“Stop being jerks, jerks,” reads the headline of an op-ed blog, just up, by the author of a “world exclusive” Batman: Arkham City review in Oz’s version of Official PlayStation Magazine. In the op-ed, the writer offers a blunt response to allegations he was somehow bribed to give the game a perfect one-zero (out of 10). He’s torqued off, and he wants us to know why.
It’s not the world’s most articulate reader-slam, but it gets the job done, taking umbrage with brainless allegations like: Exclusive review? Corrupt! Positive tone? Corrupt! Favoring this thing over that one? Corrupt! Something—anything, really—that rubs you wrong? Corrupt! Had a bad day? What the heck: Corrupt! I exaggerate, but only slightly (see this bit by X-Play’s Adam Sessler, from the 5:10 mark, for an example of reader-absurdity with a wonderfully NSFW riposte).
I have no idea if Batman: Arkham City’s any good, nor at this point do I care, but the reason I mention this, when I could instead be talking about stuff like Dark Souls or Rage, is that it brings me down. It’s depressing to see it topping N4G’s story list. Depressing that the comment conversation tree’s like following a chat room tuned to a TV talk show co-hosted by Jerry Springer and Oprah. Depressing because we’re supposed to be smarter than this. Isn’t that what all the studies say?
It’s not that I’m a fan of what OPM’s done here. I hate exclusives, and anyone who knows me knows why. Forget the unprovable claims of in-the-pocket-ism for a moment, locking up reviews helps no one, least of all readers, often restricted during crucial decision-making timeframes to just the one opinion. I don’t care who or how respected the outlet is, that’s like the opposite of what the future’s supposed to look like, a throwback to information control and timed homogeneity.
But that doesn’t excuse making baseless claims about a reviewer’s scruples. Sure, low-scoring exclusives are like winning lottery tickets, but consider this: I know of several would-have-been exclusive deals soured (and ultimately pulled) when the outlet wasn’t prepared to give the game sufficient mathematical praise. You never hear about that stuff, but it happens.
The real targets you want in your crosshairs: publishers and public relations. Not writers (or at least not for these wild-eyed “payoff” claims). Publishers and PR flak, for unsettling if explainable reasons, want only happy things said of their little darlings. It’s their job to market the holy-crap out of their products.
But don’t assume that includes (successfully) bribing magazines and writers. Whatever else you want to say about the latter, i.e. whether the writing’s any good or the gameplay insights actually insightful, dropping ethics bombs on message boards or in the comment section of an article because you’re paranoid, or in a bad mood (and anonymous), or just cynical is a conversation ender. It drives the wall up further. If you want your cause (or point) dismissed, write stuff like that, and you’ll disappear down the memory hole faster than Alice.