[Please note I am not bad-mouthing any major news sites or critics, I regularly visit many sites like IGN and I only use them as an example]
We, as gamers, are intractably situated in a very strange and conflicted position. Hordes of us hate fervent fanboys that cling to the last scraps of dying franchises, benighted to the quality of their hefty purchases, but we would also so frivolously begin a change.org petition to smoke a reviewer who dares to take a critical approach to Grand Theft Auto out of the industry. We blame AAA studios for being out of touch with the demands of the consumer, but will so easily succumb to clickbait culture and pre-order games to feed our pre-conceptual fantasies, which are too often reflected back to us by lenient and forbearing opinions. Reviews have an extraordinary amount of influence on today’s increasingly more impressionable gamer, but what happens when, according to sites like IGN, games no longer have any problems? Let’s review the review.
Sadly, in modern games media, if a renowned website’s review is around 8,9,10, it means largely nothing. It’s merely a lazy reflection of ‘why video games are so cool’ instead of an assessment of an individual title as a contributor to videogames as a whole. More often than not, people won’t read these reviews expecting advice on weather or not to purchase something, but rather as an affirmation that they’ve made the right pre-order. If someone dare say that a major AAA game is just below perfect, they are met with barrages of hatred for directly insulting a consumer’s taste in purchases, because, the review is really about the consumer, isn’t it? There are many reasons why I believe this; let’s take a look at reviews of a AAA game for example, say, CoD Ghosts. The major site reviews all take a dangerously undaring critical angle towards Ghosts, only pussyfooting around the important issues that are lost, vaporised in the indifference of the consumer. For example, any review has room to accommodate a paragraph about Call of Duty’s unbroken theme of xenophobia, and its romanticism of the war on terror, but many choose to instead say that Ghosts takes a refreshing break away from Russian and Middle-Eastern enemies, ignoring the fact that Ghosts perpetuates the idea that it doesn’t matter what kind of enemy you shoot, as long as he don’t speak our language.
Positive reviews for Ghosts also represent insignificant gimmicks as ground breaking. For example, many talk about the ‘extinction mode’ as a hail Mary, comparing it to wave based games like Left 4 Dead, but then not actually comparing it to games like Left 4 Dead. Reviewers of Ghosts would dogmatically lay down comparisons like this without actually exploring them. This is something that really frustrates me, as it keeps the review so unprofessionally short, it makes the review complicit in keeping the wider discussion small, and it creates a small echelon for franchises like CoD to fit into, protected from comparison and therefore criticism. Games should not be judged solely as sequels or instalments in franchises, but as contributors to gaming as a whole. These kind of preachy reviews address only 2 of Goethe’s 3 questions. They address what the developer wanted to do, how well this aim was achieved, but all these reviews are missing a crucial viewpoint: was the game worth making? To me, besides the larger social and political questions about Ghosts, the most interesting thing about it was its very existence, launching into the world knowing it would die after a year, and its audacity to stand up against its predecessors. But most reviewers keep their heads down on that very narrow road they set their mind on, and ignore all these larger questions. Even on the aspects of the games they do address, reviewers are hardly ever specific. One of the things I hated when looking at reviews for The Walking Dead Season 1, was that so many reviewers used empty weasel words to describe the character development. ‘The voice acting was particularly good’. ‘The character development was great’. How? Reviewers need to start citing examples if they want to be seen as invested and trustworthy. Instead of ‘exceptional voice acting’, go deeper, ‘Steve Ogg has a perfect sense comic timing; he will easily create a sense of suspense with his slow articulation when speaking and then break it with his violent outbursts. He was perfectly cast alongside his motion capture partner, whoever it was’.
And, unfortunately, this kind of hesitance reviewers exhibit to be critical gets through to the audience. Nine times out of ten reviews are not intellectual discussions and debates but rather superfluous recommendations to games that their audience has been brainwashed into buying anyway, through an era of pre-order promises and dishonest E3 demos. We need to abrogate this trend of lazy reviews, or we will never achieve a gaming meritocracy, games will sell based of a name, and brainwashed, jingoistic gamers will perpetuate the success of AAA titles that reviewers insist are consistently amazing. But this contempt I have is only applicable to a small subset of reviews for AAA games.
The reviews I enjoy the most are the ones that address these points no one else dares to notice. I recently read an article on how Ghosts reflects similarities in WWII (http://killscreendaily.com/articles/reviews/call-duty-ghosts-turns-you-terrorist-and-nazi/), which I found extremely interesting and imaginative, but these kind of discussions are hardly noticed, and if a major site dares to address a social, political or ethical issue, they are hated. For example, Carolyn Petit, a former writer for Gamespot, focused on the misogynistic aspects of the game GTA V, and the plausibility of some characters’ actions, where no one else did. The review was detailed, well informed and diverse compared to ubiquitous, insipid praise. This was met with widespread anger, because the author happened to be a transgender woman. I mean, people claim that they were frustrated because she ‘was trying to push her agenda’, but she was just trying to push her criticisms of a game. There was even a change.org petition started to try and get her fired, the comments on it are riddled with sophomoric transphobia and misogyny. Isn’t this a shining example of what mainstream reviews have become? They have become exactly what the consumer expects and nothing more, they have grown to add absolutely nothing to conversation, they actually take away from it by denying opportunities to discuss the topics necessary to discuss if we want gaming to stop being seen as juvenile.
On the other hand, you have those (not naming any names) who are so painfully hell-bent on being ‘progressive’ that half their review of, say, Bayonetta 2 is written about the misrepresentation of women in videogames. Half. The half about sexualised women is extremely well written and the half about the rest of the entirety of the game is vague and under processed. This isn’t necessarily better than the polar opposite, where none of these issues are explored. Critics also have to be realistic about proportions of content that needs to be addressed vs proportionality of writing. This kind of eager-to-please ‘progressiveness’ I find to be more helpful to SJWs and in contrast retrograde to the games industry.
This was just a little piece about my thoughts on game reviews. I just wanted to talk about it because way before I was really into gaming, I was watching and reading game reviews. It’s interesting to think weather gamers need reviews, because gamers only seem to want them when they align with or exceed their personal expectations in terms of score, but achieve that conclusion in as little effort as possible. It’s more a question of ‘do gamers like reviews?’. I mean, reviews are some of the most visited pages on major gaming websites, so we have to bear in mind that these ‘professional critics’ are being well compensated. What do you think? Should we talk about ethical issues, or leave them for the consumer to consider?