Skillz To Pay Da Billz


Polygon recently posted a video that comically showcased how inept they are at playing the new Doom game. It reminded me of one of those times when you reluctantly hand the controller over to one of your non-gamer buddies, and are then forced to sit and watch as they stumble around on-screen like a completely uncoordinated mess. Laugher is generally the only escape from the painful spectacle you’re forced to endure.

Once the giggles subsided on this particular video, many people (including the likes of Notch  “Minecraft” Persson) started calling in to question the competence of the publication as a whole. If these clowns are that bad at playing video games, how can one take their “expert” opinion seriously? That seems rather hyperbolic to me; the idea that one member of their staff demonstrating a – “less that skilful” shall we say?- ability in one game brings the reputation of the entire site up for debate? The reasoning being applied did lead me to think about the question of: Do you actually have to be any good at games to review them?

The simple answer is no. Videogame reviews are subjective in nature and thus can’t be incorrect. This is great news if it’s your chosen line of work as, despite the internet telling you otherwise, your personal feelings towards something can’t be wrong, so anyone of any skill level can do it (hmm…this explains a lot, lolz).

The “opinions can’t be wrong” statement is a bit of a platitude however. In same way that you can go to your really racist uncle for advice on the EU referendum; sure, he can give you his opinion, but that doesn’t mean it will be an informed or educated one. Really, when you seek out advice, you want to try an insure the source of that advice is as impartial, knowledgeable, experienced and unbiased as possible. This is what we’d call “Good Advice”.

In this regard, I do think you should be good at gaming to review games, simply because it should come as a by-product from my definition of what I consider good advice. If you suck at games, I’m going to question how experienced you are. If you’re paid by the publisher, I’m going to question how unbiased you are. Any failings or short comings in what I consider the key components of good advice, and I’m going to place less respect on that point of view. That’s just how life works.

The other important thing to point out is that being bad at something generally causes frustration, which severely impairs your ability to be objective. For example; when my daughter tried out her new bike, she hated it. She struggled with the size, the lack of stabilisers, she couldn’t work the gears and she kept falling off of it. These issues were, according to her, all the bikes fault and it was rubbish; 2/10. Her old bike was much better. Now that she can ride bikes better, she appreciates that gears are really useful, that the suspension makes for comfortable riding and that stabilisers only held her back. Once her skill improved she was able to see the bike for what it actually was, and not just be blinded by her frustration. We, as people, are much quicker to pass the buck than we are to admit our own failings. Because of this, reviewers need to be good enough at something so that lack of skill isn’t an issue and it can be completely removed from the equation.

The flip side to this is that someone who is extremely skilled – a subject matter expert if you like – is probably more likely to get bogged down in the details; details that could leave the average reader more confused than informed. Not necessarily a bad thing, but certainly of more niche appeal. Due to this, I’d stipulate that although you need to be good at gaming to write a fair review, there is no direct correlation between the two. The better you are at gaming doesn’t equate to the better you are at reviewing; you simply need to be good enough not to trip over your own incompetence.

It’s worth nothing that the onus is on the reader as well as the reviewer. Reviewers may have a duty to try provide good advice, but readers also need to seek out reviews, reviewers and publications that meet their demands. If you’re essentially just reading a review to get talked into buying something you’re interested in, you may need to avoid a deep, hyper-critical review. If you’re looking for a detailed overview of all a games finer points, you may want to avoid short, sharp overviews. Just because something isn’t tailored to your needs, doesn’t automatically make it bad, and if something isn’t what you wanted to hear, it doesn’t automatically make it wrong.