Insert Topic – Games Journalism vs Readers


Welcome to Insert Topic, where once a week I’ll spend some time talking about stuff. Topics will vary from what’s big in nerd culture to my experiences with trying games or movies or anything really that I’d written off as not my kind of thing. This week I’m talking about the often times harsh relationship between game journalists and readers.

Everywhere you turn there are sites and magazines that dive deep into the many corners of gaming. Huge outlets with decades in the industry like IGN and Gamespot are mainstays, with relatively new places like Polygon, Giant Bomb, or Destructoid. The deeper you go, the more small sites you can find like One-Quest. Across these outlets there are things that constantly appear in comments, forums, and on social media, so much so that they’re just accepted, regardless of absurdity. Two of the biggest offenders that need to be tempered are the negative bashing of a reviewer for doing their jobs, when their opinion doesn’t match your own and the attacking of a journalist’s opinion about games that may not be mainstream, games like Gone Home, where game play is different than the norm.

As consumers we tend to rely on others to tell us their opinions on products. In today’s world that is more true than ever before. Every retailer website has an option for reviews of products, the biggest being Amazon. If a product is only $15, but has a single one star review you’re probably going to get the slightly more expensive $30 version with 300 five star reviews. You may not always dive deep into those reviews, but you utilize others experiences for that new kitchen appliance you may want. This form of consumerism makes us all reviewers, gives us all a voice to what we like and don’t like. Even so, there are still many places on the Internet where people are paid to put a product through it’s paces and give us, the potential buyer, an idea of if it’s worth the money, and video games happen to be huge in this arena.

Now here’s the thing, we go to these sites, looking for the opinions of people considered professionals. These are people who have years of experience writing about things on the Internet. Not just as a blog or on their Facebook page, but as a career. They make their living off playing games and giving their honest opinion on it. In recent years things have become easier and cheaper for your average person, with no real experience or training, to get into this kind of things as a hobby. Blogs are simple to setup, YouTube and Twitch give free viable outlets for people to put up videos of themselves playing and commenting on games, and even easily monetize their efforts.

This leads us to our problem. There is this, often damaging, habit of readers who aggressively attack reviewers and their opinions, many times claiming they could do a better job. It’s fair to say that not everyone likes the same stuff, and those who do won’t always share the same opinion about it. Whenever possible these outlets do try and match the game to the person. If someone is vocal about how much they hate anime and JRPGs then odds are, they won’t be getting Persona 5 or the next Naruto game to review. Of course there are situations where the reviewer and the game won’t match up. If a game needs to be reviewed, and only one person is available, well then that’s just how it goes. That person is still a professional, and to the best of their ability they’re going to give the game a fair review. There is really no such thing as unbiased in these situations, the simple idea of reviewing something is for someone to give an opinion. It’s an opinion based on a person experience, and facts gathered along with that experience. Not everyone will agree with that opinion, and that is everyones right. Is it necessary to call out the review in comments or on social media for being a hack or not knowing what they’re talking about? No of course it’s not, the internet gives people this huge freedom of anonymity that allows people to be rude and demoralizing to complete strangers without any fear of repercussions.

I’m not saying we should just accept everything we’re told. I don’t always agree with a given review, but it’s an opinion. You can’t reasonably call someone a bunch of expletives and claim they don’t know what they’re doing, just because their opinion is different than yours. It’s one of those situations where it’s easier to just agree to disagree. Take the useful information you can get from the review, and move on. If you’re that interested in the title to vehemently defend it, while offending others than you probably plan on buying it regardless of the score. If you really need to express your negative feelings, maybe try doing it constructively instead of aggressively. Would it be so hard to counterpoint the reviewers negative feelings? Then again, maybe the only way some people can interact on the internet is by bashing others opinions in favor of what they perceive to be their own.

These review attacks go hand in hand with those who fight against what gaming has become, an outlet for art, entertainment, and expression. Games can be an emotional experience the same way a book, movie, or television show can. If a game like Gone Home or Emily Is Away gets a lot of praise and attention, people seem to get offended. These games don’t involve anything beyond user decision. You decide how to interact with Emily or which room to check in Gone Home. There are no enemies, no guns, no intricate puzzles that need to be solved. These are great games without those things, they’re emotional and interesting and express a unique voice in a world filled with shooters and platformers.

The biggest supporters on these kinds of titles tend to come from people involved, in one way or another, with the games industry. Gaming journalists end up seeing and playing an exhausting amount of games in a year. It’s there job to do it, and in many circumstances it’s a passion. They tend to look at video games differently than the average player. They want to have the same fun everyone does, but they also want to see something different and compelling. They want to get sucked into a game the same way you do a good book. They want to have an experience outside of the ordinary. That’s not to say non-journalist don’t want the same, of course they do, but we’re all also creatures of habit. We yearn for the familiar in the unfamiliar. A first person game without some kind of gun, be it bullet or portal, can feel off. It’s a good thing though, trying new things, learning about something you weren’t familiar with, exploring new concepts. Games journalists are our path to finding these new experiences. They’ll see games, play games, that we as consumers may never hear of if they don’t talk about it.

I can understand the feelings behind the animosity people have towards sites, and the journalist in particular, who promote these types of games over the biggest AAA titles on the market. I just don’t think attacking someone for their opinion is a valid expression. When Game of the Year lists were coming out, there were a ton of games I’d never even heard of on individual lists, that I’ve slowly started playing myself to experience. There were also plenty of big titles like Witcher III: Wild Hunt, Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain, and Super Mario Maker. There is an important thing to remember when looking at these lists, or at reviews, or the twitter feed of someone. They’re people, they may work for a big company, but they’re still people. They form an opinion based on interest and experience the way most everyone else does. Just because you disagree doesn’t mean they’re a moron who doesn’t know the first thing about games. It means you both have different taste and not everything is for everyone. Writing about games as your career means you play a lot of games, you see the same things over and over, so when you get these amazing little gems, they’re going to stand out more, they’re going to suck you in, and they’re going to be the games you want to praise and hype and convince others to love.

The best part about being a gamer is being able to play things you enjoy. If you’re spending money on something, you’re going to want it to be something you like. Journalists often times get the benefit of playing these games early, and for free. It’s a perk of the field they’re in, it helps them to be critical of something without the nagging “I just spent $60 dollars on this, I need to find positive stuff” playing in the back of their head the whole time. They get to go in completely free and form those opinions they’re so harshly criticized for having. Everyone will have some biased opinions, no matter how long they’ve been doing it, even then a good reviewer always sheds light on pros and cons regardless of the final feelings.

I for one don’t get paid when I do any of this, my career is an IT Consultant, anything I do for One-Quest I do because I want to express my thoughts. When any of us talk about games, whether it’s a review, or just chatting on PodQuest, we’ve gone out and spent our own money to enjoy the product. I’m never going to go out and spend money on a Call of Duty or Battlefield game, they’re not my thing. If I had to play one though, and it was to get my opinion out there, I would try to factor out the monetary investment as best I could while giving my thoughts. I can tell you right now, because of the nature of those games they wouldn’t do well with me. Maybe they’re pretty, perhaps they play well on the technical side, but what I have played over the years isn’t appealing to me.

What I want you, the reader, to take away from this is that you don’t need to hate a journalist for expressing a negative opinion about something you like. Put yourself in their shoes before you blast them in comments or on social media, and don’t take the score at face value. Read the words they’ve said, think about the points they’re trying to make. Most of all, try stepping out of your comfort zone when you can. If all you play are RPGs then maybe try a shooter or puzzle game. Everything won’t be great, you may find some stuff you’re unhappy with, but you may also stumble across a new love, and you’ll probably have some journalist from a website to thank for giving the game some coverage.

talks a bunch on PodQuest each week. He's also been known to write about stuff from time to time.

You can Email Chris or follow Chris on Twitter @Just_Cobb or Facebook

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  • One-Quest was founded many millennia ago in a galaxy know as "n00b," by a foundation of Nerds. n00b was a small galaxy ruled by an evil empire, known as the "Hipstars." One-Quest formed with the sole purpose of removing the Hipstar empire from power, and restoring balance to all Nerds...
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