As games writers, we bring particular characteristics to the table which influence our enjoyment of titles. While I personally may not be particularly into sports sim franchises because little tiny mistakes infuriate me (these are sim games right?), Art Deetu can bring the love to baseball and hockey titles. I know what I’d like to cover, he knows what he’d like to cover, and by those personal prejudices, or biases, we aim to bring you our own flavor of games writing. If we see something that looks interesting, we’ll write about it. We have our own buffers, our own thresholds, our own hopes and dreams about what a certain game should bring to the table.
Time and time again though, I see readers claim that ‘bias’ is destroying reviews. That because a writer prefers one title to another, their opinion is invalid. Those same individuals often claim that they prefer unbiased, objective reviews. If you want those ‘reviews’ you may as well go read the Wikipedia entry because there you’ll get an unfettered bullet list of features and story. Best stop short of the ‘reception’ section though, as those will provide too much opinion for you to handle.
Back in September, I wrote about how an individual is the most important part of a review; that their particular view does not represent an entire organization. As with movie critics, each games writer does their own thing and has their own voice, but according to many enthusiasts, this isn’t a good thing. Why? Why do you want a feature list? You really can get those from Wikipedia.
Despite what type of barometer is used – letter grade, star approach, or FPS – each decision made on that scale is one of opinion, not fact. The whole idea of qualitative vs quantitative when presenting an opinion is kind of ridiculous. If there were a formula used to determine a score, we would all rate things the same, or nearly the same way. How boring.
Instead of condemning a writer for their exposed opinion, it should be reveled. So what if someone likes Modern Warfare more than Battlefield? Did they present a compelling argument as to why? Did they validate themselves when stating Dark Souls wasn’t for them, or why they’d thoroughly enjoyed Gears of War 3? Thoughtful writing with solid points is what reviews should be about, not “the game has graphics and sound. It gets an 8.”
Unlike with AV Club’s Scott Tobias, Metacritic doesn’t even bother putting an individual’s name on a game review, just an outlet, further distancing the human element from the score. This gives the illusion that score is all that matters, that the outlet has a set pattern and anyone writing for that site follows the same rules. People are not programs with set outcomes, bias is a part of what makes us who we are and isn’t a bad thing.
Read a lot of reviews. Don’t use them for pre-conceived opinion validation. Learn about Mitch Dyer, Peter Tell, Maurice Tan and what kind of reviews they write. Love the opinion they present and feel free to disagree, but be sure you are prepared to offer your own specific examples, don’t just use words that you heard someone else say.