Tuesday, May 17, 2016

Great Reviewers Do Not Need to Be 'Good' Gamers

HeatStreet has posted an opinion piece about the website Polygon asking why some of their staff members suck at playing video games? Recently Polygon reviewed the latest Doom and posted a 30 minute game play video. It didn't take long for comments to appear criticizing the way the reviewer played the game. He wasn't moving and shooting at the same time. He didn't read menus or interfaces, and started firing randomly at objects that require a key card or a button press to open. A new, and very tiny, YouTube channel created a mini-video looking over the common errors in the Polygon game play, which has been viewed almost 250k times as of this posting. The Polygon video did have their comments section removed when the heat got to be too much.

The article on HeatStreet poses the question looking for answers, but doesn't dive into what the answers may be - other then Polygon needs to explain themselves. And it's not the first time Polygon has been called out for how they play games. There have been instances in the past with reviews, such as The Last of Us, where Polygon bucks the trend of giving out good scores because they couldn't get a good handle on the control scheme, the pacing, or the game play itself.

Back in 2012 I wrote a piece titled "Do you have to play video games well to be a good reviewer?" Seeing the HeatStreet article reaffirmed my stance. No. Why? Because we all play differently. There isn't a right way or wrong way to play a game. You don't have to be a master at Mortal Kombat to be able to review it - in fact part of the uniqueness of video games is that with the multitude of genres and game play types, you can have people from different gaming backgrounds review a product and come up with unique conclusions. An RPG or FPS gamer reviewing Street Fighter? They could create amazing reviews by looking at the product in a new perspective. It doesn't diminish the quality of the review if they don't play it the way you expect them to.

What one person may think of as a "bad gamer" may seem totally normal for another. So who's to say that the Polygon reviewer was playing Doom incorrectly? What rules state that someone has to run and shoot at the same time? The person was still able to complete the game's objectives. They didn't have any issues with the game's dynamics. They played the game the way that felt best to them. Over time as they learn the game, they can change up their tactics. But just because that person did not play to your standards doesn't make them a bad gamer.

I appreciate the fact that a multitude of gaming sites have a variety of gamers to provide us with reviews from their perspective. Sure, they may not know how to work the Wii controls, but if Nintendo is trying to grasp that "family" market, you're going to have non-Wii gamers in the mix who are in the same predicament. If a non-Wii gamer can't figure out the controls at Polygon, that's a good indication that the rest of your non-Wii audience will have trouble as well. And of course that will affect the review. We would be silly to think otherwise. Controls make up an important aspect of how we look at a game.

I'd argue that it's the same with film and literary critics as well, something HeatStreet mentions in their article. It's true that in those fields we don't expect critics to watch movies or read books well, but we do expect them to understand their content, provide insight into the mind of the creators, figure out the depth of the story and crack it open for the general public. Video games are the same way. I don't expect anyone working on Polygon, Kotaku, Gamasutra, Destructoid, GameSpot, or anywhere to be the best at the best in gaming. If they were, they would be peddling their talents with eSports leagues (and get paid a lot more money for less internet flack). They don't have to game well. But they do have to provide insight in a way few other gamers can - and that's through research, reporting, and reviews.

I'm going to quote myself here, but the point is still valid today as it was 4 years ago: "Just because you may play and review a game differently then how I would, it doesn’t discredit your point of view."

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