Objectively Speaking

On December 21, 2009, in Culture, by psu

The Zero Punctuation videos are without a doubt some of the best writing about video games on the Internet. The pieces are snarky, hilarious, and well produced. Most importantly, they are not tied down to the tired old “game review” format where the game is poured into a metaphorical centrifuge and spun around to produce 5 numbers between 6.5 and 9.6 which the reader can then use as a quick reference guide while at the Gamestop. Here, finally, are video game reviews that are actually interesting to experience. So of course the video game people hate them. Why? Because he’s not “objective.”

This irrational need for an “objective” evaluation of something as inherently subjective as a video game experience is not unique to the field. Every human endeavour filled with dorks seems to have this problem. Why, even in our humble blog, we have been taken to task for various such sins. The big one that comes to mind were the people who complains that peterb wrote up his experiences using a D300 camera without also acquiring every other camera to make sure that his impressions were “objective.”

Tonight the subject of my mocking will be the Quarter to Three video game forums. I find they are often the subject of my mocking. They make it easy. The subject of their ire this time is Yahtzee’s very entertaining snark on the PS3 game Demon’s Souls which is incredibly mockable just on the basis of its name alone.

In several pages of forum nonsense Yahtzee is taken to task for that sin that is worse than all other video game reviewing sins in the entire world. This is worse than not providing a numerical rating. It’s worse than not enjoying a game the same way a horny 15 year old would. It’s even worse than admitting that you hate boss fights. What is his sin? He “obviously” reviewed the game before finishing it.

Apparently nothing in the video game world renders your credibility null and void faster than publishing something you call a “review” of a video game without having actually suffered the 20 or 40 or 100 hours necessary to have consumed all the content the game has to offer. After all, you never know, it might get better. And so the same tired arguments get trotted out in the forum. His impression of the game is not accurate. He’ll make people not try the game because he has misrepresented how it works. Basically, because his experience with the game was so bad that he just gave up, he does not have the right to call what he writes about it a “review” because doing so would be an breach of ethics on the scale of using government money for hookers and blow.

Here is what I say: bullshit. This is the false quest for objectivity at its worst. What drives it is primarily the fanboy’s need for everything he reads about his favorite game to agree with what he already thinks about his favorite game. If someone disagrees, the easiest way to shoot the opinion down is to declare that it is not properly objective because the writer did not play enough of the game. As if playing more of the game will inevitably improve one’s opinion of its core systems or overall experience. All of this reminds me of the recurring character of “Mr. Needham” on Top Gear who is forever complaining about the lack of “proper” car reviews on the show. In response, the Top Gear boys have produced on of the best pieces of television about a car to ever air anywhere.

I’m sure the various upset forum people at Quarter to Three would take Top Gear to task for their work, as it is not sufficiently “objective.” But that completely misses the point. In place of some misguided objectivity, there is fantastic writing and creative production.

This, on a smaller scale, is what Yahtzee does for video games. Consistently creative and off the wall banter that happens to be about some video game of another. The least of our concerns should be whether he has played a sufficient number of hours to be “accurate” in his portrayals. We should be thankful that there is at least one guy out there writing about video games for reasonably large audience who is more than a glorified shopping catalog.


3 Responses to “Objectively Speaking”

  1. Jason says:

    In my (limited) experience, video game people don’t hate Yahtzee, they feel about him they same way they feel about every other reviewer. That is, he’s insightful and articulate when he likes their game, and naive and “missing the point” when he doesn’t.

  2. Andrew Plotkin says:

    “Consistently creative and off the wall banter that happens to be about some video game”, eh, my ass. YOU SUK no, let me rephrase.

    What Yahtzee is doing is video game *criticism* — that is, he describes games in relation to the field of gaming as a whole. When a game does exactly what every other clone of its genre does, he starts by saying that. When a game fails to learn from the design sins of its predecessors, he points at that and calls bullshit. He talks about audience expectations and the baggage that players carry into games.

    Then he makes consistently creative and funny videos to encapsulate these points, because he’s really creative and funny.


  3. Chris says:

    If we want objective videogame reviews, I suggest we just wire people up to fMRI machines and measure the activation of the nucleus accumbens – it would correlate perfectly with percentage review scores. Let me save you the experiment: the best game in the world is “heroin”. :p

    Best wishes!