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Missing the Point

Peter Skerritt's picture

Missing the Point

One of the reasons that I used to love reading video game magazines every month was because I looked forward to reading reviews of each month's new game releases. My expendable income certainly had a limit—even in my young adulthood—and I wanted to see what reviewers had to say about games that I was interested in. After all, previews served to build excitement for games, but reviews were definitive opinions. If there was a game that was criticized by a number of the reviewers that I used to read, such as Andy Eddy, Steve Harris, Dan Amrich, and so on, I would usually spend that money on something else. (Like bills.) If a game was well-liked and the reviews were usually pretty positive, I'd do everything in my power to be one of the first to buy it and entertain friends.

To me, video game reviews have been about sharing educated opinions about games—while backing those opinions up with relevant facts and observations—in order to assist readers in making informed buying decisions. That's always been my intent since I started writing reviews over 10 years ago. I wanted to be one of those sources that you could turn to when you weren't quite sure about a certain game. I've done this orally for years while working in video game retail, and I'm happy that I'm able to put words to paper to share these same opinions with you, the reader.

As time has marched on and the World Wide Web has gradually replaced magazines as a source of video game reviews, many people seem to have lost touch with the reason why video game reviews really exist. Reviews are no longer the informative tool that they once were. It's a big business now. Sites like Metacritic actually influence the direction of the industry, and it's been documented that there's a very tense relationship between reviewers and publishers. If a reviewer is overly critical of a game, especially if it's a higher profile game, it can cause unnecessary shockwaves. Reviewers have actually been fired for being honest. Publishers have been known to cut ties with publications over "bad" reviews and low scores.

That's bad enough. For me, what's worse is that there are people out there who seem to think that video game reviews exist merely to validate their purchases. If a game review score isn't high enough, the reviewer is insulted and ridiculously taken to task… even if the game hasn't yet hit retail. If a game review score is too high, the reviewer and/or publication is allegedly in the back pocket of the publisher and charges of favoritism or "moneyhatting" start flying.

To these misguided and clearly insecure people, I have the following advice:

SHUT UP. Seriously.

Reviewers don't do what they do because they want to impress you. We're not out to make you feel better about what you bought or to give you ammunition to use on some message board somewhere so that you can talk trash about your favorite games or consoles. We do not care. If our scores somehow help you win some foolish argument that nobody really wins, then that's great… but it has nothing to do with us. We do what we do for a variety of reasons; perhaps it's our paid profession, or maybe we're fortunate enough to have solid writing skills and were brought on to work voluntarily with a growing fan site. We play through these games and write thousands of words about them because we love playing games and we like to write about them. Your system wars and game biases are irrelevant to everyone but you.

Missing the Point

In fact, I don't comprehend why someone gets off on setting out of some offensive to proclaim that Halo is the best game ever and the resorts to flinging childish and offensive insults at anyone who disagrees. The same goes for consoles. Playing the Nintendo Wii does not, in fact, make one a baby or automatically soil one's "gamer cred". Microsoft did not, in fact, engineer the Xbox 360 to break on purpose so that consumers would have to quickly replace it and thus inflate sales numbers. Sony does, in fact, have games for the PlayStation 3 now—contrary to what you may believe.

It's fine to disagree with a review. Or two. Or however many you may want to disagree with. After all, as I stated earlier, reviews are opinions. There isn't a right or wrong, so there's room for debate in most instances. There are plenty of reviews that I've disagreed with, and I'm sure that if you've read my work, there may be some points of contention that you may have in what I have written. I welcome disagreement and discussion, but there are a few prerequisites:

  1. Read the review in its entirety, not just the score: Anyone can arbitrarily assign a score to a game, but if you don't read what the reviewer has written about it, you may miss something important that may explain where the score comes from. Maybe the reviewer took issue with story elements. Maybe, even though the visuals may be a bit lacking, the play controls are solid and there's a lot of replay value to be had. Maybe the reviewer expected more voice work and less reading on-screen… and in this day and age, it's a valid point of contention.
  2. Play the game first: Trying to effectively disagree with a review is virtually impossible if you haven’t played the game in question first. And no, demos do not count. In most cases—though unfortunately not all, given the proliferation of gaming fan sites out there—the reviewer has played the final code and/or retail copy of the game in question while you have not. That means that, in essence, you don't have a leg to stand on when trying to argue with a review score or text. I don't get advance copies of games right now, but many other sites do… so crying that they don't know what they're talking about or that the score is so high because they were paid off just sounds immature and baseless since you will not have hard evidence to support your claims… because you really haven't played the game yet if it's not out yet.
  3. Arguments, not insults: If you want to be taken seriously by a reviewer or publication, learn to argue the right way. Calling a reviewer fat or immaturely charging that you spent last night with his mom just makes you sound stupid… and yet that's what 95% of review comments and complaints are. WHY is the score too low or too high? WHY do you disagree with the assessment within the review that the game is too hard for most players? Cite specific examples. If you're going to take the time to interact with the review by leaving comments or sending e-mails, then you have the time to make an effective case and not come off like a troglodyte.

I understand that reviews may serve different purposes for different people, but this trend of ego-boosting and self-validation is disappointing and nonsensical. If you want to tell the world how freaking awesome that you think Modern Warfare 2 is, go for it. You can blog and submit reader reviews at multiple sites to your heart's content. Just bear in mind that not all reviewers are going to agree with you,, and that there will never be a universally correct game review. Dropping "F" bombs, calling for reviewer firings, and making other childish remarks just reflects badly on you in the end; the chances are that we'll still be reviewing games long after your tirades wane and are forgotten.

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Its such a shame that in

Its such a shame that in this day and age that you have to write an article like this to justify yourself for writing honest reviews. But I guess thats what the internet has given us, a way of anonymously abusing others and never having to face the consequence of getting a crack in the teeth.

One of the problems I have faced in the past is writing constuctive comments or legitimate questions on forums that get lost in the tirade of abusive comments, because the reviewer seems to thrive on the negative comments and is too busy arguing with the abusive idiots.

I have tried to write a few reviews myself so can fully appreciate the difficulties that reviewers go through to write down why you like or dislike a game when you just can't put your finger on why you like/dislike it.

For me, metacritc and gamerankings.com are invaluable for catalouguing review score. But instead of looking for high scores, or to justify a purchase, I actually look out the lowest scores and read the reviews. I do this because I get alot more from an overly critical review than one that does nothing but gush over a game, and if I'm still excited about a title after reading all the negative points about it, then chances are its a game I will enjoy.

I do likewise, look at the

I do likewise, look at the lowest scores and see what is 'wrong' with them. However, negative as well as positive bias exists, so just take every review you read with a pinch of salt.

You list some reasons why

You list some reasons why people hate on reviews/reviewers, but there are some much more important elements as to why someone like me finds this topic infuriating.

The problem with most reviews is that, quite simply, they aren't being done properly. There are so many various ways a "reviewer" will review a game without actually realising what the main goal is - to give an informative, unbiased and helpful guide on whether a game is good or not.

Now, the most common type of reviewer is from the IGN school of reviewers - people who constantly look past massive flaws in a game and praise it for having elements that personally appeals to them (more often than not, shooting sh*t in the face). It is possible for games to overcome flaws to still be great, but when there are numerous and obvious flaws in design it needs to be highlighted and weighed against the game properly.

Of course, the worst type of reviewers are those that will ignore certain flaws in their best games, but yet will highlight those flaws in games they clearly dislike. Unfortunately, reviewers like that pretty much cover the majority of reviews I see listed on Metacritic and the like.

What's most damaging about inaccurate reviews though, is that they - I assume - have an impact on gaming development. If a reviewer is constantly overrating a game the developers will look at it and think that means that they have succeeded in making a fantastic game, when it is the opposite that is more likely true. Developers need to know where they're going wrong, else how do their games improve?

Also, by overrating games it harms the status of genuinely superb games, which should be regarded with the utmost honour. When I look at Metacritic's top rated games and see flawed games like Fallout 3, or BioShock actually ranking alongside genuinely excellent games like Half-Life 2 or Okami it makes me feel annoyed at the lack of professionalism these reviewers are supposed to display.

In essence, the points you make about "not caring" about fanboy wars are all well and good, but there's much more being damaged by bad reviewing, and that needs to be highlighted until a time when reviews can be more reliable and accurate.

I've only one consideration

I've only one consideration to make: a critic is more than an opinion.

Critic is a tool to knowledge, it’s a necessary step of dialectic confrontation. Opinions are not grounded like a critic must be. In example, criticize is essential to the constitution of the art; every work of art needs a interpretation to give life to its dormant content. But only a critic can surpass the interpretation and give the adequate valor to that work; also, it is the only path to make a work better.

A example of the difference is:
I think that alien’s are a poor subject because usually they are retreated as little slimy things (that’s a opinion). Crysis ruined its narrative by taking a simplistic turn, it’s an poor plot that puts aside complexities and resumes itself in the powerful (American) hero who salve’s the world from the evil and greedy villain (North-Korean) and some aliens that just showed up for you to shoot (that’s a simple critics).

So, game critics should not just play a lot, but equally read about ludology, game theory, art theory, narrative, semiology, etc. They should know the area which games step on and contribute with text that push the line… with that, maybe, we can dream in have very great games in a future.

Ps: sorry the bad English, I’m Brazilian.

So true

I completely agree with you Mr Skerritt. I myself read game reviews (from various sites) not purely for the score but for every section and area a particular game encompasses. When i read a review i do take in everything the reviewer writes about; sound, graphics, controls, story (if relevant) and despite the score, i walk away with more of an educated view of the game i wish to purchase. I personally have my initial opinion of the game i'm about to purchase, sometimes i need a bit more of a heads up before i commit.

Reviews are what they are, opinions of the individual who's played the game in question, it can't get anymore simpler than that. For others to trash talk of other's opinions really does show the nature of their personality. I do believe too that if people were to disagree with reviews and are to discuss about it, people should at least have the decency to stop getting into trashy literary (or verbal) dog fights and simply be composed about it.

I really do commend you on the issue of this ongoing thing about console wars so to speak. I absolutely cringe whenever i've come across comments from "so called gamers" who smack talk other gamers. Everything from "halo is f-ing better than killzone", "ps3 kicks xbox's a**" etc. Sure there's different consoles and then there's console exclusive games, but why should that change people to resort to dropping a console company's support when they've been blessed with plenty other games too?

It begs the question too, "why do people play/purchase video games then?". Is it purely because they want to be the best online so they can brag to the entire online gaming world? Is it because they just want to show off how many console exclusive games their preferred console has? Seems like the individuals who give "gamers" a bad name have an ego problem.

I love all systems, i love all types of games. Heck, reviewing games for a living would be my dream job. I play games because i enjoy what the game itself is trying to portray. Sure, a game may have clunky controls, the graphics may not necessarily be visually orgasmic and the voice acting may leave much to be desired but if you let all those blind you to what the game is really trying to sell, then you might not be able to see what you really paid for.

It really is a shame that just those few individuals (of all aspects of occupations and contributions) who rely on ego boosts tend to put genuine gamers in a bad light. There are many games out there that cater/suit to different people so why should that be anything that would warrant abuse and redicule just because it's "different" to yours? I say more "F..K.. in my coffee"!

Objectively Impossible

Thanks to all of you for reading and commenting on this piece.

I do want to touch on a common theme that Crofto and Aron put out there, and that's about objectivity in reviews.

Simply put: There's no such thing as a completely objective review. Reviews always have and continue to be points of realistic debate. Saying that Tetris is a good game is opinion, not fact. The trick is to back up that opinion with factual evidence in order to support the opinion. It's up to each individual reader to determine whether the reviewer has made a solid and convincing case.

I'll agree with Crofto that there are some inflated scores out there. Video game reviewing is, indeed, an inexact and inconsistent science. What we should be doing, as consumers, is using reviews as guidelines in helping us make good buying decisions. Read a decent sampling of reviews on both the high and low ends of Metacritic's scoring spectrum and you'll inevitably come across a game's true worth.

Yes, game reviews are as you

Yes, game reviews are as you put. But the fundation of my point (opinions are simplier than critics) goes deeper than that: its all about the ancient tension between subjectivity and objectivity.

Is commonly thought that the science supported by math, empiric observation (sensitive), or that our machines can perceive (like a telescope, or X-ray, etc.) is exact, is unquestionable. As for the sciences supported by arguments, logic and history, they are inexact and full of unsolved questions.

That's a faith of Enlightenment, defended since Descartes phylosophy, passing through Hume and Kant. I could easily speak of this subject for hours, to show how thin the line between the sciences are (and, in deep, they are all speeches of forms of human knowledge).

So, to finish, what I defend is that game critics should be more that opinions. Game critics should study games, to contribuate to the language (virtual games) and to its development (in order to improve).

That's where I desagree with you. There are moments of opinion on critics? Always. But, in general, they must be more than just opinions.

aron wrote: So, to finish,

aron wrote:

So, to finish, what I defend is that game critics should be more that opinions. Game critics should study games, to contribuate to the language (virtual games) and to its development (in order to improve).

That's where I desagree with you. There are moments of opinion on critics? Always. But, in general, they must be more than just opinions.

I agree 100% that criticism is the balance between subjectivity and objectivity and I think that's what Peter is getting at when he says that critics have to make a solid and convincing case to backup their opinions for the criticism to be of any value. But in the end, aren't they still opinions? If they should be more than opinions as you say, what would you call that?

Chi Kong Lui wrote: But

Chi Kong Lui wrote:

But in the end, aren't they still opinions? If they should be more than opinions as you say, what would you call that?

If critics write a review giving "more than opinions" then we would end up having 50-60 reviews that are all based on the same robotic scoring system and all written in the same way. At the end of the day all gamers perceive games in a different way which is why we have such a diverse choice of games to buy. As such we need a variation of opinions.
A good example of this is Chi's recent trip to see THQ's new UFC game. After listening to the podcast its obvious that there is a passion for MMA and enjoyment of the game and although I respect the opinion, I will never buy the game because I just don't have any interest in it. Does this make his opinion wrong? Of course not, just because its of a different opinion than mine does not make it incorrect.

My other problem is Metacritic. Not being a fan of the site (I prefer looking at gamerankings.com) I don't know much about the scoring system. But looking at the top rated movies recently the have Superman 2 as the 2nd best film ever with an average score of 99%. This score is made up from the following scores:- 100, 100, 100, 100, 90, 88, 88. Which is an average of 95.14%.
The other thing I learned is that in cases where a critic has not given a score, they make one up themselves based on the opinions of the review. So why is it that people get so caught up in Metacritics average scores when they dont add up are are not always the score given by a critic?

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