Wednesday, January 2, 2019

Editorial - What Makes a Bad Review: Seven Deadly Sins of Game Critiquing

Since a few years after the turn of the millennium, this reviewer has been writing critiques of videogames, mainly Japanese RPGs, and will acknowledge that his early works were somewhat shameful, stemming from giving exposure to untranslated titles to abusing perfect review scores when certain aspects of games had glaring faults. However, he would gradually refine his style to become more professional in accordance with his college education and what composition courses he took, and developed his own personal review style stemming from a lifetime of videogaming. This reviewer tends to be fairly critical of mainstream reviews, professional and “fan,” and has assembled a list of seven sins reviewers should seek to avoid.

7. Chronic Spelling and Grammar Errors

Odds are most prospective game reviewers are out of high school and maybe have had some college education, and they should definitely demonstrate that they at least have a knowledgeable grasp on the English language. This reviewer will admit that he’s not completely perfect in this regard, and cringes on minor errors he might overlook sometimes, although there are some common errors writers make, such as failure to differentiate among the possessive “its,” the contraction “it’s,” or heaven forbid, the nongrammatical “its” with an apostrophe after the last letter. Proper and grammar are definite steps in the quest to be a serious reviewer.

6. Not Properly Justifying Review Scores

Most videogame reviews have score-based systems, largely from 1-10, sometimes 1-5, and more rarely, 1-100, where the lowest score indicates the least quality and the highest the utmost. However, there are some instances when reviewers might give certain aspects of games perfect scores, then point out flaws within them. A good measure, particularly for the overall score, is how often the game is good or bad, with 50% on numerical scales indicating half good and bad, lower meaning more often worse than good, and higher meaning more often better than bad. In cases where the various aspects of games are of inconsistent quality, this reviewer tends to use proportional scoring, so that occasional rough spots in otherwise enjoyable titles don’t too much affect his overall ratings.

5. Lying About the Game’s Difficulty

Player skill, even among experienced reviewers, can vary wildly, accounting on occasion for skewed reviews where a critic was either too good at a game, especially if part of a series with common mechanics, or not very good at it, should it have complex mechanisms. If a reviewer is having trouble with a game, there’s no shame in looking online for assistance, although they should make note of this if ever a gameplay experience comes to it. Even as an experienced reviewer, this one will admit that there are some titles some have claimed to be “easy” that he struggled with at times, and some the average gamer has considered “hard” he thought were cakewalks. A game having adjustable difficulty should make a reviewer note challenge settings.

4. Exaggerating Trivial Flaws / Downplaying Serious Ones

There exists great debate as to what exactly constitutes a “flaw” in a game, with this reviewer, for instance, feeling that a title being easy is by no means a “problem,” especially if it seeks to allure newcomers to a long-running franchise. Sometimes, reviewers have issues with what others may see as trivial flaws in game mechanics, even dedicating several paragraphs to them, or conversely, downplay serious gameplay flaws or not mention them at all. For instance, this reviewer is perhaps the sole one to protest the lousy turn order meters of the Xenosaga trilogy where their gauges run out of icons before replenishing sporadically, and tends to notice other things that mainstream critics tend to overlook in games. Before assuming an aspect of a game is “perfect,” reviewers definitely need to ask themselves, “Is there anything remotely flawed in any part of this title?”

3. Failing to Adequately Explain the Game Mechanics

The aforementioned issue with the turn order gauges in the Xenosaga trilogy is just one of many things mainstream videogame reviewers tend to not explain very well, with this reviewer making a point in most of his reviews to elaborate on game mechanics, which tend to eat up most of his critiques. Sometimes, reviewers may say general things such as “this game has a traditional turn-based battle system,” which may confuse mainstream gamers who don’t have much experience with roleplaying games, as many players might have divergent opinions on what constitutes tradition. Reviewers definitely need to prove that they actually played a game, and maybe look at FAQs and walkthroughs to clarify things or get facts straight.

2. Libel
Also a problem in mainstream news media, there exists the temptation, especially if a reviewer isn’t enjoying a game, to flat-out bash the title with things such as “It sucks!” or “It’s terrible!” or “It’s good as a coaster!” It’s okay to dislike a game, but that is absolutely no reason for acting immature in writing a review. It’s bad enough in political journalism, and hurts deeply when it occurs in game criticism. Even if a game is giving a player a hard time, they should attempt to balance praise and criticism if possible so that pointing out an issue with a title is less vicious to those who may disagree.

1. Blatant Misinformation

Sometimes, game reviewers might just flat-out lie about various aspects of games, which is too just as much an issue with political journalism as with game criticism. Being factual about specific parts of games is a definite must, and helps prove that the reviewer actually played the game and understood its mechanisms. Again, if they are unsure about a certain area of a title, it’s preferable to look up the issue online instead of making an assumption within a review. As the late Daniel Patrick Moynihan said, “Every man is entitled to his own opinions, but not his own facts.”

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