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[At Gamer Limit we are quite privy to reading random blog posts. At times, we'll even post the best of the best on the front page. So enjoy our latest blog editorial!]

Have you ever been on a date with someone who, every time you brought up stuff that you were interested in, replied with something neutral like “oh yeah, I like that too,” or “yeah, (such-n’-such thing) is alright”?

They made no attempt to really rock the boat or disagree with you. Maybe you’ve been that person – don’t be shy to admit it to yourself; I’ve certainly done it before. How did you feel about them as they made no attempt to create any difference of opinion? I bet it was probably the most boring date you’ve ever been on in your entire life (unless you’ve been on multiple dates like that, I suppose).

Here’s the reason: your date was trying very hard to be OBJECTIVE. They were so afraid to disagree with you, or say anything you might disagree with, that they ultimately said nothing at all. How much did you really learn about the person (not that you need to be on a date, but I’m not trying to play date doctor over here)? Did you find their company to be enjoyable and entertaining? Did you find yourself respecting and appreciating what was truly different and unique about them? I’m gonna go out on a limb here and say probably not.

Virtually no one finds it fun to keep someone like that in their company, because they’re boring. And yet, when it comes to video game criticism, this seems to be exactly what is expected of us. Things like ‘bias’ and ’subjective’ are treated as dirty words in criticism, or like deadly sins. As for me, I think the opposite should be true; objective people are are wholly uninteresting to be around, and objective reviews are equally tiresome and uninformative.

Before I continue, allow me to establish a few things: I don’t think that objectivity is useless in all walks of life. If you want to buy a car, one would probably want the facts more than anything: miles per gallon, how many people can it seat, how large the car is, trunk space, or whatever is important to their personal needs (even still, these are not the be-all end-all factors in a car purchase for some people, but I digress). For a product that serves a specific function to to a person, the facts are important above-all; whatever can be discussed subjectively is probably negligible anyways.

Video games are not one such thing. Sure, they are a product that serves a specific function to a degree; however, their function is to illicit an emotional response from their consumer. When I say ‘emotional response’, I’m not necessarily talking about games which are driven by narrative, but the most important emotions a video game can bestow upon the player: fun and happiness. On the other hand, something like a car is meant to help transport a person and their belongings more quickly and easily – in other words, a function where feelings are pretty irrelevant.

How on earth does objectivity help in matters of emotion? Recall your terrible date; if you had to give them a review and post it up on the internet, what would you write? “Leslie was very nice, had good hygiene and did not disturb the other patrons of the restaurant/theater/bar. She was respectful of my opinions. I give Leslie a 10/10?? Or, would you say something like “sweet holy mamalo, Leslie made waiting in line at the DMV seem like a thrill ride at Disneyland. I looked at my watch at least once every two minutes, and prayed that someone – no, ANYONE – would come hit on me and whisk me away from her boring ass. 1/10??”. Which one of these two reviews was more entertaining to read? Even more importantly, which one of these reviews was more INFORMATIVE – the review which told you a few facts you would hope to be a given? Or the one that had actual opinions?

Hopefully, this is enough to convince anyone that the idea of a subjective critique on a game is worth considering. But, moving past the analogy of video games to dating, a critique of any medium of entertainment needs to be subjective to be ultimately informative and entertaining to read. Allow me to discuss a few things which I imagine that critics of other entertainment mediums are already privy to.

First things first: the very notion of someone being completely objective is ridiculous. Everyone has their preferences and their biases. It’s strange to me that video game critics are held to this inane standard of being completely objective at all times, when true objectivity is such a phony idea. To me, the trick is to recognize your biases, both for and against things, and strive to avoid them or even use them to your advantage.

An example of using a bias to your advantage: Reviewing a game from a genre you particularly enjoy, so that you can discuss things that a critic who enjoys the genre casually may not deem important/lack the experience to discuss in depth.

An example of bias working against the critic: Giving a game a bad score when they know that they tend to dislike the particular genre/series of games in the first place. Possible solutions: Avoid reviewing the game in the first place; make well-constructed points as to why the game doesn’t feel fun, while acknowledging your bias. This should be a rare instance in the first place, though.

Secondly, “objective” reviews are not interesting to read in most cases. They state the facts of the game – most of which can be found in news pieces or previews on the game – and then stating whether these facts are positive or negative. When I some reviews, I feel like I’m reading the instruction manual with adjectives like “excellent/compelling/amazing/poorly executed/sloppy” written in the margin.

This is just downright boring, and sometimes, and more importantly, it’s LESS informative than a subjective review, because it doesn’t really offer any insight into how the game FEELS to play. It is important to bring up unusual or extremely unique aspects of a game; however, if a critic mentions in an RPG review that “characters have maximum HP, MP, and stats which go up after battling monsters in a turn-based combat system by attacking them with a devious combination of physical and magical attacks”, they insult the reader’s intelligence and simultaneously waste their time by telling them nothing they couldn’t already guess.

At the risk of sounding hypocritical, I want to wrap this up by saying that there is indeed a place for straight fact in video game reviews. Because video games are interactive products, there are issues to be addressed in video games that other entertainment mediums such as music, film, and literature will never have to deal with. These factors, however, are minimal: how long should one expect to play a game to complete it? Are there glitches in the game which make it prohibitively difficult to play? Are there significant differences between the same game on different hardware? These are things that should be approached with objectivity.

If I had to pull a statistic out of thin air, I’d say that game reviews in our day and age are 70% objective facts and 30% opinion and emotional response. I fear that game criticism will not really evolve or improve unless we reverse that statistic. Unfortunately, game reviews are still approached like an automobile review. Until product recommendation becomes the SECONDARY goal of a critique, handing the primary seat to discussing how a game feels, I fear we’ll still be reading a lot of instruction manuals in the meantime.

  1. Great piece, Jamie. It really gives some insight into the reason reviews should be taken with the original author’s intent in mind, instead of looked at on a hard scale of 1 to 10.

  2. avatar Mike Hartnett

    Awesome write-up man, I really enjoyed it.

  3. avatar Examiner

    No shit, I mean how many terrible articles do you people need to write just to do damage control.

    Try writing something useful.

  4. @Examiner
    Do you write for the Examiner?

  5. avatar Josh

    Examiner hit the spot. I doubt that there are any good game reviewers, most are pretty pretentious. What, you’re a gamer, you have preconcieved genre notions and expect a game to fit into them, and you are ignorant to almost all info on development, and YOU think you’re qualified to rip it up? It seems like game reviewing is just an ego-trip from a rampant gamer and it’s taken right twards developers.

    I’m not a believer in the unbiased review, but I’m a believer that people can do better things then thrash developers and their hard work because the game wasn’t custom tailored!

    Screw you guys, how about YOU go make a game, see how much you enjoy the unconstructive and pretentious criticism!

  6. avatar Tim

    This is a great article. I never thought of reviews that way. But when I think about it, the best reveiws have been subjectively fair. The only time that subjectivity is bad is when (like you said) reviewers give a lower score for a game they didn’t like anyway *cough* IGN *cough* Bad Company 2 *cough.* Everyone needs to read this.

  7. avatar gorebago

    This is all logical and didn’t need to be written. I guess for those of us who aren’t media literate, it does serve a purpose but as someone with a degree in this type of industry, this is all frivilous.

    Like the bible, journalism is all subjective even the “objective” pieces.

    There is no black and white. I love Risen and Dante’s Inferno, two games that people tore apart on the internet.

    THink for yourself.

  8. avatar Examiner

    Chris – What’s the Examiner?

    Josh – I just don’t think it’s necessary to write ‘damage control’ articles based on other peoples opinions.

  9. avatar Jazz

    Yeah, I don’t listen to game reviews singularly, I use metacritic. I agree that most reviewers are unqualified A La what josh said. I also agree with Gore, I loved FE:RD and TOS2 yet it got ripped up by pretentious gamers who found out their precious fan-service was duped xD

    Jesus, with game trade-ins, marketing, and your “Gamer Worthy Indignation” most normal developers make minimum wage making godly products. Maybe people should recognize hard work other than their impressions. I used to support game reviewing until I became a maker- now you’re fiends in every sense of the word.

  10. avatar wicko

    A reviewer should be biased enough to enjoy the genre (or series if applicable), but subjective enough to give useful information to those new to the genre and/or series. Having a ridiculous hard-on for the game helps no one but those who are die-hard fans, especially when that hard-on is somewhat unjustified.

    I’ve read reviews like Jim Sterling’s Heavy Rain review, and it just makes me shake my head because it’s clear he hates the game, he made that clear with a previous article, basically saying Heavy Rain is doing a disservice to the industry. That is pretty harsh, and pretty poor journalism if you ask me, but I guess Destructoid is cool with that, since they let him review the game afterwards. So I avoid reading those kinds of reviews.

  11. When one writes a review, I think it’s important to always note that it should reflect both his/her experiences with the game and the game’s standalone merits. Critiquing one’s experience, though, is paramount to a review.

    Reviewing a game mechanically (ie. going through a laundry list of pros and cons) gets a little tedious. A reviewer needs to discuss more than just graphics, gameplay and everything else in between. A review needs to – like Jamie has stated in his article – explicitly state how that game changed (or didn’t change) the reviewer’s perspective.

    Unfortunately, most reviews tend to read like press releases.

    I wish more writers would sound more like excited little kids telling their friends how the game made them feel, as opposed to lecturing Kid B and going down the list of pros and cons like a robot.

  12. avatar David

    Nice article.This is something that’s been on my mind recently and illustrates why people should NOT base their purchases on what any given review says. Example, Final Fantasy XIII, this game has been given 10/10 by one site and 5/10 by another. With such a huge discrepancy in score you realize that the person who gave the game 10/10 is a fan of the genre whilst the person who gave it 5/10 isn’t … so who do you trust? The fan may brush over inadequacies, while the non-fan may highlight any minor issue simply to find fault.

    So yes, reviews are simply opinions and should always be taken with a grain of salt, sadly in this day and age too many people put a lot of faith into what other people say in reviews.

  13. I think I love you, Jamie. In a totally straight, but will still make out with you super hardcore, kinda way.

  14. avatar anoonnyyymous

    “Here’s the reason: your date was trying very hard to be OBJECTIVE.”

    Here’s the problem: I don’t read reviews to get to know the author better. I’ll form my own opinions, thanks. Just tell me what to expect.

    • So, what you’re basically saying is that you really just want a preview of what the game has to offer… and not a review of the game (ie: explaining pros/cons, the authors experience with it, etc)?

      I like to know who I’m reading reviews from bc then I have a history of how well I can trust their judgments and how it relates to my own. Without that sort of history, you might as well just pick a few reviews at random and base your purchase decision off of that. Not a reliable way to pick games to play, if you ask me.

    • avatar anoonnyyymous

      I’m talking in generality for the most part. Tell me about how fluffy the pillow was not whether you enjoyed sleeping on it.

    • avatar Jazz

      Wow, you hit the spot.

    • What you’re basically asking for is stuff you could figure out from reading previews and news posts…or, the instruction manual. In other words, you’re not asking for a review at all. As a critic, it’s not my job to write instruction manuals; it’s my job to _critique_ games. In other words, if it’s not mostly an opinion, then I’m not really reviewing the game.

  15. avatar Anonymous

    a review of a game is a review of the content and who it’s for, what to expect, not any of this scoring or indignant bullshit!

  16. I personally only trust a couple of reviewers in the industry, because there are only a couple of guys who I feel like I know well. I know their biases and their tendancies and after years of reading their reviews I understand how that factors in their game scores. If you want to get the most out of a review, I think it’s important to have this type of bond with the writer.

    • avatar Anonymous

      you expect us to tail your ass for a few years to understand a review?

    • It doesn’t take years of following, you can easily read a reviewers backlog of reviews on past games to get an idea of what genre’s they prefer, how they rate games compared to others, whether they believe in a more objective or subjective scale, etc…

      It may take the reviewer him/herself a few years to get to that point, but we have the benefit of online archives and things like metacritic and gamerankings to help us catch up on what a score from that person really means to us.

    • avatar Jazz

      The entire point of a review is a unbiased standpoint on if all features of a game are excecuted properly. We don’t want a review from our stupid neighbors, we want one from someone with industry experience.

    • It’s not like if you have industry experience, you have no bias…

  17. avatar Buy cheap OEM software

    coAsck Author, Shoot yourself a knee..!

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