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.