Ever since Nostradamus prophesied the coming of video games (“In the centuries of the new continents / There will be a new joy, but pain with it / Where Japanime failed, manipulable light and sound will succeed / And humanity will crumble / In Cheese Dust Storms and the unceasing tide / Of the Dew of the Mtn”) critics have been trying to perfect the art of the video game review. They have all failed before, because they were not me. But now, they are me. Or rather, I am them, and we are me, and we are all together. I am writing video game reviews now, and in advance of the great feats of nuanced critique and biting criticism I am about to undertake, allow me to say: you’re welcome.
Being as I do not yet have a video game review to present right now, I instead want to talk to about objectivity and fairness. First off, fuck objectivity. It doesn’t exist outside of observable characteristics. I am not going to be objective. You have never read an objective review that was helpful to you, as a consumer of video games, unless it was a review of a game you knew nothing about. ‘Objective review’ is not review at all, it’s a summation of mechanical parts and how they interact. ‘Video game review’, as we have come to refer to the general social practice of summarizing, comparing, contrasting, and ultimately, assigning value to video games through ratings systems, is a subjective practice by definition.
There’s a very good reason that a few high-profile video game journalism platforms, such as rockpapershotgun and Eurogamer, have deviated from the classic scored review. It’s not because big video game dissemination platforms don’t like having easy methods to compare games, rank them by numbers, and then provide endless discussion amongst both the professional and amateur commentariat about how shitty a job they’ve done on situating all of these abstract experiences according to a subjective system of ranking. In fact, they usually fucking love it, which is why IGN and Gamespot, two of the more prominent video game hubs on the internet, both still use scoring systems, and we have external platforms like Metacritic that don’t even review the media themselves, but just compile numbers from other platforms and spit out a final tally that’s supposed to be somehow objective.
HOWEVER, despite how much this gets everybody fired up to fight the ultimate video game opinion battle about whether Halo 2 is better than Super Mario Galaxy, appealing to the lowest common denominator of video game freaks who relish an opportunity to angrily tweet about review scores doesn’t actually give the public useful information about the pros and cons of a game and how it relates to other games in its genre, or its franchise, or other useful information like that. Instead, you end up with useless comparisons between Myst and Call of Duty, which is like trying to compare oral sex to reading Dostoevsky. Unless you’re making a bad joke, there’s no point in trying to compare the two experiences.
At the same time, scored reviews reduce the actual act of giving information about a game’s mechanical systems, its value as an experience, and even its aesthetic contribution to creative culture, to a goofy little number that doesn’t really mean anything except in relation to the numbers being assigned to other video games. Not only does the rest of the review lose importance in the face of an abstract number valuation, the entire process becomes more vulnerable to scummy publishers looking for good reviews to boost sales. It’s a lot easier to demand an objectively high score in exchange for sweet, sweet advertising checks than it is to do the same with a subjective review. If you’re in doubt, read a little on Jeff Gerstmann, now of Giant Bomb but formerly of Gamespot, and how he got canned. If you’re still in doubt, read about Obsidian Entertainment getting shafted on royalties for Fallout: New Vegas (i.e. the only good modern Fallout game) because of a well-meaning but misguided attempt by the corporate bureaucracy at Bethesda to improve the critical reception of the games they publish.
“Sure,” I hear you say, “this is more likely to happen when there’s a big, bold number at the bottom of a review, but don’t scoreless reviews generally take on a positive, or negative tone that publishers can use to corrupt the process in place of a number?” To which I answer, fucking yes, of course, but making corruption more difficult and less likely is always a good thing, and IGN and Gamespot aren’t likely to go scoreless anytime soon so you can always engage in the endless video game opinion Ragnarok on their forums if that’s how you want to get your rocks off.
Until our dormant robot overlords awaken, enslave humanity, and eliminate all empathy, emotion, and opinion from the human hivemind, I’m not going to pretend objectivity in journalism matters. It doesn’t exist. It’s not real. Ethics in game journalism has very little to do with developers and reviewers and everything to do with the developers’ bosses (publishing companies) and the reviewers’ bosses (whatever asshole is in charge at Gamespot). Since nobody is paying me or sending me video games for free, you can trust that I will hate all video games equally, and my scathing attacks against every game ever made will be distributed equitably according to merit. I promise, here and now, to always sling shit as it is deserved, not according to who has paid me more.
At least until anybody at all wants to pay me. Please. Someone. Anyone. Please pay me please I need money or a Nintendo Switch please please please