David Braben’s notion of a “Metacritic service for computer game reviewers” caused a bit of a stir across the Internet last week. Not least amongst the various games journalists I follow on Twitter. Personally speaking, I can see both the positives and negatives regarding Braben’s idea – but ultimately I think it raises questions about how reviews are perceived by the gaming community as a whole.
In a perfect world, where the Internet isn’t choked with droning, brainless ninnies, Braben’s idea is perfectly serviceable. A place where readers can see who the most highly rated reviewers are would be a godsend, as unfortunately there are just as many badly written and poorly conceived reviews out there as there are good ones. Not only that, it may also breed healthy competition amongst reviewers, keeping the standard of reviews high and who knows, it may also weed out the flagrant plagiarists who pop up from time to time.
Ah, but alas. We don’t live in a perfect world and the Internet, reflecting society as a whole, is often spoiled by idiots. The gaming community has a healthy idiot quota and it’s those cerebrally vacant amongst us who would derail Braben’s vision. There will be a minority (and I keep telling myself it’s a minority for my own sanity) who would use such a site to wage petty vendettas against those writers whom they perceive to be prejudiced against certain platforms and IPs dear to them. These of course are the minority (got to keep saying that) known as fanboys; a cretinous breed, stalwarts of gaming culture since long before I can remember. Pre-web their inane, zealously partisan rantings were limited to the letters pages of gaming magazines. Editors would often allow the odd rant to be published just for sport, often responding to such bilge with deserved scorn and witty ridicule. However, the Internet changed all that and now any misinformed berk (myself included) can, by blog, forum or comments thread, ejaculate their cerebral detritus over our horrified faces.
The problem with fanboys and those similarly challenged is that they don’t appear to understand the difference between fact and opinion. They fail to grasp the fact (i.e. “a statement or assertion of verified information about something that is the case”) that a games review is an opinion offered forth by the writer that is more often than not consistent with the priniciples of the magazine/website in which it is published. If a writer criticises an aesthetic or gameplay mechanic within a game it is, as an individual, that writer’s opinion. When taking said opinion on board the reader should also take into consideration the publication in which it is published. For example; a review of COD BLOPS found on a niche JRPG website is not going to be sympathetic to the FPS genre in the same way that say, Eurogamer or CVG would be. Of course it’s improbable that there would even be such a review on such a site but I think it bears out the point I’m trying to make.
The one part of any review that is most likely to cause the most contention is the score at the bottom of the page. I personally hate scoring, I really do. I think that if a review is well written you don’t need one. The reviewer should have by that point sold the game to me or otherwise. Scores make readers lazy, myself included. I’m guilty, like many others, of sometimes skimming straight to the score at the bottom, bypassing the review completely. On top of that the score also seems to baffle gamers regarding how they should be perceived. A score, to my understanding, should reflect how a game compares to others within its genre. Gamers, or at least those most vocal in forums and in comments threads seem to struggle to grasp this idea. There seems to be a misconception that if, for example, a third person shooter scores 8 out of 10 it is therefore a poorer game than an RPG that scores 9 out of 10.
So how can publications and journalists make it clearer to readers how reviews should be interpreted? Well in all honestly I don’t think they can or indeed should. Journalists should just accept that a by-product of the golden age of communications in which we live is the deafening noise of the idiot throng. This may seem like a negative thing to state. However, I’m confident that there are just as many, if not more gamers out there who do understand the basic concept of the games review and how it should be construed. It’s just a shame that because of others we’ll never see David Braben’s fundamentally sound idea be realised to its full potential, if at all.