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GameCritics.com Podcast Episode 24: Myths of Game Criticism

Tim Spaeth's picture

This week we challenge commonly held assumptions about criticism, writers, review scores, finishing games and much more. So much more, in fact, we had to split the episode in half. Plus, if you're a Borderlands fan, get ready to hate us. Our quick hit is less than flattering. Featuring Chi Kong Lui, Brad Gallaway, Mike Bracken, and Tim Spaeth.

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For your reference, the eight myths we discuss are:

  1. Critics should be required to finish games before writing a review.
  2. The goal of a "proper" game review should be to inform the reader as to whether they should or should not buy a game.
  3. Those who write about games are not journalists, rather, should be considered "enthusiast press" or simply "games writer."
  4. There is no difference between a "review" and a "critique".
  5. The explosion of blogs, podcasts, and Twitter has rendered formal game reviews obsolete.
  6. Individual game critics and review sites are under constant, unrelenting pressure from publishers to change scores.
  7. Game scores are often purposefully tweaked to either generate controversy or avoid it.
  8. A reader should not need to be familiar with the author of a review in order to derive value from it.

Topic and Game References:

X-Play's Guitar Hero: Smash Hits review explanation:

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Category Tags
Platform(s): Xbox 360   Wii   PS3   PS2  
Articles: Podcasts   Best Work  
Topic(s): Games as Art  

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Only a prefrontal lobotomy could make Borderlands boring. I'll admit, it is pretty damn empty and basically a framework for questing, but you have a lot of variety with which to approach the game at your fingertips.

While the plot was lacking, I did like a lot of the characters I met. Scooter is pretty awesome. The last boss was a giant joke. Why did you have to be there to stop it when all these other guys who were kicking your ass up and down the barren landscape could have done it more easily?

very interested

Is a transcript possible? I know it's a lazy question to ask (if one weren't hard of hearing, of course), but I'd really like to able to think about whats being said and it'd be faster (more convenient). Just wondering

Transcript on its way

Anonymous wrote:

Is a transcript possible? I know it's a lazy question to ask (if one weren't hard of hearing, of course), but I'd really like to able to think about whats being said and it'd be faster (more convenient). Just wondering

Yes, a transcript will be made available in about a week or so depending on how long it takes our wonderful transcriber, Tera Kirk, to complete it. I haven't posted the transcript to the previous episode yet.

Chi Kong Lui, That's good to

Chi Kong Lui,

That's good to hear. Thank you for the answer.

I liked it

I liked this podcast. I'm new to the site but I've been looking through previous articles and I like your perspective on things. The podcast was very insightful and entertaining, and I like how you guys are looking at gaming in a different level than most other people.

Also, I'm sure many of us want to see video games become a legitimate and respected art-form. But as much as I love well written stories and rich atmospheres, they are not as crucial to games as they are to other forms of media. For the most part, gameplay is what really matters in games (the only exceptions I can think of off the top of my head are those 2D point-and-click games which, for the most part, are a thing of the past). A video game without a solid story is still a video game. A video game without gameplay is a movie. Plus, there are just so many different kinds of gamers that are all looking for different things out of gaming. Not everyone is looking for games to "push boundaries" or offer some sort of cultural enrichment. At the same time, not everyone is satisfied with simple game mechanics completely lacking any artistic relevance/creativity.

Like I said before though, I'm liking what I see in this site. Still, despite how much I'm enjoying this site I happen to strongly (and respectfully) disagree with several of your reviews/critiques of games.

I must say, I loved Borderlands. I like the "Mad Max" style atmosphere. I like the enemy designs, and the art style is very appealing to me. Even as a single player experience I love the intense skirmishes I get into and the shweet loot I get for taking down tough enemies. I love mixing and matching artifacts, class mods, skills/perks, weapons, etc. and approaching battles in different ways. I actually consider the "loneliness" you guys were talking about as part of the intended atmosphere. It's a practically abandoned planet where 95% of it's inhabitants are out to kill you. This is actually a good example of a game with a solid gameplay foundation, poor story and not-so-much innovation that still manages to attract many people and satisfy their particular gaming needs.

Borderlands True Confession

I will not retract one word of my Borderlands comments in this podcast. That said, I cannot stop playing it. I hit level 20 and kept right on going. The "fast travel" kicked in and expedited the questing and leveling. I finally have what I would consider "cool" weapons and that's made the killing more interesting.

I wouldn't say I'm having "fun," and I still maintain the game isn't very "good." I guess I'd call it "satisfying." We touch on "good" vs. "fun" in Part II of this show but I think we could do an entire podcast about "Why We Play (or Keeping Playing) Games."

That could be the lead-in to

That could be the lead-in to the long-awaited Too Human discussion...

Good vs Fun definitely

Good vs Fun definitely sounds like an interesting topic in gaming. I can name a few games that I enjoy very much but don't consider particularly "good" (guilty pleasures like Postal and Samurai Warriors). In the same way there are games that I really don't enjoy but still consider good or high quality in certain aspects. Although people can argue how "good" and "fun" are mostly up to personal opinion, I think there are certain qualities that most of us agree video games should have. Just as well there are certain design flaws that are almost unforgivable.

I think a big problem is that people aren't willing to objectively evaluate their favorite games. Maybe it's just the places I go to but some people seem to have such a deep loyalty to certain games. Also, to some people any game that is entertaining to them is automatically "good" since they believe the main objective of video games should be to simply provide entertainment, and at least in their case that mission was accomplished. They'll use the words good and fun interchangeably.

nice podcast!

great podcast, touched on some very interesting notions regarding the role of the reviewer. although, i am a bit pissed that you didn't get to myths 6 or 7, which seem to be the most interesting ;)

to be honest, i'm not sure what motivated the myths in the first place. does it come from some insecruity or percieved inconsistency about what is you guys actually do from a professional perspective? there's no unified, standard definition as to what constitutes a review, so it seems logical that you could take any approach you wanted. and the point was raised that you can adopt both a consumer-oriented approach and be critical in the same piece. so there's no reason why you can't judge the game based on value for money, and also discuss the negative values espoused by its narrative or whatever.

as an avid reader of reviews, what seems to be most improtant is that a writer tells people what value they dervied from the game, whether the overall experience was enjoyable, insightful, inspiring etc, whether the game does something special that no other game does, or whether the game has anything important or meaningful to say.

and whether or not these points can really be quantified by a number at the end of the piece i guess is something the reviewer/website needs to decide for themselves. personally, i don't find review scores to be useful at all, so i don't care one way or the other. although, a significant majority of the gaming community may feel differently....

Worry not lachs...

Part 2 is now available on iTunes, Zune, and http://ctpodcast.libsyn.com/. Should be on the front page soon. We dive deep into myths 6, 7, 5, 8, and 9. YES! NINE!

Boredomlands or Mario Party with guns?

I have Borderlands sitting in a drawer full of other games while Forza 3 gets played, and played, and played. Uncharted 2 as well, but that's because it's stuck in my PS3 that YLoD'd day after I bought it (the game not the PS3 which I've had for over two years), but that's another story.


To Tim and Brad, you both expressed how you feel a game should be as fun in singleplayer as well as multiplayer. Completely and utterly disagree on that one. If someone is focusing their resources on an exciting multiplayer experience that's great. I bought this game 100% with the notion that if I got it, it would be easier to convince my friends to get it, then I'll start playing it.

I don't even want to play this game without my friends plus their are many, many quality single player focused games I can get into in the mean time, however I've felt starved of light multiplayer RPG pick up and play experiences since I stopped playing Diablo 2. Gearbox kinda ticked off a big whole in my wish list with Borderlands. While I'm yet to play it much (I've played the first couple hours with a friend in splitscreen) just wanted to put in my two cents on Brad and Tims rejection of the multiplayer'ness of Borderlands. I thought your flat out disregard to even bother trying out the multiplayer properly when it's been said over, and over, and over again that this is what the game was meant for, was pretty lame.

By the way, I just wanted to ask you guys if you played Diablo 2 by yourselves, or online with strangers and friends? And did you cry when loot you wanted was taken? And did you move through the same storyline three times happily as the difficulty increased?

Again I haven't even played the game, I have no fond feelings towards it yet. I'm merely pointing out that I think Tim and Brads criticisms were lacking substance.

I'll be playing this game soon anyway (after my final Uni exam in 2 days). I'm new to 360 so I have no friends online there yet either, (like Tim and Brad it seems) my gtag is as above (quietID). Bring on the Boredom... Lands.

Hi Quiet.Thanks for your

Hi Quiet.

Thanks for your comments.

I guess the first thing that I want to make clear is that I actually did play the game in multiplayer. Not 100% of the time, but I did give it a run-through and got a good feel for what it's like with another person, so I hope you (or listeners) didn't get the impression that we didn't even try the multiplayer. That's not the case.

As for the issue about a game needing to be fun in single player as well as multi-, I've gotten a lot of feedback on this and I think I probably did myself a disservice by a kind of working that idea into the conversation so casually, when in fact, there's probably a lot more explaining and context I need to give before I can really assume my point is made. That's on me, and I will be doing a longer article focusing solely on that concept and my feelings on it.

Keep your eye out for that article, and when it goes up, I would be curious to see if you think my elaboration on the point makes any more sense.

As for Diablo, I played Diablo 1 as a solo experience, and I absolutely loved it. I haven't had a chance to play Diablo 2, but I strongly suspect that would be the same. I certainly think it's very possible to create a ‘grind’ style game that is satisfactory to both solo and multi- experiences, but I do not think Borderlands achieves this and since the game isn't meant solely as a multi-player-only platform, I felt a responsibility to ding it for presenting such a weak 1P mode.

… and besides that, totally apart from the whole 1P/Multi debate, the game is just very light on quality content and poorly-designed overall. After receiving all of the feedback I've gotten from Borderlands fans, it makes me wish I'd been a lot harsher in my original review. In hindsight, I would have included much more information about the quality of the AI, the types of encounters, and so on. It's subpar as a shooter anyway you slice it, so it's not just a matter of1P/multi that colors our viewpoint on it.

Multiplayer, and it's problems

It would be interesting to hear your explanation of that comment (single player needing to be really solid and fun if they include it), I do understand where you're coming from. I just disagree, and I understand the style of play they're trying to subscribe to here really well so I doubt my opinion will change. For one specific reason. This type of game would be really hard to pull off if you had to play online with someone at every moment you were playing the game. Also you're always going to get the kids/teens/hicks in the sticks who can't get online and maybe get together with their buddies and go system link every now and again. Just because they include it doesn't mean they intended people to play the whole game that way, and no I don't think it's a bad decision to include it even if it's boring. It's better than nothing if all you want to do is play some f'in Borderlands. I'm going to wait till my friends get organised.

I have never played Diablo, and I only played Diablo 2 online, I tried a purely offline character for 10 or so hours but it was dull. For the single player cRPG experience Baldurs Gate, Fallout, Planescape Torment and even Icewind Dale were far deeper, better experiences. Whenever I played Diablo 2 offline I got incredibly bored, in fact I think the single player in that game is just straight up crap, it's obviously not meant to be played single player even though they include it, but I did know some people who played it all way way through the three difficulty levels alone just to be hardcore, but there were far, far better single player experiences in that genre. That doesn't mean I didn't play the game myself, I often did, but it was always online and people might drop in, do some trading and leave or join me and quest for a bit. And luckily the entire game changes face when you play online, same maps, same enemies, same everything but somehow (once you get into it) that game becomes amazing online. The difference for me was so drastic and with Borderlands players throwing comparisons around like crazy I couldn't help but jump on your comments, as Diablo 2 is one of my favourite online games ever.

Diablo 2 was mindlessly addictive, and it's charm was hard to describe as 'fun' but that addictive quality and social satisfaction I got with that game has yet to be beaten. The social satisfaction came with that I usually sat down to play games and it would be an involving single player experience, I'd pick up D2, I'd see some friends were online and we'd go to Hell and do some sweet Baal runs together, divvy up some loot and talk shit for hours. Good times, however when I hear of people still playing it talking about their armour decked out with three perfect Topaz's (increases rare item drops) I almost can't believe they haven't moved on by now.

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