Review Condensation

I have been looking at video game reviews recently and it struck me how condensed everything seems to be. After Google searching ‘video game reviews’, I opened every link on the first page. I found myself on the following websites: GameSpot, IGN, MetaCritic, Polygon, GameRankings, CNET, EuroGamer, Common Sense Media and The Escapist. Much to my dismay, I found that only 1 of the 9 websites did not immediately show me how they ranked the game within their rating system. That website was CNET.

The following images are screenshots of the above websites’ front pages on 07/12/2016.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Why does this bother me so much? I personally find that compressing an entire games’ worth into a simple number does not do any game justice, regardless of the games’ quality. I find that numbers provide a false sense of objectivity within a medium that is inherently subjective.

A reviewer whose website I frequent is Jim Sterling, whose website is The Jimquisition. I genuinely appreciate the way in which he reviews video games. Firstly, his articles appear like this:

jimquisition

While it does appear to be similar to the way that the previous review websites present themselves, the main difference here is that there is no obvious indicator as to what Jim’s opinion is from the outset.

After this 2500 word review, he ends with a rating out of 10. What differentiates this rating out of 10 compared to the ratings of the websites mentioned at the start is that a ‘Review Score Guide‘ is provided via a link on the header of his website. This guide explains what his numbers mean, as well as what kind of games would receive these numbers.

As a developer, I see reviews, as they are now, as being closer to advertisements than to criticism. While it may not be the intention of the reviewer, I believe the general public see reviews as a vetting process instead of an analysis or a breakdown of a product. Not that this is exactly bad for developers, good reviews can lead to more sales. This isn’t exactly bad for consumers either. From a consumers’ point of view, reviewers are telling them whether a game is worth their money.

However, the fault that I see might not be a problem within the reviews sector of gaming, but within myself. Perhaps my opinions on reviews comes from a sense of fear that stems from my own games. A fear that the games that I might create may be falsely construed or that I might present my game in the wrong manner, thereby reaching a different target audience than intended. Take, for example, the user review written by jmhoffer (MetaCritic does not allow for direct links to reviews; jmhoffer’s review should be the first on the list) for This War of Mine. Jmhoffer gave the game 0 out of 100 and criticized the crafting, tool durability and water treatment for not being realistic, going so far as to dispute the developer’s claim that they lived through a war zone.

This kind of review, where people judge a game based on what they believe games in the genre should be, frightens me a little. The reason for this fear can be traced all the way back to my childhood. I have always had the pressure of my family’s success pushed upon me. My relatives on my fathers’ side of the family are all professors and my relatives on my mother’s side of the family are all engineers. Add to that the pressure of being a son whose parents are the least ‘successful’ in the family; my mother is the only one in her family who is not an engineer and my father is the only one in his family who is not a professor. The expectations that were placed upon me through schooling were very high. Getting an ‘A’ for an assignment was considered the standard, therefore anything less than that was seen as failure.

There are two things that are commonly associated with success in the gaming industry, these being your sales figures and your games’ reception. These two are often seen as being hand in hand because surely people wouldn’t buy a game if its reception is bad. The system of reviews we currently have, presenting a games’ worth through an aggregate score, sparks this pressure in me once again. What I fear isn’t exactly negative reviews, it’s reviews that are negative because the person expected something other than what I offered. In essence, marking my game against criteria that I had no intention of including and, therefore, didn’t consider.

But that is the point of freedom of speech, is it not? Being able to say what you want about whatever you want, regardless of prior experience or knowledge.

 

Do you have any insights or opinions? Please leave a comment below or tweet at me at @m_vonwil.

Can Mods Distort People’s Perception?

Length: ~1200 words.
Note: Near the end, this post briefly mentions some serious topics. Please bear this in mind when reading.

A subject that I have recently delved into is fandom. Fandom is the classification given to  a collective of individuals who all share a similar passion or fondness for a particular entity. Some of the more prevalent fandoms of modern media include: Whovians (Doctor Who), Bronies (My Little Pony) and Trekkies (Star Trek), as well as many more.

Whovians, Bronies and Trekkies respectively.

 

What I would like to discuss is not about why fandoms exist or their purpose, but about their influence on those who have not experienced the original media. Fandoms create a community and provide a sense of belonging amongst its members. Furthermore, they provide avenues for people to express themselves creatively. This creativity comes in many forms, the most common being: art, cosplay and fan-fiction. Video games, however, have an additional avenue called modding and it is this avenue I would like to further explore.

While I wouldn’t say that I’m apart of any fandom, I have certainly benefited from them. My first experience of fandom comes from the Skyrim modding scene. Mods are modifications to a video game that adjusts, alters, adds or removes content to/from the original work. The content of these mods can range from Dovahbit of Caerbannog (a pet rabbit that can carry your stuff, harvests ingredients and can wear hats) to Falskaar (a fully voiced, 20-30 hour mod with its own quests and music).

Bethesda, developer and publisher of Skyrim, has the top six places in NexusMods’ database, with 130,244 mods and 1.618 billion downloads in total, across six of their titles, as of this writing.

bethmods041216

As a developer, it is unbelievably flattering to see so many people who are willing to put in time and effort in order to change the game however they wish, regardless as to whether they are changing your game because they hate a decision you made or because they want to improve or add something that they feel is missing. Mods can even be a selling point to some people because it is seen as a way to further increase the value of the product. I personally have seen comments saying that they bought Medieval 2: Total War purely because of the mod Hyrule: Total War.

Games with modding potential provide so many benefits, not only to the game itself but to the people who play them. The benefits include, but are not limited to:

  • People who creates mods are able to express themselves and their skills, as well as share their creations with other people in the community.
  • People who bought the game are able to access additional, fan-made content, thereby extending gameplay.
  • The developers can potentially increase sales through the popularity of their modding scene.
  • The game itself can improve via modders improving the base elements of the game that the development team didn’t have either time nor money to fix before release.
  • With YouTube and video streaming in general being so popular, channels such as MxR Mods exist and allow someone to make a living from mods, or at least advertising mods.
  • The mod Tamriel Online adds multiplayer into an entirely single-player game. Quite an astonishing feat!
  • Some modders are even offered employment from game development studios because of their creations

However, there can be adverse affects from having such an openly adaptable game. Mods that add things such as: nudity, mutilation, slavery and rape exist, though they cannot all be found on the NexusMods website (due to their nature, I won’t link to these mods). This leaves me feeling rather conflicted. While I don’t have any interest in using these mods, I don’t believe that they should be taken down nor do I feel any offence from them. If the cathartic hypothesis regarding violence in video games is to be believed, then allowing people to express these kinds of fantasies inside of a fake world may lead to real world benefits.

*A point that has to be made here though, is that Skyrim is a single-player game. I feel perfectly comfortable defending the more obscene mods that are available for Skyrim because of this. The actions that one takes within the world of Skyrim effects no-one but the single person who is playing. As soon as multiplayer is introduced, however, the existence of these mods become entirely detrimental. Take this article (NSFW) on Kotaku for example. The article details how some players in Grand Theft Auto V (GTAV), with the help of a mod, have been able to simulate sexual activities with other players through animation manipulation and position locking, regardless of the other players’ willingness to witness or perform these acts. So, rape, essentially. It is bad enough that people suffer such a tragedy in the real world, so why bring this into a fake world? It may seem like I am contradicting myself; I defend Skyrim but reject GTAV?

*I can absolutely understand condemning both games but, as a game developer and designer, I can’t help but emphasize the differences in the source material. Skyrim is designed as a fantasy world where one can go to experience a world unlike our own, with: Khajiit (sentient cat people), Argonians (sentient lizard people) Dragons and magic in abundance. On top of that, all actions taken in Skyrim effect only the player because there are no other human players. GTAV, on the other hand, is designed to emulate some aspects of real life and parody others. It gives the player almost everything that the real world has, complete with cars, guns, drugs, airplanes, mobile phones, skyscrapers and explosives. The game allows for multiplayer, meaning that a players’ actions can effect not only themselves but other people as well. It is this, the addition of multiplayer, that completely changes the situation. It changes it into an action that requires consent from two parties but provides no avenue to do so.

I believe it is important to discuss such extreme situations because fan collaboration, such as the mods discussed, is not always controllable, nor is it instigated, by the developers. At the moment these types of mods are fairly hidden from the general public, meaning that only those who seek them out will find them. Which is perhaps for the best. These mods have the potential to severely damage a products’ image, the gaming industry’s image and possibly society as a whole, considering the popularity and demographic of gaming . Personally, I find it a little difficult for me to imagine what it would be like if a game that I made enabled this kind of material, nor would I know how to react. Should I allow my future products to be open to people’s freedom of expression, thereby potentially adding additional gameplay or improving graphics at no cost to me, or should I limit my game to my expression only, thereby potentially decreasing the value and popularity of my product?

*Edit – 10/12/2016

Do you have any insights or opinions? Then please leave a comment below or tweet at me at @m_vonwil.