Finding The Inner Balance of a Video Game Review
I didn’t start gaming because I thought it was fun. I did it because I broke my leg. In grade three, I shattered my ankle in three places and was in a cast for almost four months. This was the beginning of the end for me. As the youngest of four and the only girl, I wanted to be just like my brothers. So much so, that even after grade three, I continued – almost yearly – to break at least one bone doing stupid stunts or trying to be good at sports. I’m not good at sports, but just try and keep up with me at Mario Kart – I dare you. Gaming seemed to be the only thing I could do to be better than my siblings, and through many frustrating hours of falling into random pits of doom, or getting lost in the Forests of Hyrule, I became obsessed. For as long as I can remember (and as much as my family insists), I have always had an overactive imagination. This only tightened the grip games had on me, and brought me to where I am today.
I am your game reviewer, the lifeboat carrying you over an endless ocean of games. Could you get along just fine without me? Sure. But why not let me thrust myself into the darkness and spend tireless hours searching for the treasure you seek? My pain is your gain as I see it. But what happens when you actually get down to the process of showing your fellow gamers the results of the grind? How do you remove your personal biases and just reveal a game for what it truly is? This is the ultimate struggle: finding the balance between giving an honest review and letting your personal preferences cloud your judgement.
The first thing people don’t always think about is that no matter what you think of a game, it takes years of experience and sometimes even years of development just to get a game to launch. The amount of manpower needed to develop even non-AAA titles is ridiculous when you look at it, as most games take longer than your favourite TV series just to create. And all the while, gamers are screaming “MOAR” from the sidelines, asking that the developers up the ante on graphics, diversity, and content in general with each new project. It can be an extremely demanding and emotionally challenging process – one that I believe every gamer must respect for what it is. That being said, we are the ones that line the pockets of these people – and they do create the games for love of the art. When game reviewers sit down at their computers and try to trudge through the endless lines of content in their brains they need to be conscious of both the development process and the gamers – or they aren’t being true to the cause.
I have been a gamer most of my life, but a game reviewer for a very short while. My greatest achievement of 2012 was reviewing a game (which shall not be named) that I absolutely abhorred (true story, bro). I literally sat staring at a blank TV screen for almost 20 minutes, convincing myself I just had to turn the TV back on and keep playing this game. It was completely against my gaming style, so much so that I was going through a list of things that I needed to do that were more important – cleaning my bathroom tiles for the second time that week with a toothbrush being one of them. In the end I muscled through, and wrote out the article in a timely fashion. One of my wonderful and hardworking editors (yes, I’m completely sucking up here, but they are actually quite awesome), came online to talk to me about one of the points I made in the article. I explained myself, and then also explained that I hated the game with a fiery passion so my article may be biased and to please make sure it wasn’t. My editor was actually surprised at this comment and said to me that they had no clue I hated the game by reading my article. It wasn’t until this point that I really felt like I was doing my job. To top it all off, because of my article a good friend of mine fell in love with the game and has already played through it twice. Just because I don’t like a game does not mean someone else won’t, and as a reviewer if you don’t keep that in mind you are missing the gorram point.
On the flipside, it almost hurts to give a lower mark to a game you’ve fallen in love with – because fairly often that’s all people will see. We spend hours going over games and sifting through our words with a fine-tooth comb to bring you a fair and accurate account, but in the end we can’t be sure you won’t see anything but the score. Sometimes all I want to do is scream, “This part was bad but you shouldn’t care! It’s amazing! Just buy it already!” But as much as we have to remain unbiased with games we don’t like, the same is true of those we do.
My biggest fear, however, is that I won’t be able to tell the difference between bias and fact. When you read through someone else’s work, it’s much easier to pick out the flaws and question clarity. When you are re-reading your own words the entire article takes on a form that you can’t ever see clearly, because it is still trapped inside your own mind, in your own words. Only once it’s released into the world can you ever truly know it for what it is: by seeing it from someone else’s perspective. Keeping this in mind, it’s very easy to write something that has a personal bias in it, as we don’t always know we’re even doing it.
Many game reviewers have been reprimanded for things like not capitalizing an in-game name, or missing a headcount on how many levels exist, let alone giving a biased review. An example of this would be ex-Gamespot employee Jeff Gerstmann, who was fired in 2007 over a poor review of Kane & Lynch. In this almost unforgiving industry, professional writers must choose their words very carefully or they will find themselves out of luck – and sometimes out of work. A writer’s words can be damaging and costly to a video game industry, even a 0.5 difference in a final review score can make all the difference.
In a society filled with information, we are all guilty of skimming through to find the basics, then tossing the information away and moving on to the next big thing. To those of you who do take the time to read what we (and other review sites) have to say – thank you. You are the lucky few that will actually find games you never knew existed that will quickly become a favourite. My only hope is that we do it justice.
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