Experienced Points

Experienced Points
Reviewer, Amuse Me!

Shamus Young | 1 May 2009 17:00
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I'm one of those people that opens a gaming magazine and goes right for the negative reviews. I look for the low scores and jump to those articles to watch the bottom-feeders get thrown to the rhetorical lions for my amusement. For a long time I thought this was because I was evil and mean-spirited, but I later realized that my affinity for negative reviews has nothing to do with my evilness or my warped personality. I just like negative reviews because they're usually more entertaining.

The other type of review I enjoy is one for a game I've recently played. In fact, I'll often "save" reviews for after I've completed the game. In other cases, the first thing I do after the credits roll is Google around for some reviews and see what other people had to say. I know I'm not alone in this. But aren't reviews supposed to tell us if a game is worth buying? What's the sense in reading reviews for games you either already own or would never buy?

Game reviews are a strange business. Not since people started using their whipped cream canisters to get high has the intent of a product been so different from its use. Game reviewers are often trying to inform, and a lot of the readers are there to be entertained. The reviewers are putting on the nightly news, and the audience is often booing them because they're not the Tonight Show. If we judge videogame reviews by how they are used then they are entertainment first, and consumer advice second. Distant second.

Professional reviewers are generally journalists, and their mandate is to inform your purchasing decisions. But they are judged (by their readership) on how enjoyable their reviews are to read, not on how accurately they predict what the public will think of a given game. That's why I generally enjoy negative reviews. The author can dispense with the dry consumer advice early on and spend the rest of the review on funny anecdotes, analogies, obscure pop-culture references, boob jokes, and insults. They generally have a lot more room to be creative, and that makes it more fun to read.

This doesn't mean that reviews need to be savagely cutting and sarcastic in order to be enjoyable. Reviews also feed our desire to simply see another viewpoint on something we've experienced. It's natural to want to talk about a movie with your friends after you leave the theater. You talk about what you liked, what you hated, and re-live and re-quote the good parts. (Or more likely, rant about all the ways in which it sucked.) Reading a good review is an extension of this experience and it enables you to you enjoy the thing again by looking at it through the lens of someone else's perceptions.

And of course it's always nice to read a review the reinforces our preconceived notions. If you're a fan of - oh, I don't know, let me pick a game completely at random - say, Super Smash Brothers, then when a reviewer excoriates your chosen game it creates a very negative feeling which is often expressed through incongruous levels of personal hostility. Conversely, a reviewer that states what you're already thinking is likely to sound pretty smart, because they "get it" the way you do. I'm not pretending to be above this level of self indulgence. I like reading reviews that reflect my own opinions as much as anyone else, I'm just old enough to refrain from flaming the offending reviewer when they fail to tell me what I want to hear. (Usually. Sometimes.)

I don't think it's random chance that some of the most famous reviewers aren't journalists at all. In the past we had Seanbaby and Old Man Murray. Today we have Yahtzee. The common thread in these superstar-reviewers (aside from their dense comedic profanity and madcap aggression) is that they scorn even the pretense of even-handed journalism and simply try to make something worth reading. You may or may not learn anything useful about the game covered in the article, but if you're not laughing, then someone is reading it to you while you're in a coma. Their work is edgy, unconventional, personality driven, insanely popular, and generally useless for someone trying to learn about the game.

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