All About Balance: What I’ve Learned About Game Reviews

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Video game reviews are a big part of my job as a writer at GameFront.com, and undoubtedly they’re a part of just about every writer’s workload in this industry. They’re usually the easiest content to produce and also some of the more heavily read pieces — it’s a straight opinion, and contentious opinions about games often generate lots of reads and the occasional controversy.

I’ve done my fair share of reviews by this time in my career. Something I’ve been seeing more and more lately, which is an interesting development, is the response reviews have been garnering among the readership at Game Front. To be honest, I’m not used to many people reading my work, in large part, and as we gain more readership, I’m spending more time reading responses from others and their comments, and engaging in conversations with them.

The biggest takeaway I’ve gotten from this is that readers seem very appreciative of balance in reviews. It’s almost counter-intuitive, in a way; the best responses I’ve gotten so far have not been from people responding to a particularly funny or “harsh” review, as one might expect. They’re instead from the reviews on controversial but popular titles, in which my striving to take a balanced approach to the experience has come to the forefront.

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On Bias: Games Journalism Work Speaks For Itself

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The relevant portions of the Internet blew up a little bit today over an article that pointed to noted games journalist Geoff Keighley, using an out-of-context photo of him speaking next to a big ad for Halo 4 on one side, a pile of Mountain Dew and Doritos on the other.

The purpose of Rab Florence’s article in Eurogamer, which can be read here, was to point out the troubling relationship much of the gaming press has with the gaming industry. Journalists and PR folks are friends, he notes, and there are plenty in our industry that look like shills for their’s. And this is fundamentally at odds with what your job is supposed to be whenever you practice journalism. It’s akin to fraternizing with the enemy.

I can’t say Florence is wrong, and there was a time when I would have argued just as vehemently the points that he presents in his article. Having worked in this industry for a while, however, I’ve come to be a little more lax in my position on the matter. Much of what makes up the “games journalism industry” isn’t journalism, and to treat it as such, to judge it as such, and to wring your hands over it as such, is a waste of time.

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Paranormal Slacktivity: Time to End the Franchise

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I’ll admit that I have a soft stop for the Paranormal Activity movies, and really, anything that includes demons and demonic possession. You might argue that, four movies in, all of the Paranormal Activity movies have been basically the same, and you’d be right — but underneath is something of a progression in a story about a demon and the hell it has unleashed on a family, in slow stages, to reach its goals.

Except, that is, in Paranormal Activity 4. I was able to give a pass to, and even fully enjoy, the earlier three movies because they move along the greater demonic storyline, if slowly. But the fourth movie feels more cash-in than ever before, and lacks almost completely anything that pushes the story forward. It leaves more questions than answers, there are some gaping holes in the fabric of the underlying plot, and it sort of feels like it’s time to bring the whole thing to a halt.
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Why Players Go So Nuts Over Choice

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I know, kind of a lot of video game blogs lately. I’m knee-deep in one of the busiest months of freelancing of the year for the medium, so it’s about all I have to talk about right now. That should be changing pretty soon as I start to do some more fiction work and other things. In the meantime, this is going to have to be about video games again.

And yeah, Dishonored is still on my mind. First, the game started out with a bit of a lovefest. Day One reviews for the game were glowing — it is, after all, a game about a supernatural assassin who has a vast many choices about how to approach those assassinations. And the majority of the praise for the game is for its freedom: You can decide to do a lot of stuff, or not do it. You can pick and choose your way forward, you can avoid things, you can strive for other things. You are the decider, or at least you feel like it, because even if your destination is mandated, your journey to that location is not.

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I Can’t Hear You: Talking About Games With Gamers

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Easily the simultaneously greatest and most disappointing thing about writing about video games for a living is the community. Sometimes you can have some incredible, engaging conversations with thoughtful people about the medium of video games — its ability to convey art, its conventions and tropes, its storytelling prowess, its experiential inventiveness.

Other times, you get shouted down by angry fools because you disagreed with them, and thus you’re obviously an idiot.

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Brand-Building Sucks — Just Talk to People

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Friend and colleague Phil R. Owen sold a column to gaming site Kotaku earlier this week, and was I was talking to him about the project, he said that advice I had given him had helped in the sale. Namely, that advice was that he should write articles and sell them, rather than rely on pitches of abstract ideas. I’m taking that as an endorsement of the list of tips I posted a while back, which you can find here.

Meanwhile, Phil’s story seems to have really touched a nerve, because the Kotaku story (here) got a fair amount of attention and a lot of positive response from readers.

Phil called me to tell me how excited he was about the story’s success, as he’s lately been trying the route of straight freelance rather than working for a specific games outlet. Getting published on Kotaku, especially with the article he sold (it discusses issues of mental health, namely depression), is a big win in that regard, and he seems to be getting his feet under him, which is great.

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Dishonored and the Art of Indirect Storytelling

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I’ve finally gotten a chance to play through the full experience of Dishonored this week, after having previewed it repeatedly. It’s one of the cooler games I’ve gotten a chance to experience this year — safe to say I enjoyed it thoroughly. I put all the thoughts I had on it into a review.

Something at which Dishonored excels is its storytelling, but it’s weird because storytelling is also one of its weakest points. When the game sets you down and has characters yammer away at you, explaining everything that’s going on and giving you no further ability to interact with them, it’s actually kind of boring. While the characters come to be pretty round and interesting later in the game, those info-dumps of exposition can really break up the flow of the game.

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Forcing the Ending: Finishing a Screenplay a Year Later

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A while back, I participated in Script Frenzy, a writing project/contest that encourages writers to finish a 100-page screenplay within a single month.

I hit the goal, and actually exceeded it, but the project was actually not “completed” when I completed the contest. I finished the contest, but I never wrapped up the story of the script. And then So You Created a Wormhole happened, with everything that entailed, and I had to leave the screenplay in a metaphorical drawer somewhere while other things took precedence.

Almost a year later, I’ve finally come back to the untitled project. It remains without a conclusion, although most of the pieces are there. I just need to figure out how to wrap it up in a satisfactory way.

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