Name: Nate Stevens
ON REVIEW SCORES AND GAMERGATE
I've thought a lot about reviews, and I've thought a lot about my own personality. It wasn't until we got rolling with the Emotive Pixels gig here that I really began to contemplate the intersection of those two, and I think in so doing it's helped me understand and process the entire GamerGate situation that's currently trending - or was a week or two ago (I'm always just a bit behind).
WHO AM I TO SAY?
I'm very passionate about games. I'm not only passionate about them, I believe in them. I think they're a force of change, but perhaps more importantly to me personally, a form of artistic expression for not only those that work on them but for those that play and observe them. They possess and create more interactivity than any other form of media, and I, as someone with a history of ADHD and - even worse - an ENFP by Myers-Briggs standards, am very passionate about things that keep me involved. Videogames are that thing to me. I've followed movies my entire life and for the most part, I ultimately find them unsatisfactory unless they're completely riddled with art or other things that absolutely spike my imagination. Videogames to me are the pinnacle of things that get my brain going (that and hard sci-fi and convoluted sentences like these ones). Games are the things that let me feel comfortable being me, and coming from a long history of childhood solidarity, games to me are the pinnacle of the way I can both see the world I inhabit in a new light and also participate in basic escapism, into worlds that are sometimes better, sometimes worse, but always interesting and engaging.
Perhaps because of my tendency to become bored and restless in even the most fantastic and well-shot cinematic marvels (that is to say, movies), I've grown a bit sensitive. I look all the harder for things that grab me the same way I see movies doing to so many others that surround me - and heck, the way some movies do to me. I'm not completely immune over here, though my tastes are quite eclectic and are largely based on what draws me in and gleans my emotional involvement, which is hardly objective judgment.
And it's in the consideration of this reality about myself that I've come to think about how I see reviews. It was in Polygon's extra content Quality Control review (host Justin McElroy vs. reviewer Arthur Gies) on Bayonetta 2 that I first thought of my present view of videogame ratings, and it's the one I've stuck with and am currently negotiating as this podcast progresses. What I took from Arthur (not to claim that this is what he was implying necessarily) was that he considers a review score, at least in the case of B2, ultimately a recommendation rating. And for me, this has very much become my philosophy and formal frame of mind when issuing review scores, especially from the Gone Home podcast and beyond.
This is an important clarification to me, because I get so excited and passionate about games, and most particularly their art and audio design (especially soundtrack), I'm probably the least objective reviewer on staff, especially if the game deals with feelings of the sad variety. I'm a sucker for 'em. What this framework of review score gives me is a platform. This is a way for me to frame scores in my mind in terms of an objective question: how strong is my recommendation for this game? How passionate about it am I? How many glaring problems are there that will be interfering with this game's ideal audience? These questions are by no means perfect; the obvious loophole arises when I rate highly divisive games like Gone Home a ten out of ten, and as we saw on our relevant podcast, not all of us agreed with this rating - far from it. The problem here is the fact that a score of ten on my scale implies the strongest recommendation, and shouldn't the strongest recommendation mean I have the most confidence that the most people will enjoy it?
SIZE OF AUDIENCE
This was the immediate question that sprang to my mind. Does recommendation strength correlate with size of audience? No, it doesn't. It does, however, communicate how excited and passionate I am about a certain game. Numbers lower than five drift into the category of "I actively don't think you should play this" (I don't rate many games in this realm because I tend to love the experiences almost any game offers), an even five is a "you won't miss anything by not playing it", and anything above five is a score proportionate to how strongly emphatic I am that the game in question is worth playing.
What we see here is that a game rating a straight ten is by no means perfect. I don't think Gone Home is a perfect game, and I doubt I will ever consider any game to be so. I merely really strongly believe you should play it, think about it, and let it affect you, however you go about doing so.
And here we tie in the entire events of GamerGate and the philosophies that it claims to spring forth from. I won't bother summarizing GamerGate for you; check Caustic Soda's recent Gaming episode or plenty of the op/ed stuff by Ben Kuchera on Polygon for that. What I will say is that it seems to arise out of a knee-jerk reaction, some basic form of psychology that I think we all can understand at some fundamental level. It's that feeling when something you like is threatened and you can't or don't want to take the time to understand it. It's the basic issue plaguing so much of American politics. It's a cultural thing. Sometimes you just feel a threat in your opinions, and it's particularly easy to understand with issues that are incredibly broad and far-reaching like opportunities for human beings (in the case of immigration) and issues that deal with new and perhaps under-appreciated things, like videogames in the eyes of some, but probably less than some of these folks think.
Videogames are still an emergent art form, in the minds of some. In many ways, perhaps they always will be, as the tech they depend on changes faster than they themselves are able to in many cases. That's irrelevant because what's clear after several decades now is that they're here to stay, and it's also clear that although the message of some games tends to remain as shallow as ever (think Medal of Honor dudebro shooters glorifying violence as a simple solution to muddled political issues), plenty of other games are not only getting deeper, but getting more eccentric, more quirky, more abstract: take Lukas Pope's Papers, Please wherein you're a bureaucratic immigration official merely checking papers day after day. That's not a game you'd see even a decade ago. Things are going somewhere, and some of those folks on the internet don't want the simplicity of Galaga to ever go away. And to those people I say this: don't worry. Those simple games will always be there for you. You can also play some of these more abstract games on a simple level, too! Speedrun your lightswitch toggles in Gone Home. Treat Spec Ops: The Line as a Call of Duty clone; use white phosphorous on everybody! There's no threat to you here. Review text only matters to those intelligent and insightful enough to read it. And on that level, you'll always have review sites who seem to be less concerned about the deeper meaning of things and more concerned with fun factors - remember, fundamentally, sites, especially review sites, answer to their audience. Go check out IGN's reviews! *zing*
The connection between these two things is that I'm exceptionally passionate about indie, emotionally driven narrative games, walking simulators if you will (and I'm sure many of you will). When these games come under fire I feel those twitches of defensiveness; don't criticize my game over here in this tiny corner of 'nobody is getting why I love this so much', the urge to stifle other people's disapproval or greater criticisms with whatever mechanics they don't feel are sufficiently represented in this corner. It's a human thing, especially when your views are more and more regularly coming under fire. As with most things on the internet and in the world at large, a greater attitude of listening, patience, and fostering discussion will go a long way to solve these problems.
I won't bother reaching out much more on the level of the GamerGate criticisms. Zoe Quinn all but proved it's really just four trolls in a 4chan cave somewhere on the 'nets, and to give it more credit would do a disservice to all the wonderful content and general social entropy that flows out of 4chan despite all the chaotic evil we see publicized. I will say, however, that I think as much attention as possible should be leveled at the issues of women in development, and female portrayal within the medium, because it's not a great situation out there and it's something that really should be better. Sure, it's a problem in society at large as well, but this medium is on the cutting edge of both tech and social features, and I think we can lead the way with more Faiths and Reds and, well, certain parts of the original vision for Nilin, and maybe the final version too if there was a little less butt-camera magnetism going on.
The Beginner's Guide (2015)
The Stanley Parable (2011)
Mass Effect 1 (2007)
Papers, Please (2013)
Last Of Us
PixelJunk Eden (2008) vs. Electronic Super Joy (2013)
Pokémon Go (2016)
Lovers in a Dangerous Spacetime (2015)
Newscast Evolution Studios Retrospective (Driveclub & MotorStorm)
Uncharted 3: Drake's Deception (2011)
Ni no Kuni: Wrath of the White Witch (2013)
Newscast Game Of The Year 2015
Until Dawn (2015)
Uncharted 2: Among Thieves (2009)
The Vanishing of Ethan Carter (2014) vs. Everybody's Gone to the Rapture (2015)
South Park: The Stick of Truth (2014)
Fallout Shelter (2015)
Her Story (2015)
Frog Fractions (2012)
Newscast Distant Worlds: Seattle Symphony Review
Device 6 (2013)
Shovel Knight (2014)
Shovel Knight (2014)
Civilization: Beyond Earth vs. Endless Legend (2014)
The Walking Dead: S2 E4&5 (2014)
Newscast Episode 4 - E3 2015
Cities: Skylines (2015) vs. SimCity '5' (2013)
The Fall (2014)
Hotline Miami (2012) & HM2: Wrong Number (2015)
The Order: 1886 (2015)
Spec Ops: The Line (2012)
Uncharted: Drake's Fortune (2007)
NCIS: The Videogame (2011)
Middle-Earth: Shadow of Mordor (2014)
Newscast Episode 3
The Walking Dead: S2 Episodes 2 & 3
Newscast Episode 1
The Walking Dead: S2 Episode 1
Brothers: A Tale of Two Sons
Final Fantasy X