Video Game Reviews: How To Keep Your S**t Together & Live A Happier Life

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Angry about a video game review? This is for you.

Video game reviews. To some they’re a pivotal moment. A “Positive” Metacritic score can mean the difference between a pre-order or a “meh, I’ll wait until it’s £5 second-hand in a few months”. To others, reviews don’t matter. These people know what games they want, they’ve decided what they’re buying and glowing/scathing reviews won’t change that. What is for certain though is that at least twice a month, a review embargo drops and portions of the internet go insane, frothing at the mouth like a rabid dog over a review score they don’t agree with. They flock together around the single “4/10” awarded to a game they’re all excited about like sharks circling the lone survivor of a boating accident.

We’ve all been there. We’ve all open up a review and thought “What the f**k is this?”. We’ve all disagreed with a review, even though we might not have played the game ourselves. Some people take it further and vent in the comment sections, probably using phrases such as “Click bait” or “paid shill”. Others go too far entirely, hounding a reviewer on Twitter with slurs and abuse that would make even Jim Sterling blush (Has Jim Sterling ever blushed? –ed).

The fact is, all of this is unnecessary. Farcical even. Allow me to explain why via the medium of having an imaginary conversation with the voices in my head.

Voices in my head: “Right, well, [insert game name here] is coming out and [insert outlet] has given it [review score lower than most other outlets]. That review is obviously WRONG! It’s–”

Me: No. Let me stop you right there, voices in my head. There is no such thing as a “Wrong” review. A review can be “bad”, poorly written or ill-informed but it’s never “wrong”. Any outlet worth their salt, and that accounts for those you’ll see on Metacritic and many more, will publish open, honest opinions and criticism of a video game in order to provide an informative review that may (or may not) inform your decision to purchase a game. A reviewers opinion cannot be “wrong”.

Voices: “But every other outlet thinks the game is, 8/10, 9/10 or even 10/10. This lower review score must be click bait!”

Me: Let’s think this through shall we? Do you really think that an outlet would publish a lower review score to attract a few thousand extra clicks? Do you really think that for the extra $12 to $18 (using Adsense) for those clicks, an outlet would risk their integrity, PR relationships and future readership? Do you really think that a website wants to be known as the one that’s untrustworthy? Or do you think that maybe, just maybe, the reviewer didn’t enjoy the game as much as everyone else? I’m not saying that all reviews are definitely not “click bait” but 99% of the reviewers out there do not set out to earn clicks. 99% of the time, the person reviewing a game will have no incentive to earn more clicks. They’re getting paid to review a game and will get paid the same regardless of whether the game gets 4 billion views or 12 views. It’s also worth mentioning that in this day in age, when outlets have started to rely on reader funding through Patreon or similar systems and have abandoned traditional on-site advertising all together, the “number of clicks” metric has absolutely no bearing on the funding an outlet receives. So which do you think it is? That a review is “click bait” or that the reviewer didn’t like the game as much as other people?

Voices: “Well… It’s probably the latter. Okay then…Maybe they were paid off by a competitor then to give it a lower score?”

Me: Don’t be fu**ing daft. Decades ago, the games industry was far more shifty and back room deals for positive coverage may have happened. But these days? Every gaming media outlet makes sure to be super squeaky clean and above-board with all its dealings. It only takes one corruption story to get out of hand and reputations can be damaged irreparably. Plus, do you really think publishers cut big cheques for a few point scores? Because if that was the case, we wouldn’t be poor and we could be in our private jet right now.

Voices: Moving on…Why did some reviewers not enjoy a game when everyone else does? Huh? Why?”

Me: There are literally thousands of variables that can affect a reviewer’s opinion. It could be that the reviewer had different expectations of a game. It could be that a review copy didn’t arrive on time and the player had a shorter time frame to cram the game into before the embargo lifted. I could be that they see something other reviewers missed. It might be that they just don’t like it. It could be that the reviewer came at the game with a different perspective with different life experience or that they didn’t like that particular genre or series”

Voices: “Ha-HA! Here’s one for you then!? Why bother giving a game to a person who doesn’t like a particular genre or series? They’re obviously going to enjoy it less and therefore, score it lower”

Me: Does a person’s opinion count for less if they don’t like a genre or series? No. Of course not. Is that review not informative to people who also don’t like that genre or series? Yes. Yes it is. Giving a game to a super fan of a series and having that review say “Yup, that’s exactly what super fans want” helps inform other super fans of that new entry. But what about the 6 billion other people on the planet that aren’t super fans? What about the people who didn’t play Uncharted 1 to 3 but want to know if Uncharted 4 is any good? What about those people who had never played a Zelda game before but want to know if Breath of the Wild is accessible to them? It’s important that when you look at a review, you know who it is that reviewed the game, what perspective they have and who they’re trying to inform about the game – and every reviewer’s perspective and audience will be different. Every single review out there will be informative to someone – that someone might not be you. Getting bent out of shape because the reviewer at VideoGamer/IGN/GameSpot/etc didn’t like a game when everyone else did means that not everyone enjoyed that game. And that’s good. Not every game can or should be all things to all people.

Voices: “Okay then smart arse. Answer me this. [Outlet Name] gave [Game name] a 7/10 a few years ago. The sequel came out and [Outlet name] said it was “better than the original” but only gave it a 6/10. Explain THAT!”

Me: Are you seriously cereal right now? Do you think that when a writer joins a media outlet, they are plugged into some kind of hive mind that must agree with all previous reviews? Each review is written by a human person, not the collective thoughts of some AI supercomputer. The writer of the second review, for the sequel, might have thought that the original game was worthy of 1/10 and a 6/10 would definitely show a marked improvement.

Voices: “Let’s talk about politics then! [Insert Outlet Name] used their review of [insert game name] to push their political agenda on me! They should keep politics out of gaming and out of their review!”

Me: *Deep Sigh* Right then. We’re going here then are we? Fine… Where to start? A review is an opinion. A review without an opinion isn’t actually a review at all. It’s a technical specification or a fact sheet or a list of absolutes. As soon as a human mind deems an aspect of a game to be ‘good’ or ‘bad’, a decision has been made and an opinion has been formed. This goes for all aspects of a game – themes, mechanics, systems, performance – every aspect of a game that has been deemed as positive or negative has been formed through an opinion. An example – ‘X Game Runs at 30 frames per second’ is a fact but ‘While X Game runs at 30 frames per second, that is more than adequate for this type of game’ is an opinion. Now, opinions are informed by many things – facts, knowledge, experience, personal preferences, religions beliefs, gender, etc – and one of these factors is politics. If a reviewer strongly believes in a political view-point and they feel that, while playing a game, that title particularly appeals to/offends their political stance, they are more than entitled to praise/criticise the game for it. It is, after all, their opinion and as we’ve already established, cannot be ‘Wrong’. Now, maybe you disagree with them including their politics in a game review and if that’s the case, it’s more than likely that you disagree with the political stand point they hold. Fine. Cool. This review wasn’t written for you then. It is your right to disagree with it and disregard the opinion, preventing it from informing your opinion. It is NOT your right to abuse the writer for their political stance. That’s just not cricket. Instead of hurling abuse and hounding them on social media, go and find a reviewer that shares your political stand point. read their reviews instead. PR/Publisher/Developers distribute review codes to a whole host of media outlets, big and small, and I’m sure there is one out there that will cater to everyone’s political leanings. Just use a bit of critical thinking and you’ll be much happier.

Voices: “So… what you’re saying is that I shouldn’t be getting all upset about review scores? And I should think about things rationally?”

Me: Yes. Exactly.

Voices: But I know that *you* have been upset about review scores in the past. I am, after all, a voice inside your head. You really should tidy up in here by the way.

Me: I know. That’s true. Remember when a Ryan McCaffrey, a writer with IGN, gave Alien: Isolation a 5.9 out of 10?

Voices: “Like it was yesterday…”

Me: Well, I’d played a lot of Alien: Isolation at the time and disagreed with some of the points Ryan McCaffrey made. Actually, I disagreed with pretty much everything Ryan wrote. BUT! I realised that Ryan probably came at the game expecting something different, probably had a different perspective and that his opinion was absolutely valid. There were plenty of other reviews around that I wholeheartedly agreed with that echoed my own sentiments. I didn’t take to the comments section to vent. I didn’t attack Ryan on twitter. I just read other reviews and moved on. It’s absolutely okay for someone to dislike a game you like (or think you’ll like before release). This isn’t the first time I’ve disagreed with a review and it definitely won’t be the last.

Voices: “But what if a review is factually inaccurate? Can I get angry then?”

Me: Like every human on the planet, sometimes reviewers make mistakes. They might play through a game and miss things. Important things. Any professional reviewer will own up to their mistake (probably after receiving a polite email from the developer/publisher/PR firm) and will rectify it as soon as possible. It’s not always the fault of the reviewer however. Sometimes reviews are completed before a patch is released which changes aspects of the game. As more and more games move into the “Games as a Service” model, where the game can change on a weekly basis, mistakes or missed aspects are likely to happen more often. Then there are the times when the mistake or missed element is the game’s fault – when a game’s design is at fault for the failure to review. Take the “Wait Mode” in Final Fantasy XV for example. Aside from a single line of text in the short tutorial, the “Wait Mode” was not mentioned again in the entirety of the game. This meant that many reviewers missed that aspect of the game in their reviews, spawning a plethora of “How to activate Wait Mode in Final Fantasy XV” news stories. In any of these cases, you still shouldn’t get angry. You’re a really angry voice in my head. Do you know that?

Voices: “I know. We’re in therapy for it. So, How do we move forward? How do we best interpret reviews without getting all pissed off about them?”

Me: Firstly, it’s important to remember that a single review is the opinion of one person. A review by IGN isn’t a collaboration between the entirety of IGN. It’s just one human brain writing down their thoughts in an entertaining manner and then it’s proofread by another human brain before it gets published for the consumption of your human brain. Because one person doesn’t enjoy a game, it doesn’t mean that you won’t. They didn’t write a negative review just to get you all riled up about it. No game can be universally loved. It’s simply impossible.
Secondly, don’t harass a writer over an opinion they have. They don’t come into your place of work and start shouting that you’re a fraud that has been “paid off” for opinions you have. Do them the same courtesy. Don’t like a review? Read it, accept that what they’re saying is their opinion then move on.
Thirdly, please, for the love of all things Molyneux, take off the tin hat’s and drop the “paid shill” conspiracy theories. Reviewers aren’t writing articles from the inside of a Scrooge McDuckian vault full of their ill-gotten gains. Publishers aren’t pushing wheelbarrows of cash through the doors of GameSpot in exchange for positive reviews. It just. Doesn’t. Happen.
Lastly, It’s important to know who it is that writes the reviews you read and when you find a reviewer who shares your point of view, stick with them. You can compare your thoughts on games with any of the thousands of writers out there and when you find a match, trust them. Find them on Twitter and follow them to keep up to date with their work. You’ll feel far more informed by reading reviews from people who share your political standpoints, views on life and perspectives than getting angry about reviews that weren’t meant for you.

Voices: “That sounds great. Will you get down off your high horse and soap box now, you chump?”

Me: Oh. Yeah. Sure. What shall we get for lunch?

Voices: “I’m in the mood for a meatball sub”

Me: Cool. Sounds good. Lets go.

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