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Sony’s Neil Druckmann Interview Shows Why We Need Journalists

This is how you get ants

In last Friday’s Aftermath newsletter, I wrote about an interview Last of Us creator Neil Druckmann gave to a Sony blog. He said a lot of dumb shit about AI and mainstream perceptions of video games that people across the internet swiftly dunked on. Except it turns out he didn’t exactly say those things, prompting Sony to now remove the interview.

That Friday night, Druckmann took to Twitter to clarify his closing remarks in the interview, in which he was quoted as saying that his upcoming game “could redefine mainstream perceptions of gaming” and saying that HBO’s The Last of Us show has “spotlighted gaming” and is helping “bridge the gap between gamers and non-gamers.” On Twitter, Druckmann wrote, “In editing my rambling answers in my recent interview with SONY, some of my words, context, and intent were unfortunately lost.” He then includes a very long, very different answer than what ended up in the final interview, which most notably doesn’t include the “redefine mainstream perceptions” line.

Game File’s Stephen Totilo posted a good highlight of the stark and copious differences, in which he pointed out that the final interview doesn’t include a line Druckmann actually said, which is “Not because games need to be movies, or they need to be TV shows, but I think it just kind of opens the eyes of a bunch of people that just weren’t aware of the kinds of experiences that exist in games.”

Some time today, based on results from the Wayback Machine, Sony removed the interview, replacing it with text explaining,

In re-reviewing our recent interview with Naughty Dog's Neil Druckmann, we have found several significant errors and inaccuracies that don't represent his perspective and values (including topics such as animation, writing, technology, AI, and future projects). We apologize to Neil for misrepresenting his words and for any negative impact this interview might have caused him and his team. In coordination with Naughty Dog and SIE, we have removed the interview.

This raises a couple questions. One is that, while Druckmann clarified his final statement in the interview, he didn’t say anything about other parts of it, including the unpopular stuff he said about AI, which Sony now seems to be disavowing as well. It’s naive to think that the final question was the only thing misrepresented on the page, but it raises suspicion about the accuracy of the entire interview. What, exactly, did Druckmann even say?

The second question is, how did this happen? That question is easier to answer: this isn’t an interview with a journalist. It appears to be part of a corporate strategy push that includes other interviews, and not meant for a broader audience. It feels like whoever put this together–there’s no name attached to the “question” part of the Q&A–had the instinct to edit things into investor-friendly language. In that light, cutting the line “Not because games need to be movies, or they need to be TV shows” makes a certain cursed sense; in this age of IP, Sony probably very much wants games to be movies and TV shows! But even with that context, it’s still misrepresenting what Druckmann said, using his words to launder a corporation’s desired message.

A journalist writing for an independent publication wouldn’t do this. While a journalist will often summarize a quote in a piece that includes their own words alongside a source’s, that’s not done in question and answer formats like Druckmann’s Sony interview, in which a reader would reasonably assume the subject’s answers to questions are their actual answers. In Q&As, a journalist will sometimes edit a quote a bit for clarity or space, but that’s always indicated with ellipses, brackets, or other punctuation. To use a few words to reinvent a quote would get a journalist in a lot of trouble, if not outright fired. (It’s unclear what’s happened to whoever conducted this interview, but given the backlash, I can’t imagine it’s something good.)

But again, this isn’t journalism; this is corporate messaging dressed up to look a little bit like journalism. And while a badly-written interview would have just been an internal crisis for people who work at Sony if it hadn’t broken orbit to a mainstream audience, we’ve been seeing this kind of thing get mistaken for games journalism for years now. We’ve all sat through press conferences that look like interviews when they’re in fact PR exercises, where interviewers ask questions they obviously know the answers to because everyone on stage works together. PlayStation and Xbox run their own blogs, as well as major publishers and storefronts like Ubisoft and Epic, where alongside the game updates and sale announcements that are clearly their purview you’ll also find guides, features, and quasi-reviews that you might expect to see on a mainstream games site. 

None of these things are journalism, and personally I don’t think they’re intentionally attempting to mislead an audience into thinking they are. If anything, a reader might mistake them for journalism because actual games sites are coming to resemble PR more and more each day, as games journalism’s complicated relationship with access combines with ownership’s obsession with traffic and SEO until practically everything looks like marketing. This erosion of actual journalism exists alongside publisher blacklists, late or withheld review codes, prioritizing streamers and influencers over journalists, sketchy funding for games sites, and softball interviews, among other ills. Combined with rampant distrust of and contempt for the media, and the unique manifestation of that in games, the Druckmann interview feels a lot more dire than just a major fuckup on a corporate blog. 

As journalism outlets close left and right, and as more journalists switch careers into PR and leave those newcomers who can even find jobs without mentors and training, we’re likely to have more and more information filtered through corporate mouthpieces with their own standards and priorities, and who don't do what they do out of a desire to tell the public true things. Journalism might have weird, confusing rules and customs and its own outdated, problematic values, but the truth remains its highest priority; you have to accurately report what a person did or said, because you believe it's important that the public knows those things. Without an independent press, stuff like this interview might be all we'll have left.

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