Wednesday, June 18, 2014

Gamespot, IGN and Game Informer are Ruining The Gaming Industry Part 1

Gamespot, IGN and Game Informer are Ruining the Gaming Industry is regular feature in which the fact that Gamespot, IGN and Game Informer are just the worst is discussed
Gamespot, IGN and Game Informer are ruining the gaming industry. Now, before you get all commenty on me, a disclaimer: yes, I'm probably just doing this feature this because I'm jealous. I'm just a lonely white man on the internet, with a blog that no one reads. I can never hope to create the haven of racial diversity and acceptance that these sites have created. I'm jealous of the fact that my blog has words and sentences that you have to read like we're in the 1800's, instead of cool videos where any number of Hispanics, black women and homosexuals will read you their reviews on top of well-edited game footage and helpful bullet points. I'm jealous that my reviews don't come with weeks of pre-review hype and Review-In-Progress articles. But I do have feelings. And I feel, in my feeliest feeling-hole, that the reviews from Gamespot, IGN and Game Informer are ruining the gaming industry.

Let me be very clear: none of these sites are doing anything bad. Allegedly, none of their writers or employees have murdered anyone. The wars they have started, to my knowledge, are purely of the Flame Persuasion, which is also my band name, and I have been told "not arson." Unlike me, they didn't intentionally run over a trashbag of cats this morning as retribution for the existence of those Big the Cat stages in Sonic Adventure. Their ruination is entirely unintentional. In a weird way, that's part of the problem: Everything they do is intended to be as bland as possible, because the content of their articles, "editorials" and reviews are negligible. They have created collections of banal buyers-guides whose hype purely and entirely springs from the number at the bottom of the page. They're perpetual hype machines, powered not by insightful opinions or relations of the emotional experience generated by playing a given game, but by meaningless scores and Metacritic blurbs. They are number generators who have managed to commandeer the gaming industry.

This is not an argument against "generic criticism," be tee double you. Roger Ebert obviously wrote what many would consider "traditional reviews," and he was without question the greatest film critic who has ever lived. He was able to secure his legacy by writing simply structured reviews with a strong personality and love for the craft. Thoughtful, but not pretentious. He wanted his reviews to be fun to read after you'd seen the movie, not just before. And let's be fair: here are plenty of game-writers out there doing just that. People like Michael Abbott, Gus Mastrapa, Jon Irwin are leading the way for thoughtful games criticism that's full of personality, more thoughtful than your average Metacritic-approved reviews, but also not exhaustively academic or elitist. For websites like The Big Three (which is how I will refer to them. Not to be confused with Big The Cat) personality is apparently illegal. Like every Final Fantasy game of the past decade, The Big Three seem hell-bent on making sure their bland assemblage of mostly-whites are completely interchangeable. This is not to say that your Greg Millers and Thomas Mc Sheas aren't perfectly interesting, thoughtful people in real life. I ran over Greg Miller's cats this morning and his response was actually quite passionate and articulate. And I know for a fact that the Game Informer crew are a fine assortment of gentleman with great senses of humor and unique perspectives on games from watching every last episode of Replay. I'm saying: try your best to tell any of their reviews apart without looking at the top of the page upon which the review appears. I used to write for a gaming website that wanted to have a "site voice." What they meant was, "don't get those nasty emotions and opinions in the way. We're professionals! EVERYONE WHO WRITES HERE MUST SOUND THE SAME." It was dumb. Everyone has opinions, especially professionals, whose opinions are generally better-articulated and better-informed. But it's how these sites do things. I'm sure Gamespot has many-a-word-document sent to their new writers informing them of the unique and important aspects of the site's "voice" and what a Gamespot review "is." I'm sure every one of The Big Three have them. "What is an IGN review?" And yet, they all sound exactly the same. Don't believe me? I will literally bet you money that you can't tell the difference between passages from the following three reviews. Without cheating, of course! Let's take a sample from The Big The Cat Three's reviews of Skyward Sword. A divisive  game. Lot of opinions out there. See if you can tell me which site produced which review, since their voices are so distinctive.

1. A fearsome boss waits at the end of each dungeon. These duels comprise a variety of different combat techniques and make you use your full repertoire. There are times when your swordwork takes center stage. Here, you stab and swipe with the precision offered by the motion controls, and though the actions don't always correspond to your own movements, it's still a rush to chip at an enemy's defense until you bring it down. Other times, you may have to utilize your clawhook or shoot a few arrows, and trying to decide what the best tool for the job is makes these battles feel like fast-paced puzzles in which you could die if you take too long to solve things. As good as the boss fights are--and all of them do test your wits and skills--it's a shame you have to fight two of the bosses three times each

2.  Dungeons are now smaller, and tired staples like lighting torches and endlessly pushing blocks are largely absent in favor of far more creative concepts that frequently use all of the items at Link's disposal. Some dungeons even relish forcing you to methodically work one item to the next, a reminder that you have many tools at your disposal. Skyward Sword's dungeons not only manage to progressively get better, they're some of the most genius designs ever seen in the Zelda series.

3. Despite my love for it, I can recognize a few elements of this latest Zelda adventure that some gamers are going to dislike. The much-vaunted Skyloft proves to be a fascinating starting locale with tons of sidequests and secrets to discover, but flying to different floating islands takes a bit of time. It’s much faster and generally less annoying Wind Waker’s sailing, but there were times where the pull of my next objective was so strong that I would have gladly accepted a fast warp to that location.

Kinda tough right? Don't you feel like you just read a Nintendo Power preview? Were those even written by people, or were they written by some computer system that generates boredom? At least that last one had a couple opinions in there. But that's the problem. These sites go to such incredible lengths to avoid opinions entirely and be "objective," a task that is absolutely impossible if you are, in fact, human and not a robot or a cat. Games are interactive entertainment meant to elicit emotional experiences...why are these guys talking about them as if they're reviewing blenders? It's not that all reviews should be "academic" or "intellectual." Those can be just as dreadful. There's nothing wrong with taking a casual tone, approaching a review like you're just talking with one of yer bros. But these bros? They're boring. No-go bros.

 I tried to find passages from these reviews that were more specific and insightful but...I couldn't. The fact is that the bulk of the review content is simply a buyers guide, as evidenced by the fact that every one of these reviews is capped by A) a numerical breakdown into Presentation, Sound, Controls, Graphics, etc. or B) A "pros and cons" section. Put simply: Big the Cat's reviews are just arbitrary bullet points interrupted by vague opinions. "As good as the boss fights are--all of them do test your wits and skills..." Why does that sentence even exist? Literally anyone could have written it. The boss fights are good and test your wits and skills? Cool. Why are they good? In what way? Because they test my wit and skills? What skills? How do you know if I have wit? Doesn't wit mean funny or something? What wits and skills did you use? Don't you think our experiences with the game may have differed? Wouldn't it be more interesting to talk about your specific experience with the game other than vague blanket statements like "THE BOSS FIGHTS ARE GOOD"? Did I start this blog because no one loves me?

So, yeah, the writing is...not even bad, just completely uninsightful and blaaaaaaaaaaaand. So why is this a problem? Well, because The Big Three are really, really BIG, like that cat I was talking about. These guys are not just the taste-makers, they're the standard, and the standard is pretty low. If you search for a review of a game--ANY game--you're going to hit one of these three before you come across anything else. And it's because these clever fellas have been able to generate an absolutely insane amount of hype about their boring, boring reviews. And their boring, boring reviews and the hype surrounded them have created a culture of gamers that care about the numbers at the bottom of the page instead of the content, because the content is negligible. And since they're creating a culture that only cares about the numbers, they're creating a culture that doesn't care about the games that dare to defy numbers. Worse: they're creating a culture of gamers who don't really think about the games they're playing.

To be continued in Part 2



  2. I appreciate your feedback. At first I thought that you DID read it and couldn't think of anything clever to say so you just posted a meme that somebody else made, with a link that doesn't even work. But now I realize that you really didn't read it and just wanted to hurt my feelings.