Today I wanted to talk about something odd that I noticed when reading and writing reviews. I try to be objective and to look at games without much prejudice… but… I’m human, too, (well, a lich, but… figure of speech) and I alas will have prejudice at times. Maybe “Prejudice” is a bit too big of a word for this case and the titular “bias” may work better. My point is: Sometimes people dislike a game already before they play it. Sometimes, you’ll write a review already with the verdict in mind.
Now, the issue here is that people write reviews differently. I usually play a game and then I’d end up writing the review. The review itself is then “neutral” in tone and I eventually take a break before I write down things I didn’t like and whether I’d recommend a game.
Nevertheless, there are cases where I have a bias. If Hopoo Games were to release Deadbolt 2, I’d be so excited about it that I might even neglect some criticism. To prevent that, I try to read through it multiple times after some time has passed and if I still don’t find anything troublesome about its tone, I may ask a friend for help. “Is this post too positive?”
If I were to review Rogue Legacy right now, I’d hate it. I wouldn’t recommend it. I played that game a bit and I found it frustrating because of the platforming. On top of that, “classes” don’t have a clear identity and the meta progression is lame. I dislike that game and I probably wouldn’t play Rogue Legacy 2… unless I was gonna review it.
With Rogue Legacy, my bias is negative. I dislike the game. If I were to play it, I would possibly go at it with the intention of not recommending it… but once I play it, I’ll know better.
After all, there are cases where I dislike a game but I recommend it because it’s still a good game. At the same time, I liked Twelve Minutes when I played an Alpha version. I had a positive bias towards the game when I played and reviewed it. I disliked it heavily when I played through it and voiced that opinion in my review, despite originally wanting to recommend the game.
That’s why I find bias so difficult to work with. It’s fine to have a bias of sorts towards a game. If you review games, you’re a reviewer, not a journalist. Also, chances are that “you’re human, too”.
It’s not important to “not have a bias”. That doesn’t work. You always will have one. What’s important, in my opinion, is that you know that you have it and that you try to work with it. After all, sometimes, you may end up changing your tone completely in the process of writing a review, which isn’t good.
When a review starts off positively and then suddenly turns into a slaughter, you end up with people being confused about your intention. When I notice a sudden shift in tone in my reviews, I personally try to restructure the review and change the beginning.
My review on Tin Can, for example, started off strong with me liking the idea and talking about it. I then described what the game was like and how I liked specific systems, mechanics, and ideas. I then talked about the frustrating or boring bits… I then talked about how the design is flawed and how there are often cases where you can’t do anything which is not only unfair but also unfun.
The tone changed drastically and despite originally intending to recommend it because it’s unique, I ended up not recommending it because I didn’t enjoy my time with it. Hence, I needed to allude to that switch in tone from the beginning by talking about some of the negative points already so that people have those in mind when they read the positives… and then, they read the negatives… and then the conclusion.
This “ping-pong” effect is important. When you write an analysis or a discussion-style post, you may end up juggling arguments around and people may forget about them. Typically, you want to have your stronger arguments later on and repeat them so that people won’t forget them.
In terms of reviews, I try to lead off with the good things and then I go into the bad things. It’s something I learned that works on humans quite well. I tell people what they did well and then I tell them what didn’t go well… and then I summarise to make sure that I didn’t come across as too harsh.
So, when a review starts off good but there are some negatives to it – but I still wanna recommend it -, I end up repeating how despite the negatives, the positives are very great, and I recommend a game.
When I don’t recommend a game, I try to emphasize that the negatives outweigh the positives. “The frustration was bigger than the enjoyment”.
So, for positive reviews, I repeat what is great about a game and, for negative reviews, I weigh the negatives against the positives – if that makes sense. Sometimes, I’ll repeat that despite my initial enjoyment, the frustrations just made it unplayable or hard to sit through as time went on… or something like that. It depends on the game.
Therefore, reviews always are biased and your tone heavily depends on the bias as well. When editing a review, I try to pay attention to that tone and how it switches and changes. I try to soften the blow of the sudden change when it happens. Sometimes, I rewrite entire pieces because I find it a bit too difficult to go from the Introduction to the Conclusion in the way that the first draft went.
This was a prompt I wanted to write about it because of how there’s no such thing as “neutral opinions” or “objective opinions”. An objective review would be a description detailing what things you do and how you do them in a game. It’d be a manual of sorts. It wouldn’t be a review.
Obviously, though, there are reviews of mine that are less well edited. It’s a work in progress. There are many things that I did in the past that I wouldn’t do like that again nowadays. This whole thing about bias is something that I learned over the past few years and I keep on learning about things as I go on. I’m looking forward to learning more about reviews as I write and read them.