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
i also prefer the “say it like it is” method of communication. yes, it gets you in trouble some times but if you don’t lie no one catch you in one. if people don’t want to hear the truth they shouldn’t ask me the question and they are free to stop listening at any time.
a prime example of selling your words happens over Norton/Symantec products all of the time. web-sites always give it a high score but when you go to the open forums, on that same site, “real users” rip it a new one and discuss grocery lists of bugs. it can’t be both ways! it’s either God’s gift to security software or it’s a buggy mess that users hate. ah yes, selling out to keep the advertising dollars flowing!
The alternative is state and federal regulation of game ratings. While we can look at the flaws of the ERSB, or the MPAA for that matter, the fact of the matter is is that regulation from an outside body impedes the enterprise, always. Look at the flight boom after the deregulation of airlines. Look at the prohibitive costs unleashed by Sarbanes-Oxley. Or Prohibition, or the war on drugs or… ad nauseum.
The only internal issue that needs to be resolved is the AO issue. And it seems to me to be a non-starter. They should absolutely crack down and label more games AO. The stats are out there; there’s enough of a gaming market out there that fit the 18 and up demographic that it will not cost them a noticeable drop in sales (especially inside the age range that their own standards board deems the game sellable to). They should not shy away, informed parents (or whomever controls the purse strings) and adult gamers make likely 98% of all gaming purchases.
The problem with the ESRB lies in two places: the retailers and the parents.
Retailers generally have a small profit margin on their goods. This is especially the case in places like walmart and best buy, where they actually sell things (like CDs and Books) at a loss in order to get people in the door to buy big ticket items (hope you bought a new video card with that Bioshock!!!… please?). They therefore have less incentive to whip out the cat-o-nine-tails upon those blueshirted backs and train them to check ID.
Now it is in these retailers’ interest to enforce this restriction, as federal regulations would cause fewer games on the shelves. So if they continue to disregard the ratings system, then perhaps ESRB could use perhaps its most effective weapon: the nuclear option. For three failures by any retailer to adhere to a (yearly or some other time frame) random inspection by the ESRB(mystery shopping, basically)then participating publishers, committing in an open letter to congress, will pull their games from the shelves.
It sends a strong message, and some game houses might balk at the idea. But the trend is to get tougher. Look at the NBA, MLB, Cycling. They needed to get tough to keep their image and relevancy as a business that plays by the rules. Our industry can do the same. The goodwill that comes from being a “good corporate citizen” is unmeasurable. There’s no reason not to raise the image of an industry thats plagued with only negative press of ill-adjusted school shooters.
parents… i could write something, but you know the debate. So agree or not with it should you respond.
The ESRB is a good standard. As the article states, it has kept up with the times, evolving as both games and culture do. If it keeps growing up smarter, heck, I’d give it the bronze medal after Underwriters Laboratory and Good Housekeeping.