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Game Critique and Game Reviews

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criticizing
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Game Critique and Game Reviews

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These are the slides from the Value of Game Critique and Reviews panel at MAGFest 2015. You can see the video here on YouTube: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CQWviQuA2lg&list=PLpUuHdI3YdmDTZysB18EEIaaENTKS-PT-&index=49

Pretty hard to categorize where this talk belongs, so I'm going with design, but really it's a lot of journalism/media/academic/game design talk all boiled into one!

These are the slides from the Value of Game Critique and Reviews panel at MAGFest 2015. You can see the video here on YouTube: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CQWviQuA2lg&list=PLpUuHdI3YdmDTZysB18EEIaaENTKS-PT-&index=49

Pretty hard to categorize where this talk belongs, so I'm going with design, but really it's a lot of journalism/media/academic/game design talk all boiled into one!

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Game Critique and Game Reviews

  1. 1. • • • • • • •
  2. 2. criticizing criticism critical criticism
  3. 3. subjective
  4. 4. objective
  5. 5. http://comosr.spps.org/Lit_Theory

Editor's Notes

  • In order to frame this discussion for everyone, I want to discuss the definitions of a few terms. I’m going to use definitions from Dictionary.com.
  • First of all, “review.” Here’s some definitions for “review” as a noun. In particular, I think we’re interested in Definition Number One. Some gamers might like Definition Number Four as well, though it’s not actually that accurate in our context, it might be useful. Notice that Definition One includes “critique.”
  • So what is a “critique”? Well, a critique is apparently a review and a review is apparently a critique. Hm, that’s not super helpful. But both of these words use “critical” in their definition. So what does “critical” mean?
  • Hm. Here, we have a kind of problem. Definition Number One… is really different from definitions two and three. But it’s really easy to confuse one for the other. “Critical” has a connotation of being nitpicky. But it can also be used to mean “well educated and judicial.” Do some people accidentally conflate being critical-as-in-a-good-judge with being critical as in being negative?
  • Let’s also look at two words that come up a lot lately, the idea of objective versus subjective.
    I think it’s interesting that “objective opinion” is in here. Is there even such a thing as that?
  • Notice that when we get to “subjective,” one of the definitions has a negative connotation. EXCESSIVE emphasis and UNDUE egocentrism. Notice that definition number two doesn’t contain that idea though. Could people be conflating defintions two and three? Which do you feel is more accurate to how you think of the word “subjective?”
  • I’m going to give some examples of things that come to mind when GAMERS think of some of the words I mentioned.
  • This is “a review.” I usually associate a review with having some kind of score. The one on the left is… GamePro circa 1993, with the little faces scale. Some people think this is what game reviews should always look like.
  • A “critique” meanwhile looks more like this, maybe? This is text. The text on the right is Carolyn Petit (she’s here, I think?). And I purposely chose critique that was critical in more than one sense in this case. What about the critique on the left? Critique? Well, actually it’s just the text of one of the “reviews” listed on the previous page. But it looks/feels like critique, maybe.
  • One of these I think is fairly objective. What is the game, what you do. It uses “if you like” a lot, etc. Meanwhile, I think Carolyn would agree that her article is subjective, at least in the sense of being written specifically from her point of view. You can tell because it says “I” more.
  • Of course if you keep reading those two articles, we enter opposite-land, where Carolyn is just mostly talking about what the game is and what you do, and Kevin is talking about what kind of writing he likes and what he thinks he’s good at, using “I” and talking about his personal experiences. By the way, I also wrote about Elegy for a Dead World and I have NO IDEA how you put a score on something like that.
  • I have more slides, but at this point I want to open things up to Q&A because I know people will already have opinions. Then if things slow down we’ll go to the next batch of slides followed by the last batch.
  • So let’s talk about Review Scores. There’s a few different types of them. I think they’re interesting.
  • Some sites use a very loose score approximation. Kotaku used to do scoring, but now does a little yes/no/maybe type of scale. On the right is the “hidden” score system from the site I write for, which is Tap-Repeatedly. We used to stick numbers on things from a scale of 0-5, but now we’ve switched to just using a picture scale, which I like better. Left side is various levels of “great to okay” and right side is various levels of “bad to awful.”
  • Some sites, like Polygon and GameSpot, use a numerical scale. This is usually from 1-10, but, you know, the joke is that anything below a 7 is crap. And rarely used. So it’s more like the grading scales you had in school.
  • So a lot of people think that breaking the numerical score down into categories is a more “objective” way to do things, because… you guess a bunch of numbers then combine them to get one bigger number? I can’t help but use the Mega Man review from 1993 here. But Game Informer, on the far right, still KIND of does this this way? They use these same categories for all games. On the left is http://www.siftd.net/, a newish site and how they break down.
  • I was a teacher for many years and I find students in particular really like scoring rubrics because they’re clear and easy to understand. Did you do X, Y, then you will get an A, if you didn’t, you will get a C, it’s all very neatly written in this documentation here. Okay, the game has a good CONCEPT, but how is its PLAYABILITY? Compare left and right here.
  • On the other hand, it’s kind of a crummy way to evaluate art. And I should know, because I taught art! And it’s pretty hard to score creativity on a 1-10 scale. (You usually end up scoring something tangential, like effort or improvement or just following-directions-ability.) What about a game that isn’t going for the things on your scale that you’re using? Do your favorite games work on this kind of scale?
  • Very recently – 1/13, Joystiq announced they weren’t scoring reviews anymore. “Between pre-release reviews, post-release patching, online connectivity, server stability and myriad other unforeseeable possibilities, attaching a concrete score to a new game just isn't practical. More importantly, it's not helpful to our readers.” They also cite Metacritic, which reduces all scores down to one metascore, as a problem in the industry. They say converting their 5-star system into raw points removes the nuance and context provided by review text.
  • Metacritic will inevitably come up, etc
  • If we get this far, these are some other elements of critique and critical discourse I’d like to propose as discussion topics
  • First of all, let’s consider the idea that games are a ‘text’. I don’t actually mean text-based games or the text in games (but this is just a fun way to illustrate that). I actually mean the idea of games as literature. Something that you can analyze the same was as a story or a film. I think we can all agree that games are texts even if there’s some debate if they are art (I think they’re art too though).
  • In literary critique, there’s this concept of ‘lenses,’ that is, the ability to see a text through a particular viewpoint in order to understand it better. Trying to come up with how someone might view it subjectively, from their point of view. So you have the feminist lens – which you might be familiar with - and so on. Where I got these comic sans texts is from this page here. You don’t have to read all this; just using them as examples.
  • This is useful because games can also be viewed through lenses. One of my old mentors Jesse Schell did an entire book about this. Different ways of looking at a game design that you personally are working on. Or different ways of viewing a game that you are playing, even. Is this useful critique?
  • Some people say that is all nonsense. Games are ‘software,’ so they should be reviewed like we review SOFTWARE (or sometimes Hardware, as on the left). Does it work, is it buggy, how does it play, etc?
  • But some people think we should review games more like we review movies. And when we review movies, we talk about this kind of stuff – how does it fit into the world, culture, etc. Here’s some snippets of reviews of the film Selma. It’s about MLK. So are games just too frivolous for this kind of conversation? We do make games about real wars.
  • And this is just a particular bugbear of mine – game sites pay for “reviewers” or “journalists” but they don’t really hire or pay for “critics.” It’s really hard to pitch a critical or opinion piece for pay in the general games writing market. In particular, if you’re analyzing games like literature, you’re doing it for free. Here’s the mission statement for the Journal of Game Criticism which is non-profit.
  • What do you think?

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