Thursday, December 18, 2008

Reviews Symposium, part one

Are reviews primarily a consumer guide, or should they serve another purpose? Do review scores deter intelligent discussion of video games? Is the presence or absence of a review score the only difference between a reviewer and a critic? What is the role of the reviewer when the Internet is democratizing published opinion? How should reviews and reviewers evolve in light of the emergence and growth of Flash games, small games, indie games and user-generated games?

These questions and more were on the mind of N'Gai Croal, John Davison and Shawn Elliott last summer when they decided to expand their conversation to a number of noted reviewers, writers, bloggers and journalists for a published email symposium on game reviews. (See below for the full list of participants.) The planned list of topics include Review Scores; Review Policy, Practice and Ethics; Reader Backlash; Reviews in the Age of Social media; Reviews in the Mainstream Media; Casual, Indie, and User-Generated Games; Reviews vs. Criticism; and Evolving the Review. Round 1's topic: Review Scores.

Participants

* Leigh Alexander, Gamasutra/Sexy Videogameland/Variety
* Harry Allen, Media Assassin
* Robert Ashley, freelancer
* Tom Chick, freelancer
* N'Gai Croal, Level Up/Newsweek
* John Davison, What They Play
* Shawn Elliott, 2K Boston
* Jeff Gerstmann, Giant Bomb
* Kieron Gillen, Rock, Paper, Shotgun
* Dan Hsu, Sore Thumbs Blog
* Francesca Reyes, Official Xbox Magazine
* Stephen Totilo, MTV News


The entire transcript of the first part of this discussion, which focuses on review scores, can be found on Shawn Elliott's blog here. It's an epic read...16,000 words worth of insight from the above list of folks. I think it's worth noting that while we discuss the topic at great length, it is not our intention to set the world to rights and instruct everyone how things should be done. We are by no means perfect, and certainly don't suppose to tell people how they should do their jobs. As a "symposium" the goal is simply to air the issues as each of us see them, discuss them, and above all else raise questions and thoughts that will get all of us thinking about the topic, and possibly even change each others' minds.

From a purely personal perspective, I have to say that it's a remarkable thing to be a part of. I have a tremendous amount of respect for absolutely everyone on the panel, and reading their thoughts has been a fascinating experience. One of the comments that really gave me pause to think about how we approach writing about games was from Harry Allen, who says, "Though I use different language, I know that when I started writing about hip-hop professionally, in the late '80s, I made it my objective to never talk about an album in terms of whether I liked it or not. Instead, I always saw it as my job to explain the artist's intent to the readers. I've never called myself a "music critic." I've always said that I am a Hip-Hop Activist."

On the subject of scores he says, "I think a reason similar to this is also why I always resisted, during that brief period of my life, when male friends would ask me to assign a number to a girl I've seen. In hip-hop / Black slang, a "dime" is a girl who's a 10...but what does that mean? According to what objective scale? And indeed, isn't that the core idea that disproves the fantasy: That without an actual 10 to which one can point—the theoretical perfect game—the numbers become meaningless? That is, on a foot-long ruler, "4" only means something because there's a "7," and a "9," but, most of all, because there's a "12." However, "12" only means something because there's a "13" and "25"; an agreed-upon metric, in other words."

22 comments:

SnakeLinkSonic said...

"As a "symposium" the goal is simply to air the issues as each of us see them, discuss them, and above all else raise questions and thoughts that will get all of us thinking about the topic, and possibly even change each others' minds."

What I really find hilarious is what some people responded with (the comments are ALWAYS the best part). I gave my thoughts and left my observations with what I came away from it with.

Even the people who offered tongue-in-cheek reviews of it kind of made me sigh. I appreciated it though and it was a good read. I can't wait to see what all of you decide to plunge into next.

~sLs~

nailerr said...

PC ZONE - Culky

I wish I had the email to ask, but here is the next best, right?

After so long listening to yourself and Garnett on 1up Yours, after you convinced me to ignore the demo on Residence and biy the game (good advice) I now find out you used ot preside over my first tome of information back at school?

Talking of the era I still have a TOTAL! t-shirt I sleep in when winter hits... Bit I have one real question for you sir. What ever did happen to Collin Culk?
And come to that, do you still talk to Charlie?

Funny how the people who influenced your life show up in it later on, still giving advice...

nailerr said...

Oh wow, I wish I had proof read that one.

John Davison said...

I'm not sure what happened to Culky. We tried to track him down for the recent PC Zone 200th issue extravaganza (first time I'd written for the magazine in over 10 years) but we didn't have much luck. From talking to the guys, they weren't able to track down Duncan either.
Last time I saw Colin (if indeed that was his real name) he'd bought a boat, and was dressed as a Naval captain.

nailerr said...

Hey thanks for the reply. A few of my friends still remember the videos and such from the CD-ROM on the mag. Over ten years, been away from the country nearly that long myself now so it's interesting to know it's still going.

It's been interesting also accidentally finding out where various editors and writers went along the way, though I suppose it should not really be a surprise to find that the people we used to look to for opinions at the time are still the people we look to for opinions now.

Good luck with WTP and the rest, I can tell you that Europe still needs something similar, Living in Germany right now the way games are treated politically is pretty dismal.

Bobby K said...

I enjoyed reading the discussion. I look forward to the other parts. It seemed to devolved into score vs no score though. I would have enjoyed seeing more discussion on the critic vs review. I do enjoy more in depth reviews that dig down in to critique a game more so then just review it as a guide to consumer consumption. I'm not sure if its better served both being combined or seperated. Online nor in print we rarely see a game revisited for an in depth critical analysis after a review or even at the same time along with a review. Games seem to be forgotten as soon as they are reviewed unless a post mortem is done and this usually involves an interview with or writeup by a developer on them looking back on a game.

While this is enjoyable, particularly Game Developer Magazines Post Mortems, I would enjoy seeing an in depth critique of a game after its been out for a few weeks. After a journalist or even the original reviewer has more time to digest the game or even play it through again at a gamer's pace and not crunched by a review deadline.

I particularly would appreciate more in depth reviews in that way. Where a review isn't one write up but could be a series. Starting with the consumer buy it or not guide, followed by more indept critique and investigation into the game. While not every game would deserve this, it is something I'd like to see and something I would have expected some online outlet to have tried by now given they are tied down by a physical media like print.

In the end, I don't really care about a review score so much anymore. At this point in my life (I'm 40) I'm more interested in the actual text. However, if I had my choice of a score type, I would say I prefer 1UP's Letter grades and even Crispy Gamer's Buy, Try, or Fry. I like a simple scale where there is a clear delineation between different scores.

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Anonymous said...

This is a call to everyone to please step outside the right vs. left paradigm. While there are important issues worth debating within this paradigm, all of them will be moot if we do not focus on a much greater issue outside this paradigm. Thomas Jefferson warned of wealth concentrating to such an extent that it threatened the state. Nowadays the media has taught us all very well to ridicule anyone who talks of central banks usurping the power of government. Well now I suppose the media will have to laugh at themselves, as many outlets from Newsweek to the Financial Times of London are openly discussing the creation of a "bank of the world" that will control economic policies of every nation. I invite you to watch this video, which details how this is currently taking place. While it focuses on our current officials' cooperation with these plans, it steps out of the typical political paradigm by highlighting the cooperation of both parties. Please do not look to politicians to protect us. Only we can protect us. And our first step must be to reach out to police and military. Without their cooperation, the global elite won't have the muscle to exercise their will of oppression. Please share this oath-keepers blog with them.

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