The ACTUAL Problem with Video Game Reviews

Note: The following article is the opinion of PushDustIn.

Dunkey recently released a video on his channel called Game Critics in which he criticizes mainstream gaming outlets on their reviews. If you haven’t watched it, it’s embedded below and well worth the watch.

For the most part, I do agree with Dunkey and his criticisms. Often, monolithic sites like IGN or Kotaku are treated as a single voice, yet because many people actually work on those sites, there actually isn’t a consistent voice. This leads to some confusion as some writers or reviewers will contradict others as naturally, their tastes will differ. Without a strong editorial guidance, this means that a game might get its’ points docked for the same reason another game gets its’ boosted. In the online space, where scores are often treated as the final word of a game’s quality — there can be a fierce competition by fans to downplay any shortcomings that their title of choice may have.

Source Gaming will eventually run into this problem as we begin to review more and more games. Working in a team makes sense, as it allows people to play to their own strengths and cover each other’s weaknesses — something that Dunkey didn’t really cover in his video. While I don’t really know much about Metroid or Fire Emblem, I’m quite happy that Source Gaming can still provide quality content for fans of those series via NantenJex, LIQUID12A, and others. Working in a team means we can put out daily content for our fans, and constantly try new things. Since most of us are working, or are full-time students, one person dedicating themselves solo is simply not an option for the level of quality and consistency we are aiming for.  

Pictured: Gaming Critics.

…But, I’m not really here to discuss the pros and cons of a one-man operation over a team approach. I’m here to discuss the ACTUAL problem with video game reviews. One that Dunkey does not anticipate in his video, nor in any of the follow ups that I’ve read.

Like with getting recommendations on restaurants, movies, or whatever…it’s important for you, the reader, the viewer…the audience…to do your own research. If you can find a reviewer or a friend that you can relate to then that’s great! You found someone who thinks similar to yourself. However, everyone is going to have their own interests, their own hang-ups, and it’s important for you as a person to realize what you want in a game. Do you want a game to provide value over price? Do you want a game that’s fun? A game that’s charming? Build your own repertoire and understanding of what YOU want in a game. Watch or read a couple of reviews and think…” would I be happy with this game?”. As someone who grew up without a lot of expendable income, and is in debt due to student loans…I want games to provide value. I want to go into a game knowing that I’m going to enjoy my experience based on the amount I paid. It’s something that I’ve been discussing a bit in my latest reviews for Source Gaming — mainly Kamiko and I and Me.

How many sites would write about Dong Dong Never Die‘s history? Only one.

With the online media becoming more and more decentralized I see some positives and negatives. Some points are not inherently good or bad though so I’m going to refrain from labeling them as such. Like with any change, there’s going to be positives and negatives and it’s important to recognize both.  

The first is that more niche audiences will be able to find content that is made for them. If you want to read full translations of what Masahiro Sakurai said, or exactly how all the Kongs are related to each other…you are in luck because Source Gaming exists. Source Gaming is a site that wouldn’t have been able to exist 10 years ago — it’s only because of the current climate of people reaching outside the mainstream sites that we can even find funding (via Patreon) and operate.

For content creators, there is fierce competition to remain engaged and expand their audience. Ideally, everyone is on the same playing field for your attention, but that’s not exactly the case. Those who already have an audience have a huge advantage over those who do not. However, audiences are fickle — they will move on if they are not interested. This means sometimes, some content creators won’t ‘rock the boat’ in fear of upsetting their audience. This could mean not being 100% honest with their viewers or trying to play into their expectations. This also means sometimes creators will be absorbed into the hype culture in order to chase after views. After all, covering low profile games will not have as much “return” as covering the latest and greatest game or controversy.

With games media being less reliant on the usual suspects, it means a lot of different kinds of voices can be heard. However, publishers and video game companies can still keep out the voices that they don’t want. This is done by preventing those people from gaining early access or denying them entry to their press events making it harder for those people to gain attention. I discussed this a bit in my piece, Advertiser vs. Journalist. The rules are inconsistent for the ways companies will treat YouTubers or sites. Some sites will get a Switch to review, while others don’t. If you are a content creator and don’t play by the ‘rules’ then you risk getting shut out of events. This means that despite the decentralization of gaming media, the most powerful player in the game is still the companies themselves.

Roy has a nice backside, I guess
Pictured: Gaming companies and content creators.

A lot of people who go into video games media are fans of that media. I’ll admit it — I’m a Nintendo fanboy. I’m sure the people who follow me and my work are not surprised, but a lot of content creators are in similar situations. In order to start writing, or making something…you need motivation. I often say this, but no one picks up a pen for no reason. For me, writing about video games is my passion and the way I like to engage with the medium — heck I’ve been doing it since I was 11. This means that as sites and channels become more decentralized and special, we risk only covering the things we like. Therefore, you may see an overwhelming amount of positivity with future reviews. It’s not that games are suddenly getting better — more fans are just reviewing.      

Lastly, there is a real fear of mine that people will ‘self-sort’ themselves and not engage in opposing views in a meaningful way. People will become blind and automatically dismiss thoughts and criticism that does not line up with their own preconceived notions. The echo chamber effect in online circles is real and not really all the productive. People have their bias, and so do communities. It’s important to remember to step back and think, is this actually the case? Do I personally agree with it, or am I just getting absorbed in the hype?

So all in all, the actual problem with video game reviews is that they are moving away from a central stage, to a more decentralized system. I think the way to address the shortcomings of this system is to remember as an audience to remain objective and vigilant. Let me know how you feel in the comments below, or on Twitter.

Bonus Article: See Sakurai’s thoughts on game reviews here. It’s too relevant to ignore!

PushDustIn
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PushDustIn

Founder at Source Gaming
PushDustIn is the founder and administrator of Source Gaming. Being obsessed with the history and development of games isn’t easy. Building a reputation on his research, translations, and article write ups, PushDustIn fully encapsulates the meaning of a 'data-miner'. PushDustIn has studied Japanese for over six years, and has lived in Japan for over four. The name PushDustIn comes from a garbage can in Osaka (Push Dust In). He lives with a very spoiled cat named Kuma.

Mains: Yoshi (64), Game and Watch (Melee), Wario (Brawl), Wario/Pac-Man (Smash for 3DS/Wii U)
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One comment

  1. Review are something that I really don’t wanna follow upon, because you don’t know whether they’re reviewing with honesty, or simply making a non-sense that’s never meant to be true but selfishness. I could follow certain reviews if that’s a reliable information due to being professional, which did helped me to decide whether to buy it or not. But in most reviews, including Youtube, some aren’t really that reliable because the reviewers were simply being too selfish and hypocritical. Reason to that is they simply hate that certain character or thing, judge by the box art and beginning of the storyline and graphics, and even something that the developers didn’t add what they want the most than their ideas. Hell, they judge it already even they haven’t played or touched the game yet! (and I’m sorry about my comment in the Sonic ’06 review of this site, I was wrong.)

    I’ve already seen many people reviewing about Sonic Forces already that it’s the worst Sonic game ever, even the game haven’t been out yet. The reason why people were judging the game to be already bad are several reasons. Low fps? I can handle that, since the Dreamcast era. Lame storyline? Impossible to determine that since the game’s not out yet. Irritating conversation? We already had that since Sonic Adventure 2, deal with it already! Too many Green Hills? Its Sonic’s 25th freakin’ anniversary, and it make sense! It’s like bringing World 1-1 in the Mario games over and over again, which is fine as part of nostalgia! The avatar system? Now this is the complaint what I really hate about from people who reviewed this game. What is wrong with having an avatar character? Is it because of DeviantArt? I know there’s lots of lots of OC Sonic characters there as some became a meme, but who cares about it?! Sega didn’t make this game only for them, likewise bringing an OC character from there to the game isn’t even the criteria, as DeviantArt itself has nothing to do with the game! It’s a right thing to have it for the 25th anniversary, which the game wants the player to become whatever they like to be to help Sonic save the world, which means the player IS the main protagonist of this game. Why wouldn’t anybody understand that, are they really that stupid to misunderstand because of the fanbase? Seriously, nobody even complained the same thing when they brought the avatar system to Dragon Ball Xenoverse, why only this?

    Another irritating review is that how people judge by looking at the box art and gameplay videos. Just because the box art looks awkward or ugly, they immediately judge it as being a bad game. Just because the starting point looks too lame, they judge it being more worse. They immediately judge it by just looking at it rather than try playing it. Tingle games and Captain Rainbow was criticized by those reasons, but when I played it for a try, I’ve realized that they were wrong, and it was fun! I’m not saying this as being whatever you call the “Defender of Nintendo”, but being honest from my experience of being a gamer. As you play so far, you’ll find out what the story is all about, what secrets are hidden inside, how difficult the game could be by moving on…there are so many things to discover while playing the game, and its enjoyably fun! This is the same thing with movies too, as they judge the movies to be already bad because of one actor being in there; such as Adam Sandler being in Pixels. To be honest, I’ve watched the movie, but enjoyed it a lot. I enjoyed watching Adam’s character, while the movie itself was very interesting to me as a game lover. The story may be simple, but it brought nostalgia to me of how they brought so many arcade game characters from the classic 80’s, even Max Headroom’s appearance was a surprise to me! The music choices was great, as I really liked the remix version of the Queen’s. I really enjoyed it as a whole, as I actually watch twice at the theaters back then.

    However, another reason that I hate about certain reviewers are, they don’t play games to “have fun”, but to only look at characters and story. They don’t care about gameplays, but only cares about character designs, story cutscenes, and that’s all. While although those are important, they just don’t play it in order to understand how the game is enjoyable. They don’t know how hard the game can be when going further, and how many ways you can think of a strategy to overcome those difficulties, but simply was it as taking an easy way to get away. They don’t play it, but watch it, not as a game, but as a movie instead. I don’t actually call them players and gamers, and if they only judge on watching rather than playing, I’ll be sadistically honest here…man, how sadly boring they are as they don’t have a meaning of life.

    Furthermore, reviews can be reliable, but not something you can trust on if they’re only being judgmental upon certain things rather than playing it. And what they desire the most is that they want everybody (and I mean EVERYBODY) to become same as them to hate the game, so it can be dead for good. But seriously, that’s not how it works; nobody can be the same as each other because they’re meant to be different. People have different judgement, whether the game was made to be worse, or it’s actually entirely enjoyable. If they’re curious of how the game is, it’s best to play it yourself than listening to the reviews, because every view is different from each other.

    Finally, I’m thinking of making a review upon one game that I played before, but since I haven’t wrote a review before, I’m kinda stuck. I don’t know if I like to post it or not, but is it okay to ask for help if I plan to bring it here?

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