Your Bias Is Showing
In a word, the recent uproar over Killzone 2, its numerous early reviews and the reaction of the clinically insane has been silly. I have watched Adam Sessler’s acerbic and foul-mouthed rebuttal, have read the inane commentary posted on PSXtreme and read a measure too great of posts from the dramatically uninformed and deeply paranoid. I wash my hands of it, and have no interest in using this space to dive into the unholy scatological mire that has been stirred.
I do, however, want to take this opportunity to open debate on the topic of bias.
It is a word with many meanings, but most commonly it is used as a pejorative designed to discredit dissenting opinion. It is the ammunition packed full in the clips of angry readers, and often shot indiscriminately in the wake of controversy. It is rarely used accurately or correctly, and usually comes with very little evidence in support.
It is also entirely accurate to accuse every writer of bias, though what that actually means may be far more benign than common commentary suggests.
I have a bias; an inclination or partiality. Show me a gamer or writer who doesn’t, who has no preference about the kind of game or the platform they play on, and I’ll show you someone whose opinion I care nothing about. Bias informs. Bias gives context. Bias humanizes.
Bias is a good thing.
This kind of outlandish statement may make me the Gordon Gecko of games writing, but my impression is that the most passionate people want everyone else to talk about games as if they were emotionless robots. What may seem even stranger is that I would not describe bias as the problem with these vocal and imperturbable brand advocates.
My bias is toward the PC. That inclination informs the way I think about other games, and gives me a perspective that, say, a passionate console gamer might not have. I think about all gaming in some relation to my bias, sometimes overtly and sometimes in very subtle ways. I can’t, for example, play a console shooter without being intensely conscious of the control scheme and the sometimes sluggish feel to turning and movement with a thumb stick. Detached from previous experiences though I might wish to be, my muscles are too deeply trained, my concept of the genre too firm.
I suppose some would say that I am, therefore, a poor fit for having an opinion on a console shooter. I’m sure there are some who would rail endlessly against my unmitigated lack of credibility, because I can’t look at Gears of War without thinking about Quake or Counter-Strike. And, that’s exactly the kind of fanatical zealotry that makes me want to tear tufts of hair straight from my head.
The problem is the synonymous nature of bias and prejudice. There is a fine line between the two, and I could probably spend a couple of paragraphs distilling the definitions of the two words in what would be, I think, an incredible exercise of the epically boring. Sparing you the etymological study, I will say that I see the key difference as bias describing inclination and preference where prejudice brings preconceived, usually negative barriers. In concrete game terms, it is the difference between these two approaches –
Bias – I have a fundamental problem with the controls of Gears of War 2 because I like the way shooters play with a mouse and keyboard.
Prejudice – Console shooters suck.
I have a PC-centric bias; however I have played numerous console shooters that were able to elevate themselves above that bias. I don’t believe I would have been able to appreciate those games the same way if I had a prejudice.
I realize this whole argument may seem tantamount to saying that insane console fanatics are screaming bias when what they actually mean is prejudice, but the underlying point that I want to drive home is that we need to stop feeling like any preconceived notion that informs a game opinion is an automatic negative. Bias is an inescapable phenomenon. Bias gives weight and history to our opinions.
Bias is good.