On Tuesday, the videogame audience got its first look at the voice cast trailer for Mass Effect 3, and it was revealed to the world that Jessica Chobot, who is employed by IGN and G4 most notably as a video segment host, will be appearing as a character in the game.
I have to disclose up front that I write for G4 pretty regularly, so if I could fly back in time in Doctor Who's TARDIS and eliminate this condition from the universe I'd step over my own mother to do so. I love meta conversations but this one has so many angles to it and they're all frustrating, mostly because you need to know what our various roles are in videogame journalism, and stuff like this muddies the waters.
If our job is to keep developers and publishers honest by reporting the facts as we see them, and writing editorials to address the problems we bear witness to, your job is to keep us honest by calling out our bullshit when you see it. The members of our audience who are fair and equitable about doing so serve an honestly valuable purpose, but how we can expect that relationship to work when no one knows who is wearing which hats in the videogame journalism industry?
Chobot previewed Mass Effect 3 for G4 in a segment focused on Kinect functionality on January 18th. There was no disclaimer whatsoever that Chobot was in the game she was previewing. That's a breach of ethics for a traditional journalist, and that preview segment could be fairly qualified as journalism. By comparison, when GameInformer's Dan Ryckert appeared in L.A. Noire, as only a MotionScanned face in a crowd at a crime scene, mind you, he was no longer allowed to cover the game in any serious capacity. The entire affair was completely transparent, totally up front and therefore within the best practices of journalistic ethics.
I reached out to G4 for comment. I wanted to know when they were informed that Jessica Chobot had been cast in Mass Effect 3. I received this statement:
"Jessica Chobot, who is a popular gaming correspondent for multiple outlets including G4, reports on industry news and information as a correspondent for the network, a role that does not include game reviews. As you know, in order to present viewers with the best possible coverage, G4 works closely with videogame companies on a daily basis to get the latest news and previews on upcoming titles."
I followed up by asking whether G4 knew, prior to the taping of Chobot's preview of Mass Effect 3, that she had been cast in the game. We did not receive a reply by the time this column went to print.
If we categorize Chobot as a journalist, had she disclosed her involvement in Mass Effect 3 to her editors the moment the deal was made, that could have been disclosed in any and all coverage she was involved in regarding the game. In such a case there might not be any foul to be called. If Chobot failed to disclose her involvement in the game to G4 out of a desire to protect a marketing plan for Mass Effect 3, in other words to not break the news of her involvement in the game prior to the release of the voice cast trailer on Tuesday, that's a legitimate cause for concern.
What if Chobot is just a video segment host and properly categorized as an entertainer, however? There's an argument to be made that no potential for an ethical breech even existed in that case. She'd be understood as like an anchorperson on your local news or a talk show host. My problem with this situation is that Chobot could be either a videogame journalist or an entertainer depending on when you ask her what she's doing, and when members of the game journalism establishment sit in rotating chairs it's really difficult to enforce ethics.