The Artistic Disconnect in Game Reviews

Grubber788 wrote:
nel e nel wrote:
Grubber788 wrote:

I think Arthur's review is a perfect example of a situation where the artistic failings (in his mind) are not enough to sour his overall impression of the game. Something like that would never happen in other forms of media. It makes me question the value of games as art.

I think your example of Avatar clearly overrules your argument here.

Not necessarily. You can't "play" Avatar like you can a game so you when you watch the movie, you are consuming the full experience in a single, curated experience. Games are fundamentally split along the lines of what a player can interact with and what a player cannot. Note I'm not trying to make a distinction between graphics and story; I'm trying to make a distinction between graphics/story and mechanics. Reviews are going to exist in the space between the playable and the observable worlds. I believe there is a fundamental tension there.

Edit: An example of what I'm talking about would be something like:

Generic Movie:
- Horrible Visuals
- Horrible Story
- Horrible Sound Design
- Horrible Acting

Verdict: Irredeemable. 0/10

Generic Game:
- Horrible Visuals
- Horrible Story
- Horrible Sound Design
- Horrible Acting

Verdict: Redeemable.
if gameplay=good
then score=3/10
else
score=0/10

Gameplay exists as a completely separate factor in video games that I cannot envision in any other format.

Another question to ask: Can gameplay be art?

Edit: Someone fix my javascript please. I did like, seven sections in Code Academy.

By your metric, we might as well start reviewing video games like Olympic gymnastics, and if any game misses a required skill, or falters in the slightest it gets docked 5/10 of a point. You make arguments about the games-as-art idea, and yet seem to be arguing for reducing reviews to a checklist of quantifiable items that determines the overall experience.

A game can have a sh*tty story but still be an amazing gameplay experience (Gears of War), or it can have a great story, but so-so mechanics (Mass Effect 1) and still score highly.

Can the whole of a game not be greater than the sum of its parts?

This idea that you're wrestling with - review dissonance - is a purely arbitrary one, where you see it, but others don't. So Arthur has some niggles with the tone of the game, so what? (that's rhetorical, BTW ). If the overall experience is great, why not reflect that in the score he gives it?

nel e nel wrote:

Can the whole of a game not be greater than the sum of its parts?

This idea that you're wrestling with - review dissonance - is a purely arbitrary one, where you see it, but others don't. So Arthur has some niggles with the tone of the game, so what? (that's rhetorical, BTW ). If the overall experience is great, why not reflect that in the score he gives it?

I am sure that it's not "purely arbitrary" to you. Are you dismissing the concept of a dissonance altogether? Meaning, there is NO game with aesthetics and messaging so repugnant that you would refuse to play it -- provided that the gameplay is really, really, good?

Certain movies get a pass from certain critics because of the way they were shot. Certain writers get a pass from certain critics because of the way they write. Certain musicians get a pass becaus... well, the point's made.

Content isn't everything, same with form. Sometimes one is good enough to compensate the other (although, excellence requires brilliance in both?).

Going to an open-world mass murderer simulation game-thing and getting stuck on the ethics of it sounds... folly?

Even if the protagonist of the game was native to the island, the whole thing would sound dirty and bloody still. The verb is conquer. The verb is kill. The verb is dominate.

The more I think of it, the more I find it ironic. People complaining about the occidental white-man coming in, killing all opposition and getting on the good graces of the survivors, one way or the other. Sounds like History.

Ah, perception. From a distance all things looks weird.

I sound like a fortune-cookie.

Gorilla.800.lbs wrote:
nel e nel wrote:

Can the whole of a game not be greater than the sum of its parts?

This idea that you're wrestling with - review dissonance - is a purely arbitrary one, where you see it, but others don't. So Arthur has some niggles with the tone of the game, so what? (that's rhetorical, BTW ). If the overall experience is great, why not reflect that in the score he gives it?

I am sure that it's not "purely arbitrary" to you. Are you dismissing the concept of a dissonance altogether? Meaning, there is NO game with aesthetics and messaging so repugnant that you would refuse to play it -- provided that the gameplay is really, really, good?

It absolutely is; perhaps 'relative' is a more precise term for what I was trying to get across. I'm not dismissing it, but what's dissonant to me will be totally benign to someone else and vice versa.

I think it's ironic that you brought this up when the first comment on the Polygon review is:

In before complaining that "major tonal issues" doesn't allow the game to be given a 9.

But seriously, I was about to complain about that, then I remembered that a spotty story doesn't mar the rest of the game., and that your scores are considered separately from the review.

You've made a couple of comments about how the games-as-art arguments are invalidated somewhat by the community's way of rating stuff, and then in the same thread advocate for an even stricter rating scale that is more about adding up checkmarks in categories than taking in the game as a whole. Which is precisely what game reviewers have been historically arguing against.

oMonarca wrote:

I sound like a fortune-cookie.

Scratch butt at night, wake up with stinky finger.

nel e nel wrote:
oMonarca wrote:

I sound like a fortune-cookie.

Scratch butt at night, wake up with stinky finger.

The true Story of my life.

That is exactly what the Klansman is about (Don't use its PC title to try and hide something), "how can we make a blockbuster?"

What the hell do you think I'm trying to hide? My point only makes sense if there is something objectionable about the film. Certainly, it screened in some markets as the Klansman, but it's disingenuous to suggest that that's somehow the film's "real name" when
a) it did not even premiere in all markets under that name
b) the NAACP (who had a vested interested in vilifying it) protested the film and called for its banning under the "Birth of a Nation" name.

This reminds me a lot of the old "game review scores" debate. Really though, it makes me wonder if we're reviewing based on the wrong metrics. And of course, this is a thing because games can be radically different from each other.

I suppose if you really stretched things, you could talk about the social implications of Tetris or Peggle, but does that reflect on their ability to deliver entertainment? I mean, that's what those review scores mean ... or it is? So yeah, I guess it's really a question of what game review scores are trying to represent. It part of why I think so poorly of metacritic, or really of any review system that boasts an "average" rating of 7/10.

Itsatrap wrote:

This reminds me a lot of the old "game review scores" debate. Really though, it makes me wonder if we're reviewing based on the wrong metrics. And of course, this is a thing because games can be radically different from each other.

I suppose if you really stretched things, you could talk about the social implications of Tetris or Peggle, but does that reflect on their ability to deliver entertainment? I mean, that's what those review scores mean ... or it is? So yeah, I guess it's really a question of what game review scores are trying to represent. It part of why I think so poorly of metacritic, or really of any review system that boasts an "average" rating of 7/10.

This post is re-using assets from other posts.

6/10.

The review score is meant to reflect how much that reviewer recommends this game to people.

That's really it. While I'm against review scores, I can at least recognize their function. Based on that reviewer's summary at the end, he believes the game is a lot of fun and should be played because the mechanics are done well.

Comparing games and film is problematic and I'll use a much better example.

The Last Airbender film has a lot of scenes that are put together excellently. Say what you will about the man's writing ability, he does have an eye for certain details and can communicate visually in an amazing manner. When I saw The Last Airbender I felt the film had a lot of missed potential because there were a lot of well-crafted scenes, including hard-to-pull-off tracking shots (something you don't get often with fights because it's easier to hide the choreography if you cut it together in editing) and many other scenes and moments. The music is also really, really good in that film.

But the movie is not entertaining to watch. The acting is really bad. The dialog can be insufferable. The pacing is off. There is way too much exposition all over the place. They're trying to tell a sprawling epic in an hour and a half and it totally f*cks with the pacing. There's a reason Fellowship of the Ring was two hours even after it was cut up.

So despite the film having a lot of excellent technical qualities, all the elements that add up to a well-told story are weak or broken. Advice to the consumer, then, is to not bother.

Video games are in a different and strange dimension. They share the elements of a variety of forms of entertainment. What you have, then, is how a reviewer determines a game is worth playing, and that is usually based on how enjoyable it is to play the game. Therefore all that technical stuff that is impressive in a film but takes a back seat to consumer recommendation is now at the front. Game design is all about excellent technical execution, for the most part.

The disconnect, to me, is for the realm of critics. This is one of the reasons Yahtzee Croshaw mentioned at one of the Escapist Expo panels that he refuses to have a score attached to his videos. Say what you will of the man's opinions, he is there to critique a game, not determine whether it should be played or not.

In the terms of the Polygon review, I feel the story elements SHOULD be analyzed, dissected and discussed, but considering the current nature of game reviews they should be discussed in a separate article.

Which helps lead to a lot of our current problems. Transformers: Fall of Cybertron has an excellent thematic ending that marries gameplay and story together in such a way that it is not only fun, but the player is emotionally involved as well. This makes the experience even more enjoyable. But if those game mechanics didn't work, then you'd be ripped out of the sequence.

I enjoyed the final battle of Mass Effect 3, for example, but I also didn't die during it. Therefore it was high in adrenaline and felt like one last desperate push to me. The story and gameplay worked together. But I watched a Let's Play recently where the player recording was killed several times over and over again, and when that happens the thematic emotion falls apart. Now it's boiled down to gameplay and how much fun the player is having, and the person playing was not having fun dying over and over again. He was pulled out thematically and started to critique the gameplay. A moment that worked for me was broken for him.

Marrying gameplay and story together is difficult. As such, most reviews take the safer route and recommend based on how fun it is to simply play the game. For now, I can completely agree with that assessment. I do want more in-depth analysis of games, including ways in which we can tell better stories with them, but if you're not a simple critic where you can analyze and dissect a game in any fashion you want then it is best to leave that as a separate article rather than making it a part of your review. At least, not a major part of it.

Seriously, how can anyone feel "emotionally involved" about a Transformers game?!

Gorilla.800.lbs wrote:

Seriously, how can anyone feel "emotionally involved" about a Transformers game?! :P

Well if you limit "emotion" to the basic happy, sad, angry, and...other option, then you probably wouldn't be. But emotion is an interesting thing.

Basically, look at it this way. Every five seconds my brain was injecting more and more euphoric chemicals into my brain, and the result was a big grin non-stop. I think there was some tingliness of joy in there, too. I was enthralled. I was sitting upright. I wasn't just slumped back like I typically am in, say, Borderlands. I was leaning forward, licking my lip, eyes wide, possibly heart beating because it was just so awesome man.

That, to me, is emotionally involved.

nel e nel wrote:

You've made a couple of comments about how the games-as-art arguments are invalidated somewhat by the community's way of rating stuff, and then in the same thread advocate for an even stricter rating scale that is more about adding up checkmarks in categories than taking in the game as a whole. Which is precisely what game reviewers have been historically arguing against.

I'm not advocating for anything except awareness of what I consider to be an as yet unresolved issue in video game criticism. My example from above is where I think video games stand presently, not where they should be. I think a single score metric obscures the distinction I made earlier between the parts of a game which are curated, like dialog, and the parts of a game that are emergent, like mechanics.

I would definitely go to a review site that made that distinction in their reviews, explicitly as a part of the final score. But I know what you're talking about with checkmarks:

Where it stands today:
Gameplay: 4/5
Graphics: 3/5
Lasting Appeal: 1/5
Story: 0/5
Sound: 5/5
Final Score: 2.5/5

That's obviously unsatisfactory. I've never placed sound design on the same level as story or gameplay, unless it's particularly good or particularly bad. That is a faulty system. If I had to pose an alternative, it would be, to use some recent examples (scores are my opinion):

Super Meat Boy
Gameplay (including mechanics, game systems, scores, variety of levels, difficulty, ect.): 90
Artisanship: (including graphics, art direction, character design, level design, narrative, dialog, music, ect.): 85

Mass Effect
Gameplay: 80
Artisanship: 95

Red Faction: Guerrilla
Gameplay: 92
Artisanship: 75

Broadly speaking, I agree that review scores are a tool of limited value, but I disagree with a lot of reviewers when they say they are useless. Grades exist in society for a reason. At the end of the day, we judge all products and services we use. As such, we should work to make review scores a more honest appraisal of the works they are judging. I don't think my system is perfect, but at least it doesn't try to blend apples (gameplay) with toothpaste (artisanship).