Reviews: Are They Guidelines or Absolute Judgments


I’ve been a member of gaming communities online for over 10 years now. I have seen common trends in recurring topics that are often the same issue redressed to fit a new game. If you’ve been a member of gaming communities as well, more than likely, the validity of review scores and reviewer opinion have come up. I have seen a wide range of interpretations of reviewer opinion, but ultimately, I seem to see people falling into three main groups:

1. Reviewer opinion is worthless. They’re all paid to write, so they’re inclined to give higher scores to games from major publishers and developers. Not to mention biases that exist against specific companies. You have to try every game for yourself, as trusting reviewer opinion will only cause you to miss out on fun games.

2. Reviewer opinion is definitive. If reviewers say this is potentially the game of a generation, you either like it or you’re wrong. If they say that the game is horrible, you are questioned for buying it because you could never find any worth in the game yourself.

The third option is the one that I’ll be discussing in detail as the solution, so let’s first address the problems with the two viewpoints above.

With option one, the mistake is made to completely disregard reviewer opinion, generally because of an instance where a game was rated poorly that a person thought was good. I’ve even seen it go so far as disregarding all reviewer opinions because a Metacritic score only came in the low 80s when they wanted a score in the 90s. They will buy as many potentially unenjoyable games as necessary to reinforce their chosen view on reviewers.

Another way of reaching this conclusion is through the assumption that all reviewers are paid to write, and thus they rate certain games higher than others to keep the cash flow coming. Or that the media is biased against a particular console or developer, so clearly they aren’t worth taking seriously. These are both clearly false. On a basic level, not all reviewers are paid for their work. On a more complex level, the industry is not somehow coordinating a mass conspiracy for or against specific companies. I can guarantee that problems like this in modern gaming journalism would create noteworthy controversy that would surface.

With option two, we have a much different problem, and that’s the fact that people will choose to completely miss out on games they may like just because a reviewer from their favorite site said the game was bad. Depending on the interpretation and reliance on numbers, it could be as little as the Metacritic score coming in with low 70s, as many have come to interpret that as a bad score.

Somebody may tell a person thinking this way that they’re actually enjoying a game that received lower scores, and the response is generally a dismissal of their opinion to favor reviewer opinion. It doesn’t take much to see how this could damage the potential for enjoyable gaming experiences.

Colored tags likely don’t help either, aiding in interpreting something like an average 7/10 as bad because it isn’t green

The biggest issue with both options may be the fact that no matter what, sources of information are lost. Whether that be reviews, or the opinions of others in a more general sense. As well, all of this ignores the way scores and reviews should be interpreted, which brings me to the interpretation that is also a solution.

Reviews are guidelines. They are there in order to help you to make a decision. As such, they should not be disregarded, but they are also not there to be your decision. They are a helping opinion; they are not the only opinion.

Reviews should be looked at as a means of learning more about the game details, and seeing what particular people liked or didn’t like about certain aspects. They should supplement an opinion formed with other aspects, such as watching gameplay videos and seeing the other side of the coin. That is, you should also make an effort to see what other gamers think who just went out and bought the game. It never hurts to hear firsthand opinion from multiple groups of people, both those taking a reviewer approach and those playing simply for enjoyment.

Combining all of these factors together, it is much easier to figure out if a game will be something you’re likely to enjoy than if you just listen to reviewer hype, reviewer nay-saying, or non-reviewer opinion. This comes back to another point, and that’s that you can’t simply look at a review number to know if a game is good or bad.

A number used to rate a game is ultimately the most vague overview of a reviewer’s opinion. If you only look at numbers, you are barely seeing 5% of the overall picture, and even that may be a generous assumption. What matters is the words a reviewer types or speaks, not the number they give. Personally, I may rate something a 6.5, and that would be a number that divides the two problematic groups if they simply read my number.

If they actually read the review though, they could see what aspects I decided weren’t good enough and decide for themselves if it actually aligned with their interests. Reviews are nice when they can tell you flat-out that a game is broken and not worth buying. But every game that isn’t broken, which is the vast majority of games ever made, falls into that gray area of subjective interpretations trying to be made into objective judgments.

Although, some games really are just broken

In the end, you have to use discretion when deciding how relevant a review is to you. Dismissing all reviewer opinion only makes things more difficult, while abiding by nothing but leaves you at the mercy of reviewers deciding your gaming library. You have to make an intelligent and informed decision about which reviews fairly judge a given game according to your own interests.

The last point I really want to focus on comes down to the idea of bias. I’ve talked to some people who legitimately feel that there was a time when reviewers were unbiased and rated a game fairly based entirely on the good. Anyone that believes that, I’m about to slap you with a truth loaded palm when I tell you that there is no humanly possible way to grade entertainment in an unbiased way.

Reviewing something is using a mix of your subjective opinion, experiences, and standards, alongside objective judgments to form together an article. You are reading the review specifically to see if this person feels the game’s mechanics work well, if there are bad things such as bugs or poorly implemented features, and how their personal experience with the game in question and others shaped the review. There will unquestionably be bias present, as that is exactly what fuels differences in reviews and interpretations of games.

This does bring up the question: are there bad reviews? The answer? Undeniably yes. Just because somebody is reviewing an item doesn’t mean they’re capable of overruling their personal biases with objective opinion when it matters. Just because somebody received a big game for review does not mean they are a good writer. This is exactly why reading multiple reviews is necessary. You do not want to base your opinion on reviewers entirely off one review that was poorly written, whether it supports your desired opinion or not.

Now, I would be lying if I said the gaming industry and reviews were free of problems, which lends even more importance to establishing your opinion from many sources. You can look no further than the Kane & Lynch GameSpot controversy to see that the game industry is not the picture of perfection when it comes to legitimacy. Just remember that moments like the Kane & Lynch issue are the exception; they are not the normal way of things. For proof of that, look no further than GameSpot once again who has happily rated their fair share of highly anticipated and otherwise highly scored titles from recent months with more average scores.

Clearly a little controversy in the past hasn’t deterred current reviewers from being honest in their reviews

When it comes to the opinions of others, remember this very important fact: every game has its audience. There’s no reason to put down a person because they like a game reviewers have decided is bad, nor is your personal experience reason to dismiss the view of another. Every new opinion can help another person make an educated decision, and we should be encouraging everybody to share how they feel about each game they play in order to help out everybody else.

Remember that you do not absolutely have to play every game to have a valid opinion, but your opinion should come from as many sources as necessary, which includes reviews, to give you a complex outlook. Ultimately, the most important opinion you voice is the one you make with your wallet when you choose to buy or pass on a game. Use that voice wisely, as it does shape the future of the gaming industry. Buyer’s remorse will never change the fact that you were marked down as a contributing sale to a given game’s numbers.