git gud

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Polygon recently published a widely mocked gameplay video of the first 30 minutes of Doom. Whoever was playing obviously had very little experience using a controller and the difficulty appeared to be set to easy. It truly was embarrassingly bad and was deservedly mocked to the point where they have turned off comments and ratings on the video. It has also used as further proof (on top of the recent non-review of Star Fox Zero) that the staff at Polygon are at best disconnected from the their audience. And at worst, have nothing but contempt for them.

John Walker of Rock Paper Shotgun has now posted an opinion piece as a result of the video  crying about scolding gamers for saying horribly nasty things like “git gud”.  Mr. Walker must be familiar enough with the Streisand effect to realise this will have the opposite effect but he wrote it anyway. Now I would agree with the title that gamers don’t need to be good at games to enjoy them. I enjoy both vertical and horizontal shooters despite being little more than average at playing them. I love games like Ikaruga and Thunder Force III despite never having finished them. I don’t think that my enjoyment (despite my lack of ability) matters because I am still enjoying the experience. Where this opinion ends is when it comes to people who are paid to review video games. Like journalists. They absolutely should be good enough to review a game thoroughly. Their “experiences” are not enough for the kinds of gamers inclined to read reviews in the first place; however much they may think otherwise.

I’m not much interested in cars but if I’m going to buy one, I value the opinion of someone who is and what they have to say about the models I’m interested in. Likewise with something closer to gaming like music, film or literature. I may not agree with a review but if the person is a paid critic, they should know what they’re talking about. This is the same for game reviews; you should be generally competent with any genre you review. No matter what level the player, they want to hear from someone who knows what they’re talking about when considering whether or not they will buy it. Journalists also seem to forget that the people they are writing for actually have to pay for the game.

Does anyone really think that it would be acceptable to employ someone with no knowledge or familiarity with the music to review new albums professionally? How would someone with limited ability to critique compositions, lyrics etc. be useful for prospective consumers? How much use would someone interested in classical music be in reviewing something in the rock genre? Unlike related mediums, gaming isn\’t passive and so has the additional requirement that people critiquing them are able to play them competently. This is not unreasonable.

It is clear that it isn’t just Polygon though, a post on Pietriots last year gently noticed that the reviewer for Yoshi’s Woolly World at Gamespot had probably not played much into the third world before penning a review. Having played through the game recently and having read the review, many of his criticism objectively do not hold up and I’m quite convinced he didn’t either. Having this written in the About the Author section didn’t help:

Rob resisted the urge to play The Witcher 3 just so he could review Woolly World for you. Please understand.

Poor guy had to do his job.

So we not only have professionals who can’t play games, we also have professionals who can’t be bothered playing games they are given for free and paid to write about. Please note since I’ve used the term “professional” a few times now that I’m specifically using it for people who are paid to critique games. I’m not implying that they do their jobs properly or anything like that.

As mentioned earlier, Polygon also recently had a non-review of Star Fox Zero from someone who is somewhat notorious for marking down games based on them conflicting with his identity politics. He refused to do his job because he didn’t like the controls. Once the audience he was supposed to be serving got their hands on the game, it was soon made clear that the controls while somewhat difficult to master, are far from bad. He either wasn’t good enough or couldn’t be bothered doing his job well enough to become accustomed to them. Call me old fashioned but I still remember when games took practice to get good at. I guess walking simulators with regular checkpoints have made anything approaching a challenge too difficult for him.

As said by the defunct, dearly missed and now prophetic UK: Resistance:

Games journalism is about saying if a game is worth £40 or not.

An essential part of this is the ability to competently review a game and give an honest assessment of whether or not you would recommend it to your audience. If you find it too hard and think this is a problem then perhaps you should recuse yourself and leave it to someone more competent. Whether or not you agree with this description of your job, you can bet that your audience and the publishers providing you with review copies do think this. If you want to write long-winded fluff about your experience with a game you can make your own blog or apply for a job at RPS.

I’ve never applied for a job in the gaming press but if anyone wants to replace me with one of their scrubs, I’d be open to offers as would many writers on Another Castle. And publishers, why not go one better and send your review copies our way? We’ve been doing this more out of love for almost four years now. We all know how to play games and are honest and upfront about them. I even admitted when I didn’t finish a game I was reviewing and even when I honestly didn’t like the genre. We also pay for the vast majority of games we cover ourselves.

So for professional gaming journalists: git gud or gtfo.

May, 2016

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