I was particularly interested in the idea of game reviewer as someone who plays dozens of games a year to completion. Certainly, a good reviewer will be well versed in all the most recent games, but I don't agree that familiarity necessarily breeds good instincts. For me, the best reviewer is one that situates a game in the ongoing narrative of gaming and picks apart the games relevance, if it does indeed have relevance.
Earlier this year there was a lot of back and forth between people in the movie industry about the value of critics. It was interesting that a lot of the same issues that drove their debate are mentioned here with regards to gaming. What came out of that debate, in my opinion, and to a certain extent comes out of this piece, is the idea that many times the reviewers are too close to the subject to make an a fair judgement on a game's quality. Book review editors tend to work around this problem by assigning reviews to writers who don't necessarily function as book reviewers full time. This might be a bad example, because any writer worth his or her salt obviously reads many books to completion every year, and thus could be said to have a strong connection to the world of books, but I would argue that even today, game reviews need not be handled by a specialized class of writers who focus on reviews. Instead, culturally aware and gaming literate writers can and do review games, and often bring fresh, interesting perspectives that might not otherwise be heard.
Then again though, as Mr. Pitts mentions, we run into the problem of the wants and needs of the gaming community who by and large want to hear very specific (one might even say formulaic) things about any particular game that is being reviewed. As we heard from developers, reviews do serve the purpose of showing how and why a game might be better, but if game reviews continue to operate within the semi-closed community of harcore-to-moderate gamers they will falter at serving a larger purpose of situating games and gaming within a larger cultural sphere. Maybe, a majority of readers don't want that to happen, but I think that it would be a good goal to strive for.
- Dr. Wiley
So I guess I should be glad NMA isn't getting anything from Bethesda and thus risks nothing in pissing them off?
Interesting perspective. I'm not hugely experienced on fansites, but I have noted a difference on working for NMA, which never cared much whether Interplay/Bethesda hated or like them and sometimes made only lip service to keeping interaction polite, and Drakensang.info, which relies on developers for exclusives.
But I think the more important thing here is not the pull, not the developers' opinion, but the people backing it up. A lot of fansites simply don't have to deal with developers directly, especially not older ones that are integrated into their own circle, like NMA. The people you talk to "every day," so to speak, are your readers.
I agree with you both influences are there, but while as an NMA admin I'm not too worried about pissing off Bethesda's PR people much, I do have to keep the opinions of our readers in the back of my mind when posting. I could tell myself it doesn't influence my opinion, but it does.
Good post, Pat.
- Brother None