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)
PushDustIn
Look at me!
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