IGN only gave it a 7.0. Didn’t they give Call of Duty a 9.5 – and not even one of the good ones? Sucks.
We’ve all been there. You waited months, maybe years for that special game to drop. You’ve seen all the trailers and even that alpha footage only shown at the convention you waited in line for hours to see. The second the embargo lifts and you’re there to read through the reviews and troll for new gameplay videos on YouTube.
But the critics don’t love it like you expected. They say it’s not that masterpiece you wanted it to be. And now you’re wondering if maybe you shouldn’t have used a vacation day; if maybe you’re better off going to your sister’s kid’s birthday you said you couldn’t make it to next week because you had to pull an extra shift. Here’s the dirty little secret: it’s okay to pass on a game that scores less than an 8 or a 9 out of 10. A good game is just that, a good game. Maybe you’re busy; maybe you don’t want to make time for something less than awesome. Maybe you’d rather catch up on some reading or a show you know you’d enjoy more than just a good game.
What’s unacceptable is the toxic response gamers have to publications that give games lower (or higher) scores than they would have liked to see. What’s worse is the very real, damaging effect this mentality has on the field of game journalism. My colleague, (and the fearless managing editor of Gamer Professionals) Morgan Lewis, recently penned an editorial on The Last of Us being a “good game” but not “a great one like everyone wants you to believe.” Sure, a divergence from the critical consensus, but a fairly benign op-ed, if you ask me, and it was still met with a slew of nasty comments accusing Morgan of writing clickbait and attacked with a lace of expletives — and worse. (People do that? Just, just go on the internet and say things? Not nice things?)
If you feel that righteous indignation bubbling up, relax. I’m not suggesting anyone was wounded by anonymous comments on the internet, but they are indicative of a more systemic issue. The implicit pressure placed on the critic to give games scores consumers want to see makes every critic more liable to radicalizing their thoughts. If people aggressively demonize scores less than truly spectacular or good scores as not spectacular enough, what’s the end game? Demand to hear what you want hear enough and you might just get it. More importantly, the blanket dismissal of scores makes all reviews worth a little less. The idea widely critically acclaimed games are the perpetuation of an elaborate conspiracy of game journalists trying to prove to each other how cultured they are and how they can appreciate good things when they see it is absolutely ridiculous. The same idea that low-scoring titles are the products of pretentious snobs turning up their noses at undeniably fun experiences is equally preposterous.
People look for consistency in the wrong places. A publication is a company not a person. And that company employs many with opinions at odds with one another. You know that guy who loved the latest Call of Duty? He’s not the girl who reviewed the last Pokemon. Of course certain sites have particular philosophies, but jackbooted editors aren’t imposing a rigid sense of sameness upon their staff. The fact of the matter is looking at the current climate of scores awarded by a specific publication is a poor indicator of future scores. Only by following the staff members themselves can you look for consistency, and by extension can you be justified in (civilly) questioning a seemingly out of place score.
Let’s not forget what we’re talking about here — scores. One tiny, itsy bitsy character not meant to stand alone, but a digit (or a letter) meant to summarize and support the already delineated thoughts of the critic. Read the review. Read it, trust me. Not all reviews will be great; and even some great reviews you won’t agree with. Read them anyway. The review will answer the most important question people forget to ask: why. Why did the critic feel the way he or she did?
A critic’s feelings won’t always be your feelings. That’s why critics become critics; they haven’t dreamed of agreeing with the big boys all their lives. They want their voices to be heard, and they want to play games. We’re gamers too. We’re all in this crazy pop-culture phenomena together, you know. When that time comes and you don’t agree, tell us why! Write a blog. Make a video. Do a podcast. Text a friend. Hell, fire off a comment. I’m willing to bet there’s more than one other person out there who feels like you do. There’s more than one other person willing to engage with a review, with a piece of content, with you. Just take a breath and be nice, okay, be nice. The game industry could use a little more courtesy, and by god, we can oblige.