“A good critic’s personal likes, dislikes, preferences and yes, biases shouldn’t be treated as disqualifying professional flaws. They should be the reason we seek their thoughts out in the first place.” – Moviebob on Objective Lesson
I’m not writing this because of the kerfuffle with my latest review for ZombiU, even though I still stand by what I’ve said. This piece has been a long time coming for me, though, my dislike for the game is a relevant example, so, let me use that.The thing is, I’m not saying that you have to start hating it or you have to agree with me or that the issue isn’t even up for discussion. In fact, explaining why you disagree with someone’s view point on a game leads to good discussions and will help us make our medium grow. Unfortunately, I almost never see comments that go into that kind of train of thought and I see more comments like “You thought the game was bad because you didn’t like the game” or “You fail at your job, because you can’t tell a good game from a bad game” or, my favorite one “You need to be more OBJECTIVE!!!”
Guys! How did we get here? Do people realize how bad this kind of thinking is? I remember when Halo 4 came out, a critic gives it a 2/10; there was a forum discussing how wrong this was! The same game gets a 5.5 with an article soon following called Is Halo 4 really A 5.5/10 Game?, and it’s a featured story. While the article brought up good points, all everybody wanted to talk about, including the writer, was bias, factual information, and completely missing the point of why he gave the score he did because, apparently, you can’t give such and such games this low of a score.
This…pisses…me…off….to…no….end! Why are we making people’s opinions that don’t agree with the popular opinion such a big deal? My theory is that since games are a relatively young medium, a lot of people can’t handle it when there are criticisms given to a game they like, so they don’t know how to react other than just shutting the person down for being wrong about the game. But, guys, it’s time we moved away from this kind of thinking, because it’s doing serious damage to gaming as a whole.
Honestly, what makes a good game?
If you put people on the spot on what makes a good game, most of the time, they’ll answer with “Well, if I’m having fun” or “If I’m engaged all the way through” These are good answers, but explain why there’s a lot of people putting the burden on game reviewers of telling the difference between a bad game and a good game. Quality of a game is not a tangible thing. Sure, you may be engaged by the game, but does that speak for everyone else?
Here’s a comment from Stretch’s famous article, Dragon’s Dogma is the Worst Game I Have Ever Played. He also mentioned that he hated Bioshock, so, this is one of the comments he gets….
“Hated the Masterpiece called Bioshock?, You lost any creditabilty you had when you said that, seriously?, your Gamer Status has been REVOKED. And “Journalism” is not your thing, you need a new career, bud, simple. YOU might not have liked Bioshock, cause maybe its not “YOUR TYPE OF GAME”. But if your arent keen & TALENTED ENOUGH to see its a very well made game, then you JUST DONT have an eye for, & are unable to decifer a good game from a bad one, you have made the mistake of letting your PERSONAL TASTE get in the way of SEEING THE DIFFERENCE between good & badly designed games, & thats what an AMATUER does, not a Professional.”
Seriously, how is anyone supposed to respond to something like that? Yes, we all have personal tastes, but there’s a reason why we have those, and being able to explain why is something that all good critics do. The thing is, I don’t agree with everything that Stretch says, but he explains himself so well, I get the points he’s trying to make.
So, let’s go back to what makes a good game, because, according to that comment, there is a tangible line between a good game and a bad game. But, what is it? Apparently, Bioshock is good, because it’s a well made game. Ok, what’s well made about it? One can argue just as well that’s a poorly made game. The thing is, there isn’t a right answer, because it’s SUBJECTIVE. In other words, if you like a game that isn’t popular, you are not wrong. If you dislike a game that is popular, you are not wrong. If you like a game that’s popular, you are not wrong. So on and so forth. Response to an artistic medium is one of the most subjective things ever, because nobody is going to have exactly the same response. You’re never going to get a clear answer on what makes a good game because there is no clear answer. If games could be objectively good or bad, then we’re destroying the reason why we enjoy these games in the first place.
“But this kind of score means this….”
Honestly, I’m not the biggest fan of giving arbitrary numbers to games because, most of the time, it devalues what is said in the review and nobody seems to know how to use them. I’m not saying that using scores to review games is wrong, but how people approach them is definitely not doing any favor towards gaming. Let me put it this way.
If you’re reading reviews based on their scores, you’re doing it wrong!
A lot of people like to compare the “wrong” scores to the scores the game has been getting on average. If the game is nowhere near that score, than the review is wrong and the reviewer has no credibility. This is helped by Metacritic and by people who don’t know what Metacritic is really for. Here’s the thing; Metacritic is not there to give the official stamp on whether a game is good or not. It’s there to show which people liked it and it’s there to average out the scores. If you’re honestly using Metacritic to argue the quality of the game, STOP THAT!
Most of the time, critics will use scores to give off an overall impression of the game. In other words, how much they liked the game. Using scores like that makes the scoring system pretty self-explanatory. Yahtzee brought up a metaphorical scoring system of a -5 to 5 score. Games that resonated well with said person gets a 5 score, games that make the person make them want to throw their controller at the TV screen gets a -5 score, and a 0 score means that the person pretty much had no reaction at all because it was boring. It’s an interesting way to scores games, considering this is how most people score games already, but it’s a way to explain how people do review games. That’s right, it goes back to subjectivity again.
If you could really calculate the quality of a game and give off an objective evaluation, then why do we have more than one reviewer? It would make for a lot of pointless jobs wouldn’t it? But, as you can see, that’s not the case, and we have many people giving off different evaluations of games causing for different opinions, and that’s a GOOD thing!
What being a Critic Means
So, I’m willing to bet that a lot of people out there are going to say “Well, doesn’t that devalue the critics job?” To which I say….well, not really.
Right now, it’s like saying that there isn’t that much of a difference between people who like to talk about games and people who give them harsh criticisms and managing to get paid because of it. And, to be fair, since criticisms to artistic mediums are subjective, yeah, there isn’t that much of a difference at all. So, what’s the deal?
Well, it really boils down to how well somebody can explain how they felt on the game. They don’t only just go through the surface levels of how they felt about the game, they go into deeper explorations into the game. Sure, it’s easy to say that this part of the game was bad, but why was it bad? How can it be better? A critics job is not there to tell you to buy a game or to tell you whether or not something is good. A critic is there to help you make an informed decision. They are there to make a point, to teach people, in a way.
Unfortunately, this seems to be a sort of exception rather than the rule on how people talk about video games. I could rag on the easy big targets like Gamespot or IGN, but even a lot of the critics from The Escapist seem to go into game with just a basic level of how the person felt about the game. Is it any wonder why people like Yahtzee and Moviebob have become incredibly popular? It’s because they are different and they want to explore on the medium they talk about. I’d like to say that I try to go into games with this kind of approach, but feel free to go into the comments section and talk about how much I fail at everything.
With me passively calling a lot of people that they’re inadequate at their own job, I would also like to say that it’s a good idea to get more than one input on games. Read or watch as many reviews as possible. Because, the ultimate point is not to find out whether a game is good or not but to gain a new understanding with each perspective of a said game. Sure, a lot of people might like a certain game, but isn’t it worth hearing from someone who doesn’t like the game? The person may have a point and it can help to make the games better.
Someone once told me that there’s no point for a person to review games that may be a genre they don’t like or maybe even a series they don’t like. I disagree, because if they can give off reasons of why the whole thing doesn’t work for them, people can gain a new understanding of the game.
Reading the Review Wrong….
Here’s what I really want to say. People, stop throwing these temper-tantrums every time someone says something that you don’t agree with. Instead, listen. You don’t have to start agreeing with people who have a different view than you, but that doesn’t mean you should shut people down because you feel that the person is wrong and is unable to “tell a good game from a bad game”
So, people! Let’s open up to conversations and discussions on how we feel over certain things. If we keep on going where we consistently shut people down because of their opinions, the progression of our medium is going to start being at a halt. But if we can embrace a method of conversation that helps us understand each other, then we’ll see better growth of this medium.
So, sure, I may have been harsh on ZombiU, but it’s only because I care.
Extra Credits: Game Reviews, The Jimquisition: Your Reviews are TEH BIAS!, and, if you’ve got an hour to spare,The Escapist Expo’s How to Review Games. Also, those two articles I cited at the beginning are wonderful reads, especially FilmCritHulks!
HAPPY NEW YEAR!