Escapist Editorials

Escapist Editorials
Reviewing Games at The Escapist: Experiential vs. Evaluative

Russ Pitts | 2 Mar 2010 12:30
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A few years ago, when we decided to begin reviewing games at The Escapist, we quickly realized we had a big, big problem: We hated the way games were being reviewed.

That's not to say we hated the fact that games were being reviewed. We believe game reviews serve a valuable purpose. After all, there are a lot of games being made these days (back then, too). Your average gamer often has to pick and choose from dozens of options, and it isn't always clear what kind of experience they're going to have.

Considering the current cost of videogames, it's a little unreasonable to expect someone just to suck it up and deal if they pick up a game, then realize they don't enjoy it. In what other industry would people seriously expect you to spend half a hundred dollars on something with no guarantee of satisfaction? What was the last thing, besides a game, on which you spent that kind of money? Would you take it back if it didn't work? Of course you would, but you can't take games back. With games, you buy as-is, and to hell with you if you didn't get what you expected.

In a perfect world, we could play everything and not worry too much that some games might be less enjoyable than others, or less to our tastes, but nobody has that kind of time, setting aside the cost. So considering all of that, it just makes sense that gamers feel a lot of pressure when making their buying decisions, and an equal measure of ire when they don't get what they want.

This is why reviews are so important. Gamers need to be able to turn to someone they can trust to help them decide which games are for them and which they'd be better off passing on. The trust bit, though - that's the rub, isn't it?

There's no shortage of people trying to tell you how to spend your money. Everyone up to and including the people making the games themselves has an opinion about how a given game stacks up to another. But while there are plenty of people to whom you can turn for advice about games, it's ultimately up to you as the consumer to decide which reviews are meaningful and which are just further clouding the issue.

The problem we had with the state of game reviewing in 2006 was that most game reviews just plain didn't tell you a whole lot about what it was like to play the game. Most reviews seemed hung-up on issues like graphics and sounds, whether or not the new game was better than the old one or what kind of gew-gaws the publisher sent over to put on the reviewers' desks. Very few reviews went deeper, to the core of the experience. While I'll grant you there are some gamers for whom the shiniest graphics and cleanest sound do make a difference, games aren't movies. I've played plenty of videogames with lousy graphics and sound that were nevertheless stunning experiences. Hell, if we're being honest, that would include every game from the '80s and early '90s.

The Escapist was founded in the belief that videogames present experiences beyond traditional media, that - more than watching a movie or reading a book - games are immersive worlds in which a good percentage of the fun to be had is from simply existing in the world that has been created - escaping, if you will. Our editorial philosophy was established to address the art of videogaming with the thoughtfulness and care that purveyors of more traditional media take for granted, but that videogaming so rarely enjoys.

After four years and over 1,000 feature articles written by over 300 of gaming's most creative talents, we feel we've done a pretty good job at that. So when we turned our minds to writing reviews, we wanted to be sure we weren't betraying our mission. We felt that if we addressed the subject of reviews in the same manner as the majority of other outlets - judging games based on evaluative criteria like graphics, sound and controls - we'd not only be letting ourselves down, but disappointing our readers, who'd come to depend on us for something more in all respects.

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