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Only Speaking Professionally | Swag Swag Swag

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Earlier this week, Alex Simmons from IGN created this video, detailing the contents of the Batman: Arkham Origins press kit. It’s under two minutes long, and it’s right below. Watch it, I’ll wait.

In the video, Simmons is detailing all the fantastic stuff that the recipient of this particular press kit receives, including a cool batarang with an LED display that plays the Arkham Origins trailer, and a USB cable to retrieve the press assets contained within.

It looks like a great package. Wonderful stuff, cool adornments. Something that would be a prize for any collector. Simmons acknowledges this, telling us that the batarang would be the “ultimate little display for anyone’s cabinet”.

Trouble is this isn’t available to collectors. It’s available to members of the press. For free.

For the record, we haven’t been sent one.

Na na na na na na na na... source

Na na na na na na na na… image source

Undeniable fact – PR companies will do their best to woo members of the press. Publishers and publicists would not spend so much money sending out the assorted extra items that some members of the press receive regularly if they did not think that it would be a good investment. The trick is to determine who to trust.

I can’t help you with that.

I am not the judge, and I am not the jury. I have no authority over the actions or opinions of others. Readers should believe what they choose to, and I wholeheartedly encourage that. Whether you perceive a certain outlet or writer as biased or not is entirely your choice. The important thing is that you make that decision and that you find the outlets and reviewers you trust.

Everybody has a different standard on what constitutes compromised. Take a trip paid for by publishers to attend a writer-only preview session – trustworthy? Receive a free bag and a USB stick with assets on it – trustworthy? How about the staple of the industry: get sent free games before release to review before embargo lifts – trustworthy?

It’s an argument of degrees, I guess. Arbitrary boundaries. I can’t say that I’ve ever met a writer who has admitted to me to letting the gear they’ve received for free influence their review scores. A lot of writers (post-Doritogate, anyway) turn down the free items innocuously referred to colloquially as “swag” when possible, or throw it all in a room somewhere to collect dust. Occasionally, someone will use a free t-shirt as a makeshift rag or spare sleeping clothes in a pinch. Most writers hold their personal integrity dear – word gets around in this industry, and bad eggs get booted from the basket soon enough.

There's them pesky Doritos again...

There’s them pesky Doritos again…

But psychology isn’t so clear-cut. Whether things are used or forgotten, the act of giving is an indicator of some form of transaction of goods or services. Receiving a “gift” precludes the fulfilment of a social contract. The human brain may be sociologically conditioned to provide bias towards those who provide gifts. This is called gift economy, and it’s a fascinating theory.

But that’s all high theory that’s very simple to resolve – just ignore whether a writer is internally biased or not. It’s impossible to know the cognitive processes of another person, so why worry about trying to?

What’s more important than whether a writer is inherently trustworthy or not is the appearance of impropriety. We’re only as trustworthy as we act. That old adage that those who have nothing to hide hide nothing is true to an extent. If a writer behaves like they can be trusted, then they most likely can. If we give ourselves openings for criticism and distrust through our actions, we all suffer. Reviewing gets a bad name, outlets get damaged, developers lose an avenue for feedback, writers lose their livelihood, and, most importantly, our audience suffers from a drop in quality critique.

If writers can’t appear trustworthy, everyone suffers.

There is no a hundred per cent objective review or coverage of a game. Each writer has his or her own prejudices and preferences that impact their coverage to certain degrees. Shop around. See who’s out there. See how they write. See what genres and topics they prefer. See if their preferences align with your own.

Lachlan Williams
Former Editor in Chief of OnlySP. A guy who writes things about stuff, apparently. Recovering linguist, blue pencil surgeon, and professional bishie sparkler. In between finding the latest news, reviewing PC games, and generally being a grumpy bossyboots, he likes to watch way too much Judge Judy. He perhaps has too much spare time on his hands. Based in Sydney, Australia. Follow him on twitter @lawksland.

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