Disclosure about disclosures

Because this has come up a couple of times recently:

Sometimes on my blog, and always on Rock Paper Shotgun, I make disclosures about how well I know authors of work I’m reviewing. Doing so feels more like a nod to current expectations of games-journalism propriety than like I’m actually helping the reader much, though.

I’ve met a lot of IF authors, enough to seriously limit my coverage if I were to exclude all of them from discussion. When I started this blog over a decade ago, it was very much for the IF community. That community was small enough that most people had interacted with most other people somehow, and everyone knew that. Also most interactions took place more or less in public, in newsgroups and MUDs, so that the average community member probably had a decent awareness of which other community members got along well or badly. Making an overt statement about connections would at the time have been beyond superfluous.

Now the landscape is a bit different, but I still want to continue to cover work by a range of IF authors. That often means reviewing things by people I’ve at the very least met at a conference. My sense from the input I get is that most of my readers would prefer breadth over strictness in this area.

But then there’s the sense of futility. It’s impossible to sum up a relationship in a sentence or two. “X is a friend of mine.” What kind of friend? Do we talk daily, or once every three years? Are they a go-drinking-together type friend or a deep-talks-about-spirituality friend or a friend bonded over shared interests or a friend that I met precisely because I initially liked their work? (Not that those categories can’t overlap, necessarily.)

So a sentence or two doesn’t give nearly enough information to reveal potential biases. On the other hand, it would be wildly inappropriate to end every review with an essay containing my impressions of the author. Also, all reviews, of everything, are always subjective. There is nothing I could possibly do that would give you a filter through which you could look at my reviews and see Objectivity.

At one point I toyed with the idea of procedurally generating disclosures out of a corpus of sentence fragments. Each fragment would be true of my relationship to someone in the IF community, but probably not about the person currently reviewed. I’d put a link at the bottom of every article and you could use it to generate fresh-but-spurious disclosure statements as many times as you liked.

That was obviously a silly idea, but it was motivated by the desire to remind people that our views of each other are highly fluid and complex, that financial or sexual relationships are not the only things that influence our thinking, and that it’s possible to have strong Views on a person you’ve never met or spoken to.

So here’s the disclosure about disclosures: when I write something for Rock Paper Shotgun, I follow the practice — agreed with my editors — of mentioning the most significant interaction (if any) I’ve had with the subjects of my articles.

However, when you read something on my blog, it should be above all because you are willing to trust my judgment and you accept that reviewing is a subjective process anyway. If I do write up something here it is because I feel I have something to say regardless of individual connections. I will acknowledge financial interactions, but accounting for personal liking, respect, etc., is out of scope.

You may like to know that occasionally I’ve felt I wasn’t able to write a fair review of someone’s work thanks to our personal history, and that in those circumstances I have refrained from covering the work in question.


8 thoughts on “Disclosure about disclosures”

  1. This is a remarkable article about a subject that is seldom acknowledged (these days), much less discussed. It takes me back to the days of my youth when journalism was both a profession and a public trust.Thank you, Emily, for being who you are.

  2. Disclosure: The author is a human being with views, opinions, emotions, and experiences all contained in the same fallible human meat-brain that produced the words you are currently reading.

    Or maybe “the column you are writing was processed inside a brain that also processes experiences, emotions, and opinions.”

  3. Disclosures are so tricky.

    Lisa and I are so careful with them, even though we know there aren’t many in the escape room world who use them at all. Nevertheless, we’re never certain where the line is of healthy disclosures. Trying to maintain ethics is harder than it seems.

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