If there’s something gamers value more than they know, it’s the opinion of others when it comes to what they are willing to play. More than any other medium, gaming’s rather interactive nature has meant that a shared experience is more powerful and can create huge first impressions, whether they are good or bad. Whether it is running with a team in a Capture the Flag FPS rumble, or raiding with a group of friends and associates in the latest MMO dungeon, gamers draw upon the experience of the people who play their game to determine if it is worth it or not. Reviews, and the fans-turned-journalists who write them, are just another factor in players formulating their own opinions.
This is definitely something that gets a little intense sometimes. As gamers, we all have favorite sites, writers, and other places we go to hear about the latest in the industry. These are the people who help steer public opinion by writing to an audience like ourselves and throwing the weight of their credibility behind them, and their C-list celebrity status might even get to their heads. As a result, people tend to take the implications of their associations seriously, often attributing a single writeup to the opinion of their entire site they write for. There’s also the sense that were a reviewer to give a bad score to a game that some might think is good, that they’ll call for the guy’s head, put up crazy flames, and call for a re-review based upon the score given.
One of the best examples comes from Eurogamer, who put up a rather poor review of recently released MMO Darkfall. The writer of the artcle admitted they didn’t play after a certain point, but the damage was done. Trolls were out in force asking WoW questions on purpose to cover for their snickering, fanboys were busy trying to dismantle or defend the writer while holding back laughter, and everyone seemed to treat this particular writer with a cultish, “follow me hither” strategy no matter how they felt about the write-up. It got so bad that even the developer got involved, attacking the writer for their playtime and relative lack of integrity. Thankfully, Eurogamer has taken to reducing a bit of that concern by posting a re-review of the game that seemed more fair and balanced.
Really, all of this nonsense isn’t really of concern to me in my gaming career – and I’m not saying that because I’m employed as a member of it, either. No, the reason is because while I believe that gamers do write reviews, they’re ultimately only a single voice in the midst of many. Reviewers are really no different than the Average Joe gamer, except for the fact that their fingertips are not a bright Cheetos orange and they might get paid for their ranting and raving. If I read something from a reviewer, it’s simply another way or perspective of looking at things. Sure, there are some instances in which I might weigh the implications of what someone is saying versus my own twisted opinion of things, but at the end of the day, I make the call about whether or not a game is actually worth getting.
Besides, direct experience is always the best way to go in order to determine if a game is good or bad. I’ve had times when I would go someplace in a game that was totally trashed by a reviewer with their scrutinizing “pew pew” laser beams for opinions, and enjoyed it. Fire Emblem (with their complex strategy system and intelligent AI) is one of these. I’ve also had the reverse happen to me. I’ve gone to a place in a game that is supposedly considered to be the best part of it, only to find out that it’s boring and not engaging at all, like most of Halo 3. Either way, touching and playing the game with your own two hands is definitely the way to go, and like movies, are best experienced and not heard about.
Finally, the best argument against not being so hung up on reviews and writeups from professionals is that the line between those who are considered to be the “pros” at reviews and new folks is getting blurrier by the day. More than anytime in the history of gaming, opinions and reviews by all sorts of people are accessible with a click away. With so many varying opinions out there, it’s hard to subscribe to one at a time, much less more than that. Even if you find that a particular title has received so much more fanfare than it deserved, there’s always someone out there that didn’t like it, and will give a dissenting opinion. The dawn of the Internet means that reviews, even of the “pew pew” nature, are now a dime a dozen, and anyone can fire up WordPress or Blogger to be able to do one. In that sense, reviews aren’t such a big deal at all.
So the next time you read about a bad review for the 60th time about, say, E.T: The Extraterrestrial for Atari, don’t take their word for it. Be sure to experience for yourself the disjointed gameplay, the baffling pitfalls (literally), and the odd square wave noises at inappropriate times. I think you’ll be a better and more experienced gamer for it and you’ll be able to justify your own review score for the games you play.