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.