Our future holds some terrifying prospects. Two of them come to mind: What if Donald Trump becomes president? And What if Digital Homicide wins its lawsuit against Jim Sterling? The former is a more realistic, and more horrifying possible reality, but the latter can also happen and it would be terrible for game journalism if it did.
I honestly don't think Digital Homicide has a legal leg to stand on. I believe it's actually taking its final step to completely ruining whatever reputation that it had. To be honest, the only way that DH can win is if it proves that Jim Sterling's videos actually devalued the source product with its content. It's true that, without Jim Sterling's videos, the gaming world at large would have never heard of The Slaughtering Grounds. However, Sterling has covered many bad games in the past, and the videos come and go without a significant backlash. He even points out his issues with the games, possibly giving the developer some feedback on improving their product, etc. Digital Homicide had a chance to take its lumps and focused their energy on improving Slaughtering Grounds, or creating a whole new project with more care. Instead, DH took the low road and started an internet slapping fight with Jim Sterling, while giving him a new catchphrase in the process: I'm Jim Fucking Sterling, son.
The verbal and video based argument continued for a while on the internet, and it's very easy to find and follow, so I won't recount it here. Instead, I want to examine the repercussions of such a law suit. With this lawsuit, Digital Homicide is committing Digital suicide har har. Also, it can possibly open the floodgates for emotional game developers to file other lawsuits. If a negative review is determined to devalue the copyright of a property (which I really don't think will happen, but this article is mostly a thought experiment) what is stopping bigger publishers, like Ubisoft, from filing similar lawsuits? Reviewers that point out how buggy a game is, or how unfinished it seemed upon release could be in hot water if developers can hire lawyers to connect the dots between bad reviews and lost sales, using the aforementioned lawsuit as precedence. The blame can be, essentially, shifted from developers dropping the ball to reviewers writing scathing reviews.
If I follow this screwed up train of logic all the way through, I end up imagining a Orwellian society where reviews are heavily regulated and the freedom of the video game press is slowly strangled by iron fisted developers; where 'reviews' just become glorified advertisements. The video game press have been accused of being bribed to write good reviews, so not a whole lot of mental gymnastics are required for this to be a possible future for video game journalism.
This whole article depends on the slippery slope logical fallacy, I know, and it sounds a bit alarmist when I read it back to myself, but I feel it's still a conversation that needs to happen. When can criticism and satire be defined as out right abuse? Does DH actually have a foot to stand on? I personally don't think so, but this lawsuit represents a changing of definitions, a possible redefining of the industry. Jim Sterling is an abrasive internet personality that pulls no punches in his evaluations of video games. Is he always right? No, I don't think so, but video game reviewing, and reviewing media in general, is inherently subjective. Contrary to the views of some people, there is no such thing as a unbiased, objective review. He takes his opinions and filters them through the Jim Sterling personality, which cranks everything up to 11, and his viewership is pretty familiar with that. Does this constitute as abuse? Honestly, I don't think it does, and people should not be sued for their opinions. Either way, Game Journalism should have a discussion of how much a negative review can impact a company's reputation and sales. If a company releases a bad game, it deserves what it gets, I suppose, but if the opposite was true, and they released a good game, how much power do journalists really have? Maybe not much, because people are going to buy what games they want either way. However, it still needs to be considered.
Digital Homicide is most like not going to win its lawsuit, and the impeding press it going to effect it very negatively, rather than help it, but the idea of such a lawsuit will be kicking around in the back of some fan's and developer's minds for quiet some time. This is a perfect time to reevaluate game journalism's, or garm junalizm as Jim Sterling would put it, impact on the industry itself. A healthy relationship between the two outlets needs to be fostered. This industry is growing out of anyone's control, a massive beast that can never be tamed, by developers, reviewers or fans and the internet has given everyone a voice (which is mostly a good thing, the reason why I can write this blog in the first place). This lawsuit represents a negative step toward communing with the industry beast and destroying a co-dependent relationship. Should the reviewers court the beast? Or should the beast lie down for the press? In a perfect world: Neither. Developers should release games and take the criticism they get, assuming the criticism is mostly fair. We don't live in a perfect world, and instead of a relationship, I see a power struggle forming.
However, this matter may be a small problem to the world population when President Donald Trump initiates the purge. Either way, happy gaming!