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Opinion: The Fervor Over Game Reviews

By on Sep 19, 2013 at 10:30 am, in Console  |  Comments: 16 comments

Unless you’ve been living under a rock or raiding nonstop for the last five days, you’ll know that Grand Theft Auto V was released two days ago, appeasing GTA fanboys across the country. If you’ve been reading reviews as well, you’ll know that the game has been extremely well-received, garnering high scores from game outlets everywhere.

You may also have heard about the furor around the Gamespot review written by Carolyn Petit. In her review, she expresses her concerns about a few aspects: 1) the game sometimes attempts satire that doesn’t quite pay off, 2) the game treats its women and minority characters poorly, 3) the behavior of the characters can be inconsistent. For Petit, these qualities took her out of the game and diminished its success, in her eyes. She cites these issues to inform her readers, as these shortcomings could also affect the way they receive the game. The responses to this review were infuriated. How dare a reviewer—to some commenters, a woman who shouldn’t have even played Grand Theft Auto –criticize what has to be the game of the century because of these inconsequential problems? Gamers were so upset that they created a petition on Change.org to have Carolyn Petit fired for her “scathing” review (the petition has since been taken down).

How much does Petit think these problems diminish the game? Enough that it scores a 9/10. Which, if you’re familiar with numbers, is pretty darn high.

Basically, some gamers are enraged because Petit has the gall to say that GTA V is not perfect. She spends a paragraph and a half pointing out these shortcomings after two pages of a review that described the game as “innovative”, “outstanding, multilayered”, “unforgettable” and gorgeous. Petit enjoyed the game and appreciated the world—there were just a couple issues that kept it from getting a perfect 10. These are issues that many gamers may also find problematic—even if you don’t care about misogyny or ineffective satire, characterization inconsistency can certainly affect your gaming experience. Petit gave an honest review, pointing out problems that are brought up in other reviews, and gamers think that this something that she shouldn’t have done. This is something that should get her fired. A review that points out some problems in a highly anticipated game cannot be allowed. Such a review is a big enough crime to require ruining someone’s livelihood.

And this is not the only time a subset of gamers has reacted in this way. When Polygon gave Dragon’s Crown a review of 6.5, gamers raged. Many sites gave The Last of Us reviews that weren’t perfect. Gamers raged. Why has our reaction to any criticism turned to outrage? Did we not get enough hugs as children? Did we get too many hugs, and now can’t stomach disappointment?

The gaming world has debated whether we should abandon scores in game reviews for a while. Critics say that scores are the results of arbitrary scales, that they’re too subjective. I mostly with this—I especially agree with it when gamers are infuriated when their new favorite game (that they haven’t played yet) gets a 9 instead of a 10. While I enjoy the convenience of scored game reviews—it lets me know if it’s good to drop sixty bucks on a title—I’m beginning to think that they’re ultimately more trouble than they’re worth. And it’s not because of any objective problems with scores themselves. It’s because of problems with ourselves.

Gamers have seemingly forgotten the point of game reviews. Sure, they can tell us what’s a “good game” and what’s a “bad game”—but that’s not their main purpose. Game reviews exist to tell us the specifics of what is successful in a game, and what is not. They let us know areas where the game falls shorts, or doesn’t achieve what it could. This could be art direction, characterization, gameplay mechanics, or even social commentary. Game reviews serve to inform us, to let us know if a game has components we might find objectionable. If reviews tell me that a game’s controls are awkward, I will probably steer clear of it (since I can’t steer my character). If a review describes a dependence on escort missions, I know that game’s not for me. Reviews are meant to lay out the positive and negative aspects of the game so that the consumer can weigh them and decide if a title is, ultimately, worth his or her time and money.

Reviews are not fan service. And, unless you’re the publisher, negative reviews are nothing to get upset about. Reviews that don’t have perfect scores are certainly nothing to react to. You can love a title despite all its flaws (I’m looking at you, Resident Evil 6). You are perfectly entitled to think that these flaws do not deviate from the game, overall. You might not even think that these flaws are problems, or that they even exist. But you are one person. Reviews are meant to inform the population of the gamer world, and you are only a small part of that world. And I hate to have to point this out, but not everyone shares your exact opinions.

So, fellow gamer, next time you see that the game you’ve looked forward to for years has only received a 9.5, take a deep breath. Read through the review, and note the things the reviewer has to say about it. Look at what’s positive. Look at what’s negative. Decide for yourself if you think these are valid points. And then move on. Play the game, or not, and decide what you think for yourself. You see, gamers, we’re not entitled to receive perfect reviews for the games we love (or think we will love). But we are entitled to be adequately informed, and we shouldn’t let our nerd rage get in the way of our rights.

Amanda Brand

Amanda Brand

As a card-carrying member of the Justice League, honorary Star Fleet ensign, and a Ph.D student in political science, Amanda doesn't have much spare time on her hands. But when she does, she spends it gaming, nerdcrafting, sewing cosplay costumes, marathoning shows on Netflix, debating Tolkien online, and writing on Geekphoria.net.
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  • Laura Hardgrave

    I have to say I agree. The same type of behavior has been occurring more and more over book reviews too, I’ve noticed. It’s kind of odd. Being a fan is one thing, but being this kind of fan… yeah. Anyway, great writeup. ;)

  • Utnayan

    Problem is this reviewer, who bashed some aspects of GTA 5 for it’s moral compass with women in video games, had zero problems turning the other cheek in her Gone Home review. The new game play elements GTA 5 brought to the table were ten fold over any previous incarnation. I do not think people were upset with a 9.0 in the game review, they are more upset with someone ignoring the advancements the game itself made due to how the game portrayed women, which hasn’t changed in this IP for the last 12 years. Meanwhile, a low budget low content house exploration simulator gains her game of the year award simply because it tells the story of a lesbian teen coming out of the closet with about 2 hours of game play at $19.99.

    • gdarrowood

      Utnayan, maybe she just has different criteria than you. As the author of this article said, reviews aren’t fanservice. And they’re based on what the reviewer, an individual person, values. You and the reviewer of *any* game may not hold the same aspects of game design, development, and execution in high importance. Reviews aren’t objective because they’re opinions- just as your assertion is also an opinion. Which means there isn’t a “right” or a “wrong” in any reviewer v. non-reviewer situation.

      And Petit *does* discuss the mechanics and design for the game positively, just not ad nauseum- and the fact that it *still* receives a 9 out of 10 should demonstrate she liked them enough to give it that high of a rating, despite the problems with its portrayals of women she discusses. I think the latter is really why most fans that got angry, in fact, got angry. And if the GTA games have consistently been portraying women the same, is that not in itself a point of critique? How about a little progression in *that* element of the design, eh?

      • Utnayan

        It shouldn’t matter what the context of the content itself is for a reviewer. It should matter what the game play elements are and what it brings new from a gaming mechanic perspective. Just because a game is misogynistic, and has been since inception, shouldn’t hurt a score just like something about a lesbian teen age girl with ZERO replay value and 2 hours worth of really mediocre note collecting shouldn’t receive a 9.5.

        Our opinions differ.

        • gdarrowood

          I think you missed my point- you’re basing that on what you think a reviewer “should” be doing, i.e. what they “should” care about. For you, a reviewer should only focus on mechanics, graphics, etc. But some people care more about other aspects of a video game and would *despise* a reviewer that only talked about those things and gave a game rampant with rape, pedophilia, and beastiality full marks because it had nice graphics.

          Yes, our opinions differ, but asserting yours is somehow more valid than mine is just being a bully.

          • Utnayan

            Bully? Settle down there chief. If you want a reviewer to go and talk about the emotional views of characters in a story context, fine. If you want to have reviewers discuss objective graphic design, sound design, game mechanics, new types of emergent gameplay, that’s fantastic. If you want to start tossing in ideals about how it’s ok to have a lesbian 16 year old teenager telling a story about discovery in one of the most shallow games released this year (I bought it) next to the misogynistic flavor of GTA5 and how every woman is a hooker, bring it to an editorial op, not a review. You know the difference between these correct? OpEd’s have no place in reviews of a product/service. It’s why they also have OpEd’s.

          • gdarrowood

            You’re still assuming your opinion of what’s important in a review is superior, though, so I think we’ve been at an impasse the whole time.

          • Utnayan

            Well, it brings up another point. Frankly, I couldn’t care less what everyone does in their life, spare time, what have you. I just don’t…. care… If you look at this person’s blog, for some reason, everything has to bring up games and how it effects the LBGT community which then carried over to her reviews. Honestly? I want to play my games without this garbage getting involved. If I want to read a blog about the LGBT community, I’ll go there and read it. I go to Gamespot to read up on upcoming games, not hear about the struggles of the LGBT community and how games are effecting that battle. (Garbage defined as anything real life.) Keep it out of my video gaming entertainment dollars. If there is a story around the game, and it’s good? Great! Hopefully the game play mechanics were just as fun. If you think someone’s opinion of sexual preference in real life or their take on misogynistic favoritism in games is important in a video game review, not sure what to say.

          • gdarrowood

            I get that, and I got it the first time you said it- you’re repeating yourself while repeatedly proving *my* point. Your concern is game design and graphics. Fine. I’m not saying that’s wrong or right. What I’ve been saying is there are people that *do* care about things like LGBT issues, sexism, etc. in video games and think it’s important to critique those things the games they play. So her reviews aren’t ones you’d be interested in, so what? Don’t read them- nobody is making you sit at your computer and pore over every word, you’re doing that to yourself. If she writes for a site you usually like, just ignore her individual articles. It’s pretty easy to spend your video gaming entertainment dollars elsewhere- vote with your wallet, as they say. Instead of griping about people caring about different parts of games and acting like they have no right to express themselves or are somehow missing the point or have no idea what they’re talking about, focus on reviews that emphasize what matters to you and base your decisions about those games on them (in conjunction with your own experience of the games, of course) and ignore the rest.

          • Utnayan

            That’s what blogs are for. Not reviews. Keep it in the blogs which she writes as well. Or open up an OpEd review editorial page where she can talk about that all she wants. Again yes we disagree, but over time, reviews everywhere try to be objective as possible – unless of course we talk about the gaming industry where for some reason they have metacritic scores written into their contract.

          • gdarrowood

            That’s what *you* think blogs are for. I’m not going to repeat myself again.

          • Utnayan

            Are you the reviewer this is talking about or the writer of this article? The day we need to define what a blog is or a review is, or an oped piece is and what it’s content should be, is the day the earth just needs to explode for a general lack of common sense hitting an event horizon. Christ.

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