As human beings with free will and all manner of things in that vein, we are constantly aware of the presence of opinions. These opinions apply to nearly everything in existence, from what foods taste good to what places are suitable for raising a family and even to what video games are worth your hard-earned money. As prevalent and important as these opinions are, however, they are also firmly divisive and a major source of conflict amongst people, even as we remind ourselves that everyone is theoretically entitled to their own opinion.
From the very beginning, before we have the capacity to stand resolute to our own opinions, we are strongly influenced by the opinions of our caretakers. If our parents instill the opinion that vegetables are good to eat and we are young and impressionable and not yet rebellious, we will share that opinion. Even at this point, playing in the sandbox with a child raised without vegetables, a conflict can arise. As years go on, the topic will change—strongest superhero, favorite cartoon, so on and so forth—but the same basic idea will remain the same. One child will try to convert the other to his way of seeing things; maybe it will be successful, maybe it will end in an angry draw. The seeds of forum flaming and fanboy posturing are deeply rooted in these early stages of social development.
Reading through that article was particularly eye-opening to me, as it brings us right back to the nature of opinions. The way opinions tend to be used today is in a “convert or conquer” manner. That is, you either convince your “opposition” that your opinion is in some way “correct,” thus converting them, or you are frustrated by their non-acquiescence to the point that your tactics change to finding other manners of showing them how wrong their opinion is. This can be done in a myriad of ways, from finding other opinions/reviews that meld with someone’s own opinion to simply using the old “straw man argument” and picking apart minor or unrelated parts of the “opposing” opinion (such as poor grammar) and hammering the point home that way.
In my youth, as I think back on this topic now, more often than not my opinions about many things were heavily influenced by the reviews I got my hands on. In those days (long before I had regular access to the internet, when I got my review scores from print sources like GamePro and Electronic Gaming Monthly), a game getting a negative review essentially blacklisted that title from what I was interested in. Even without playing the game personally, if a friend inquired I would tell them that the game was crap with little more than the written words of a paid reviewer as evidence. Games that I legitimately enjoyed on my own tended to be games that didn’t have any major issues with negative reviews, so my unwavering support of the print review never faced any ideological challenges. Of course, this did change as I grew older and matured in my social interactions, but for a while I was probably most gaming PR people’s worst nightmare, passing along my uninformed word of mouth.
When we operate in a community such as the game review community, there is the opportunity to have a “consensus of opinion,” something clearly shown by sites like Metacritic and other review score aggregators. I had never before thought of that particular plight of the reviewer, when an opinion that differs greatly from the overall consensus could potentially make them feel inadequate or make them worry about their credibility and accountability as somebody who has a platform to evaluate games and influence the opinions of other gamers. Because that is, in the end, essentially what a reviewer and their review do: they present an opinion of a game, but the presentation of that opinion can often lead to that “convert or conquer” attitude, even if unintentionally.
I would use the inFAMOUS/[Prototype] situation from Destructoid (and particularly Jim Sterling’s flame-baiting article on why one was better than the other) as an example, but I already stated here that I would avoid digging up that grave. Instead, I will use a recent movie example. According to Metacritic, “Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen” currently has a review average of 35/100, generally negative reviews. The cited reviews range from 75/100 all the way down to 0/100. The user reviews (which do not get factored into the overall score, but are averaged separately) range from 10/10 to 0/10. On the whole, the critical reviews are well-crafted and provide intelligent reasoning for why the reviewer had their opinion (the exception, ironically, being Peter Travers’ 0/100 from Rolling Stone where he nominated the movie as an early contender for worst of the decade 2001-2010; more than a little hyperbolic and certainly intended to draw attention from fans on both ends of the spectrum to fuel the fire).
The user reviews, however, are an entirely different beast. Many of the 10/10 reviews will feature complaining about the opinions of the critics who contributed to the 35/100 Metacritic rating and rallying of the others who did enjoy the movie to make their voices heard. Many of the 0/10 reviews will ally themselves with the negative critical reviews and launch scathing personal attacks on anyone who could enjoy the movie.
This boils down to a startling, and even mildly frightening, result.
Opinion is becoming (or perhaps less naïvely, has always been) ruled by consensus.
Granted, consensus does work both ways. Some people like to have an opinion that is shared by the popular consensus because it gives that opinion validation. Some people intentionally like to take the unpopular opinion to avoid being part of a consensus, but in that desire they express the fact that they want just as badly not to belong, making their situation no different, just reversed.
Opinions are interesting things, particularly when it comes to application in the consumer world. The examples I’ve discussed here lie within the realm of movies and video games, both of which can be expensive hobbies to partake in. This is part of why the opinions of critics and reviewers have come to hold so much weight, why more often than not you can expect an American to know who Roger Ebert is and be familiar with the thumbs up/thumbs down approach to movie rating. Especially in this time of economic difficulty, consumers are looking for guides on how their money can best be spent when it comes to consumables like movies and video games. The person working the minimum wage job down the street wants to know if their movie money will be justified when the house lights come on and they leave the theater; they will want to know if $59.99 MSRP on the latest video game release is justified when they come to the endgame.
And this leads to another difficulty; every person has their own opinion on what they feel is worth spending their money on. Each person’s situation is different. And in the case of the majority of critical reviewers, money is not an object because they are provided free access to the products they are reviewing. Hell, I’m an employee at a local movie theater and one of my job perks is free passes to any movies I want to see, and I’m not even writing reviews to get the word out.
Opinions are difficult things. That’s why we have the phrase, “Opinions are like ___holes; everyone has one and they all stink.” And given human nature, there is little to no chance that differences in opinions will ever gain acceptance as one of the many things that shows how each person has a beautiful and unique set of personality traits that is just as valid as anybody else’s.
My only hope is that people in the world of critical review can make one honest pledge: to engage in the media they are tasked to review and give an account of their experience, as honestly as possible, with as little regard to popular opinion as possible. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, this is part of why I enjoy being a part of the Destructoid community: we have editors and reviewers who are not afraid to be frank in their assessments of titles, not afraid to share the more intimate details of their experiences. There have been reviews that I have personally disagreed with on more than one occasion, but I’ve never read a review that seemed uninformed or untrue to the nature of the person writing it.
I would hope that all of these review opinions could be respected by everyone who reads them, but I know that the scope of that request is too large, too cumbersome to have any place in reality. Many games that receive mass critical praise will have their detractors, and games that are critically panned will have their die-hard fans. I’m just looking out the window on this first sunny day in weeks for northern Maine and thinking how nice it would be for an opinion to be read, digested, and left at that; not used as the starting point for the next great flamewar.
As much as I hate to continue fanning the flames of the inFAMOUS vs. [Prototype]/backlash of Destructoid's review of inFAMOUS situation, I do want to say something as a member of the community.
As the above blog title says, Nobody Should Be Surprised. Let me elaborate.
1) Nobody Should Be Surprised... that inFAMOUS and [Prototype] are facing such comparisons in reviews and in forums. As much as people on each side can argue that the games are not the same because of moral choices or design intentions, so on and so forth, these two games have been released within a month of one another and posit very similar concepts: taking control of somebody who was an average person and then receive powers as the result of a singular cataclysmic event. It's not just the sandbox-style similarity of the games, or else you'd be getting more invitations to Red Faction Guerilla as the third partner for this ménage-à-trois. The basic story concepts are the same, at the most base level, and as long as there are people who are with it enough to notice, there will be comparisons from the most in-depth all the way down the line. It's a bit foolish to suggest that the comparison not be made at this stage.
2) Nobody Should Be Surprised... that Destructoid gave inFAMOUS one of the lowest scores the game has received since its release. Destructoid has a reputation for taking big-name games into the review room and taking them down a couple pegs based on their honest experiences with the titles. This is part of what I love about Destructoid and the community versus other big-name game sites on the 'net. Some might call it a bid for "indie cred" on the part of the editors here, but I trust this site far more than most.
Personally, I purchased inFAMOUS on the first day and have loved every moment I've had playing it. It's one of the first games I've completed all the way through in a while (for all manner of reasons) and it's the first sandbox game to have collectibles (in the form of Blast Shards) that I actually took the time to collect all of. I've finished a "Good" playthrough on "Hard" and have since begun an "Evil" playthrough.
But I can respect the opinions of the three reviews tasked with reviewing the game, especially considering they had to know what they were getting into.
That being said, however...
3) Nobody Should Be Surprised... by the backlash in the Destructoid community in the wake of the review being posted. Especially since one of the persons tasked to review the game (Jim Sterling) posted a "feature" the day before going through ten tongue-in-cheek reasons why [Prototype] was better than inFAMOUS.
It is this series of events that truly prompted me to write anything on the matter. Everyone has known for a while that inFAMOUS and [Prototype] were similar games coming out in a similar release window and people have chosen their sides in advance based on console preference, story preference, design preference, whatever. As anyone with any knowledge of an internet community can appreciate, this means that people will fight and argue and flame anyone going against their side.
With this basic knowledge, it seemed more than a little inflammatory for the "feature" from Jim Sterling to be posted in the first place. It seems to be a decision based in drumming up hits because it was tailor-made to get both inFAMOUS and [Prototype] fanboys alike to read it and leave comments and tell their friends and just generally create a cluster. As evidenced by the huge comment response, this turned an already-volatile situation into a true calamity.
I'm not trying to say that we need to oulaw humor if it's going to offend people, because on the internet 9 out of 10 things offend somebody and I'm not a fan of censorship just because. However, there is a responsible way to do things when you could potentially inflame a situation further, and it doesn't seem like that was exercised in this case.
With the review being posted the very next day, the calamity exploded out of control. Now, instead of just a meant-for-humor sarcasm piece on the debate, there was a full review with a score and with reviewer comments to pore through.
This is why every other community blog post (it would seem) is weighing in on this issue. Would there be such a backlash without the "feature" story coming out before the review? Possibly; okay, probably. The internet is what it is. But the existence of the "feature" certainly didn't help anything, and I can imagine that many people in the community at the moment are more than a little upset at this giant diversion from other things they are interested in; perhaps so much so that they're willing to leave Destructoid for whatever amount of time is necessary for the situation to resolve itself.
Which, should the [Prototype] review make an appearance anytime soon (and contain any more flamebait for the argument), likely won't be anytime in the near future.
A quick round-up of my points:
1) I respect the Destructoid review teams and the difficulty of their work, especially when concerning highly-charged properties in the fandom.
2) While I disagree with certain points of the Destructoid review of inFAMOUS based on my own experience with the game, I respect the review as the opinions of other gamers.
3) I would suggest that the Destructoid community be aware of such circumstances and encourage their editorial crew to avoid creating circumstances that explode beyond anybody's control if possible.
4) I actually did purchase [Prototype] for the PS3 today and have put around an hour and a half into the game, so I can't make any sort of comparison between the two yet (and such a point would be detrimental to my writing here anyway).
Just some thoughts from a proud member of the community.
Edit: It would seem as though the inFAMOUS review has temporarily been taken down; it is no longer accessible from the front page or the list of reviews. Sorting reviews by PS3 does, however, bring up a link to the video review in the sidebar. Looks like this whole mess is far from over yet; hopefully the initial review has been saved in the meantime.
Well, as the title says, I've been a frequent visitor to Destructoid for well over a year now and only now have I actually taken the opportunity to create an account and actually try to contribute to the site that consumes the most of my web-browsing time in any given day.
My name is Brian; nice to meet you.
Now, my profile is still quite bare-bones because the profile update page comes up with a few broken links on my browser, but rest assured I'll be meeting all of the requirements of a true Destructoid member before too long. At least I changed my avatar, right?
Anyway, I guess the most important thing I can divulge in this introduction is my video game history, since this is a game site and all. My love affair with gaming began at the tender age of four when my brother and I received the Nintendo Entertainment System for Christmas, and it has continued strong straight on through the present.
I have owned the following consoles; anything in red text I still currently have:
Nintendo Nintendo Entertainment System Super Nintendo Entertainment System Nintendo 64 Nintendo Gamecube
Sega Sega Genesis
Sega Game Gear
Sony Sony Playstation
Sony Playstation 2 Sony Playstation 3
Microsoft Microsoft XBox 360
I don't consider myself a fanboy by any stretch of the imagination, in case the list of consoles owned didn't already state that indirectly. I do get a little miffed when games I would like to play don't come out for the consoles I own (I'm looking at you, Left 4 Dead), but I'm also at a point in my life where paying back college loans and paying rent and all that stuff pretty much precludes going out and grabbing a console on a whim. That's what friends with 360s are for anyway, right?
I was also a serious arcade brat back in the days where I could find a decent arcade in the state of Maine. I can't recall the first arcade game I ever played, but I have very fond memories of playing Street Fighter II and Mortal Kombat II competitively in our local hangout.
Now, another gaming list (hurrah); my current gaming obsessions:
Rock Band 2 Shin Megami Tensei RPGs Yakuza series Mirror's Edge Super Street Fighter II HD Remix MLB 09 The Show NHL 09
As for the life in general, I am a college instructor in English at a small private university in New England. At the age of 24 I have already earned my Bachelor's and Master's Degrees in English, which is something I'm pretty proud of. I'm also younger than some of my students, which makes me laugh on a daily basis. When I'm not on-campus teaching the next generation how to write papers, I work at a small local movie theater doing whatever they need me to do and going to see any movies I want for free; it's a pretty sweet deal. My roommate and I actually convinced the owner of the theater one day to let me bring in my PS3 and hook it up to a digital projector to play Madden NFL 09 and Rock Band 2 on a 20' x 30' screen in 1080p; that was the best Sunday morning ever.
Anyway, I'm already stepping into the realm of "tl;dr" with this intro blog, so I guess this is good for a start. I'm already working on my next blog, thinking about the game "Mirror's Edge" on the whole. I know, I know, there's literally hundreds of c-blog "Mirror's Edge" reviews already, but I'm not stopping at a simple review. Look for it (hopefully) soon!
Thanks for your time in reading this whole thing!
P.S.: Always up for online gaming; my PSN ID is Paakaa10 as well. Add me with a message saying "Destructoid" or whatever.