I like Crispy Gamer. I really do. I think it's staffed by some of the most talented writers in the business and in a Metacritic-driven world of reviewing wasn't afraid (at least not until recently) to fry a game in spite of popular opinion. They don't use any scoring system that could be counted on a score aggregator (just 3 ratings?!), and have some really good columns.
I didn't agree with some of their reviews, but that's fine. I'm not dumb enough to think that reviews of popular games MUST have a counter-opinion to be valid, but a diversity of perspective is always welcome, especially within the enthusiast press. Crispy Gamer's "Game Trust" records were proof enough that they weren't just flamebaiting or trawling for attention. And if they were, it hasn't worked, since I honestly have not seen anyone who reads Crispy Gamer outside of myself and the personal blogs what you might call the games journalism "elite". Not, of course, to say that I am one of them (I sure as hell aspire to be), but rather that the site seems rather "fringe" (perhaps due to the rating system?).
But I digress. I'll get into it now, with these last disclaimers:
I'm writing this piece on January 19th. The piece in question was posted on CG on January 6th. To those who've followed it, this'll seem like a "me-too" post, and for the most part it is. I mostly agree with what I've said and am going to say, and as such I believe I'm not just dogpiling on CG because it's the cool thing to do.
Jones in essence confesses that he (and others unnamed) voted for Fallout 3 as game of the year in spite of his personal dislike for the game. Over the next few pages he describes why, exactly, he didn't like the game, much in the same way Anthony Burch voiced his own dislike of Prince of Persia. That's fine, no biggie, right? Sure, but the most important part of this is that he voted it for GotY even when he had solid reasons not to. What in the nine hells could have possessed him to do such things?!
He mentioned in the first few sentences that he (and those unnamed others) had all included the Fallout 3 in their top-ten lists or handed it a GotY vote in spite of their inability to tolerate more than a few hours of the game. Mind you, I think that's a fair amount of time to make a basic judgment, especially given the kind of exposure they get to a big title up to and including the actual writing. Sites like Gamespot and even Destructoid have seen much more of a given game than any end consumer pre-release, by virtue of hands-on previews, trade shows, and even a constant stream of screenshots.
But this is extremely disingenuous on Jones' part. Sure as hell, he should have known better. It's been said that trust is the currency of the internet, and that's ironically what Crispy Gamer calls its stable of contributors, "The Game Trust". Trust is why we read critics and reviews in the first place! If we can't trust that your opinion of a game (and your vote) is honest, how is your credibility any more valid than that of, say, [Eidos?!
This is worse than "Gerstmann-gate", because at least in that fiasco most of the information we have is the product of speculation. None of us besides Jeff Gerstmann himself knows all the details, and it's likely we'll never really know. But here Scott Jones has just 'fessed up to some almost disgustingly unethical behavior! Of all people, critics should know they need to be honest. What's worse, part of his reasoning includes fear of backlash (hence the title "Critic in Exile")! BACKLASH?! Good lord. If he didn't like it, he shouldn't have voted for it, it's as simple as that.
Or is it? A user on the comment roll (easily the longest string of comments on any of CG's posts today), "RyanKuo", volunteered an interesting defense:
"My favorite (music) critic, Simon Reynolds, wrote this about end-of-year lists the other day:
“…for a certain kind of person there’s always going to be a fatal confusion of Favourite and Important, matters-to-me and Matters, pleasure and ‘truth’ … You can see various impulses battling it out–the gigantism of all-inclusiveness versus whittle-it-down brevity … The shorter the list (the thinking goes) the less likely it’ll succumb to worthiness, tokenism, dutiful eclecticism that doles out praise across the genrescape, and other liabilities of the profession.”
It arguably takes a more sophisticated critic to realize that these two concepts (favorite vs. important) exist side-by-side, let alone are often at odds with each other. That you cultivate a personal taste, with its own rules, alongside the supposedly objective critical one, which is built up by readers and some righteous critics to be some seamless, deterministic slide towards the Truth.
Getting caught up in “worthiness, tokenism, dutiful eclecticism” is part of all criticism — as a RESULT of striving for objectivity — and it speaks volumes about games journalism that this is an alien concept, gets immediately mis-read as simple peer pressure."
That's definitely worth considering. As Jim Sterling himself mentioned, critics aren't immune to hype. They are as vulnerable as we are when it comes to getting excited about something, particularly since they're easily as enthusiastic we are about video games, perhaps moreso.
And there IS a difference between taste and fact, especially when it comes to creative works as complex as video games. You might agree that Persona 3 does a lot for jRPGs, but just absolutely hate the anime art style, perhaps because, I don't know, an anime raped your dog. Should you let that affect your score? Should you still rate a game highly if you admire it, but not like it? Even Yahtzee mentioned it with Mirror's Edge. He thought it was crap, but that the fact it existed at all was a good sign. Perhaps that's the way to do it. Leave your "A for Effort"'s on your blog, and vice-versa.
Another thing to consider is a possible difference between "critics" and "reviewers". Reviewers need to take in all possible preferences and aspects of a given game, and as such need to be "objective" (as if it were actually possible), but it's a critic's entire job to voice a personal opinion. Should there even be a difference between a critic and a reviewer? Movies don't make that distinction. Then again, movies are way different than games. N'gai Croal opined on the matter after Keith Stuart lambasted reviewers for not giving Mirror's Edge innovations more credit.
Then again, that' stuff for a symposium. The real killer that absolutely kills the defense of Jones' action was that in the article itself, Scott Jones was considering voting for less universally-liked games like The Force Unleashed or Mirror's Edge, but went with Fallout 3 for fear of tarnishing his reputation. That's pretty ironic, considering that with this he's tarnished his rep even more with this, than if he'd voted for the Star Wars game.