For those on the outside, it began with a Penny Arcade comic (warning, slightly strong language).

Then rumors started swirling, and were confirmed by the comic’s authors, that the comic was true — Jeff Gerstmann, editor-in-chief and 11-year veteran of the gaming site GameSpot, had been axed for panning the game Kane & Lynch, an Eidos Interactive title that was being heavily advertised on the GameSpot site at the time.

Naturally, Eidos weren’t pleased that the site they had poured thousands of dollars into was pooh-poohing their product. But what happened next sent a shockwave through gaming journalism.

C|Net, the owners of GameSpot, shattered the wall between editorialism and marketing and unceremoniously dumped Gerstmann for the “tone” of his review.

Multiple industry insiders have come forward to confirm these events, and I’ll leave the Googling to those who want more proof. Valleywag offers an account of the debacle from another, supposed GameSpot editor (note: strong language); and it certainly has the ring of truth about it.

So what can gamers do about this, if they value integrity in gaming journalism? First, obviously, you can boycott Kane & Lynch. That shouldn’t be hard, as the game is seriously flawed. But on top of that, you can boycott those responsible for the mess — C|Net and all the sites they own:

gamespot.com
gamefaqs.com
metacritic.com
gamerankings.com
cnet.com
news.com

I realize this may seem like a tempest in a teapot to those who don’t pay much attention to gaming. But there’s a larger issue at play here — specifically, Do journalists answer to their readers or to their advertisers? In most every other industry — movies, for example — this question has been satisfactorily answered. (Think a movie reviewer would be let go for giving Fantastic Four a less-than-glowing assessment?) It needs to be answered definitively here too.

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December 3, 2007