I'll intentionally start from the gamers' viewpoint. Yes, I have intentions. Lately I've been asking myself if I have fun playing video games. The Witcher, a highly praised game, is the last thing I brought myself to try and then brought myself to play on and on. Till I stopped and don't know if I'll continue it. Doesn't sound like I had fun?
Well, I've beat many games that I hadn't fun playing. Beat that game, made a check mark. From Elder Scrolls to Call of Duty, yes I once brought myself to beat a Call of Duty game. Of course I try to remember when is the last time I had fun playing a game. As I recall I had fun playing many of my SNES games, my first PC game Wing Commander IV, Archimedean Dynasty, Terra Nova, Red Alert and many other RTS games of that time. I guess every gamer has a time when he likes what he's playing or should I say, like in my case, he likes the virtual worlds born in the imagination of game developers that he gets transported to.
I bought my first PC because I saw a PC gaming magazine that a classmate let me read. Oh the wonders I saw in that magazine. But when I got my shiny and expensive new PC with Pentium inside after a lot of let's say persuasion of my parents, I forgot the gaming magazines and just gamed. I chose my games based on the pretty covers and descriptions on the back. There were duds and there were shining beacons among them. After getting a game, the duds were weeded out in no time. I still regret exchanging Archimedean Dynasty for a dud that I can't remember with a classmate. Every time I went into my local game shop I was in anticipation what wonders it will bring into my life.
But then life changed, the world changed. There were more and more games, which also means more duds, one could get pirate CD copies of games and the internet was coming. My local game shop closed, did I help kill it? Through pirate CD copies and later Warez downloads I consumed more games than ever. Then came Steam and now cloud gaming, it's easier and easier to consume games. And of course I read game magazines and game reviews. I don't know if fear of giving money for duds brought this upon me, or simply me changing with the world. Fun with games was getting less and less.
It seems to me that I now read more game reviews and previews online that I game. I know almost everything about a game before I play it and it looks to me that I have formed an opinion on a game before I play it based on online reviews, previews and other information. The crowdfunding wonder Star Citizen has made a game out of releasing information about the development of its universe and I look upon it as the next big thing that will give me fun and transport me to another world. Will Chris Roberts bring my fun and sense of wonder back? Looks like many gamers are like me based on the money that Star Citizen is getting.
I also frequent gaming forums like IGN, GameSpot and NeoGAF. Do you know that GameSpot has a subforum named System Wars? It's even the most frequented one there. One would think this has to be a very successful game, System Wars sounds very similar to Star Wars, so could be a space game. But when you enter that forum you notice very fast that other systems are at war there. There fight modern gaming crusaders under the banner of gaming systems. PlayStation is killing the Xbox, and Xbox is slaughtering the PC. Nintendo they don't even take seriously anymore.
IGN is not much different and NeoGAF is more the place of the backstabby passive-aggressive diplomat type that hopes to lure the enemy over to his side with a well informed opinion.
What are the weapons of these modern crusaders, the system warriors. Metascores, game previews and technical analysis a la Digital Foundry. And of course a lot of name calling, which former Microsoft man Adam Orth can say a word or two about. The words toxicity and troll are often associated with these system war arenas. The word fun is not often used there, could it be that you can't fight with something that you don't have?
Let me now come to the professional game reviewers, and I call most of them that way because they are paid for that. Do they turn which way the wind blows? Bam, I started with the hammer.
Last year was again the launch of a new generation of consoles, and the flames of war burned hotter than ever. There was aggression, even the passive-aggressive type, there was hate. And there were victims. The victim of the last generation launch was Sony, this time it was Microsoft that made blunder after blunder and made life easier for Sony to win the PR war at launch.
The Sony win was so big that the SDF (Sony Defense Force) is still overwhelming the forums, game review comments and articles about the consoles and their games. The Xbots are on the retreat, afraid of the SDF. The SDF is full of praise of almost every move that Sony make, one could call them PSbots, religiously following their leaders like the Manson family.
And the gaming press went where the wind was blowing. You could read digital rights bla bla bla, Kinect privacy bla bla bla. Some lords of war at Microsoft had to go because of this defeat and some Xbox One games fell victim. I'm concentrating on the highest profile launch victim here, namely Ryse: Son of Rome.
The game was first presented at E3 last year, so after the shitstorm that was the unveiling of the new Xbox. And right away Ryse was labeled by the gaming press as QTE bla bla bla, repetitive bla bla bla, boring bla bla bla. Some of the gaming press chose to ignore the game or only mentioned it casually. It got the lovely nickname Ryse: Son of QTE by the SDF.
You could almost feel the fear of the SDF and some of the gaming press that went where the wind was blowing. Would Ryse get great reviews the tide of battle could turn and the gaming press would look like amateurish idiots. First and foremost Ryse's unmatched graphics and high production values made them nervous. What if a good game was hiding under that shiny surface?
Then the reviews of Ryse came in, and they were devastating. All the press were tooting in the same horn, boring with a bad combat system, repetitive, QTE, bad story, pretty but nothing to write about. The Adam Sesslers were having dissertations on how historically inaccurate it is, and so on. As often, the one black sheep was Kotaku whose reviewer dared to voice his honest opinion and write that Ryse was fun and he recommends it to gamers. He was promptly flamed by the SDF.
As the best looking console launch game, the Xbots of course used Ryse as their weapon of choice in the battle of which system is more powerful. The SDF countered violently with Killzone: Shadow Fall. A game that has higher resolution simply can't look worse than a low res launch game from the weakly Xbone. If they had to retreat from that argument, they of course countered with Metascores. Some more passive-aggressive SDF types praise Ryse for its looks but at the same time don't forget to patronizingly mention that it's still second to Killzone: Shadow Fall or inFamous: Second Son.
Just so it happened that, regardless of bad Metascore, some Xbox One gamers picked up Ryse, and surprise surprise, it was fun. Mind you, many first simply didn't dare to write fun, but used adjectives like guilty pleasure and mindless fun to not get flamed. Some admitted completing the game multiple times in contrast to some games that got glowing reviews. On the higher difficulties the game also required strategy to survive. And surprise, the combat system was more realistic than other so called hack and slash games a la God of War, and even the Dark Souls combat looks somewhat crude in execution when you compare it.
Luckily many more gamers dared not to listen to reviews and discovered that Ryse is a lot of fun. Simply poking at the Amazon game reviews you see that people have a lot of fun with the game and the game is very popular among the gamers who bought it at the Xbox One digital store. Some gamers ask themselves what were the reviewers smoking when they played Ryse, or if they even played it at all.
Seeing the tired faces of game reviewers at the consoles' launch I would say that they sure had to play a lot, the question is how much of that was Ryse. That's simply a guess, could it be that Ryse was anyways labeled as boring, repetitive, soulless since E3, so why bother if I have so much work? Why not just rehash all the labeling? Well, some of the gaming news outlets like IGN latter retracted on the harsh criticism and admitted that the game was fun. But mostly they were concerned that gamers forget Ryse and the reviews, they thought that who wants to bother with that unimportant game and we could be labeled as amateurish idiots or worse, hype followers.
One thing that is even worse to say for a professional game critic is that he lost fun playing games, or he never had it. Then they are unusable in gamers' minds, why listen to him if he does it for the money or his ego.
Should professional game critics ask themselves if they have fun gaming? Should you play video games because well it's a habit, who needs fun? Everyone has to answer these questions for himself. I know that if I want the mystery of new games to return I should stop looking for reviews, previews, yes even stop peeking at the final scores. And fun is not what I'll find in gaming forums, well sometimes it can be fun, but for the wrong reasons.