Escapist Editorials

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

Russ Pitts | 2 Mar 2010 12:30
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Looking hard at what worked for us and what didn't, we realized the best reviews, in our minds, weren't really reviews at all, but articles describing how it actually felt to play the game, articles delving into the experience of play and evaluating the game on the strength of its fun rather than on a checklist. We believed that the relationship between reviewer and reader needed to be one of shared values and shared experiences, rather than that of a privileged elitist showcasing his superior knowledge. Rather than talk down to our readers about the minutia of game technology, we wanted to share with you our love of playing videogames and offer our advice, based on a lifetime of playing games and thinking about them way too much. We felt that if we could do that, then readers would be able to make up their own minds about which games deserved their dollars and might feel better about their purchases as a result.

This was a lofty goal, and it might seem a little pretentious. But worthy goals often appear unachievable at first, and pretension (from the Latin root praetendere, meaning "false or hypocritical profession") is a word that's all too often used incorrectly, so we've never been too bothered by the accusation. After all, it's only pretentious if it's wrong, and since we were already widely considered the "pseudo-intellectual wanks of videogame journalism," we figured we had nothing to lose by making possibly pretentious assertions about our review policy and staying true to our core beliefs in order to bring our audience something you might actually find of use - truly experiential game reviews.

Over three years and 300 reviews later, we're pleased to see that there actually is a place for experiential reviews in today's gaming journalism scene, and that you, our dear readers, seem to prefer them. Each time I read a comment on one of our reviews saying that the reader "had this exact same experience," I feel a swell of pride that we were not only able to communicate our experiences in a way that others could easily understand, but that there are other gamers out there like us who enjoy the same things we do and feel about them the exact same way.

This year we announced that we'd be making a slight change to our reviews by adding a numerical score. You can read about this decision and why we believed it was important here, but I won't go into that discussion in this space. Suffice to say, it was not an easy decision, but as it turns out, it was the correct one, and I have been pleased to see how little an impact it has had on the heart of our reviews. You can now evaluate the games we review and make side-by-side comparisons to determine which games, in a broadly subjective way, are "better" than others, but the experiential essence of our reviews themselves has, and will, remain unchanged.

At The Escapist, we believe that videogaming is the most important and influential entertainment medium in the history of Mankind. Far beyond other media, we believe videogames have the power and the opportunity to change everything about the way we live, up to and including who we are as people, gamers and individuals.

In the four years since we've been publishing The Escapist, we've witnessed gaming grow into a $19 billion dollar industry, from almost half that; from a niche activity enjoyed by small communities of hardcore elites to a global entertainment phenomenon enjoyed by grandmothers and heads of state. When Bill Gates and Paul Allen founded Microsoft, their goal was to see their software "on every computer on every desk in every home." 25 years later, they saw that vision realized. Four years ago, if we'd said the same thing about videogame platforms, we'd have been ridiculed, or called "pretentious" yet again. Then again, we did say that, and now here we are. In addition to the overwhelming number of North American homes containing one or more videogame consoles (68%), almost every mobile phone sold this year came pre-packaged with games, and casual games are now being played by a vast majority of adults of all ages.

We've come a long way, and I say we have further still to go, but one thing is absolutely certain: Videogames are here to stay. At The Escapist, we pledge to continue sharing with you the life-changing experience of playing them.

Russ Pitts

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