A Criticism of Criticism

Money is power.

Love it or hate it, our society is driven by money. More specifically, society is driven by convincing the public to buy your product. And with seemingly infinite products it’s hard to judge where it is best to spend your money. Enter the industry of criticism, which ironically is another group offering a product for people to consume. But commentary on the capitalist machine as a whole isn’t what this is about, so I digress.

Anyways. Criticism.

In entertainment specifically, product evaluation can make or break you. One’s book, video game, television show, film, broadway show, or art medium of choice will live or die by the words of a professional critic. When it comes down to spending time and money on recreation, the public holds the opinion of a critic in very high regard. I’ve personally gone to review sites and made purchasing decisions based on what big media companies like IGN, GameInformer, or GameSpot think.

It’s hard to ignore a platform that large when they’re the first page on google when I search for game reviews. It’s also easy to assume that because of their size, they employ an esteemed group of writers that have a controlled and tested way to review a game.

But they don’t.

It’s just one person at the company who plays a few dozen hours and slaps a number on a title. Sometimes it isn’t even that. Some companies will hire freelance writers to review games. I’m just as safe asking a buddy what he thought of the game. On top of the many review sites that are constantly obligated to give their review of a game once the embargo lifts, there are the keyboard warriors who leap to twitter or other social media platforms to scream their opinions.

I use the term “opinion” loosely, because as of late there seem to be only one of two opinions.

Either god-tier amazing or utter shit.

When you yourself want to do some research on a game or any other medium for that matter before you spend your hard earned money on it, you have to wade through a mile long swamp of other people’s opinions before you reach your own. It’s very rare you come out the other side without some mud on you.

I myself have struggled greatly with this. Mass Effect: Andromeda released on March 21st. Gamers everywhere were up in arms over the “mediocrity”.

“The facial animations are PS2 quality. The voice acting is so hollow. The main characters extremely mundane. The developers are Bioware’s B Team.” The complaints go on and on and it’s impossible to even google the game without seeing an article or tweet crucifying the game.

As an avid fan of the Mass Effect series, I told myself I wasn’t going to listen to the opinions of the masses. I talked with my friends about my plans. “I’m excited for the game, and I’m not going to let anyone else’s thoughts sway my actions.” As I said earlier, even trying to find some gameplay of the game, I had to scroll though dozens of articles talking about the mediocrity of the game. No article on it’s own affected me greatly, but it was a slow burn. Like a thousand paper cuts. One by itself didn’t hurt so bad, but all together it’s fatal. So little by little, I talked myself out of buying Mass Effect: Andromeda.

Instead of wasting my money by paying full price on what was sure to be the worst game of the decade, I rented it for $5. The money wasn’t the issue, but I still had to invest my time in what was sure to be a travesty of a video game. Much to my surprise, the game was pretty fun. Yes, the criticisms were valid. It certainly isn’t a perfect game, but I had a lot of fun with it!

My musings over the validity of the collective internet voice were correct. I wonder now how many games, movies, books, or other pieces of entertainment I’ve missed out on just because of an unsavory opinion. Even my own favorite game of all time, Kingdom Hearts 2, stands at a 7.6 out of 10 on IGN. It is a fact that many people see anything below an 8 out of 10 as a waste of time. What if I had missed out on Kingdom Hearts 2 because I saw that dreaded score below an 8 and moved on? I’m almost certain there are hundreds of games and movies I’ve skipped because they didn’t get an arbitrary “good” score.

It is absolutely ridiculous in the way movies, television, and games are reviewed when compared to other works of art. I lay awake at night wondering where the Mona Lisa falls on a scale out of 10.

I’m not trying to make an argument that art shouldn’t be criticized. It most certainly should. Art in all forms is subjective, and people have the right to do research to find if they’ll enjoy the art before spending time and money on it. The subjectivity of the matter is also precisely why it’s wise to take a grain of salt with a review. When a reviewer puts down into words what he/she thinks of a work, they’re tapping into all their life experience. Every bias they have reflects directly into that review. A bias that you may or may not share. They may bring up pain points of a game that are certainly valid. While some might not be.

My point is, don’t let group think on the internet deter you from getting excited about a game. Of course it is responsible to do your research beforehand. I’m not trying to demonize the critique process. It would be irresponsible for me personally to purchase a game from a new franchise that I know nothing about. However, if you’re excited for the upcoming game of a new series, don’t let hoards of trolls or a few bad high profile reviews tell you how to feel about every aspect of the game.

In the end it’s your decision, and no one else’s.


2 thoughts on “A Criticism of Criticism

  1. Great post. While I do like to read gaming reviews for a general idea in what I can expect from the game, it’s not what decides my purchases for me. In this day and age, with movie and games, I’ve learned that critics and I disagree on many things and that’s okay.

    That said, would you like to share your articles in our FB group? We’re a growing community of gaming bloggers and we’re always looking for more writers to share their work and discuss all things gaming. Just search for “Game Bloggers United” on Facebook. 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

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