The internet truly has the potential and capacity to bring out the best in us, but all too often I look at the latest news, the juicy new piece of gossip, and all I see are bitterness and anger over something that’s so trivial and subjective that it beggars belief. What’s stuck in my mind most recently are the repeated bad reactions to videogame reviews and their scores.
It’s a trend that started a few years ago, with a frankly bizarre call from some quarters for game reviews to be less opinion based and more (absolutely) objective, but that’s a position that’s inherently flawed. Some things can be reviewed in a purely detached, objective fashion, like the brightness and uniformity of a TV’s backlight or the vibrancy of its colours, videogames just don’t work like that.
No, rather they’re an expression of creativity, whether they come from a single person or a team of hundreds. There is so much that is left open to interpretation by the player as a consequence, and so much that comes down to your individual tastes. If you dislike motorsports, then a new F1 game earning a 6/10 is practically meaningless to you, but coming from the opposite angle, such a judgement can mean an awful lot when it comes from an informed perspective.
Yet people jump to conclusions all too soon and make snap judgements well before a game’s release. Just look at how publicly negative the reaction to Call of Duty: Infinite Warfare has been, a game where we’ve seen less than three minutes of footage. And yet there are those who think that it’s good and healthy for the series to look for and try out different ideas, regardless of its heritage.
When your opinion as a reviewer diverges from the norm, that can come into conflict with a fan’s preconcieved notions and a sense of loyalty to a corporate entity. It doesn’t even have to diverge in a major way, as we found out a fortnight ago. Videogamer said that Uncharted 4 was a good and strong end to the series when they gave it an 8/10, while IGN’s only real issue was that of a drawn out third act on their way to an 8.8/10 – now a 9.0 after reviewing the multiplayer more fully. Those are good scores, but simply by virtue of not giving the game a 10/10 and finding flaws in it, both received a lot of angry comments from all angles.
When you’re given a degree of anonymity within an echo chamber that can amplify the voices of those who share a similar opinion, it can very easily lead to this toxic atmosphere. It can be easy to laugh some of it off – I used to regularly joke about not knowing how to play Destiny properly, and Videogamer’s “apology” for their Uncharted 4 review is a masterpiece – but that’s never going to solve the root issue.
It’s highlighted almost perfectly by the latest reactionary movement, with a petition on Change.org to have a bad review from The Washington Post removed from Metacritic. It ostensibly has noble intentions, with the Metacritic score having dropped from 94 to 93 as a consequence and the unseemly practice of developer pay bonuses being tied to certain aggregate score thresholds. It can just as easily turn from this into calling for a reviewers head, in a metaphorical sense. That’s simply not on, even if they’re laughable attempts to sway a company’s stance and the acts of a small but loud minority.
There is, however, the occasional glimmer of hope. Paradox Interactive’s Stellaris has been well received by a lot of reviewers and by a lot of their fans, but a number of reviews found some rather fundamental failings. In particular, Rowan Kaiser’s 6.3/10 review for IGN found itself in the crossfire from fans who disagreed with the reviewer’s opinion. For a company that prides itself on the communities they can build around their games, that simply wasn’t on for Paradox, who took the quite exceptional step of responding to this negativity.
You should read their statement in full, but they said, “we’d like to go on record and say that we value the freedoms of critics to make any review they see fit. It’s best for the consumer and, ultimately, best for us. Although we may in some cases disagree or be disappointed by a review, this doesn’t detract from the fact that reviewers should have absolute freedom to give their own opinions of a game, free from external duress of any kind.”
Most importantly, they concluded by saying, “We have no hard feelings to Rowan, and we would really appreciate it if others wouldn’t elect to have them on our behalf!” And as I sit here trying to funnel my thoughts into a conclusion of some sort, perhaps this is the best lesson to take away from it all and the one that needs to sink in for this vocal minority. You might disagree with a review, but you shouldn’t let that disagreement boil over into anger, let alone hatred or indeed the dark side.