On subjectivity and red herrings

Originally posted via twitlong, 11 Sept., 2014


I found and read this article today. It was a good article; as I read it, I could not help but think back to two and a half years ago during the controversy surrounding Mass Effect 3’s endings when I found myself championing the same cause, which was for my part in a nutshell:

“No qualitative analysis can be, or ever will be, truly objective. Perception is subjective: it is colored by the personal, lived experiences of the individual audience member. Critical analysis is subjective: it is based upon perception, and filtered through an individual’s own values and beliefs. Qualitative argument based upon that analysis is subjective: it is made through an individual’s own priorities and capacity to communicate”.

This was in response to people who then said Mass Effect 3 was “objectively bad” (itself a subjective term), and there were quite a few. Which is all well and good, except practically no one here and now is discussing game reviews save in the context of managerial or industry pressure (such as that faced by Jeff Gerstmann and Ben Kuchera), payola allegations (such as those made by Rab Florence), and undisclosed potential (or actual) conflicts of interest influencing the review beyond a simple qualitative analysis of the game itself.

The majority of us involved understand the difference between opinion and fact, objective and subjective, and where game review lies.

In regards to the second half of the article, there is a term for what is being described. That term is “op-ed”, or more colloquially “editorial content”. Reporting news must always, first and foremost, strive for objectivity. Journalists may find audiences are quite comfortable with editorial content, so long as “the wall” between news and editorial (and advertising, see Geoff Keighley) content remains erect and strong, by clearly and unambiguously distinguishing the type of content and segregating the two. Of course, the previous concerns — managerial and industry pressure, (alleged) payola and bribery, and conflicts of interest — influencing editorial content remains at the forefront as well.

There are other discussions to be had — equal time and whether something akin to the Fairness Doctrine is appropriate in games journalism in regards to emergent or controversial issues, editorial and managerial bias in hiring and content selection, feedback moderation on the basis of viewpoint rather than conveyance — but those are for another time. Here, I just hope to illustrate misconceptions and what journalists must address in order to move forward as a community.