So let’s get this straight: there are no necessary qualifications to becoming a video game journalist. Yes, there are a number of game journalists out there with expensive university degrees or with piles of experience in video game development, but for every one of those, there are probably a dozen more got into this field simply because they love the subject and they got a lucky break somewhere in between.
Don’t get me wrong; passion is often times the biggest requirement for good writing, and it’s not like a $40,000 piece of paper will change that. The only point I’m trying to make here is this: there is no institutionalized school for video game journalism, and video game journalists are often considered so far outside of the field that taking courses in the more classic style of journalistic writing can be problematic. What we have now is a vocation that is largely undisciplined, and this basically means that nobody knows what objectively makes for good, bad, or even downright atrocious video game journalism.
Nothing exemplifies this more so than game reviews.
Probably the biggest problem I have with reviewing video games is that they (video games) are designed to be interactive and, as a result, everyone gets an entirely different experience. Have you ever heard of a food critic dousing all of his meals with ketchup and then declaring the restaurant to be an unmitigated success? What about a movie critic who decides to judge the new Star Wars movies purely by how much screen time Natalie Portman gets? Obviously I’m stretching here, but the fact remains that because we have no standardized way of approaching our medium, all video game journalists play games in very different ways.
An example here: when Dead Space 2 came out, I played it through once on Zealot mode, and then I tried again and made it halfway through Hardcore mode before I realized that I was simply playing Zealot mode but with only three chances to save my game. Now, while I liked Dead Space 2 quite a bit, I only ended up playing it for a week, with my first playthrough tallying in at just under nine hours. When I decided to give it another whirl, I ended up finding that the game really wasn’t different in any way, so I quit. Sure, I upgraded different weapons aside from my trusty combination of the Plasma Cutter, Assault Rifle and Contact Beam, but when you know what’s around every corner and you’ve seen how everything will turn out, what is there to keep you going?
Aside from bad memory.
One reviewer at a very well-known site, however, would say otherwise, as his review was positively glowing about the endless replayability of Dead Space 2. I remember reading this review where the journalist waxed lyrical about how, with each time he beat the game, his head would be spinning – spinning! – from all that he had experienced, and then he would pick up his controller for another round. I’ll reiterate once more: I liked Dead Space 2 and would recommend it to anyone who’s looking for a solid action-shooter, but unless you really love mowing through the same storyline with progressively stronger weapons each time, Dead Space 2 has no lasting appeal.
But you wouldn’t know this if you happened to read this one review. Instead, you’ll see a glowing 9.5 in lasting appeal, and if you can do basic score comparisons, you’ll also realize that this means Dead Space 2’s lasting appeal and replayability is on par with that of Fallout 3 (yes, Fallout 3 received a 9.5 on the same website). After all, Fallout 3 has one of the deepest character development systems of any first-person shooter, with multiple endings and multiple ways to play through each game, not to mention the hundreds of quality mods available for players to pick up to extend their experience. Of course, when the very same website gives Fallout 3 the same grade as Dead Space 2 in lasting appeal, you’d imagine that there would be some sort of objective standard by which they can compare.
But let’s give this reviewer the benefit of the doubt and assume that he truly felt that Dead Space 2 deserved the score it received, just as he knew that Fallout 3 had received the same grade in lasting appeal. If we go with this, then the following conclusion is even more frightening: this reviewer felt that playing through a 10-hour experience three times over with almost no deviation means this game deserves a near perfect score.
And this, people, is why video game reviews just don’t work.
(photo credit: bechaugen)