t an investment- you don’t get anything if the project succeeds wildly or fails miserably. It’s merely a way for you to preorder a game, with a few perks tossed in. Its not like you bought stock in inafune corp. or anything.

  35. Maybe add somebody else to your coverage who’s specifically _not_ keen on the game? Give a caveat at the start of your stuff explaining your interests in the project?

    I wouldn’t sweat it. Realistically, if the worst thing you ever do in your life is “possibly give a video game an unfair amount of attention” you’ll probably have done better than most people.

  36. 1) Objectivity is an ideal to strive for, not a goal to be achieved. Perfection is impossible, that that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t aim for it.

    2) I think that as long as you are honest about your involvement and your personal fandom to readers, and make it crystal clear, then it’s OK to write about this. Especially if it’s from just a previews or op-ed kind of angle. Just do yourself and everyone a favor and let someone else do the review when the time comes.

    3) I think you can begin to throw objectivity as a goal out the door as long as you begin making it clear that you guys aren’t doing reviews, but instead critiques. But that’s not what you or anyone else in the gaming press does.

  37. I think the best course is to simply be honest about the things which you fear might bias your opinion (which is what you’re doing here).

    I don’t think you need to preface every thing you ever write with a warning that you participated in the Kickstarter, but in the case of a review it’s probably a good idea to give that context so the reader can take in your opinion with that context in mind.

    That way the reader is free to decide for themselves whether your opinion is invalidated for them or not.

    That said, if its something that concerns you maybe you’re better to not review it, if only to maintain personal integrity.

  38. You are one of several voices that I’ve heard or read in the past, stating the difficulty of being objective concerning a subjective medium. You can deal with the granularity on technical stuff regarding a piece of hardware or software, but how the human mind in each individual perceives being inmersed in a game is quite a different beast.

    I listen to the 8-4 podcast, and that’s where I heard you were moderating the Keiji Inafune panel.

    I think the chance to be part of the development cycle in a game in any degree of intervention as well as being able to cope with the fact of being a journalist, shows one more time how video games are a media of their own, in taking shapes not expected since its conception (if it is possible to determine the exact point in time of it)

    Once again congrats. Hope to read interesting articles resulting from you intervention on this matter.

  39. Sure, it’s fine. But you do have a responsibility to disclose your stakes, personal relationships, and similar conflicts of interest. My impression of games ‘journalism’ is that this level of respect for the reader sometimes tends to be traded for PR, perhaps to a greater degree than similar types of journalism.

    ‘It’s fine when YOU do it’ is also an acceptable response. I’m sure you’ll remind readers of where you stand in whatever you write about it, and you’ve earned trust.

    Do you think journalists should be held to different standards depending on the subject matter? I don’t, but how much I actually care as a reader depends on the subject.

Comments are closed.