So this little video I made has caused quite the kerfuffle over at NeoGAF. I wasn’t going to address it, because I’m trying to reduce the amount of e-conflict (.comflict?) in my life. But the more I thought about it (and the more I saw some well-reasoned debate on the topic there) I started to suspect it might be — as my girlfriend Oprah says — a teachable moment.
One of the things I’m proudest of at Joystiq is how we work to eliminate opportunities for bias whenever possible. We don’t take trips paid for by publishers/developers. We don’t accept gifts. We try not to get too close to people making games (or at least recuse ourselves from covering products they make if it happens). Why? Well, we believe that if it’s not a gift or trip or back rub presented to the reader, then the reader — rightfully or not — might assume we let that perk color our judgment.
“But Justin, Oblivion is your favorite game. Isn’t it a double standard to let someone who’s biased towards loving Oblivion review its sequel?”
I don’t believe it is, and here’s why: It’s a bias that any reader could come by on their own. In fact, in this case, I would wager to say that most people considering a purchase of Skyrim really enjoyed Oblivion, because otherwise, what are they doing? Actually, let me take that one step farther. I think if you didn’t really enjoy Oblivion and you’re reviewing Skyrim that’s enough of an outlier in the “possible Skyrim purchasers” group that you may want to consider disclosing it.
The fallacy on behalf of people who suggested I shouldn’t be allowed to review Skyrim is that I’ll in some way be inclined to be unfairly kind to Skyrim because I loved Obvlivion so much. Seriously, have you guys not met any game critics? Or, indeed, the internet? My biggest worry about reviewing Skyrim is that it will in any way disappoint me and I will, as a result, savage it. But being aware of that bias and compensating for it is the work of any good critic of anything. You can eliminate all the outside marketing influence you like, but any reviewer is going to bring some level of baggage to any review, because they’re human beings. The trick, to crib a line from Pulitzer Prize and Tony Award-winning musical Rent, is finding a critic with baggage that goes with yours. Or, perhaps even more productively, reading the thoughts of several critics with disparate baggage and then watching all their slideshows and deciding for yourself … you know … what Hawaii looks like. Or something.
The people reading about video games are excited about them. And the people arguing about them on sites like NeoGAF are really excited about them. I think the moment that a game critic falls out of step with those groups is the moment they should get into PR.
Sorry, that was a joke.
They should get into marketing.
Again, sorry. Still totally joking.
That was the funniest thing I’ve seen all week. I look forward to your review.
I think a reviewer’s disclosed bias can aid the reader by revealing whether their tastes are similar. For example, if I were to read a line from a Skyrim review that said “I loved Oblivion to it’s toenails, except for those stupid Oblivion Gates.” I would immediately relate. Either this reviewer has performed some ninja-like telepathy on my brain, or perhaps we just like the same types of games, and share some of the same annoyances. This would make me more likely to trust whatever comment regarding Skyrim that followed it.
Biased side-note: if you really loved Skyrim, you would play it on a PC.
Agree 100%. Anyone who thinks that any journalist is an unfeeling automaton with no opinion on any story they work on is just delusional.
In the case of games reviewing, why would you want a game that you are anticipating and contemplating dropping $50-60 of your money on to be reviewed by someone with no connection or investment? Especially in the case of a high-profile game series like TES, I want to hear the opinions of people that sunk days of their lives into the previous games and are still coming back for more. Otherwise, how do I identify with the reviewer?
Waiting for Skyrim has ruined all other gaming experiences for me. I’m trying to play GOW3, but the extent to which it is not Skyrim is really holding it back. Wanting to play it isn’t bias, it’s being human.
I don’t really care about the bias, I care about how unprofessional this is.
I remember you guys always complaining about dealing with gaming PR, but how do you expect them to treat you when you portray yourself like this? If any of my clients saw me in a video like this I can guarantee I would lose half my contracts over night.
I think you’re a funny guy Justin, but it’s instances like this that hold back games media from being taken seriously.
The very good news, and the very lucky thing for me, is that I could give two adult shits about what gaming PR thinks of me. I care about what readers think. That’s not a hostility towards PR mind you, it’s a recognition of who my audience is.
If readers want to paint me as someone who gets ridiculously excited about some video games, I can live with that. If they want a hollow, faceless “professional” then they are very clearly barking up the wrong tree.
There seems to be a disconnect in your reasoning, Platinum… Video game developers and publishers are not “clients” of reviewers and journalists.
That would kind of defeat the purpose.
Well said. I’ve never understood people who wanted, as Jason said above, some manner of inhuman review-bot writing about games. That’s the only way you can ever have a 100% unbiased, totally “objective” review… and it would be the most BORING shit to read known to mankind.
To paraphrase (and likely butcher all to hell, since my memory is shoddy) a quote by Ryan Scott: “You want an objective review? Fine. This is So-and-So Game. It comes in a box. It costs X dollars and you can play it on Y system. In it, you can do things, shoot people, etc. It has this many levels. The end.” Who in their right mind would find that worth reading? That’s a bullet point list from the back of a box, not a review.
Maybe it’s just because I came up from the 1UP community and I was used to connecting with the staff there via blogs, podcasts, video shows, social media and the like, but I ALWAYS prefered a critic who I could relate to as a human being with their own tastes, likes and dislikes and general quirks rather than some faceless byline who I knew nothing about and felt no connection to.
Personally, I loved the video. Fuck ’em if they can’t see a joke right in front of their noses and keep on doing what you do best, sir.
You know what kind of reviewer I want to read reviews from? The ones with a personality.
And any reviewer that will make a video of them hugging a game and spinning in circles is the kind of guy I want to read reviews from.