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The Place of Professional Reviewers

TarranonTarranon Registered User regular
edited December 2007 in Debate and/or Discourse
Wherein a professional reviewers is defined as someone writing, freelance or otherwise, for a for-profit entity. You can feel free to take the debate to any medium, but I know the more about video-games than movies or more traditional art, so this OP will focus on that, and for the sake of the discussion I will be making a distinction between reviewers and the information hosted on 'review sites', ie preview media is considered separate from the reviews themselves.

So, it's something that's been kicking around in my head for quite some time, and with this Gamespot thing breaking, I figure the time is ripe for a discussion since nothing makes people chatty likes scandals involving things that don't really matter(See: Eve Online).

Now, I suppose the most important question is whether or not reviewers are still relevant. Generally, a review serves in two ways:

It can serve to alert you to a good game you may have otherwised missed.

It arguably gives you a clear breakdown of the game's strengths and weaknesses, helping you to make a consumer choice

So, alerting you to games. Is that this important in the age where there's more information than you could possible consume? The time of the sleeper hit is arguably a thing of the past. A dearth of first impression articles, screen shots, and extended trailers can effectively fill you in on anything that may sell you the game, and word of mouth is very effective at alerting people to under-hyped gems. Also; while I'm sure most of you are loath to take joe internet's opinion on his vidya game blog, a cross sampling of rank sites is very effective at determining general user opinion. Point is, if you're clued in at all to game going ons, you usually wont be surprised by a 9.5 glowing review of a game you've never heard of.

Next, there's the review's contents. With everything working as intended, it's a breakdown of the game's strengths, weaknesses, and innovations. Now the comment that always comes up here, is what gives reviewer's opinions more valid than anyone else's. And it surprises me that this comes up so often, because I'd think the answer is obvious. First, there's experience with the medium. The ability to rate this game's accomplishments against others, differentiate it, etc. There's the reviewer's aptitude for approaching a game analytically, and breaking down the sum game in a modular fashion. Of course, that's the ideal. How close reviewers come today is up to debate.

So, that's about my 2 cents on the issue. What do you guys think? Should you care what reviewers say? Can you think of any way they could better themselves(Other than obvious suggestions like...don't fire people for writing honest reviews)?

Discuss.

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    NoelVeigaNoelVeiga Registered User regular
    edited December 2007
    Pro game reviewers need to evolve towards a more intellectual vibe, if you ask me. We still haven't seen the Cahiers du Cinema of game critique and in order to get the Roger Ebert of game reviewers, we need to find our Truffaut. Gabe and Tycho, Tycho most of all, could do something like that, if they were more ambitious in that regard (not that single-handedly hosting a huge convention isn't ambitious just... well, you get my point).

    You're right, as they are now, reviews listing gameplay mechanics, pros and cons are pointless. That information is available already, if only because the average game puts out half an hour of gameplay footage for public scrutiny before launch and word of mouth spreads like wildfire in the Internet age. But game reviewers, pro reviewers, are needed in the industry. Authority and independent critics are part of what makes a creative industry work, and games are no less.

    The problem here is that critics don't take themselves seriously. Most of the time they see themselves as gamers talking to gamers or as journalists reporting. Even the preferred nomenclature is "reviewer", not "critic", as if what they're doing is filling out a checklist instead of putting forth an independent opinion about the artistic merits of a piece of work.

    I've dreamed of setting things right in the past, but my own stint as a freelance reviewer ended up with me conforming to the norm due to not being paid and just not caring enough to go fight editors about writing guidelines. I'm thinking of coming back in blog form and giving it a shot on a more casual way, but that won't solve the issue (see above about Tycho and ambition and all that).

    I guess this is all growing pains of an industry that has lost virginity a bit too fast for its own good, being exposed to corporate cutthroat tactics before it could come to its own artistically. I don't think that'll stop it, but it might take a little longer for it to mature than it took with cinema.

    NoelVeiga on
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    MrMisterMrMister Jesus dying on the cross in pain? Morally better than us. One has to go "all in".Registered User regular
    edited December 2007
    I don't see the problem with game reviews, aside from the fact that they're often in bed with their advertisers. I find them informative, and they give you a good feel for a game--even if it's just understanding where it fits into the genre or whether it places a general emphasis on mechanical or artistic game elements.

    MrMister on
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    Satan.Satan. __BANNED USERS regular
    edited December 2007
    NoelVeiga wrote: »
    Pro game reviewers need to evolve towards a more intellectual vibe, if you ask me. We still haven't seen the Cahiers du Cinema of game critique and in order to get the Roger Ebert of game reviewers, we need to find our Truffaut. Gabe and Tycho, Tycho most of all, could do something like that, if they were more ambitious in that regard (not that single-handedly hosting a huge convention isn't ambitious just... well, you get my point).
    I don't think this is what we need. Professional code of ethics would help, especially in the wake of the Gamespot thang. Writers in the field as a whole need to come together and strengthen each other. This can be done without a figurehead.

    Also, Truffaut was a filmmaker in the French New Wave cinema, not a reviewer.

    Satan. on
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    poetsoulpoetsoul Registered User new member
    edited December 2007
    I.M.H.O, the role of the Professional Reviewer is simply to provide the reader with the information s/he needs to decide whether s/he will purchase a game.

    It's not enough to express a positive or negative opinion about each aspect of the game -- graphics, voice-acting, etc. -- because so much information is lost by the mere expression of taste. The reviewer's goal is first to accurately describe the experience of gameplay, so that the reader can make up his or her own mind. At its best, a review is a game transposed into paragraph form.

    poetsoul on
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    Fuzzy Cumulonimbus CloudFuzzy Cumulonimbus Cloud Registered User regular
    edited December 2007
    I rely on reviews rarely.
    They tend to slip in spoilers somewhere.
    I find that anecdotal evidence is best, even if it isn't always reliable.
    Many of my favorite movies, rotten-tomatoes has crapped all over.
    I would never have watched them if I had read the cynical/jaded reviews.

    Fuzzy Cumulonimbus Cloud on
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    DynagripDynagrip Break me a million hearts HoustonRegistered User, ClubPA regular
    edited December 2007
    I really like the Onion AV Club's movie reviews. They're well written, informative, and their tastes seem to lie in line with my own. I don't really trust reviews from sites such as CNN.com or other major newspapers because they're often owned by the studios that make the movies, which seems like it would definitely color their reviews.

    Dynagrip on
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    IncenjucarIncenjucar VChatter Seattle, WARegistered User regular
    edited December 2007
    The main issues with reviews are 1) bias and 2) advertisers.

    Bias regarding genre, brand loyalty, etc., can really screw a review up. Hard to trust a Weaboo's evaluation of a Japanese game, etc. Unfortunately, the most likely sort of person to have the desire to be a reviewer is someone who is a FAN, and fans are heavily prone to bias.

    Advertisers are, especially with games, a nastier issue, since normal bias is easier to determine. Unfortunately, again especially with games, the primary source of income for a review site is going to be the advertisements for the products being reviewed, and there's just no incentive to not take that money when Sony or Nintendo wave it in your face.

    Basically, you can trust a review so far as you can figure out an individual's bias, and so long as they don't make any money at it. :P

    Incenjucar on
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    NoelVeigaNoelVeiga Registered User regular
    edited December 2007
    I don't think this is what we need. Professional code of ethics would help, especially in the wake of the Gamespot thang. Writers in the field as a whole need to come together and strengthen each other. This can be done without a figurehead.

    Also, Truffaut was a filmmaker in the French New Wave cinema, not a reviewer.

    Truffaut was one of the founding members on Cahiers du Cinema and he helped redefine film criticism *before* he actually started making movies.

    There is a code of ethics in place, since game reviewing is technically journalism. The same code applies to The New York Times, to Gamespot and to Roger Ebert.

    And, please, the Gamespot situation is not how things usually work. Advertisers don't buy reviews, except in mediums actually sponsored by gaming retailers or gaming companies. Independent media review games fairly. At most they use the same ways to promote their natural bias than normal media uses. There is a symbiosis, but not a flat out bribe system.

    What I have seen happening is games systematically going to the reviewer more likely to score them high. I know of this to happen in film critique, as well. It might not be ideal, but it's far from being "in bed with advertisers". Plus, as some GS employee not suspect of condoning Gertsmann's firing said, nobody complains about clothing ads on Maxim or car ads on... well, car magazines, I doubt we share any of those in both countries. Art reviewing is always more suspect of corruption because people feel stronger about it and because... well, everybody is a critic.

    I'm not saying we have the best kind of game reviewing we could have, but the situation isn't as is being depicted on forums all over the internet. Intellectual solvency and openly stated opinions are what we need, not some sort of self-righteous charge against... I don't even know what you're requesting... against people who buy ads?

    NoelVeiga on
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    EddEdd Registered User regular
    edited December 2007
    All I can ever ask of a professional reviewer is a rational, clearly expressed opinion. A reviewer can never be perfectly objective.

    That's the critical aspect: the coherence and reason with which they present their ideas. A coherent argument ought to explicate the thought processes that carried the reviewer through to his ruling, and it's then up to the reader to examine this argument and rule whether or not it is convincing or even applicable to his or her own tastes and expectations. If a reviewer thought Ocarina of Time was shit, I would be able to live with this, so long as his argument seemed reasonable.

    It's nothing more than a single man's opinion, and I'm free to compare his apparent expectations and criteria against my own. We aren't discussing the merits of purchasing a Ford produced in a given year based on the available safety statistics, we're talking about a very subjective medium, and how one example of said medium struck one particular guy.

    Edd on
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    Irond WillIrond Will WARNING: NO HURTFUL COMMENTS, PLEASE!!!!! Cambridge. MAModerator mod
    edited December 2007
    Video games are only beginning to develop a lexicon and standard of excellence. "Is it fun" with respect to games is as broad a question as "is it good" with respect to books or movies. We'll see a refinement of standards and philosophies of criticism evolve as the medium evolves, though you can see that the current standards revolve mostly around fairly specific and technical details (graphics score 9/10 sound score 8/10 controls score 9/10 replayability score 7/10).

    Like most media, it just takes time for the media and its criticism to co-evolve. We're starting to see the vidja begin to take itself seriously as a storytelling and artistic medium, and this is a hopeful sign.

    Irond Will on
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    AlectharAlecthar Alan Shore We're not territorial about that sort of thing, are we?Registered User regular
    edited December 2007
    I think that it's important to notice that, in many cases, the most readable and informative reviews of film, TV and books don't bestow an arbitrary numeric "worth" on the subject. Instead you receive information about the subject and the reviewers reaction, and are left to make a decision based on what deficiencies and/or high points the reviewer saw. I think game reviews would be much better served by going away from the "5 or lower is unplayable" kind of reviewing and instead write reviews with an eye toward describing both the game and the reviewers methodology, so that we, as readers, understand how the reviewer approached the game, so that we understand what effect that might have on the view of said game.

    Alecthar on
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