I’ve noticed a worrying trend in the industry recently, usually it emerges more from the fan side of things but occasionally somebody with more weight adds to the flames. This trend is a hyper-critical attitude to game reviews. Please don’t misunderstand me, I completely understand the need for critique – It’s how an industry develops. What I don’t appreciate quite so much though is the current attitude that a review is always fundamentally flawed.
The problem has shown itself in a couple of ways recently, each has its own point to make but is nevertheless a pointless practice that does nothing more than insult the reviewer, the process and the industry.
I want to start by drawing attention back to the débâcle that surrounded the world exclusive Batman: Arkham City review. Dan Staines, a reviewer for Official Playstation Magazine Australia had the privilege of publishing the first review for the game, for his troubles he was rewarded with a plethora of accusations of corruption. Scans of the review managed to surface on the internet prior to release, as they often do in this industry, which incited an uproar of unwarranted aggression. Usually an issue like this just will just burn itself out but this one really had some push behind it. Rather than staying silent Staines felt fit to issue his own rebuttal, I strongly advise you read it.
In his article Staines makes an incredibly impassioned and well written case against the unnecessary criticism of reviewers, the best part of which makes a statement that I think everyone can agree with:
[quote]“So fuck you guys. Fuck you for your constant sneering derision, for your endless unfunny “journalist in quotation marks” jokes, for your automatic assumptions of corruption, for all the times you sent someone an email full of vile personal insults because they gave some game you like a bad score, and for all the other toxic, squalid, and puerile bullshit that defines your contribution to videogame culture.”[/quote]
It could be argued that he was a little harsh, but I feel he was right on the money. Every accusation levied against him stemmed from absolutely nothing. He was accused of being bribed to give an inflated score often with his accusers citing that “their is no way it’s a 10/10”. The idea of a reviewer being paid to inflate a score is asinine, especially when it comes with absolutely no evidence to back up the claim. The worst part however is when people made comments that his score was wrong. How could they possibly have had an informed opinion on the game? By the time the accusations were flying only a handful of people had played the game, I highly doubt that the thousands of angry commenters were among them. The anger was unfounded, redundant and as Staines put it, Puerile.
This, by any stretch of the imagination, isn’t the only case of this kind of practice but it’s certainly one of the worst offenders. Almost every review these days is subject to criticism based on its score. Either every reviewer is wrong or a large and vocal percentage of those who read them share a mass delusion that reviewers are Satan, sent to the internet to flame their favourite games.
I’ll leave the subject of score critique for now and move on to something else, another issue that immensely irritates me. The review process is frequently under attack these days, people act as if a reviewer plays the bare minimum in an effort to rush out a review or somehow deceive us into buying a game. It’s obviously a contentious issue that deserves debate, but again their is an attitude surrounding it that presumes fault on the part of the reviewer. A recent article published on VelocityGames called into question the idea of playing a game until it’s breaking point. In fairness it was a balanced article that set out to make a point, but I still take issue with the premise.
The argument essentially states that reviewers should play games until the ‘breaking point’, the point at which a game becomes unplayable or starts to break. The article itself framed it in the sense of Skyrim and it’s memory leak issues on the PS3. A surprisingly small amount of reviews for the game pointed out this issue, this raised questions about whether reviewers ignored it or, possibly worse, didn’t play enough to experience the problem. I find the former the much more plausible, but even that seems highly unlikely. If a reviewer experienced the glitch which is affecting so many users it would make absolute sense to comment on it in the review. So are reviewers simply not playing enough? Possibly but doubtful. To review a game you need to play the larger portion of it, all if possible. Clearly with a game like Skyrim ‘all’ isn’t a possibility, so likely the process involved playing most if not all of the main story-line whilst also experiencing the rest of the rich world that the game offers.
So why didn’t the issue get pointed out? Who knows. It’s entirely plausible that it’s just an issue that wasn’t noticed or experienced. Not every glitch affects every gamer. The internet would have you believe Skyrim is currently awash with game ending bugs and broken quests, personally the worst thing I’ve run into is one floating mammoth. I’ve put easily 70+ hours into the game since it’s release and I’ve still yet to experience any issues. For clarity I’ll state that I’m playing on the 360 not the PS3 so memory leaks aren’t an issue, but even taking that into account I never experienced the texture loading issues that other 360 users reported. Bugs by their nature are unpredicted and unpredictable issues, they’ll only affect a certain proportion of players. As such it’s entirely unreasonable to expect every reviewers to experience that one particular issue that’s bothering you.
I’m not trying to make the case that reviewers are infallible, they’re human and so naturally they’ll make mistakes. What I’m trying to get across is that people shouldn’t automatically assume that reviewers are wrong, biased or corrupt. Often people will criticize a review based entirely on its score without bothering to read the body of text that is intended as the actual review. A score is not a review, it’s a subjective value attached to the article simply for the sake of doing so. Agree or disagree with it all you want that’s not the part you should be focusing on.
Instead of flaming a review for its score why not read the text, pay attention to what the author actually has to say. The text is where you’ll find the nuanced arguments that discuss what the game did or didn’t do so well. You might find the validation you’re seeking to justify you’re purchase of the game, you might not. What’s important is that you’ll be reading a balanced and subjective discussion of the game, and yes I did mean to put subjective.
If you can honestly write a 100% objective review then well done, you’re officially a robot. The people who write reviews are only human. A reviewer will start playing a game with prior knowledge of the game, personal preference on mechanics and personal taste on style. It’s impossible to play a game from a ‘blank slate’ point of view. Clearly they don’t cite “because I didn’t like it” as a reason for disliking something in a game, criticisms always come from the most objective view possible. But even the most objective reviewers still have their own subjective take on the game.
I hope you don’t take this as a personal attack on every commenter who’s ever disagreed with a review, that would be wrong. What I set out to do when writing this was make you realise the way in which reviews and their authors are being treated lately. It’s as if people have unanimously decided that reviews are to be treated with great suspicion instead of as a source of valuable information. Instead of seeing a strong score and thinking “It must be a great game” people now seem to think “Clearly they were paid to say that”. You should comment on a review, you should discuss whether you agree or disagree, but do it from an informed standpoint. Read the full article, take what the author said and really think about it and then make a comment. Any reviewer would relish the opportunity to have an informed discussion on there work. What they won’t appreciate is flaming based on a score you don’t like. As Dan Staines put it, Stop being jerks, jerks.