Friday Night Rants: Why do we look at reviews after playing the game?
Friday Night Rants is a series of often long-winded commentary on certain issues that are split up into digestible chunks and spruced up with the occasional helping of humor. The opinions throughout reflect those of the author, Michael Urban, and not necessarily Velocity Gamer as a whole.
Imagine the following scenario:
Your friend approaches you with a clothing catalog. As he/she sets it down on a table in front of you, they flip through the pages until they come to the coats section. They point to a particular coat and ask, “What do you think of this one? Should I buy it?”
You stare at it for a while, not really sure if you like it. “I’m not sure,” you say. “Personally, I just don’t think the style and color really suits you. And I don’t really think it’s worth the price-”
Before you can finish, they slam the book shut and yell at you. “How dare you say that! The coat looks and feels great ever since I’ve been wearing it a few days ago, and it was worth every penny! I’m never going to you for advice again.” With that, they storm off.
Would that not be utterly ridiculous to behold? And yet, in the world of video game reviews, this happens all the time. Go to any review of a high-profile game release, be it in written or video form, and you’ll see countless individuals in the comments section who complain that the review was too harsh and critical of the game, stating that it deserved a higher score.
Keep in mind that these are people who have ALREADY PLAYED THE GAME. Most of them flat-out admit that they’ve finished it and proceed to give their own score of the game. Even though the review’s purpose was to inform customers and help sway their purchasing decision, here we have an army of angry gamers who have already bought and played said game, yet still took the time to hit up Youtube or whatever gaming publication they prefer, actively search for a review on said game, and proceed to read/watch it in its entirety. Or, you know, just look at the score.
Why is this happening? After all, you rarely see this happen when other subjects are involved. You don’t see film and music reviews being bombarded with hateful comments, nor in fact do you usually see people starting brawls in the street when they disagree about their favorite soft drinks. Why are games such a huge exception?
Sure, there’s the whole element of human curiosity. We simply enjoy knowing what others think of the book we read, the film we watched, etc. But usually when we do so, we don’t aggressively oppose someone when their opinion differs from ours, or at least not to this extent. At most, we usually debate with them in a reasonable manner, and at the end of the day, we’re able to ignore the opposing opinion in favor of our own. Why can’t these gamers seem to do that?
I’ve thought long and hard about this, and I’ve come up with three reasons as to why this might be the case. Keep in mind that I claim no immunity from this; I too am guilty of occasionally watching reviews even after purchasing the game itself. Without further ado, three reasons most gamers watch/read game reviews even after playing the game in question themselves:
1. They are insecure of their opinions
Let’s be brutally honest here; the stereotype that a lot of gamers are either introverts or temperamental is not an unjustified one. Many of them are often shy or insecure, and they feel intimidated or alienated when someone boldly claims something that directly contradicts their opinion. On average, you may find that they’re probably not as confident and outgoing as the average person.
And you know what? That’s ok. That doesn’t make them lesser people in any way, since everyone has their strengths and weaknesses. Every form of media attracts their own audience, and games, due to their immersive, escapist nature and often fantastical subject matter, definitely appeal to certain types of people more than others. This helps build a strong community that feels comfortable with each other and can relate to one another.
However, this becomes problematic when gamers are unable to control that insecurity and resort to lashing out whenever someone disagrees with them, in this case the review. They feel disconnected, and because many of them are emotionally sensitive, they often take negative reviews personally, often without even thinking about it. They deem a negative review to be an attack on their tastes or even themselves, simply because they may have experienced such cases themselves during their lives.
However, that’s simply not the case with a game review. The point is for the reviewer to critically analyze a game and offer their opinion on whether or not it’s worth buying. It’s important to keep in mind that at the end of the day, these are still games we’re talking about. Furthermore, it’s a critic’s job to criticize games, and there’s also is no such thing as complete objectivity when it comes to reviews. Even seemingly objective flaws like bugs, glitches or pacing must go through the subjective filter that is a human. For example, one person may think a certain glitch is immersion-breaking, while another person may find it humorous and easy to overlook. (but hey, this is a topic for another day)
2. They regret their purchase
Games are expensive; there’s no doubt about that. Having to spending $60 on one is already asking a lot of a gamer, and it doesn’t help that there are so many choices out there. Once you’ve actually bought a game with your hard-earned money, the realization that other cool games are just on the horizon is all but impossible to ignore.
Nothing is more devastating than having spent $60 on a game you’re disappointed with and knowing you could have spent that on something you actually like. Therefore, when such cases happen, ‘butthurt’ is sure to follow. Gamers desperately search the internet for a positive review on the game in order to strengthen the denial of their own disappointment. After all, if someone praises it, it doesn’t seem quite as bad. And when they stumble upon a negative review instead, they’re obviously not happy.
The solutions to this would involve:
a) Buying games that you’re genuinely interested in rather than ones you bought because of outside pressure.
b) If you’re unsure about a game, wait until a price drop, demo, rental, etc.
c) Don’t lie to yourself. If you’re genuinely unhappy with a game you bought, sell it on Ebay or something as soon as you can.
I remember picking up the Metal Gear Solid HD Collection shortly after it launched. After playing it, I was immediately underwhelmed , but I was in denial. I looked up several video reviews on Youtube, frantically trying to find positive ones. After finding them, I was calmer and able to press on, but from there, the lies inside bottled up and eventually I came to a tough conclusion; I just did not like the game. It wasn’t for me. It just wasn’t my style. So I sold it for a reasonable sum and used that cash to buy the Jak and Daxter Collection, which I enjoyed immensely.
Remember, it’s best to be honest with yourself. If you dislike a game, there has to be a reason for it. YOU are the best judge of your own tastes and opinions, not someone else and their review. Trust your gut instincts when you play games; if you don’t like it, you simply don’t like it, and that’s ok. There’s no such thing as a universally praised game.
3. They want the game to have a good reputation
This reason is perhaps the most interesting one, partly because it’s the most justified of the three. What if gamers oppose negative reviews because they want the game to have a good reputation? What if they want other gamers to stumble upon IGN’s review and see a positive one that prompts them to go out and buy it? That way, the game has more fans and a larger community. The problem is that if someone sees a negative review of a game that they’d end up loving, they’re more likely to avoid the game because of the review.
Well, it certainly can be tough when that happens, but there are measures you can take to prevent it from happening:
a) Comment on the review stating that you disagree, but do it peacefully. Don’t lash out. Just calmly state that you like the game and state reasons why. That way, other gamers will see you as a rational, mature person and consider your argument in their purchasing decision.
b) Mention another publication’s review that you agree with. Don’t blurt stuff like “GAMESPOT OWNS IGN THEY HAVE WAY BETTER REVIEWS THAN THIS CRAP,” but make sure to mention them nonetheless. “I think I agreed with Gamespot’s review more.” Of course, it also makes sense to leave this in the comments section of the ‘bad review’ in question, and not the ‘good one,’ which is a common blunder. You’re supposed to direct people FROM the ‘bad review.’
c) Write your own review of the game and spread the word. Almost every major gaming news site has their own user review system where you can write your own opinion on the game, or you can always hit up forums to leave your thoughts.
Of course, don’t get too caught up in all this. Remember that the most important person to appeal to is yourself. Besides, if someone is destined to become a fan, they’ll probably get there at some point regardless of your help.
Reviews aren’t meant to be metaphorical prom bathrooms that you can run crying into in order to seek emotional escape. They’re really just meant to be purchasing advice, and even then, they can only do so much. After all, they’re just opinions, so they can at most sway a potential customer.
Gamers need to realize that their opinion towards a game is their responsibility. If they like or dislike a game, they have to be honest with themselves and secure in their beliefs. If you dislike a popular game, don’t tell yourself otherwise. I dislike Crysis 2 and Metal Gear Solid and have no shame in saying that. If you like a game that’s been panned, that’s ok too. I like Duke Nukem Forever and Red Faction: Armageddon. Finally, if somebody opposes your opinion, don’t take it personally. Debate with them, for sure, but don’t let it go too far, and certainly don’t think of yourself as vulnerable. Nobody out there can hit you with some sort of revelation or epiphany that completely changes your opinion, so don’t be afraid of that. You know darn well what you like and don’t like, and nothing can change that.
Perhaps if we learn to stop using reviews as punching bags and pillows to cry in, we can all learn to be confident in both our opinions and purchases. There are no right and wrong gamers here; only a vast world of experiences, begging to be explored and analyzed.