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.

Comments

Quintin_Stone wrote:
BadKen wrote:
Elysium should of said he is less bias then other reviewrs.

[size=7]It hurt to write that.[/size]


It probably hurt because it's supposed to be "should have" or "should've". The phrase "should of" is an affront to God.

Apparently I'm turning into Wordsmythe. Which is also unholy.

Oh, there's more. You're not reading closely enough. I probably should have quoted one of the earlier posts that mentioned "bias" typically being used as an adjective on the internets.

SommerMatt wrote:
AP Erebus wrote:
A problem with admitting bias is that the general public immediately see that as a bad thing. I'll agree that disclosing bias makes it easier to deal with, but imagine if a reviewer has reviewed Killzone 2 and said that he had a bias to the 360 controller for FPS's, in the eyes of the public, the rest of the article is useless.

No, it isn't-- it's perfectly useful to OTHER people who might also prefer the 360 controller.

Screw the public. The public is stupid.


So the problem then becomes, my review is only useful for people who have the same bias as I do?

Personally, I like the 4th wall that reviewers have that there is implied impartiality. Now I know that people have opinions but a review that tries is best to be impartial will always be better, to me, than one where the reviewer shows or discloses a form of bias.

BadKen wrote:
Oh, there's more. You're not reading closely enough. I probably should have quoted one of the earlier posts that mentioned "bias" typically being used as an adjective on the internets.

You're right, my bad.

There are problems with ascertaining purchasing information from a review written by a reviewer with well known and admitted biases.

If the reviewer enjoys a game that he/she is known to have negative bias towards, do we interpret that as the game supersedes the bias and is enjoyable to all? Or, does the game go in a direction that frustrates fans of the genre despite being a pleasant experience for the reviewer?

Nobody is going to be able to tell us exactly what we need to know. The goal of the reviewer should be to get as many people to the point where they can make an educated guess.

Of course we can always get into the "patience" factor. If a game doesn't grab you right away, the reviewer could have steered you true, you just weren't in the frame of mind to accept it. Just look at all of our "the pile of shame" threads. Those are all potential cases where we initially thought the reviewer steered up wrong that takes a concerted effort to discover the overlooked gem.

AP Erebus wrote:
So the problem then becomes, my review is only useful for people who have the same bias as I do?

Absolutely not. As in my previous example, you can also use a review in the negative when you know a reviewer's tastes are the opposite of yours (e.g. "I like every movie Ebert hates, so if he hates it, I know it will be good").

Also, if someone is a huge FPS fan (for example), you can look at a review and decide for yourself which parts of the review are important to YOU (e.g. "most of his criticisms seem to be things that would only bother a die-hard FPS player... since I am a casual player at best, those things wouldn't really bother me").

Like I said, your goal with criticism is to find someone whose tastes match yours. Otherwise, what is the point of a reading a review? Don't we consume reviews to see if WE will like something? If we know nothing about the reviewer, the review is mostly pointless.

Personally, I like the 4th wall that reviewers have that there is implied impartiality. Now I know that people have opinions but a review that tries is best to be impartial will always be better, to me, than one where the reviewer shows or discloses a form of bias.

"Review" and "impartial" strike me as oxymoronic-- no one is impartial about what they like or dislike. News should be impartial, but criticism is by definition personal opinion.

fangblackbone wrote:
Nobody is going to be able to tell us exactly what we need to know. The goal of the reviewer should be to get as many people to the point where they can make an educated guess.

The goal of a reviewer is to give their own personal opinion on the merit of the product they are reviewing. Yes, they give their reasons for the opinions they espouse, but that doesn't mean the things they enjoy are the things YOU enjoy. This is why, as I said, the review consumer needs to find a reviewer that shares their personal tastes and preferences. The reviewer serves as our surrogate, right? The guy who plays them all so we don't have to? If a reviewer doesn't share your tastes, then his opinion on something doesn't really help you all that much.

I'm biased against game development companies who put all their eggs in one basket by only betting on two of the three console makers, then getting burnt and trying to make up their losses by dumping no-development-time shovelware on the dominant console they previously snubbed.
Fill in the blanks with the systems of you choice.

When I go to Wallmart, there are probably 30 titles . . . My Poniez, My Bratz, Carnival Games, etc, making up like 28, and Call Of Duty and maybe We Love Golf! or some pathetic boxing sim.

Thanks, developers.
It's like they predicted a major console developer to drop out after this round of machines. Like last gen, with the DC. Maybe the software producers are right, but it won't be the developer they bet on.

fangblackbone wrote:
If the reviewer enjoys a game that he/she is known to have negative bias towards, do we interpret that as the game supersedes the bias and is enjoyable to all? Or, does the game go in a direction that frustrates fans of the genre despite being a pleasant experience for the reviewer?

The latter about 95% of the time. Exactly why I prefer reviewers with admitted biases. Generally the most reliable.

The_Replacement wrote:
fangblackbone wrote:
If the reviewer enjoys a game that he/she is known to have negative bias towards, do we interpret that as the game supersedes the bias and is enjoyable to all? Or, does the game go in a direction that frustrates fans of the genre despite being a pleasant experience for the reviewer?

The latter about 95% of the time. Exactly why I prefer reviewers with admitted biases. Generally the most reliable.

Exactly. Someone who tries to hide their bias in service of an impossible objectivity is being disingenuous, whether that is their intention or not.

Nathaniel wrote:
I think that it's this "culture of anticipation" that is shaping the popular debate. People don't want to see a game reviewed badly because they're so heavily emotionally invested in a game before they've even played it. This is nuts.

Well...actually...I don't think it's that nutty of a concept.
I can remember last year when I was waiting in anticipation for MGS4. I really was looking forward to it. I knew it would "click" with me and I would feel kinda bad if someone would say something bad about it. And when I finally played it, I felt like I was right all along.

But what really grinds my coffee about "anticipation" is when people take it too far. So you have these massive arguments on various forums. People start insulting each other and what-have-you... It's a free world, and everyone has a right to speak his/her mind. So what if someone doesn't like something that you like? Does that mean you'll enjoy it less? Obviously, for some people, it means just that.

The good thing about the internet is that whenever I run into such a flamewar, I can just go on to somewhere else... It doesn't really have to bother me if I don't let it.

MechaSlinky, quoting the movie version of Jane Austen's [i wrote:
Bias and Prejudice[/i],]
Hilarious things

I always suspected Austin's books had a subtext about console fanboyism!

Critics who recognize and disclose their own biases (and, where they do exist, their own prejudices) are a lot more interesting than those who don't. And more credible. And the content they produce is a lot more valuable.
Perfect. My sentiments exactly.

Great article, Elysium. Bias is a subtle but powerful difference that often gets over looked. Think back to when you were a kid. If you didn't like something, you'd say "That sucks!" No context, no rationale, just stated as fact.

Now think back to some of the reviews that you've heard or read. How many of them have such context versus how many took the "sucks" route? "The controls are sluggish." vs "The controls did not feel as responsive titles such as XYZ." Context is everything. It gives background, perspective and (most importantly) the individuality of the thought or opinion being expressed.

But I think that the competition in the gaming media to be THE SOURCEfor all things gaming is influencing (forcing?) writers and editors to limit such bias since it's viewed as a reason to discount the review being given. This is ridiculous. Give me your opinion and your background. I'm cool with it if you didn't like it. Just tell me why.

Perspectives and bias give depth. Don't take it away. Embrace it, polish it, and let's have a dialogue.

BTW - The Horde sucks!

I may be prejudiced, but this article is biased.

The Cubs still suck.

Trachalio wrote:
These same people (fanboys) tend to not know how to use the word "bias" in a sentence. More than a few times I've seen comments like "Kotaku is bias!" or "Sessler loves Xbots, he is bias!" It's basic freekin' grammar! Either someone "has a bias" or they are "biased". You cannot "have bias". Argh!
Are you hitting on me?

Where's that high horse we ride around here? I can't remember its name, but I think it was something like "Mr. We Don't write reviews here."

"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."

Umm, Gears of War 2 is a 3RD person shooter, and 3rd person shooters are not like FPSs on PC. How can be thinking of a 3rd person shooter with mouse and keyboard help? In fact, 3rd person shooters don't control as well on PC. So, that statement made no sense to me. Rephrase it.

Adorable!

MechaSlinky, quoting the movie version of Jane Austen's [i wrote:
Bias and Prejudice[/i],]Mr. Darcy: So this is your opinion of me. Thank you for explaining so fully. Perhaps these offenses might have been overlooked had not your pride been hurt by my honesty...
Elizabeth Bennet: shut teh fcuk up noob!
Mr. Darcy: ...in admitting scruples about our relationship. Could you expect me to rejoice in the inferiority of your circumstances?
Elizabeth Bennet: You think Sony is the one who buys reviews? Why dont you try Microsoft? You know the billion dollar company who makes it common practice to make garbage. The Xbox is tapped out it's pushed to it's limits. That prolly explains why they overheat and burn out in record numbers. Halo 3 is a terrible game, it has no style a terrible story and there's just nothing cool about it! You Xbot retards who prolly never seen a women naked love to come on these boards and dis the PS3 should just f-off. PS3 has always been better, will always be better. You're in for a rough year with your overheating piece of sh*te. Sony is just starting, Microsoft is pushed to its limits. Halo is a kids game to boot i mean look at it all the pretty colors of the guns and the ships i think this game was meant to attract children and gays. The game also babies its players because it gives you a radar tell you where everyone is and an amazing auto-aim system all you have to do is pull the trigger. Honestly i don't know why people call this the halo-killer when halo was destroyed by CoD4 and now cause gears 2 was such a mess up nobody can even talk about it. I also have yet to see a single exclusive for 360 that i want to buy.
[they look at each other for a long time as though about to kiss]
Mr. Darcy: Forgive me, madam, for taking up so much of your time.

wordsmythe wrote:
The Cubs still suck.

Trachalio wrote:
These same people (fanboys) tend to not know how to use the word "bias" in a sentence. More than a few times I've seen comments like "Kotaku is bias!" or "Sessler loves Xbots, he is bias!" It's basic freekin' grammar! Either someone "has a bias" or they are "biased". You cannot "have bias". Argh!
Are you hitting on me?

Not unless you're British. (Quotation marks go after commas and periods, damn it!)

Moeez wrote:
"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."

Umm, Gears of War 2 is a 3RD person shooter, and 3rd person shooters are not like FPSs on PC. How can be thinking of a 3rd person shooter with mouse and keyboard help? In fact, 3rd person shooters don't control as well on PC. So, that statement made no sense to me. Rephrase it.


Ever played Max Payne?

Is no place safe from this bloody game? This thread will eventually find itself piled up on the bank with 700 screaming commuters scrabbling at the windows.

The problem is not the review it's the readership and the fact that nobody truly appreciates how truly, utterly, depressingly fatuous people on the Internet are until something like this comes along roughly once per quarter.

Judgement and critical thinking are inversely proportional to amplitude and I am still waiting for someone to invent some forum software that recognises this and attenuates accordingly.

Judgement and critical thinking are inversely proportional to amplitude and I am still waiting for someone to invent some forum software that recognises this and attenuates accordingly.

You might be on to something there. You didn't have to shout though! ;P

Moeez wrote:
"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."

Umm, Gears of War 2 is a 3RD person shooter, and 3rd person shooters are not like FPSs on PC. How can be thinking of a 3rd person shooter with mouse and keyboard help? In fact, 3rd person shooters don't control as well on PC. So, that statement made no sense to me. Rephrase it.

I'll disagree with that in that when playing GOW2 It "handles" the same as an FPS.
I know when I am playing I don't even notice the character view at all as I am focused on the FPS movement interface, exception being the wall stick thing. then you have to mentally switch modes from looking at your reticle and aiming/firing to a broader view of "Now I have to try and unstick from this wall to move freely again".

You could make the same argument in the other direction if someone had compared GOW to Diablo or some game like that. In those you are in the 3rd person but there is no similarity in the control.

Actually now re-reading I'll disagree with my own post and yours. This thread isn't about coming up with a more fine grained way of categorizing games. it was obvious what Moeez meant in his post and everyone knew it.

scribble wrote:
(Quotation marks go after commas and periods, damn it!)

I could be wrong, but isn't that only if the thing you're quoting is either a full sentence or the end of a full sentence?

I could be wrong, but isn't that only if the thing you're quoting is either a full sentence or the end of a full sentence?

Nope, scribble is right. Punctuation is always inside the quotation.

Also, I am this close to making it a rule that all threads must end in arcane discussions of grammar and/or etymology.

Elysium wrote:
Also, I am this close to making it a rule that all threads must end in arcane discussions of grammar and/or etymology.

Why make the inevitable a rule? You may also encourage premature discussion of etymology purely to kill discussion of the topic. It would become the GWJ equivalent of Godwin's Law or the ORLY? owl.

Elysium wrote:
I could be wrong, but isn't that only if the thing you're quoting is either a full sentence or the end of a full sentence?

Nope, scribble is right. Punctuation is always inside the quotation.

Sweet. That always drove me nuts. Like how the correct spelling of "damnit" is actually "dammit." I hate that, so I just spell it wrong because I'm a maverick!

MechaSlinky wrote:
The correct spelling of "damnit" is actually "dammit."

I thought the correct spelling was "damn it." Gotta love English. Err. Got to.

Insectecutor wrote:
MechaSlinky wrote:
The correct spelling of "damnit" is actually "dammit."

I thought the correct spelling was "damn it."

Maybe in your crazy moon land!

MechaSlinky wrote:
Maybe in your crazy moon land!

IMAGE(http://static.guim.co.uk/sys-images/Guardian/Pix/pictures/2008/12/9/1228823793520/Gallery-Oliver-Postgate-T-002.jpg)

Insectecutor wrote:
...

Wahhh?! No Soup Dragon?! Can't have Clangers without the Soup Dragon!

is it always possible to be aware of bias?

I find if I go into a game expecting to enjoy it because it has been recommended by a friend I am more likely to enjoy it. If I expect to find an enjoyable experience usually I look for that rather than at the flaws that might get in the way. I think I subconsciously look for the fun my friend found.

I think there can be a lot of influences that are not easy to spot the way people play games and that will affect (effect? I am never sure) their feeling about the game and their review.