Monday, June 1, 2015

Be Not So Fearful



I can't stand traditional videogame reviews anymore.

Neither do I have faith in the fact that I will ever be able to love them again as they are.

It used to be a relatively simple exercise with clear borders and charted topics to address. Now it's almost a chore in some way for the same reasons, plus so many aspects that have to be taken into consideration once you start getting interested in them. Business model issues, development issues, platform issues, representation issues... The experience of the game isn't enough anymore when you write about it as a consumer, a journalist and a player altoghether. Should you choose to focus on one side of the story, it'll always get back to you, unless no one cares about the game you've reviewed - it rarely happens, fortunately. As someone who tends to write for himself first but enjoys relevant feedback and criticism on his work, it has become a kind of sadomasochistic pleasure to explore the comments a few minutes/hours/days after each notable publication.

Don't get me wrong, I'm not nostalgic at all and I'll never blame people for saying plainly what they like or not, get or not in a review ; that's the whole point of having a comment section, even when it's sometimes closer to a mine field than a welcoming dojo. If I didn't want my opinions to be challenged, I wouldn't publish them online. The real trouble with a lot of reviews, mine included, is that they don't really challenge anything at all. Not the reader's expectation, not the writer's invention, nor the developer's production. They're just bland information, wrapped in fancy words at best. A drop of unharmful thoughts in a paraphrased digital booklet - maybe that's why so many videogame publishers don't bother to print those anymore. Of course, you also get nicely crafted texts without any concrete explanation about the game and a lot of shallow terms used to describe why it's an overlooked diamond or an overrated turd.

Every avid consumer can be angry or happy that way with some comfort food for thought to quickly chew on. Every busy journalist can make the content wheel spin faster to make a living out of it, hoping that he/she'll still be relevant when readers won't be able to distinguish his reviews from hazy brand content and catchy native advertising. Every confident player can keep on denigrating or ignoring professional reviews, preferring to trust his/her/other players instincts after having taken a few early fans impressions and seen some gameplay videos on Twitch or Youtube. "Everything is cool when you're part of a team", right ?

Little is required, on a personnal level, to change this state of dullness. Even if I'm convinced they could be skipped easily, we don't even need to get rid of scores, which are basically a decoy for the real problems of most videogame reviews. The important thing is to make sure a review teaches more than the game it describes could just by playing it. Or gives the reader a new perspective on his/her first experience, even if it ends up in disagreement. Additional knowledge and contrasting views are more likely to change people than redundant words and old conventions.

"Stand tall and shake the heavens." That Xenogears tagline wasn't so bad, after all.

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"I want to live where the traffic controllers are ballet dancers."