Everyone's a Critic

Everyone's a Critic

I am on the third of a five-our drive through relentless brown pre-spring scenery, and exhausted with my own taste in music, I resort to talk radio. As I scan to "The Ideas Network of Wisconsin Public Radio" I hear the phrase "the democratization of criticism" uttered into the public discourse, and for reasons I can't fully explain it gives me pause for hours to come. What the hell does that precisely mean, the democratization of criticism, because, judging by the following discussion, it's apparently what the entire internet is all about.

Once upon a time, when a person went to the store and purchased a product that proved unsatisfactory, that person would return the item and then, at most, grumble to a friend or co-worker about the ill-fated purchase, and that was the end of it. Now, when you purchase a product, you have endless opportunities for registering public complaint to an audience many orders of magnitudes larger than was commonplace just a decade or two ago. If that new Gwen Stefani CD isn't as good as you'd hoped, drag the platinum blonde's name through the digital mud on iTunes, and if the final Harry Potter is your idea of the greatest accomplishment of modern literature, you may join your voice to the great critical mass of Amazon.com and in both instances have reason to believe you may affect the purchases of someone you have never met.

No longer is widely-exposed criticism the lofty perch of a Roger Ebert or, with apologies to our own local Torquemada, a Lester Bangs, with their at least reasonably educated and well-worded complaints. These self-righteous bozos (read: professionals) are now equaled by the scrawling of every internet denizen with a screen name and a penchant to bitch. And who is reading these sometimes barely legible and usually off-the-cuff critiques? Pretty much everyone.

In browsing for online purchases, the convenience of immediately accessible reviews, perched helpfully right the on the page where you actually buy the product, negates the need to go in search in less convenient locales. Besides, JKRowlingFan1147 speaks your language and is much more likely to have a similar taste in literature than, say, NPR's Alan Cheuse who, often comes off as the quintessential pompous film snob. So if Fan1147 proclaims Potter a "five-star, A+++" book that would even make a constipated Hufflepuff happy, who are you to argue, even if she did post those five stars before the book was actually released?

In the age of the internet, as worldwide communication confirms that misery loves planetary company, online customer surveys, review sites, blogs and forums have become a self-sustaining orgy of endless criticism, commentary and review. It seems if something can't be rated according to a linear scale, it doesn't even register on our cultural radars. Were future generations of humans to judge our current society based solely on the remnants of internet dialogue, they might assume we existed in an entirely consumer-based culture that made luxury purchases as much for the right to pass judgment on that purchase in online forums as for any utilitarian reason.

As usual, the internet seems to magnify our natural responses to an extreme, if only because our voice online is so loud and rewarded by a massive community of similarly behaving people. It's one thing to read a book, find yourself disappointed and turn to your friend to express some general complaint. But something changes when that casual complaint is posted on Amazon.com, even if it's no more irrational than the passing comment to a spouse, not because the sentiment is necessarily any stronger but because the context changes. Posting publicly endows authority, even when undeserved, and that the most absurd comments inevitably become the ones on which attention is focused only serves to worsen an already bad situation.

It leaves me to wonder if the very nature of criticism has changed. When the dysfunctional comments left in places like Aintitcool.com carry as much weight with purveyors of media as the LA Times' Kenneth Turan, it seems the nature of critical thought has changed for the worse. It seems, in giving everyone an equal voice, we've somewhat diminished the value of informed thought.

As a boy, when I wanted to know whether a given videogame was worth the money I scraped together from three weeks of woefully inadequate allowances, I could either ask friends who had the game or turn to the latest issue of Compute! Magazine. Now, assuming I haven't already been infected with someone's unsolicited opinion on a game during its years of development, all I need do is hit any of 10,000 message boards for immediate reactions. Should I have the fortitude to wait a full day, reviews from countless so-called reviewers in marginal outlets of little renown will espouse certain judgments in the guise of objective professionalism. And, should all that prove too troublesome, I could always simply allow aggregators to collect and disseminate the information into a numerical representation of quality for me. With such a robust sampling from which to draw, certainly this number between one and 10 is an accurate average of relative quality.

Everyone gets a vote, and every vote counts the same. That's democratization, and it sounds great, except in the analysis of online criticism I begin to run into the same problem as the framers of the Constitution did when they settled on the Electoral College. Specifically, even without the benefit of the internet, they realized that while no opinion can truly be wrong, they can be ill-informed. We live in a world where everyone is special, everyone's opinion is valid and everyone has a right to be heard.

The thing is, the more I am flashed with everyone's usually hidden special-ness, the more I think there should be a way to put the genie back in the bottle. I'm not saying Greg Kasavin at Gamespot should have the last and only word on the quality of a game just because he's a "paid professional" and has "editorial standards." What I am saying is maybe we should all give him and his kin a little more attention than we give Quak3D00d when weighing criticism.

If this is the democratization of criticism, maybe I'm all for some totalitarianism for a while.

Permalink

As a partial answer to your concern, several of the places I go for reviews try to approach professional and non-professional reviews separately. Specifically, RottenTomatoes and Metacritic both provide a Critic Rating, and a User Rating (Average Joe Consumer). Some sites, including RottenTomatoes, provide me the ability to pick out Average Joe's that seem to mirror my feelings on other products, and gauge their reactions to new things.

In addition, forum-wise, we all tend to congregate on forums with like-minded people. Self-segregation. So when it comes to how my chosen forum feels about something, it's more likely that it will be how I feel about that thing.

Although, if there's anyone in the review business that I'm worried about, it's not qualified reviewers, and it's not uninformed Average Joes. Those are pretty easy to identify and handle. The people that concern me are the shills. Party to both groups, very hard to distinguish, and inevitably a negative effect on the whole scene (although, often positive on the review average).

There have been plenty of times when I've disagreed with professional critics, mostly because I focus on different things while I play then the critics do. Not to say I disregard them entirely, but whenever I read a review I usually find myself groaning whenever they focus in on certain aspects I find less relevant (Usually graphics related things).

But I also groan (often very loudly) whenever I read an "unbiased" player review... (Yeah, GearsOfWarFan1998, I know you love chainsawing things, can you explain to me why I should care?) But sometimes, you just happen to come across someone who's actually trying to give their honest opinion and cover things that the professionals may have missed, and whenever I stumble across one of those, my heart warms up a little bit.

Unfortunately, I haven't found one of those kinds of reviews in a LOOOOONG time...

This is the second article about the 'democratization of criticism' that I've read this week.

The other, about the food-criticism business, decried the way non-professional reviewers at Yelp.com could make or break a fledgeling eatery. (Unsurprisingly, this denunciation was written by a pro cuisine-journalist.)

Generally I'm all about leaving professional work to professionals. For example, here in California we have Burning Man and other movements which have brought an 'everyone is an artist' ideology to our arts communities, the result being an onslaught of reprehensibly bad hippie art, with an 'emperor's new clothes' attitude toward calling it the pollution it really is.

On the other hand, I applaud citizen-reviewers. I realized this in the mid-'90s when I was looking for good science fiction literature to read. I found that Locus magazine and the other journalistic outlets were pushing lots of industry-hyped trash, basically just passing publisher press-releases on to the readers. It was only when I went to Rec.Arts.SF.Written that I began to find good books. (Sure, you saw dissenting opinions at RASFW, you had to take everything with a grain of salt and a lot of context, and reviewers certainly did not adhere to Strunk and White stylistic standards. But read enough about something and a pretty accurate picture of it's quality develops.)

Same with outlets like Yelp. Go through, look at the average number of stars something gets, find the reviewers who have perspectives similar to your own, and it's a very valuable tool.

Pro reviewers are often jaded, or worse, they've formed alliances in the industries they purport objectivity about. They're too close to their subjects.

There are two points where I'll certainly agree with you, though:

1) In areas where fandom comes into play (videogame criticism in particular,) citizen-reviewers on message boards are youthful, overenthusiastic, and inarticulate to the point where it very adversely effects the signal-to-noise ratio.

2) The first time I saw Ain't it Cool News quoted in a movie trailer, it made me feel depression and rage.

Sean Sands:
Everyone's a Critic

I am on the third of a five-our drive through relentless brown pre-spring scenery, and exhausted with my own taste in music, I resort to talk radio. As I scan to "The Ideas Network of Wisconsin Public Radio" I hear the phrase "the democratization of criticism" uttered into the public discourse, and for reasons I can't fully explain it gives me pause for hours to come. What the hell does that precisely mean, the democratization of criticism, because, judging by the following discussion, it's apparently what the entire internet is all about.

Once upon a time, when a person went to the store and purchased a product that proved unsatisfactory, that person would return the item and then, at most, grumble to a friend or co-worker about the ill-fated purchase, and that was the end of it. Now, when you purchase a product, you have endless opportunities for registering public complaint to an audience many orders of magnitudes larger than was commonplace just a decade or two ago. If that new Gwen Stefani CD isn't as good as you'd hoped, drag the platinum blonde's name through the digital mud on iTunes, and if the final Harry Potter is your idea of the greatest accomplishment of modern literature, you may join your voice to the great critical mass of Amazon.com and in both instances have reason to believe you may affect the purchases of someone you have never met.

No longer is widely-exposed criticism the lofty perch of a Roger Ebert or, with apologies to our own local Torquemada, a Lester Bangs, with their at least reasonably educated and well-worded complaints. These self-righteous bozos (read: professionals) are now equaled by the scrawling of every internet denizen with a screen name and a penchant to bitch. And who is reading these sometimes barely legible and usually off-the-cuff critiques? Pretty much everyone.

In browsing for online purchases, the convenience of immediately accessible reviews, perched helpfully right the on the page where you actually buy the product, negates the need to go in search in less convenient locales. Besides, JKRowlingFan1147 speaks your language and is much more likely to have a similar taste in literature than, say, NPR's Alan Cheuse who, often comes off as the quintessential pompous film snob. So if Fan1147 proclaims Potter a "five-star, A+++" book that would even make a constipated Hufflepuff happy, who are you to argue, even if she did post those five stars before the book was actually released?

In the age of the internet, as worldwide communication confirms that misery loves planetary company, online customer surveys, review sites, blogs and forums have become a self-sustaining orgy of endless criticism, commentary and review. It seems if something can't be rated according to a linear scale, it doesn't even register on our cultural radars. Were future generations of humans to judge our current society based solely on the remnants of internet dialogue, they might assume we existed in an entirely consumer-based culture that made luxury purchases as much for the right to pass judgment on that purchase in online forums as for any utilitarian reason.

As usual, the internet seems to magnify our natural responses to an extreme, if only because our voice online is so loud and rewarded by a massive community of similarly behaving people. It's one thing to read a book, find yourself disappointed and turn to your friend to express some general complaint. But something changes when that casual complaint is posted on Amazon.com, even if it's no more irrational than the passing comment to a spouse, not because the sentiment is necessarily any stronger but because the context changes. Posting publicly endows authority, even when undeserved, and that the most absurd comments inevitably become the ones on which attention is focused only serves to worsen an already bad situation.

It leaves me to wonder if the very nature of criticism has changed. When the dysfunctional comments left in places like Aintitcool.com carry as much weight with purveyors of media as the LA Times' Kenneth Turan, it seems the nature of critical thought has changed for the worse. It seems, in giving everyone an equal voice, we've somewhat diminished the value of informed thought.

As a boy, when I wanted to know whether a given videogame was worth the money I scraped together from three weeks of woefully inadequate allowances, I could either ask friends who had the game or turn to the latest issue of Compute! Magazine. Now, assuming I haven't already been infected with someone's unsolicited opinion on a game during its years of development, all I need do is hit any of 10,000 message boards for immediate reactions. Should I have the fortitude to wait a full day, reviews from countless so-called reviewers in marginal outlets of little renown will espouse certain judgments in the guise of objective professionalism. And, should all that prove too troublesome, I could always simply allow aggregators to collect and disseminate the information into a numerical representation of quality for me. With such a robust sampling from which to draw, certainly this number between one and 10 is an accurate average of relative quality.

Everyone gets a vote, and every vote counts the same. That's democratization, and it sounds great, except in the analysis of online criticism I begin to run into the same problem as the framers of the Constitution did when they settled on the Electoral College. Specifically, even without the benefit of the internet, they realized that while no opinion can truly be wrong, they can be ill-informed. We live in a world where everyone is special, everyone's opinion is valid and everyone has a right to be heard.

The thing is, the more I am flashed with everyone's usually hidden special-ness, the more I think there should be a way to put the genie back in the bottle. I'm not saying Greg Kasavin at Gamespot should have the last and only word on the quality of a game just because he's a "paid professional" and has "editorial standards." What I am saying is maybe we should all give him and his kin a little more attention than we give Quak3D00d when weighing criticism.

If this is the democratization of criticism, maybe I'm all for some totalitarianism for a while.

Permalink

Everyone may be a critic, but not everybody is a retard. Believe it or not, but there are people out there who are able to question other people's opinions. I don't care if it's a professional who wrote the reviews I read or a fan or a nobody. If the review or criticism in general centers on things that are important to me, if the opinion is made clear and is justified, if words don't consist of numbers and if the first sentence of the review doesn't contain typos, like a forgotten 'h' in 'five-hour drive', then I could listen to it.

Are you even reading this stuff btw or are you waiting for Kenneth Turan to review and criticize your article? I'm not writing for the LA Times, I'm no professional and I don't have editorial standards like you after all.

Let me get this straight. The ones that aren't paid by the people they're criticizing, they're the less legitimate ones?

this site used to be good, way back before people like Sean Sands, Russ Pitts and Michael Zenke started posting crap like this.

don't you think people can tell the difference between flaming and reviewing? don't you think people have read all the recent articles about corrupt and pampered reviewers? don't you think people get fed up with "proffeshunals" who keep telling them that blue is the new red or that piss is the new crap? i sure have, and i sure do. and as a result, i no longer want to be told what to like by these pampered, self-rightous, but oh so "proffeshunal" reviewers.

Tzomg:
Let me get this straight. The ones that aren't paid by the people they're criticizing, they're the less legitimate ones?

Last I checked, gaming review sites didn't get paid by the publishers of the games they were reviewing. While video game journalism has taken some knocks over the years, I don't believe this big of a lapse in journalistic ethics would go unnoticed.

Big Brother:
this site used to be good, way back before people like Sean Sands, Russ Pitts and Michael Zenke started posting crap like this.

don't you think people can tell the difference between flaming and reviewing? don't you think people have read all the recent articles about corrupt and pampered reviewers? don't you think people get fed up with "proffeshunals" who keep telling them that blue is the new red or that piss is the new crap? i sure have, and i sure do. and as a result, i no longer want to be told what to like by these pampered, self-rightous, but oh so "proffeshunal" reviewers.

It's called an 'opinion' piece for a reason. That said, I do thank you for being a devil's advocate, sincerely so.

Last time I looked, them banner ads ain't for fabric softener there Alex.

Alex Karls:

It's called an 'opinion' piece for a reason. That said, I do thank you for being a devil's advocate, sincerely so.

thanks for saying so. you're right that this is indeed an opinion piece. i guess viewed it as more of a general thing, and posted a bit sternly as a result of that. i do mean what i wrote, though: both that the quality of the escapist has declined, and that there's a good reason why proffesional reviews are loosing relevance and appeal.

Last time I looked, them banner ads ain't for fabric softener there Alex.

Why would someone viewing a game site be interested in fabric softener? Targeted marketing does not equal payola. The content of The Escapist does not reflect the ads we run or vice versa. I'd be just as happy to tell someone their game sucks whether or not they have dealings with our ad department.

i do mean what i wrote, though: both that the quality of the escapist has declined.

Sorry to hear that. Genuinely.

I found this article extremely disappointing, and largely unreadable.

Targeted marketing does not equal payola. The content of The Escapist does not reflect the ads we run or vice versa. I'd be just as happy to tell someone their game sucks whether or not they have dealings with our ad department.

First, that wasn't solely towards The Escapist, and the commercial reasoning behind advertising audiences is obvious. Second, there is simply a fundamental risk of payola in a criticize-and-advertise scheme, which we consumers expect you to control institutionally. But then suggesting that professionalism, essentially defined by a writer's participation in the criticize-and-advertise system, should provide an intrinsically higher soapbox from which to speak strains congenial tolerance.

While reading this article back in April, I didn't find myself offended. On seeing these recent responses, I took special care to re-read the article, looking for the offense I had apparently missed. I still haven't found it.

Tzomg:
But then suggesting that professionalism, essentially defined by a writer's participation in the criticize-and-advertise system, should provide an intrinsically higher soapbox from which to speak strains congenial tolerance.

Particularly, what you say here Tzomg. Where exactly did the author state or imply this definition of professionalism? My take-away was that there are people in this world better educated than others, who put more effort into reviewing things than others. A happy coincidence, I guess, that sometimes these people make a living doing so. There is nothing wrong with professionalism ("2. the standing, practice, or methods of a professional, as distinguished from an amateur." Dictionary.com), in my opinion, as a measure of quality.

I like Metacritic, and I like RottenTomatoes. That doesn't mean that I don't think Joe Schmoe is an idiot, or that it's not a miracle that some of the people who post on these various sites even managed to turn on a computer. I enjoy user reviews, JUST as I enjoy professional reviews, and I take them both with a grain of salt.

Unfortunately, with the average user review, it's a bit like a one night stand. A blindfolded one night stand. At least with professional reviewers, I can form a bit of a long-term relationship, get to know their likes and dislikes, see what we have in common, and where we agree and disagree on games (or movies). I come to trust them, and certainly it is within their power to violate that trust, but that's why it's called trust.

Big Brother:
i do mean what i wrote, though: both that the quality of the escapist has declined, and that there's a good reason why proffesional reviews are loosing relevance and appeal.

Appeal, for some, certainly. But losing relevance? I'm not so sure about that. Without the hype machine, who would buy the game to provide all of those wonderful user reviews? You, individually, may have lost the desire to be told what to like, and what not to like, but not everyone has. Some people like being told what to like.

Tzomg:
Last time I looked, them banner ads ain't for fabric softener there Alex.

...

First, that wasn't solely towards The Escapist, and the commercial reasoning behind advertising audiences is obvious. Second, there is simply a fundamental risk of payola in a criticize-and-advertise scheme, which we consumers expect you to control institutionally. But then suggesting that professionalism, essentially defined by a writer's participation in the criticize-and-advertise system, should provide an intrinsically higher soapbox from which to speak strains congenial tolerance.

One thing I wanted to point out, Tzomg. A restaurant can pay to run an ad in the same sunday paper in which the restaurant is reviewed. That's a framework that has been used and accepted for a very long time. In that light, I think your claim is a little unfair, if you're suggesting any lack of journalistic integrity on the part of The Escapist.

I think the whole problem is that critics overvalued themselves in the first place.

Now everyone can do it, critics are realising they're not that great and what they're saying isn't that important.

FunkyJ:
I think the whole problem is that critics overvalued themselves in the first place.

Agreed. At least that they overvalued themselves, not that it's the whole problem.

Now everyone can do it, critics are realising they're not that great and what they're saying isn't that important.

I think that the realization is that their position as individuals with a voice (ability to communicate to the masses, compared to pre-internets Joica Schmoasaurus) is not what mattered. Now that the ability to communicate has been spread around to everyone (yay internets!), what they're saying has become important. Before, they could say whatever they wanted. Now, they actually have to say something worthwhile in order to get people to listen. Not such a bad situation in my mind, but I still don't see it leading to the end of professional reviews. Only that it might make them better. Certainly, it will cull the herd a bit.

The solution appears pretty simple to me. Learn how to develop an opinion on opinions. Here are a couple of pointers:

* Seek out the opinions of likeminded punters. Start with your friends and relatives, and move on to the online communities of people you bond with on some level. Chances are, you've shared some opinions in the past, and that's probably not going to change in a hurry.
* Try to stick to actual discourse where possible. You'll nearly always gain more from a discussion than a monologue.
* When it comes to reviews en masse, scores are probably a better indication than throwing a dart at a list of random comments.
* If the "critic" finds it difficult to string sentences together, uses SMS-speak despite a perfectly good keyboard in front of them, and overuses adjectives such as "gay", they're probably a twelve year old kid, and their opinion may not be as informed as it could be.
* Purely negative or purely positive criticism should set off alarm bells. Nothing is perfect, nor completely shite, and anyone who insists upon either is likely to be exagerrating.
* Most of all, be wary of anyone who is paid to critique or give opinions. Question their source of income, especially if they're a member of a media outlet with no point of sale that relies purely on advert revenue to cover running costs. Question who is buying their ad space, and what sort of vested interest they have in "opinion" pieces and reviews.

For the author and his cronies, do you seriously believe what you're saying? Are you that blinded? There are some pretty damn compelling reasons why Joe Gamer is giving "Quak3D00d"s opinion at least as much credibility as you guys. At some point, you guys might need to dedicate some "damage control" toward addressing the clear and significant conflict of interest that underscores your whole industry, instead of getting all emo about the fact that nobody takes your shit seriously anymore. You've dug your hole, dig yourselves out of it. And dig up, stupid. Getting Yahtzee on board is a start.

Geoffrey42:

Big Brother:
i do mean what i wrote, though: both that the quality of the escapist has declined, and that there's a good reason why proffesional reviews are loosing relevance and appeal.

Appeal, for some, certainly. But losing relevance? I'm not so sure about that. Without the hype machine, who would buy the game to provide all of those wonderful user reviews? You, individually, may have lost the desire to be told what to like, and what not to like, but not everyone has. Some people like being told what to like.

we all do, to some extent. i will argue, however, that...
(1)... all the recent articles about skewed and influenced game reviews may not only have had an effect on me, but on the gaming community as a whole.
(2)... as people mature, they realise that the hype machine is just that, a hype machine.
(3)... as people learn more about games, they discover the other side of gaming, the one you don't find on ign. the one that has introspection, a gaming-historical basis of opinion and the one in which opinions have to be quantified.

Russ Pitts:

i do mean what i wrote, though: both that the quality of the escapist has declined.

Sorry to hear that. Genuinely.

well, it is your baby i'm talking about, after all. i'll try to explain:
(1) for me, it first started with your article on bethesda. "bethesda: the right way", i think it was called. i felt that it was a submissive and servile piece, and i felt that if you'd only tried looking, you'd easily have found plenty that wasn't pointing "the right way". i'm allready completely out of line when it comes to staying on topic here, so i won't go into any details.
(2) i felt that your recent layout change really reduced you to just another gaming site. the special appeal of the escapist used to be that it read just like a paper magazine. that's all gone now.
(3)i think i've sensed a subtle change in the philosophy of your writings. i used to feel that the escapist was both interested in putting things into a gaming-historical perspective while also constantly looking for the edge when it came to constructive introspection. i no longer get that feeling. it's as if you're succumbing to the media hype and to the advent of the casual, easy and all-pleasing games.

maybe it's just that the escapist has moved on, and i'm staying put, or maybe it's all in my head. anyway, i'm very glad to see that a lot of people disagree with my perspective and that you still have lots of readers.

PS. i fully realize that the second half of this post is completely unrelated to the subject matter. i won't be at all offended if a mod decides to split it up and move part of it somewhere else, or even delete it. it's just that personal and sincere replies from the higher-ups are a bit rare, and i want to reward that by posing my views in a bit more detail.

Critic are self important ego bloated indavendauls to start with (no offense to any of them here,god knows with my views on gaming I have my own gravitational pull as well) but now we have the "average joe" who can criticize the critic on what they criticize and even gain fame in it.

The only trouble then conflict of interest arises, what dose a professional reviewer or critic do they are someone with some forum of learning in grammar who gets paid to write a article to gain viewership be it by wit,"hive mind" like agreement that a barely passable "good game" is a 9+ when tis really only a 7 or 8 (HAlo,Bioshock,ect,ect).

The average joe has the honor of being in it for the Lulz..and by then the butz of the net start showing... I think everyone needs to learn to read between the lines and learn out to comprehend what it is they read(read in 2 or 3 things to whatever one says LOL).

I don't really believe that most people are going to be able to criticize well. What I do believe is that the level of quality in professional critics in the video game industry is relatively low. I mean, as an industry, video game journalism is frequently mocked for the quality of its writing.

In my opinion, this just means that it can be very difficult finding a good critic.

Among the many problems it is assumed that I have, not the least of which so far have been incompetence and a complete lack of integrity, I think my most serious is that I just don't share the cynical view that everyone's in on screwing readers/listeners over. I've seen far more and far worse bias come from the "average Joe" than most paid reviewers, I'd even suggest it as common practice, and on the other side I've seen the process "professionals" put themselves through in offering their critiques. Aside from the fact-checking and professional editing, the ones I know take great pains to give a fair and accurate assesment of the product they are reviewing, because, as it turns out, they are gamers just like you. If anything, the too often knee-jerk assumption that a difference of opinion on a review must mean that said reviewer is "on the take" only strengthens my resolve that the reviewers are the reliable ones.

Sean Sands:
Among the many problems it is assumed that I have, not the least of which so far have been incompetence and a complete lack of integrity, I think my most serious is that I just don't share the cynical view that everyone's in on screwing readers/listeners over. I've seen far more and far worse bias come from the "average Joe" than most paid reviewers, I'd even suggest it as common practice, and on the other side I've seen the process "professionals" put themselves through in offering their critiques. Aside from the fact-checking and professional editing, the ones I know take great pains to give a fair and accurate assesment of the product they are reviewing, because, as it turns out, they are gamers just like you. If anything, the too often knee-jerk assumption that a difference of opinion on a review must mean that said reviewer is "on the take" only strengthens my resolve that the reviewers are the reliable ones.

I completely agree with you about 'on the take'. Hearing any criticism of a professional reviewer descend to that level always sticks in my craw.

That said, what do you think about the quality of game review writing? Independent of the question about readers offering as good of criticism as reviewers?

I think it's a mixed bag, with numerous outstanding outlets. I think that it is consistently better than amateur reviews. I think the perception that it's all bad is artificial and self-sustaining, and that attention is paid on the clearly inferior review sources and little attention is paid on those that are successful. I don't think we have anything like one finds in the New Yorker book reviews, but we are a young industry, and it's not terribly difficult to find some respectable writers.

All that said, yours are not the posts with which I take particular exception. It is difficult to find a lot of respect for videogame writing of any kind outside of the industry, but I think it's equally unfair to not see the separation between those with talent and those without. Like the industry itself, it is the worst of gaming coverage the gets all the attention and very little of its brighter spots that get deserved recognition.

Let me apologize if it seemed I was offended or suggesting you were taking my posts to task. I simply wanted to comment on what you'd said, I didn't infer that you were talking about me.

In my opinion, the print aspect of video game journalism has faired better when it comes to quality writing, but I do agree that we're talking about an issue of focus here. I just wish some of the worst examples didn't come from some of the bigger sources.

I get the feeling that recent changes like Gamespot's new review system and IGN's whipping-boy Lair review indicate that those sites want to clean up their reputation. Everyone still argues about the best game rating system and whether or not people can take games to task for being bad. Still, if that is the case, giving Bioshock a near 10 or Lair a vicious beating is just swinging into the other extreme of writing mistakes.

What are your favorite places to read about games?

Among the many problems it is assumed that I have, not the least of which so far have been incompetence and a complete lack of integrity, I think my most serious is that I just don't share the cynical view that everyone's in on screwing readers/listeners over.

But surely it should be clear that there are enough of you guys who through either a combination of inexperience and lack of historical gaming perspective or something more sinister and calculated, are willing to offer unlimited adulation to unremarkable blockbusters.

And also, it ought to stick in your craw that those criticising the gaming media as a whole for being shills do have a leg to stand on. If you're trying to establish yourself as credible, or if you have any principles, you sohuld be trying to distnace yourselves from these fuckwits who are making you look bad by association. I understand it's very difficult to turn on your own peers without looking bitter, jaded, jealous, etc rather than concerned for the wellbeing of the industry's credibility, but for everyone trying to stick that sort of shit to writers like Dan Hsu, there are plenty coming back with "Amen, hallelujah brother!"

Every time someone from you industry comes out and says - here's the skinny, we've been on the take - there seems to be a prevailing attitude that he's part of some isolated incident and nobody else is doing it. Now, if some of you had the balls to come out and say - yep, we've gotten press kits that give us selling points to emphasise in our reviews, we've had advertisers threaten to pull funding, we've been given gratuities, etc. but we told those fuckers to take their advertising money elsewhere, then that puts you back on our side.

The fact that these things are treated as isolated incidents that they clearly aren't makes us more inclined to lump you all in with the shills. And if your silence is out of fear or deference toward your advertisers, then you're this close to being a shill. You're not lying, but you're withholding ugly truths, which is nearly as bad.

What doesn't work is pretending it just doesn't happen.

I've seen far more and far worse bias come from the "average Joe" than most paid reviewers, I'd even suggest it as common practice,

That's probably true, but it's also easier to weed out. If some guy rants about how he "hates this stupid game because his character runs too slowly" or something similarly trivial, it's usually a dead giveaway that the guy doesn't have his critical head screwed on. Likewise, the guy who spouts off that he "loves this game because it's the next Final Fantasy and there hasn't been a bad one yet" is dubious.

But bear in mind that none of these people are posing as professionals, and their passionate bias can still be reasonably interpreted as negative and positive views of the game, as long as you disregard the degree. That's still more informative than when the whole world of gaming journalists collectively proclaimed the Neverwinter Nights single-player campaign as an epic storyline rivalling or even exceeding Baldur's Gate II.

For the same reasons, I'd be more inclined to label the 68% average user rating of Doom 3 as more accurately informed than the staggering 87% average from "professionals". You can argue that user reviews are likely to be influenced by the progress of time and retrospect, but surely that's another reason to hold them in higher regard than a rushed critique riding the wave of hype.

and on the other side I've seen the process "professionals" put themselves through in offering their critiques. Aside from the fact-checking and professional editing, the ones I know take great pains to give a fair and accurate assesment of the product they are reviewing, because, as it turns out, they are gamers just like you.

And again we come back to the conflict of interest. Even if you disregard that completely, there's a clear demarkation here. Those who pay hard-earned money for the privilege of spending their leisure time gaming, and those who are paid play "free" games. And hell, I'll read, play or watch just about anything that's free. I apply higher standards for something I've had to work for.

If anything, the too often knee-jerk assumption that a difference of opinion on a review must mean that said reviewer is "on the take" only strengthens my resolve that the reviewers are the reliable ones.

Would it not be a knee-jerk assumption that criticism of the gaming media stems from "different of opinion"? It's when you fuckers begin to sound like pod people expressing views that not a single fucking gamer holds that leads to cruel accusations. Same goes for the glaring flaws that every paying gamer can see from the get go, and yet none of the professionals seem to notice. It sets off alarm bells.

I couldn't really give a fuck that someone enjoys a game like Oblivion, which I happen to think is a piece of shit. Good for them. But I resent the presentation of opinion and misinformation as fact, so don't tell me that grinding your way along a clumsy linear storyline is a journey equal to the Fellowship of the Ring, and expect to maintain any credibility as someone who can evaluate relative merits.

Priapist, it almost sounds like you aren't interested in being hyped into your purchases...to which I'd say I agree.

i'm sorry for everything i said, my faith in the escapist is restored (http://gametrailers.com/player/usermovies/102789.html )! :)

That link is redirecting me to the main user movies page. Looks like the video has been re/moved. Care to try again?

that's web 2.0 for you. maybe if you try to enter through digg

http://digg.com/pc_games/The_greatest_and_most_honest_Bioshock_review_ever

So, it looks like Digg linked to a gametrailers copy of Escapist's Ben 'Yahtzee' Croshaw's BioShock review. The gametrailers copy has been removed (maybe at the request of the Escapist?). Thus, the Digg link doesn't do much either.

Suffice it to say, your faith has been restored because Digg dug Yahtzee?

so it wasn't the url after all. anyway, Yahtzee is my new hero :)

EDIT: http://www.escapistmagazine.com/articles/view/editorials/zeropunctuation/1394-Zero-Punctuation-BioShock

Big Brother:
so it wasn't the url after all. anyway, Yahtzee is my new hero :)

EDIT: http://www.escapistmagazine.com/articles/view/editorials/zeropunctuation/1394-Zero-Punctuation-BioShock

I'm a bit at a loss to encapsulate my thoughts at seeing someone attempt to link to a piece of content produced for this website collated by an outside aggregator and ripped to an outside video store. Why not simply link to our page to begin with?

 

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