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Choking the Hype Machine: Why It’s So Tough to Review Games

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There are an almost infinite number of issues that can come into play when choosing to critique something that has been created by someone else. Examples include everything from personal bias to life experience to cultural fatigue to rampant fanboyism.

These issues are further compounded in the gaming medium. A place of constant competition, not just between console-makers and software giants, but even between the developers, and right down to the gamers themselves. This is a community of constant and consistent oneupmanship.

It starts with the idea of allegiance. There are so many among us that have an indomitable loyalty to a franchise, character, studio, console, or genre that their opinion becomes clouded before they’ve even experienced the product in question. Such is the case when a highly anticipated game is given a negative review before most of the audience has had a chance to play it. This is pretty standard stuff, and is also common in other mediums. Developers and studios give advance copies of an upcoming release to critics in hopes of building positive press for their soon-to-be-released product.

Then it gets ugly. The gaming community is rife with the denizens of the ugliest corners of the internet. These are people who are used to thriving in anonymity, and it has made them an unpleasant mix of rage and hyperbole whenever they find their hopes, beliefs, or opinions under fire. The situation is only made worse by the time gamers spend on their hobby. A gamer can sink as much as hundreds of hours into a game s/he has a strong affinity to. This creates a very strong emotional connection.

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Suddenly the gamers are screaming all manner of buzzwords to support their cause. “Console bias!” they declare. “Franchise bias!” they decree. “Studio bias!” they screech. Oh, the irony. If the general public of any medium is unable to accept an opinion contradictory to their own regarding something they’ve yet to even experience, than what hope have we to present anything regarding objective reason in engaging them?

The sad answer is that for many, we won’t reach them. They will simply write us off as fools and liars compromised by the system. And make no mistake, the system is broken. There exists a veritable treasure trove of bribery, intimidation, and peer pressure when it comes to scandals in gaming journalism. It doesn’t make writing about the industry easy, as we are always suspect in one form or another.

This is why integrity matters. This is why we will always be honest, especially when it hurts. It is how we separate ourselves from the pack. It is how we respect ourselves, and the time that anyone is willing to give us to simply take our opinion into account. If we are thorough and honest, we truly have nothing to be ashamed of.

Now if only the community could understand such basic tenets.


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