Opinion: Reviewing Games Right – Based On Their Own Merits

Reviewing video games is no easy task, despite how much of a privilege it is to engage with and write about them for a job. At times it can seem like a fruitless endeavor because no matter what one might feel about a game’s quality, one can never please everyone. But that is part of the job of a reviewer or a critic of video games, to give a perspective about an experience a game offers and let the audience decide on what to do with that information themselves, without forcing them to feel a specific way or talking down to them. In recent years across a variety of outlets and places where people go for reviews about the latest games, that is something that seems to be forgotten all too easily.

The biggest job that critics have is to inform the audience about an experience, not validate their own stance or bias for any reason. It’s the primary objective of all critics, whether they review games or any other kind of experience, that can let people come to a decision with what they buy or see things from a different perspective. At the same time, a game review is something that should be focused on the content of the game itself and not judge it based on outside unrelated factors. It’s never a critic’s job to preach or discipline the audience about a game they are reviewing because one can’t truly teach the audience about something if you’re focused on scolding them, especially about things outside of the game they want to know about. At the end of the day, the audience/readers/viewers of game reviews are there to see what one has to say about a video game, not get talked down to because of it.

Some big releases within the games industry have caused friction between audiences and the media who report on them because of this very thing. Often the discourse leads to people looking for other places to get their gaming content from, usually content creators on various platforms that are outside the traditional media covering games. But while it’s wildly up for debate on whether this is good or bad, there’s no true right answer, the same philosophy on games criticism applies to all sides. If people are looking for reviews about games, they want just that and they deserve that.

The most relevant example of this in 2023 came with the release of Hogwarts Legacy, a game mired in controversy for many reasons outside of the quality and content of the game itself. Members of the gaming media, and many loud outliers across social media, were only really concerned with continuing conversations about JK Rowling, the creator of Harry Potter, rather than Hogwarts Legacy the game. The lead-up to the release of the game and after was flooded with content deemed reviews of Hogwarts Legacy that often were written as a commentary on the state of fandom and the transgressions of JK Rowling, completely ignoring the content of the game they’re supposed to be reviewing or using it as a small bullet point to validate their opinions on the creator of the Wizarding World. It’s a discourse that not only resulted in some of the worst review content published online but also some of the most nonsensical conclusions about a new game’s experience.

One of the worst offenders of this was the review about Hogwarts Legacy published by WIRED by Jaina Rodriguez Grey, which gave the game a controversial 1 out of 10 score. The review was scrutinized by readers who felt it focused way too much on the writer’s own personal views about JK Rowling and ignored the game’s content and experience, leading everyone to call WIRED’s editorial integrity into question. While it’s not a bad thing to have an article that covers this kind of topic, it’s best left for an opinion piece and not labeled as a review of the game itself. It was viewed as editorial malpractice and should have been retracted by the website after the backlash, let alone should have never been published at all.

With larger outlets like WIRED presenting themselves as credible sources of information and perspective to audiences, it’s massively disappointing to see an egregious action taken that not only does a disservice to its audience, but to the developers of Hogwarts Legacy itself. A legitimate game review isn’t made to give a writer a soapbox to preach their views, but rather to inform the audience about an experience they are curious about, and never at the expense of the trust the audience has in any outlet.

But that isn’t the only example of terrible etiquette with reviews of video games in recent memory related to Hogwarts Legacy. Other gaming outlets struggled to separate the outside discussion of JK Rowling and Harry Potter from the content of the game they were reviewing, including the ones that gave a high score within their own reviews.

Some places felt the need to post a disclaimer with their reviews in an attempt to satisfy readers who were loud about their own personal stances on the discourse, including one from IGN that had a long statement within all of their coverage of the game. While this may have been motivated from the right place at heart, it was fundamentally misguided. The disclaimers were completely unnecessary since none of the discourse they were about had anything to do with the quality or content of the game, let alone anything to do with the action of the game studio that made Hogwarts Legacy. It was a response to the vocal group of people that wanted to talk about everything else but the game, leading to actions that felt like they were satisfying industry peers rather than the audience itself.

Other places decided to do something different, taking a personal stance while publishing content for SEO traffic from the discourse. Kotaku had published their own article by Carolyn Petit that was said to be a “non-review” after playing the game for more than 15 hours, which gave commentary on the outside discussions and personal stances before getting to the game itself lightly. But the most egregious article about reviewing the game came from GamesHub, which was titled and stated that Hogwarts Legacy did not deserve to be reviewed on its own merits. The article, written by Percy Ranson, argued that one could not separate an artist from their work and that reviewing the game fairly was harming communities. It’s a stance that not only is clouded by personal views but is rooted in the unfair judgment of a game based on nonsensical reasoning.

The duty of all critics/reviews in any field is to critique media through a fair and just lens without misrepresenting the work being viewed or misinforming the audience. To proudly state that one isn’t interested in fairness when critiquing a game is not only immature but shows a complete lack of understanding of reviews and how they are done. And for any outlet, that’s a big problem.

One of the biggest things that all of these editorial pieces have in common is how they want to ignore a game’s own merits in favor of making a social statement they deem acceptable. This is not only the wrong way to make review content in any field but shows a complete lack of maturity when approaching the job. They would rather take the time to preach to audiences and jab other people rather than review a game based on its quality and content. It is a very big issue that separates credible reviews and editorial content from amateur articles and juvenile blogs.

It’s one thing to make an op-ed (like the one you’re reading now!) to give insight to or inform the audience, but it’s another insidious thing to title something a review and use it as a soapbox. That isn’t the right way to review video games, nor is it the right way to review any sort of media. Until outlets and their critics understand that, they won’t move past the pettiness and immaturity that continues to hold back their credibility and appeal to others. Their audience will eventually decide to move on and go elsewhere for something better.

Do you agree or disagree with everything said about game reviews? What are your thoughts on the entire discussion? Post in the comments below and let us know!

ClownfishTV.com strives to be an apolitical, balanced and based pop culture news outlet. However, our contributors are entitled to their individual opinions. Author opinions expressed in this article do not necessarily reflect the views of our video hosts, other site contributors, site editors, affiliates, sponsors or advertisers. This website contains affiliate links to products. We may receive a commission for purchases made through these links. We disclaim products or services we have received for review purposes, as well as sponsored posts.

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Jakejames Lugo
Jakejames Lugohttps://muckrack.com/jakejames-lugo
Jakejames Lugo is a writer and content creator that has been covering video games, movies, and various sides of entertainment for over a decade. He has published reviews and articles on many different outlets and continues to make content for different platforms. Jakejames also makes video content regularly for places like YouTube and TikTok, and share daily posts about gaming on social media.

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