I've been in the video game journalism industry in different capacities since 2014. I've worked for a variety of different websites, each with their own style and focus. I've met all kinds of people in this industry over the years. All in all, they've been pretty wonderful. There is one thing within this industry that has driven me nuts for quite some time. That, my friends, is how some people in the industry look at games, especially when they're reviewing them.
For context, let's remember that some video games take on complex situations and emotions, while some don't. Let's also remember that some of these games feature religious and political situations, while others do not. Some creations are just mindless entertainment or fun, while others make you question your manner of thinking or teach you something. There are video games of all shapes and sizes out there, and they all have their own reasons for being. A great parallel is the film industry. (This is particularly relevant to me, as it was the focus of my degree.) Some films teach you things, a few dazzle you with explosions, others make you question the meaning of life, and some just make you happy.
The thing about film, as an educational focus, is that you are meant to learn about the complexities of the medium. A lot of film students don't see a superhero movie and think, “That was fun to watch!” They see little subtleties that the average movie-goer might ignore. Or they insert something that might not have been there to begin with, like, “This character's costume is clearly a representation of marginalized tiny people.” They might say, “There was such an overarching commentary on modern capitalism in this film.” I heard this time and time again when I was going to college. Professors were spouting that certain films were full of hidden meaning. I gave in to that thought process, because it's what was expected of me.
Some professors were great and reminded all of us students that some films were just “popcorn-flicks.” These are the films that are meant to entertain people. If they bring up any powerful emotions, teach any lessons, or change anyone's thought processes on something, that's entirely accidental. I mean, do we really think Michael Bay style films are going to change the way we as a society view commercialism? Probably not. But it's fun to watch stuff explode for an hour and a half! The same is true in the video game industry. Some games are simple “popcorn flicks” or maybe, in this case, “Doritos games.” That's the best comparison my caffeine-riddled brain can come up with at the moment; don't judge.
Some games, like pretty much any of the Super Mario titles, the Pokemon games, or even DOOM, are meant to be fun to play. They don't have anything extra to say and they don't want to teach you anything, they're just fun. Some video game reviewers take games meant for pure entertainment and twist them into something else in their review. Who knows, maybe even a game like Candy Crush Saga could go from being a bubbly time waster to a tactic by fascists to dumb down the masses in preparation for our new overlord. The point is, we can analyze games critically, but we have to remember that not every game is trying to bring down a patriarchy, or revolutionize society.
I think it's also important as a critic and reviewer to remember you, dear readers. As a review reader myself, I'm mostly just interested in knowing whether a game is enjoyable to play, or the story is engaging. I want to know if my $60 is going to be well-spent, or if I'm going to have buyer's remorse. I don't need to know whether or not something can be interpreted as some political or religious statement. I feel that is what opinion pieces are for. Reviews should focus on the literal aspects of a game, not the imagined ones. Do the graphics suck? Is the soundtrack the best thing the reviewer has ever heard? Their opinion will inherently come into play, but it will be focused around whether or not the game is worth playing. Which is what most review readers are going to be looking for at that moment in time.
I've babbled on quite long enough though. How do all of you feel about this? Should reviewers focus more on being matter-of-fact about a game's playability? Or do you look for those reviewers who dig in deeper?