If you have a friend about whom you now and then think, “Ya know, I bet that person reviews video games,” there is one fool-proof way to be sure. When your friend gets home from Vegas (as games journalists, we spend 300 of each year’s 365 sleepless nights in Vegas), go through their luggage and find their laptop. When you have their laptop in your hands, open it up and turn it over so that the keyboard is facing the floor. Is a steady rain of nose candy raining onto the mink carpet at your feet?
If you answered “Yes,” there is no doubt that your pal writes for a gaming website. A keyboard nearly clogged with “reviewer’s dust,” as it’s known in the biz, is the way game reviewers identify other game reviewers in cafes, airport bars, and casinos. Furthermore, if you had to rummage past several bricks of the finest snowflake just to find the laptop in the duffel bag, congratulations, you are friends with a world-renowned tech writer! Your friend might even have known Tom Bissell in 2008.
Tom Bissell Circa 2008: The Quintessential Reviewer
Like all game reviewers, Tom Bissell of 2008 loves playing video games and doing blow. With an insatiable appetite for playing video games alone in hotel rooms while high on cocaine, Tom Bissell of 2008 is all of us. It’s like looking in the mirror. Who can truly call himself a gaming critic until he has spent months in a Vegas hotel room, snorting coke “stepped on” with amphetamines and playing Grand Theft Auto to the exclusion of everything else in life, except meeting the increasing needs of a life-destroying addiction? Fellow games journalists are encouraged to read his 2010 article “Video Games: The Addiction” in The Guardian, which tells the story of Tom Bissell’s powder and GTA IV habits, set in Las Vegas, 2008. Now, fellow games journalists, read a random page of your diary or journal from 2008. Talk about deja vu, right? (Fact: All game reviewers, past and future, began their careers in or before 2008.) Tom Bissell circa 2008 speaks for every single one of us, without exception. (Bonus fact: Jane Lynch’s character in Role Models used to review games, too.)
Contemporary Tom Bissell has cleaned up his act, renounced the very habits that characterize games journalists. Contemporary Tom Bissell is not a games journalist. Contemporary Tom Bissell is a writer of video games (Gears of War 4, Arkham Origins). Contemporary Tom Bissell does not speak for all video game reviewers. Tom Bissell of 2008 does. I have reached out to Tom Bissell for his insights. I will update this post if and when I get a response. In the meantime, let’s talk about what just went down at Bethesda.
Bethesda Changes Its Advance Review Policy
Bethesda has cut advance review copies for game reviewers. Although it may appear to the untrained eye that the company does not value media reviews, Bethesda’s PR department has reassured gamers via a blog post that our eyes deceive us. In fact, their company “[values] media reviews” and does not “not value” media reviews. We of the gaming press are reassured and not at all made skeptical, cynical, and put off by a major gaming company’s unprecedented reversal of policy on an industry standard practice. As gamers, we feel utterly encouraged by this happy turn of events.
According to the company’s blog post, the press will receive copies one day prior to a game’s release. Gamers are discouraged from speculating. Speculating could very well lead gamers to conclude that the “one day prior” policy is, in truth, a deliberate attempt to discourage reviewers from reviewing the entirety of a game’s narrative arc and examining the game as a cohesive whole. At press time, there has been no indication that Bethesda’s decision is actually rooted in the company’s track record of emphasizing massive worlds and time-killing exploration over compelling characters, meaningful decisions, and cohesive narratives in its RPGs. Obviously, Bethesda’s new policy isn’t the slap-in-the-face that it feels like, but rather, it is a gesture of good will to two under-represented types of gamers: the unthinking purchase-maker and the status-obsessed, pre-order-addicted drone whose sole claim to greatness is the power of AAA brand recognition in the increasingly corporatized global gaming wasteland-as-landscape that is modern gaming. We commend Bethesda for its commitment to diversity.
Still, some gamers just don’t understand the generous favor that Bethesda has done for them. On the contrary, they’ve made the choice to trick themselves and their fellow gamers into seeing the company’s objectively right decision in an unflattering, deceptive, subjective light. To these idiots (let’s be frank), release-date reviews provide a public service. These mistaken clowns consider reviews of video games as akin to movie and book reviews. They are markers of a free, capitalistic society in which consumers have the privilege to make informed purchases. Bethesda needs to do something now before these uninformed whiners start to dominate the conversation.
How can Bethesda win these fools back? They can start by taking some pointers from Black Mafia Family.
Black Mafia Family: Rap Label, Drug Trafficking Ring, Inner Circle of Industry Innovators, Trend-Setters
Demetrius “Big Meech” Flenory is a name that everyone in the gaming industry knows. On the floor of E3, what’s the only name you will hear more than Nintendo, Sony, Microsoft, and Apple combined? Big Meech. Currently incarcerated at a medium-security federal prison in California, Big Meech owned and operated the Black Mafia Family (BMF) from 2000 to 2005. BMF was a one-rapper rap label that innovated across industries.
To date, BMF is the only known record company to have transformed into a cocaine trafficking operation when DEA agents had their backs turned. Luigi to Big Meech’s Mario, Terry “Southwest T” Flenory did work behind the scenes to keep the project in operation. You won’t hear his name at E3 but his business sense was as crucial to BMF’s success as Steve Wozniak’s smarts were to Apple’s under Steve Jobs. For his part, Bleu DaVinci, as the label’s sole musical act, provided a solid soundtrack to BMF’s wheelings and dealings with undeniably catchy joints like “We Still Here,” featuring E-40 and Fabolous.
Bethesda Softworks: Go Hard or Go Ethical
As Rick James’ groundbreaking research proved thirty years ago, cocaine is a hell of a drug. Entire industries rely on it every day to continue operation. As Tom Bissell’s career in and out of games journalism shows, there is only one thing as important to game reviewers as advance review copies, and that’s maintaining their crippling addictions to the white powdered narcotic. Bissell’s continuing success, as well as his sudden post-addiction departure from journalism to focus on game-making, is instructive, given the current so-called controversy over at Bethesda. Equally instructive is the business savvy of the BMF operation.
If Bethesda wants to win over critics of its new review policy, it has two options. Option 1: Bethesda gets into cocaine trafficking and establishes an illicit distribution network on a national scale for transporting kilos of white pony across state lines to insatiable reviewers. By appealing to game reviewers’ baser instincts — specifically, to those instincts related to the tragic cocaine dependency that afflicts every video game journalist without exception, Bethesda can trick unhappy reviewers into thinking the company is actually looking out for them.
The second option is more feasible. If Bethesda really wants to shut these whining reviewers up, it should reverse its reversed review policy back to the unreversed version. Doing so would be a lot less expensive and less risky, not to mention more realistic and more ethical, than converting Bethesda’s entire corporate structure into a front for moving around massive quantities of narcotics. Also, it would be a return to the long-recognized industry standard and a sign that the company actually respects the important service that game reviews provide to conscientious consumers.
In the meantime, until the matter is resolved, cranky reviewers will continue to give Bethesda’s new review policy zeroes out of ten.