One of the reasons that I used to love reading video game magazines every month was because I looked forward to reading reviews of each month's new game releases. My expendable income certainly had a limit—even in my young adulthood—and I wanted to see what reviewers had to say about games that I was interested in. After all, previews served to build excitement for games, but reviews were definitive opinions. If there was a game that was criticized by a number of the reviewers that I used to read, such as Andy Eddy, Steve Harris, Dan Amrich, and so on, I would usually spend that money on something else. (Like bills.) If a game was well-liked and the reviews were usually pretty positive, I'd do everything in my power to be one of the first to buy it and entertain friends.
To me, video game reviews have been about sharing educated opinions about games—while backing those opinions up with relevant facts and observations—in order to assist readers in making informed buying decisions. That's always been my intent since I started writing reviews over 10 years ago. I wanted to be one of those sources that you could turn to when you weren't quite sure about a certain game. I've done this orally for years while working in video game retail, and I'm happy that I'm able to put words to paper to share these same opinions with you, the reader.
As time has marched on and the World Wide Web has gradually replaced magazines as a source of video game reviews, many people seem to have lost touch with the reason why video game reviews really exist. Reviews are no longer the informative tool that they once were. It's a big business now. Sites like Metacritic actually influence the direction of the industry, and it's been documented that there's a very tense relationship between reviewers and publishers. If a reviewer is overly critical of a game, especially if it's a higher profile game, it can cause unnecessary shockwaves. Reviewers have actually been fired for being honest. Publishers have been known to cut ties with publications over "bad" reviews and low scores.
That's bad enough. For me, what's worse is that there are people out there who seem to think that video game reviews exist merely to validate their purchases. If a game review score isn't high enough, the reviewer is insulted and ridiculously taken to task… even if the game hasn't yet hit retail. If a game review score is too high, the reviewer and/or publication is allegedly in the back pocket of the publisher and charges of favoritism or "moneyhatting" start flying.
To these misguided and clearly insecure people, I have the following advice:
SHUT UP. Seriously.
Reviewers don't do what they do because they want to impress you. We're not out to make you feel better about what you bought or to give you ammunition to use on some message board somewhere so that you can talk trash about your favorite games or consoles. We do not care. If our scores somehow help you win some foolish argument that nobody really wins, then that's great… but it has nothing to do with us. We do what we do for a variety of reasons; perhaps it's our paid profession, or maybe we're fortunate enough to have solid writing skills and were brought on to work voluntarily with a growing fan site. We play through these games and write thousands of words about them because we love playing games and we like to write about them. Your system wars and game biases are irrelevant to everyone but you.
In fact, I don't comprehend why someone gets off on setting out of some offensive to proclaim that Halo is the best game ever and the resorts to flinging childish and offensive insults at anyone who disagrees. The same goes for consoles. Playing the Nintendo Wii does not, in fact, make one a baby or automatically soil one's "gamer cred". Microsoft did not, in fact, engineer the Xbox 360 to break on purpose so that consumers would have to quickly replace it and thus inflate sales numbers. Sony does, in fact, have games for the PlayStation 3 now—contrary to what you may believe.
It's fine to disagree with a review. Or two. Or however many you may want to disagree with. After all, as I stated earlier, reviews are opinions. There isn't a right or wrong, so there's room for debate in most instances. There are plenty of reviews that I've disagreed with, and I'm sure that if you've read my work, there may be some points of contention that you may have in what I have written. I welcome disagreement and discussion, but there are a few prerequisites:
- Read the review in its entirety, not just the score: Anyone can arbitrarily assign a score to a game, but if you don't read what the reviewer has written about it, you may miss something important that may explain where the score comes from. Maybe the reviewer took issue with story elements. Maybe, even though the visuals may be a bit lacking, the play controls are solid and there's a lot of replay value to be had. Maybe the reviewer expected more voice work and less reading on-screen… and in this day and age, it's a valid point of contention.
- Play the game first: Trying to effectively disagree with a review is virtually impossible if you haven’t played the game in question first. And no, demos do not count. In most cases—though unfortunately not all, given the proliferation of gaming fan sites out there—the reviewer has played the final code and/or retail copy of the game in question while you have not. That means that, in essence, you don't have a leg to stand on when trying to argue with a review score or text. I don't get advance copies of games right now, but many other sites do… so crying that they don't know what they're talking about or that the score is so high because they were paid off just sounds immature and baseless since you will not have hard evidence to support your claims… because you really haven't played the game yet if it's not out yet.
- Arguments, not insults: If you want to be taken seriously by a reviewer or publication, learn to argue the right way. Calling a reviewer fat or immaturely charging that you spent last night with his mom just makes you sound stupid… and yet that's what 95% of review comments and complaints are. WHY is the score too low or too high? WHY do you disagree with the assessment within the review that the game is too hard for most players? Cite specific examples. If you're going to take the time to interact with the review by leaving comments or sending e-mails, then you have the time to make an effective case and not come off like a troglodyte.
I understand that reviews may serve different purposes for different people, but this trend of ego-boosting and self-validation is disappointing and nonsensical. If you want to tell the world how freaking awesome that you think Modern Warfare 2 is, go for it. You can blog and submit reader reviews at multiple sites to your heart's content. Just bear in mind that not all reviewers are going to agree with you,, and that there will never be a universally correct game review. Dropping "F" bombs, calling for reviewer firings, and making other childish remarks just reflects badly on you in the end; the chances are that we'll still be reviewing games long after your tirades wane and are forgotten.