[This was written for a blog called "whythegamingmediasucks," which I worked on for about three days.]
The lads over at GoNintendo have made a post about Gametrailers's review of Sonic Colors. Gametrailers gave the game a 6.5, well below the current average of reviews from other outlets (finally, a good Sonic game!).
This is interesting for a few reasons. First, GoNintendo speculates that Gametrailers based its review on an unfinished version of the game. If that's the case, Gametrailers should be ashamed of themselves -- but so should Sega. Publishers should push back release dates and ship reviewers gold copies if they want reviews to coincide with releases. At the same time, there's really no excuse for outlets to review games that aren't actually the games we're going to see on the store shelves.
But there's something even more distressing about this post: the tendency for fans to flak outlets who buck a trend. You wonder why we have a 7-10 scale in games journalism? It's because fans literally boycott sites and publications whenever they don't like a review. And if they really don't like a review, they go a bit further -- just look at the death threats Tom Chick faced when he scored Deus Ex 3/10.
In their book Manufacturing Consent, Edward Herman and Noam Chomsky lay out a "propaganda model" by which "money and power are able to filter out the news fit to print, marginalize dissent, and allow the government and dominant private interests to get their messages across to the public." They identify five filters, most of which can be adapted to explain the wretched state of games journalism. Particularly important in this case is what Herman and Chomsky refer to as "flak," of which they write
"Flak" refers to negative response to a media statement or program. It may take the form of letters, telegrams, phone calls, petitions, lawsuits, speeches and bills before Congress, and other modes of complaint, threat, and punitive action. ... If flak is produced on a large scale, or by individuals or groups with substantial resources, it can be both uncomfortable and costly to the media. ... If certain types of fact, position, or program are thought likely to elicit flak, this prospect can be a deterrent.
Fanboys don't have the same stake in silencing differing viewpoints in the media as capitalists do, but the principle is the same. What do you think? Can you think of more examples of fans flakking reviewers?