In Defense Of Professional Video Game Critics Everywhere
Considering that I'm well aware of the massive egos and rampant superiority complexes amongst gamers online, I'm certain I will catch a ton of flak for saying this. But before I get to the crux of the matter, let me clarify a few things right off the bat; I do this because a shocking and depressing number of people rarely read the actual text and simply notice the headline. This practice is both embarrassing and insulting, fellow gamers, so knock it off.
Firstly, in no way am I saying that critics "know more" than everyone else. I'm not about to discount the knowledge of the typical game consumer, especially when the vast majority of fantastic titles are excellent sellers. Secondly, I don't believe it's a requirement for a gamer to check reviews before he purchases a game (I merely think it's typically a good idea). Thirdly and lastly, I am not singling out any one reviewer or source in this article. With that out of the way, I have to say a few words in defense of professional (note the word, "professional") video game critics, who routinely receive the brunt of the ever-expanding hatred in game forums today. Of course, as is the case in most any industry where there are critics, the critic can never win. He is never loved. Half his would-be readers simply believe he's either paid off, or he just doesn't know what he's doing. The other half think the critic is a pompous, overpaid blowhard who doesn't know what "fun" and "entertainment" really is. You may hear the latter argument when a critic trashes the latest popular action flick.
I think we can all accept this. But believe it or not, critics are critics for a reason. And I am not counting any of the so-called "journalists" masquerading online, or the dude who started a blog and writes game reviews. No, I'm talking about those whose full-time job it is to handle game news, reviews and the like. The reason I make this distinction is because there are so few of the latter; you can typically only turn to a handful of sites to see such reviewers (and if you're wondering, yes, PSXE is one of them). It's not that they "know more" or are "more intelligent;" it's more that their experience is greater than most. This is always a prime catalyst. For instance, I'm not about to claim that I'm a food critic just because the duck I had the other say was amazing. I could describe it appropriately, simply because I work with words for a living, but does that mean I can compare it to other fine cuts of meat? Do I eat enough of it? Of course not. I simply don't have the experience, and I wouldn't deign to make a judgment outside of personal opinion.
Which leads me to the next part: anybody who believes that everything about critical assessments of entertainment products relies entirely on opinion is incorrect. It's not true. There are indeed subjective aspects to any given game production, but of course, there are objective aspects as well. Nobody will say the graphics of Gran Turismo 3 are better than that of Gran Turismo 5: Prologue. That's ridiculous. There is also such a thing as better depth, voiceover talent, mechanics and control, and other technical facets that factor in, and are not subject to personal opinion. Or, to be more specific, they're not as subject to opinion. Personal preference does not, and has never dictated inherent quality. The Big Mac is not a "better" piece of meat than my duck just because you "liked" it more (and if you really did, I weep for you). The only problem with this is that we're talking about sliding scales; the closer in quality two products become, the more subjective the analysis becomes (provided one recognizes the quality in both).
And this is where the critic comes in. He has the experience to discriminate. He has the experience to pick out pieces of the production that either fail or excel, and as such, contribute to the overall experience. He has a backlog of games in his head to act as mental compare-and-contrast facilitators. Any fool can see that Prologue looks better than GT3, but it may take an experienced individual to spot minute differences in the graphical presentations of Prologue and Killzone 2. And let's not forget that the primary goal of the critic is to serve the public; to cater to the consumer. It's his job to make a recommendation, regardless of whether the reader takes it or not. As such, there is responsibility involved, and mistakes can be made. But at the same time and for the most part, the right person really is reviewing the product. Don't you think that if anyone could do it, there wouldn't even be any competition for such jobs? Do you honestly believe that the only question on the application is, "so...play a lot of games?" Trust me, there's more to it than that.
I'm not about to go review the latest tech gadget because I have little experience with things like Blackberries. I just don't care, and I'd be the wrong person to ask concerning a possible purchase. But if you ask me whether any given game is "worth it," than I can give you my best guess. Is it infallible? Of course not. Even the best games are hated by a select few. But more often than not, if you listen to what the best critics say, you will likely be satisfied with your purchase. It isn't any coincidence that, as I noted earlier, the best-reviewed games of all time are also some of the best selling games ever. That's a testament to two things: the knowledge of the gamer and, let's admit it, the accuracy of the critics. Is there any other way to see it?
P.S. I better get mad props for that pic. ;)
6/18/2009 Ben Dutka