Yesterday, the Society of Professional Journalists, or, more accurately, its head, had to make an announcement about the “invasion” of #SPJEthicsWeek by the group known as GamerGate, and its resultant closure. It’s a well crafted piece, although to some, disappointing in its lack of firm commitment, and there are certain things I want to highlight. Specifically, I want to highlight this:
Scoring someone on ethics. Quantifying something that is even more situational than scores for computer games. I wrote about scoring computer games, and some of the many, many problems with it back on my older blog, and others have weighed in on the subject as well. If you thought games were complicated, well… Ethics is a hell of a lot more complicated than that.
Ethics isn’t just adherence to laws, because laws, themselves, can be considered unethical. There were howls from the educated unemployed as the British Supreme Court declared that capping or stopping someone’s only means of financial support (IE – Means of paying rent, getting food… You know basic human rights) was deemed “Not a human rights violation” with state benefits, and that the 2013 back to work scheme (Which had similar clout to stop benefits for not accepting unpaid labour), was in the same area. It is technically against Human Rights, as a law, because, as mentioned, with those benefits cut off, rent doesn’t get paid and food can’t be bought without outside help (That doesn’t always exist) for four weeks at minimum (Thus putting at risk Article 25 of the Universal Abbreviated Declaration of Human Rights). It’s complicated because benefit fraud exists, without a doubt, and some form of punishment has to exist. You do have to actively seek work if you’re capable of it, after all. And then it’s complicated some more, because state benefits don’t quite catch up to inflation, and, in 2013, the EU ruled the 2013 state benefits as “grossly inadequate”. And then some more with the inevitable problems in administrating a system like this.
That paragraph? Briefly summarises some of the factors involved with some ethical questions to do with reacting to one influence on your life if you’re unemployed in Britain. Just one. The “right thing to do”, in terms of ethics, is constantly changing. In journalism, ethics questions abound. Do you reveal information deemed private for the greater good? Do you mention someone’s tragic situation to raise awareness of a genuine problem, and how does that gel with minimising harm to the person whose story you’re going to shout to the world? Do you, when slapped with an unethical gagging order, print the story anyway, risking your career to say, clearly, that “something is rotten in the state of Denmark”? (Shakespeare quote, not a literal example… As far as I’m aware, anyway)
Discussion of ethics in game journalism does need to happen, that’s without doubt. Labour exploitation, sponsorship deals that really shouldn’t have taken place, companies going silent because they’re the only source for information, treatment of e-celebs (Although, to be fair, treatment of celebrities in general is a bloody ethical quagmire), the question of company sponsored showings or parties (Not restricted to just journalism)… All of these have affected games journalism, and at least some still do.
I’ve talked before about how games journalism doesn’t get the same treatment the rest does, about how it’s not “real” journalism. Hell, there’s still snobbery in some corners regarding music, film, and literary criticism, despite those fields being older than our lil’ old video games. Part of the reason I laid my welcome post as I did is because I wanted folks to know how I was dealing with things: No scores, here are the limits on what I consider “significant interest” financially… The reviews are clearly marked as reviews, same with previews (When they come), what news there will be is clearly marked as news. Everything else is effectively op-ed, and about yours truly, and what they think.
There is a very important basic skill that is taught in humanities classes (Y’know, history, english, modern theology, etc): Consider Your Source. If you know that an outlet has scores, and appears to score on a 6-10 scale when they claim a 1-10 scale, then if you read it, read it with a healthy amount of skepticism. Hell, why limit yourself to one source of information? Compare, contrast, get the whole story from multiple sources. And before you say “But that’s w-w-wooooork!” , remember: You get out what you put in. And always remember: Writers are people. Gamedevs are people. SPJ Board Members are people. We all have different perspectives, different focii, different ways of talking about things.
Discussion does need to happen. But, as has been mentioned before, by others, it just isn’t going to happen when it keeps getting disrupted.
Life isn’t simple. It isn’t based on Ethics Points, or Kindness Coins, or the KDR of a country. It’s a load of people, of lots of different viewpoints, and lots of motivations. Don’t do its variety an injustice by reducing the beautiful (and terrible) spectrum to just black and white, good and bad.