The E3 Xbox givaway

On one side politicians fiddle their expenses and ex-royals cash in on their relatives. On the other newspapers and TV channels back the party Murdoch has done a deal with, and in-between times their competitions milk us for our hard-earned money.

We increasingly live in an age of consumer cynicism that drags down both those in a position of power and those whose role it is to report on them. Worse still, this public mistrust is well placed – actively fuelled by real-life greed and a tail-chasing media.

The ivory towers of the games industry and the games media are not too distant from this phenomenon.

I have worked in and around games journalism for the best part of seven years and the trend of increasing mistrust among gamers over that period has been unmistakable.

Comments like How much did they pay you for that?” pepper the forums, while accusations of reviewer bias are hurled in every direction.

This is nothing new – nor is it unhealthy. Scepticism towards large publishers will always be rife within an audience that cares about their wares.

In the early days gamers could do little but frown at their magazines – and it’s no coincidence that the trend of global mistrust has intensified with the rise of the internet and of social media.

Those who were once observers now have a voice, and it doesn’t take many of those voices to make an unholy racket.

I’m not here to rake over the coals of old controversies and perceived conspiracies though. Yes, the bad blood of the specialist consumer does tend to coagulate around certain stories – Driv3r, Kane & Lynch, the Infinity Ward fallout et al.

There’s little doubt that hit-hungry feeding frenzies over controversies leave a mark: they outrage what Activision parlance posits as ‘a very vocal minority’. Yet, while history has shown that sales are rarely affected and companies usually retrieve their halo over time, the fires of a more global and subtle mistrust are also stoked.

What I want to underline is the fact that both publishers and journalists are performing in front of an open window. Through social media, blogs and podcasts – every avenue of the modern games media – they can see the friendships between journalists and PRs, they can see the freebies and they can see the travel perks.

In this climate of cynicism, what message does that send?

It might work in the Microsoft PR plan, but what does it say to the everyman gamer when the high spot of an E3 conference is when their representative is gifted a new Xbox 360? What does it say when jubilant journalists tweet from a $6m party held by Activision? The curtain has dropped, and although the effects may not appear in the form of vitriolic forum posts we are doing nothing to allay either fear or misconception.

Of course, I’m part of the problem. If my past hadn’t been in games journalism then at this moment my games shelf would be fewer crowded, my passport would have fewer stamps, I’d be topless and I’d be thinner.

I’m not saying we should change the system – this is how the entertainment media has always worked – but we should be mindful that ‘vocal minorities’ will always get heard.

Games journalists and publishers may see themselves as whiter than white, but we now live in an age in which they must consistently demonstrate that fact as well.

Will Porter is a game consultant and scriptwriter. He previously edited PC Zone and still contributes to websites and magazines.

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