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On reviews, opinions and MW3 - or - DERP.

I've been away, Dtoid. I think it has been 2 years or so since our last proper conversation. Recently, I've been catching a glimpse of you in my lectures (like the new hair color) and I thought I'd muster up the courage to come and chat you up again. After all, I'm a new man now, we might hit it off again... 30 minutes into our coffee and the pain is back. Oh, I see you haven't changed much while we were apart.

So Modern Warfare 3 came out, not that I care about it, because this laptop is barely fit to run Solitaire at an acceptable pace. But the reviews and the reactions have pulled open an old wound, a grievance that I've never addressed. Until now.

Reviews and the CONTROVERSIES! surrounding them have always interested me. I remember when Gamespot giving out 10s was a big deal and I also remember when they started dishing them out like candy. I've always wondered why Gametrailers never gives out a 10 in any category in it's reviews. And I wonder why the score-controversies on Dtoid have turned into people calling out a controversy in the first 200 comments, maybe to reach one on the fifth page or whatever. These effects tell a story and they can shift the discourse surrounding a game in radical directions. Or into a heap of derp.

So, review scores are a peculiar thing and people are never 100% happy with them. This is to be expected. We have fanboys, we have BIAS and we have relentless stupidity - rock-solid constants in this society. However, we can also have valid counterarguments to a particular score. But as it goes, the people who produce them must first make clear that they are not of the turdish landslide of that other negative feedback. They must fight their way to the top to make themselves heard, but the louder they get, the more acute the question posed by most everybody else - what's the point if it's only an opinion?

You see, however much a reviewer will tell you that it's only his opinion and you should just shut up if you don't agree, it's only true in a half-assed way. The reviewer gets paid to opine over a game and to at least try and assess it in a way that could resemble objectivity. They are not people who get paid to play games, but people who get paid to play games in order to score it's merits, which is a REALLY hard task, mind. Indeed, the function of a review is to give you some idea of the quality of the subject matter, so you could analyze their arguments if you're undecided about it and maybe choose to pass. This is why reviewers are allowed to make recommendations like "Rent" or "Pass". If it were indeed truly uninformed opinion, this would not be the case.

The reviewer has the power to shape their demographics' perception of the game and of the site he is publishing them on. To claim this false on the grounds of it being "just opinion" isn't very intelligent. The reviewer has been granted a right to speak out in the name of the site and to their readers, he isn't just scribbling down how much he liked the game because he's a massive fan of the series or whatnot. And that these scores are touted on boxarts and that the industry as a whole gives a toss when it comes to reviews is a testament to the importance of this "mere" opinion - people who play the games care and people who make the games care. As said, the clash comes when the readers disagree. If the disagreement is of the justified kind, then it becomes evident that the reviewer's perception of a good game isn't the same as their readers'. To ridicule said readers, or even hide behind the protective "veil" of opinion is disrespectful to the community. The disagreement must be acknowledged.

In the case of MW3, the source of grief is clear. Reviewers are reviewing the game as a standalone unit of entertainment. They assess it's entertainment value and that is it. This would be absolutely A-OK if their readers were uninformed in the workings of the gaming industry, oblivious parents in a supermarket deciding upon a gift, but they are not. The readers are people who have quite a good grasp on what is going on with gaming as a whole. If the site they associate themselves with releases a review (notice - the site, not the reviewer) that completely undermines the same insight and vision of the gaming industry that they've helped build before, anger and confusion are created. Is it right, that their communities endorse a product that is nothing more than full-price DLC? Is it right that we should accept the same re-skinned content from year to year and praise their creators? Is it right that at the same time, new and exciting IPs and games get hammered on for tiny faults or effects of low budgets? Is it right that their communities send out the signal: "We just want more of the same for more than it's worth"? These are fundamental questions that don't have anything to do with the entertainment one could get out of the product. But when the mentality that is behind the product is destructive to their beloved subculture, the community has a right to cry out.

To say to these people that they should just shut up and not play the games is missing the point.
To mock them as if they were all butthurt fanboys is a fucking disgrace upon the reviewer.

The low metacritic score is a symptom of something. It indicates among other things that there are two groups within the gaming community - one who wants progress and one who wants entertainment. The scores on MW3 indicate that maybe games should be reviewed in a different manner, to bring the two opposing sides together a bit and stop the calling out of controversies and comment clashes. Maybe reviews could conclude with two scores - one for the worth of the game itself and one for the overall worth. Maybe that new and interesting concept of a game that didn't pan out so great would get a 6/10 for the game part and 9/10 for effort. And maybe the next Madden release would get a 8/10 for the actual game and 1/10 for being a rehash that brings nothing new or good to the industry.

Maybe this would help mend the feeling of betrayal and counteract the meaningless clashes. For what it's worth, it is an idea for a future that doesn't involve treating all dissenters like crap. Anger is a justified emotion, more so when it is derived from a sense of cultural integrity being breached by those who are there to create the culture in the first place.
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About Brainone of us since 10:57 AM on 11.09.2011

A gentleman of the most critical sort.