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Games and Review: The Conundrum Facing the Traditional Game Review System

By Edited Dec 18, 2015 2 2

As one of the pantheon's of the gaming  journalism, Adam Sessler (rev3games editor-in-chief, and once host of G4’s Xplay) believes that the old way of video game review simply needs to go the way of the dinosaur. A neurotic thesaurus of game and literary references, Sessler has used a basic 5-star rating system for most of his career. But Sessler  ponders if that system is even too much in the way of mitigating an experience into a trivial barrage of pluses and minuses turning what many consider a work of art as if a review of the latest Ipad.

John“TotalBiscuit”Bain, one of the most influential voices of the YouTube gaming community, takes it a step further calling for the dismantling of metacritic, a review site/formula that takes reviews from critics and journalists across an industry for a particular title, brings the scores together, averages them out, and gives a definitive “score” for that title ranging from 0-100.

metacritic

Yet it seems that many gamers as well as publishers live on these types of “scores” to decide whether a game is successful. Again showing the power of metacritic, a game titles score on the site has begun to hold precedence over all else as some game publishers and developers have begun determining employee bonuses based on their titles scores on the site. All the long hours, high stress, little sleep, putting their hearts and soul into a game that at this point considered their child, can simply be judged and affected by whether or not their game gets an 85 instead of an 80.

As asinine as that sounds a possible reason behind metacritic's significance is many if not most gamers/customers dictate their purchase of a game based on the score given on sites like metacritic, IGN, or gamespot. Games are expensive software and a large part of the gaming demographic cannot afford spending 50-60 dollars a pop on the hundreds of games getting released every year. This leads to many customers either sticking with the tried and true franchises (Call of Duty, Madden, Assassin's Creed) and/or looking at a review site for the highest rated games the site offers, which are many times given to those before mentioned titles due to certain business “ethics” practices that I would rather not get into on this particular article.

Now take a step back for a second from the business models, practices, and economics of the traditional rating model and lets talk about how we rate games in the first place. As stated in the opening paragraph,  Adam Sessler has a disdain for the “traditional” rating model. Games have long been reviewed in the premise of being a work of engineering and mechanics instead of that little three-letter word thrown around seemingly more and more the past few years, art. That word still sends shivers down the spine of many fans of traditional mediums as well as many fans of games themselves still feel as though games are purely mechanical and a merit of its resonance is determined by its average frames per second, input feedback, or the amount of recoil a shotgun emits after being fired.

But with the recent innovation(or at least the attempt of) by studios and franchises from the likes of Naughty dog, Irrational, Telltale, numerous independent labels, as well as the works of the polarizing David Cage, We’re reaching a point of time in which games no longer only have a place in the backs of tech magazines but also a place at the table of legitimate discussion, praise, and ridicule, of other entertainment mediums.

At the same time though games/interactive media are still leagues behind novels, film, and TV, in conceptualizing an idea, story, and beliefs, that can hold an intellectual analysis of it’s properties by fans and critics alike. But the medium may not ever have to or want use of the old tropes of traditional media. The gaming industry already blows away other venues of entertainmen in terms of sales and revenue and looks to only grow with the demographic of the average gamer aging as well as a healthy cycling of the young to take their place. Unless a shift in the type of games consumers want is drastic we probably will see  things as they are for years to come.

But back to the question in hand, why is the traditional review and rating system used by many of the industry's top sites and critics bad for the medium? In my opinion the rating system used by the majority undermines what it means to be a fan or non-fan of a gaming experience. The difficulty of game review is unlike any other entertainment medium we have to date. Everyone plays games differently and many play games for a variety of reasons, from a competitive standpoint, a power fantasy, or being pulled into an interactive narrative, none are right and none are wrong, but the fact that we seem to judge every game on the same number of factors is misconstruing not only to the games themselves but the fans of that particular type of game as well.  

bioshock1

One of the most controversial and debated titles of the year, Bioshock Infinite, first lauded by many as a potential game of the year soon saw the backlash and ire of the internet gaming community as an overrated, boring, plot hole ridden mess. While I “respectfully” disagree with many of those sentiments, the biggest complaint internet fandom seems to have had with the game is the below average shooting mechanics and gameplay the game had to offer.

What I take issue with about this seemingly agreed upon notion among the internet rage machine is that the Bioshock series never had great "gameplay" to begin with. Putting the Bioshock series in the same genre as the Halo’s, Counter Strikes, and Quakes, legitimate competitive shooting titles defined by their mechanical aptitude does a disservice to what Bioshock was trying to accomplish as a game. Criticizing the characters, world, and narrative is a legitimate discussion to have as the game's centered much more so around these themes, not it’s merits as a first person shooter.

We don’t or shouldn't bitch and moan about validity of Call of Duty’s single player campaign being a driveling hypocritical mess, because the games final judgement is neither story nor plot, it’s how good the multiplayer is. I’m not a fan of most multiplayer shooters so I would rather not judge or rate how good or bad the title is because that’s not the type of game I play, and would not be fair to fans of that kind of game.

The gaming medium is at a crossroads on what it means to be a game. Are games to be judged on gameplay? technology? story? experimentation? or some kind of bastardization of all? Maybe we simply need game critics and reviewers to throw out the models entirely and review based on their own volition and interpretations of "game".

We as fans of the medium should begin to go to reviewers with similar taste to see what they should and should not buy instead of a broad "is this good or bad" that the mainstream gaming media still perpetuates across the board. This may be a difficult adjustment for many but in my opinion needed if the medium is to ever get out of the basement of relevance and into the mainstream, if that is what we want as gamers in the first place.

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Comments

Dec 28, 2013 6:06am
michelleakamimi
I think critics and reviewers across the board are in the same bag, whether it's the gaming, movie, food or even book industries. It must be interesting to have a title where you are either paid or lauded for your ability to give an "opinion", because at the end of the day, that's what it boils down to. In gaming, as in all other industries, I say buyers should listen to other buyers, since all you're truly getting is an opinion anyway. But, that's just my opinion. ;-)
Jan 20, 2014 6:58am
Calisto789
Very informative article. I do my own game review articles and videos as a hobby.
I always try to separate my personal preferences from the games objective qualitys in my work
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