Wednesday, 20 July 2011

Quis custodiet ipsos custodes? - Or in this case: Who Reviews the Reviewers?

In this case I guess that’d be me.

Welcome to part one of only god knows how many there might be of these. The process of gaming reviewing.

A lot of people look at video game reviews and tend to think “Hey, that doesn’t seem like such a bad job, I bet I could do that.” It’s a phenomenon similar to how people think that game testing must be the best job in the world, not knowing that the little details all add up to a workday that’s less of a “Wow, I can’t believe I played GTA6 all day and got paid for this. Do I have to go home now?” and more of a “Wow, I can’t believe I played the exact same section of this one level of a mediocre shooter which is entirely bugged and scripted by a monkey. Can I go home now?”

Likewise, even in a perfect world where you don’t have to worry about souring relations and staying on people’s good sides, it’s far from a gimme job. There’s a lot of considerations that need to take place:

1) You will be working under tight deadlines. Even with review copies you’re going to maybe be getting a week tops with any given game, and as a reviewer the best position to be in when you’re finally sitting down to write the finished article is to have played the game to completion. I’m not saying that every pokemon needs to be caught or that all the hidden bosses need to be defeated, but it’s best to know whether or not there’s anything that develops later that might make a relatively slow start worth it, or whether a game that has started off strong just barely limps over the finish line.

So, you’re going to spend hours a day just playing, testing things out, making notes the entire time unless you’ve got one hell of a memory, and then in the end putting all of that together, which brings me to my second point.

2) You need to be able to write well! This might strike a lot of people as an incredibly obvious statement to make, but it really can’t be stated enough. Especially since these days a lot more people than I’m comfortable admitting seem to think that they can write a professional review using the same terminology that they do on Twitter or in a drunken Facebook rant. A sentence like “I tink dis game rly sux” means that you can kiss any hope of being seen as a professional goodbye, as well as the idea that people will be willing to take you seriously. But beyond even the simple stuff like spelling and grammar basics, you need to find a style that works for you. Some people are comfortable giving long, extremely analytical reviews that dissect each section of the game before weighing in on the end product as a whole. Others are going to be happier using a more colloquial and informal - but again not too informal - style. Some will try to balance the two. There’s no perfect way to review a game, but finding something that works for you then honing it certainly never hurts your chances.

3) You have to be professional. This step is actually harder to do than you might suspect. For example right now I’m doing this blog, I’m the sole voice here so I can technically review whatever I please and don’t have to do any reviews of titles that I’m not interested in. But if I were working for a larger website as part of a cadre of staff, or for one of the major review outlets whether online or in print, then it’s a different story. Sometimes you’ll have to review games that you have no interest in, or that aren’t even close to your preferred genre. For example, I’m not a huge fan of sports games, but since there are so many released each year if I were in a group of reviewers that are doing a lot of new releases it’d be inevitable that I’d get one at least once in a while. In cases like this you have to know that even if a game isn’t your cup of tea, that there are things that can be objectively reasoned out for a score: are the graphics up to par or even above? How’s the A.I. is it balanced or is it a rubber-banding monstrosity? What about controls, are they well mapped and intuitive? In a way reviewing a game that doesn’t fall into your usual purview both gives you a chance to get some different writing under your belt and has the added benefit of giving a review that can be more informative to someone who might just be approaching a certain genre or franchise for the first time.

All of these things culminate to a solid reviewer. From there it’s a combination of skill, luck, and hard work to get recognized and perhaps get somewhere in the industry. Of course, even writing reviews - good or bad - is only one side of the story. The other side is how the public reacts, and how that might or might not make a difference. But that’s a story to be covered tomorrow.

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