Thursday, 21 July 2011

Reviewing the Reviewers 2: Breaking the Pedestal

Now, for all I’ve said in that last posting, the fact is if you can write worth a damn and can actually comprehend gaming journalism as a serious job rather than some sort of super magical hyper fun time, then you’ve got just as good a shot at the entire thing as anyone else.

What separates a person like me and a person like Yahtzee (just to use an easy name)? Two large things that come to mind are time and recognition. One does tend to follow the other, as the longer you’ve been around the more people are likely to hear about you, even in passing. Yahtzee admittedly had a huge break: his acerbic stylings on Youtube caught the eye of The escapist staff and he’s been in good sorts ever since. Most people can’t count on breaks like that although of course they do happen. Most of the time though you’ll need to build a solid fan base and portfolio of work. But when it comes to reviews building a fan base is sometimes a lot easier said than done, and in some regards that strikes me as something very confusing.

Here’s the thing that bothers me: I do not for the life of me understand why some people hate reviewers for disliking a game or franchise that they love. Yahtzee is again a very good example of this: I can only imagine all the unpublished bile that must drop into his inbox on a daily basis given some of the stuff that has seen the light of day. Anyone who is familiar with Zero Punctuation probably remembers the episode when he ran the fan rage at his review of Super Smash Brothers Brawl. I will grant you that some of the comments were fair; he did rattle on some arbitrary stuff. At the same time though, Yahtzee’s counterargument makes a fair degree of sense: that being that if people enjoy the game and would have bought it regardless of what he said, then why should they give a rat’s ass about what he has to say about it?

I tend to see this often on various gaming boards I visit: someone who lauds Yahtzee’s reviews suddenly becomes his biggest and most outspoken critic when Yahtzee reviews a game that they like unfavourably. Considering that Yahtzee’s whole shtick is pointing out - and let’s face it, over inflating - the poor qualities of anything he reviews, I’m stymied as to why this once upon a time fan would be shocked that Yahtzee didn’t pull an about-face and declare that Random Game #3 is flawless and the best thing ever.

And it’s not just Yahtzee either. Think about the infamous 8.8 Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess review on Gamespot. The fan base went absolutely insane over that review, a huge overreaction considering that as far as a score goes 8.8 is pretty solid to begin with. It’s not perfect, but then again no game ever is regardless of how good it might be. Hell, if I was taking a class and someone told me that I got an 88%, I’d be pretty happy with myself, I wouldn’t freak out over not having gotten 97% or above because 88% is still beating the crap out of a lot of the other grades out there.

What it all boils down to is that really, reviewers aren’t here to hand down mandates like Gods regarding what you should and shouldn’t play. If you happen to play a game that a reviewer panned it doesn’t mean you have poor tastes or that the reviewer was just being negative for the sake of being negative. People seem to forget that reviewers are people to, and that in the end no matter how hard they might try they’ll have their biases: likes and dislikes along with different priorities from what you yourself might have in regards to playing games.

Just because someone pans something you were interested in doesn’t mean you should suddenly lose interest. Hell, products like Gamefly and other rental services mean that generally you should at least be able to try something out for yourself to see whether you like it or not. Reviewers can offer you a guideline: if you find someone with similar tastes to your own you can generally begin to develop a track record, maybe one of their recommendations will lead you to something you wouldn’t have thought of trying otherwise. But both positive and negative traits can in some cases be in the eye of the beholder.

On that note though, in my next segment, I’m going to talk about whether an objective review is possible, and if it is not how close a review can be to being one.

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