A Review of Objectivity

  • A discussion of objectivity verses subjectivity within reviews and review scores appeared in this week's Easy Allies Podcast. This is a discussion that I have heard many times, especially in the past few years, and I figured it was about time for me to throw my thoughts out there.

    We have all heard the statement, "Reviews should be objective," at least once. And, not to quote the Princess Bride, but, "You keep using that word, I don't think it means what you think it means." Objectivity refers to impartial actions or judgments which are void of personal feelings or opinions. Therefore, to say that you have an objective opinion is a contradictory statement, because objectivity is without opinion.

    So, for an example, let's say I was attempting to write a game review that is 100% objective. There are some of the things that I could mention:

    • The title of the game
    • The developer and publisher of the game
    • A brief synopsis of the set-up to the narrative (without major spoilers)
    • Some areas you will see in the campaign
    • The various game mechanics and how they work
    • Any featured mechanics specific to that title and how they are utilized
    • If the game features a multi-player component
    • How the leveling system works
    • Which maps are available at launch
    • The different game modes that are currently available
    • Which platforms the game is playable on

    And here are some of the things I could not mention:

    • If the narrative was well-written or not
    • If the script was well-voice acted or not
    • If the mechanics were too simplistic or complicated
    • If the mechanics were easily understood or not explained very well
    • If the featured mechanics are intuitive or a needless gimmick
    • If the story is paced well or not
    • If the campaign was too short or too long
    • If the online component features enough modes
    • If the weapons/skills/powers feature enough variety
    • If the stages have enough variation
    • If the game had intelligent or poor level design
    • A score for the game

    A review, whether it be for a game, film, music or any other product, is subjective by definition. It has to be. It is idiotic to ask someone to give you their opinion about something without actually stating their opinion. If you take issue with people giving their opinions in reviews, then I suggest that you stop looking at reviews.

  • I feel like when people say they want "objective" reviews, what they really want is just some faith that they won't be reading a review written by someone paid to give a good score, someone that has a personal relationship with the developers or some other kind of personal investment in the product, or a somebody with a blatant bias for or against the product in question going in.

  • The review debate in games is so asinine, reviews by definition are subjective. They are critical looks at a piece of media intended to express the reviewer's opinion on it. An "objective review" would be like @Caleb_Aranda says and just be a glorified checklist of what is shown on the back of the box.

    I just don't get how reviews for every other medium are fine but somehow game reviews get a bad rap from some for just being reviews. THEY DO THE THING THEY ARE MEANT TO DO! You don't have to agree with a review but that doesn't invalidate the opinion of the reviewer.

    As for cultivating relationships with PR, Pubs and Devs. Similar stuff happens for Movies, TV, Music, Books, Comics, etc. yet somehow all game reviewers are corrupt for....reasons....
    If anything the rise of influencers on YouTube and Twitch has shifted the focus for placating people for positive coverage. That's where things are going for better or worse. So traditional game reviewers are just being left to do their job: Give opinions on the games they play.

  • My views on this are pretty straightforward.

    Make sure to present the facts and your thoughts. If you think the shooting mechanics are bad, explain why it is bad by taking examples from your experience with the game. That's all you have to do.

  • It's honestly why I wish reviews didn't have scores at all - although this will never happen. I think a lot of people put so much value just in that score, possibly so they can say, "Well, game x scored higher than game y, so I know I'm making a better decision with my money." I find so much more value in finding a reviewer with similar interests though and listening to what they have to say. Waaaay back when, I used to go to IGN for reviews and I found myself disagreeing with their views, what they cared about was not what I cared about. I stumbled around on the internet until I found a site by the name of Gametrailers and well, that's why I'm still here. Listening to reviewers like Ben include small personal snippets about the game, while still giving all the necessary details is something that just works well. Even still, reviews very rarely sway me to buy or not buy a game. I generally have my mind made up months beforehand and I just use the review as supplemental material for what to expect.

  • @SabotageTheTruth said in A Review of Objectivity:

    It's honestly why I wish reviews didn't have scores at all - although this will never happen. I think a lot of people put so much value just in that score

    People are lazy. A lot of people don't want to research if a game is for them or not. A lot of people don't even want to bother to read the reviews. A lot of people wouldn't even bother with a short pro and con list and will just look at the score. They basically want to dumb it all down to a "Should I get this game, Y/N?".
    The problem here though is that the less you care about actually reading reviews and doing your own research, the more you will end up buying games you don't like or missing out on games you would've liked.

    In many cases some games would not rank high at all. For example Nier is not a game I would personally ever consider ranking 8/10 or above. That game is simply too rough in too many areas.
    But is it a bad game? No. It does in fact offer something unique which makes it worthwhile and highly enjoyable.
    I would on the other hand probably rank Rise of the Tomb Raider 8/10 because it's overall a polished and competent game, but did I enjoy RotTR more than Nier? No, the opposite in fact.

    But this is the way humanity works and I don't see it changing anytime soon. People like dumbing things down, comparing stuff, ranking stuff, etc.

  • @suplextrain Thank you for taking the time to read my mind vomit on this subject and I completely agree with you. A score may not even be representative of whether a game is worth playing, even if it's your own score. There is a definitive difference between a critique of a game and the value of a game. For example, both Alien: Isolation and Outlast are hard 7's to me (if I were to give them a score). They had their pros and cons, and when they worked well, they were close to immaculate in their execution. However, they were also hampered by odd design, questionable mechanical choices, and uneven pacing. Despite that, they were the best survival horror games I have played since Amnesia: The Dark Descent.

    Additionally, I understand why we have review scores. It's a relational method of giving information much like a game's genre (while genre speaks of the type of game, a score speaks of the game's overall quality in the eyes of the reviewer). Humans are relational by nature. We understand foreign concepts by relating them to a known quantity. For example, many people my age have never played Secret of Mana, but if I were to say, "It's old-school Final Fantasy meets The Legend of Zelda: Link to the Past," then you would immediately know what I am referring to since those games are more well-known. There is nothing inherently wrong with review scores, even if some people (like myself) do not necessarily prefer them. The problem, like you said, it how they are being abused by public reception.

    Many different highly-regarded reviewers, even some which still use review scores (like Jim Sterling), have addressed this specific issue before and have blatantly stated that the script of a review is much more valuable than the review score itself. A variety of gamers, with vastly different tastes and preferences, can more easily determine whether a particular game is right for them through a well-written script than a flat score. And it has come to the point where the majority of people who view a review will skip to the end just to see which arbitrary number the reviewer decided to give it. Like I said, there isn't anything wrong with review scores themselves, but if we cannot utilize them properly, then maybe we don't deserve to have them.

    I imagine it like giving a plastic bat to an 8-year-old. There isn't anything wrong with that; a child that age should know how to properly handle that kind of toy. But if he begins to run around the playground and smack other kids with it, then it gets taken away until he learns his lesson. Therefore, if the public simply cannot help but beat each other over the head with numbers, then it gets taken away until we learn how to use it properly ... like that will ever happen.

  • @DeweyDTruman said in A Review of Objectivity:

    they want "objective" reviews, what they really want is just some faith that they won't be reading a review written by someone paid to give a good score

    Hands you the "prove it" ticket

    If you are worries about people being paid for coverage, the traditional media is not the place where you should have suspicions.

  • I think what everyone should do is to collect a bunch of reviewers, youtubers and/or websites you feel you can trust and agree with most of the times, that have similar tastes to yours. These are product reviews, not political debates, wasting time on reviewers you don't agree with feels nonsensical to me. Personally I have settled with 10 websites in the last 2 years I feel I can trust not only with reviews but overall game coverage.
    Of course disclosure of things like how the review copy was obtained or if the reviewer has any relationships to the developers and/or publishers are also important, like if you had sexual relations with the dev or it's a family member or a good friend, I'm not telling you to not write a review, but you have to make it absolutely clear that your opinion on the product might be compromised so every reader can decide if they feel this review is trustworthy or not.

    But I have to heavily disagree with OP's list of what an objective review can't do including "A score for the game", you can definitely create a score system that is based purely on objective facts. If someone wants to implement such a checklist score system to their reviews, it's absolutely possible to do so.

  • I feel like singular people won't agree with any reviewer most or all of the time.