The Criticism We Deserve

What we need isn't less expression of opinions about movies and games. What we need is less angry, more thoughtful expression.

Here we are, on the brink of the release of the final chapter in Christopher Nolan's series of films about the Caped Crusader, and some fans are furious. They're not upset about aspects of the movie that didn't live up to their expectations; after all, most of them haven't even seen the film yet. No, they're upset that a few other people--people who have seen the movie, and who write about movies for a living--have had the temerity to suggest that The Dark Knight Rises falls short of cinematic perfection. These outraged fans have made their fury known by leaving comments on these reviews that insult, denigrate, and in some cases even threaten the critics.

What's most disheartening for me…is the thought of a readership that seems to want nothing more than to have their pre-existing opinions reinforced. This is not what criticism is for.
On one hand, I'm utterly dismayed to see film critics I respect being treated this way. On the other hand, I'm fascinated by these events, because it's the first time I can remember seeing an occurrence that is relatively common in game criticism--fan outrage over a review for a highly anticipated game that suggests that game is less than perfect--occur in the world of online film discussion, complete with hilarious misspellings of "biased."

What's most disheartening for me as a critic isn't so much the threats and negative reactions themselves as it is the thought of a readership that seems to want nothing more than to have their pre-existing opinions reinforced. This is not what criticism is for. This is not why reviews exist. Critics--good ones, anyway--don't write about games or films or music or books or art simply to make their readers feel better about liking the things they like and hating the things they hate.

Parker Mott wrote a fine piece about some furious reactions to early reviews of The Dark Knight Rises, which he began with this: "Film criticism is important, I believe, because it represents that uncompromising search for truth, beauty, and wisdom in cinema. It connects social/cultural patterns to what is on-screen. Without film criticism, we wouldn’t have thoughtful debates on how and whether certain films are moving or even masterful." It's through such writing, through such discussion and thoughtful debates, that our appreciation of film is deepened. Being exposed to viewpoints that don't fall in line with our own isn't something we should fear or get angry about. It can't hurt you. It can only broaden your perspective, forcing you to reconsider why you love something you love and perhaps getting you to look at it in a different way.

I feel the same way about game criticism. I love to read well-written reviews for games that I adore; they can help crystallize my feelings and come to a richer understanding of just why a game moves me the way it does. But I probably get more out of those reviews I don't agree with, those reviews that challenge my strongly held opinions. A good review that I don't agree with may or may not change my mind--it probably won't--but it does make me see a game in a new light and look at it from a different perspective. This experience, over time, hasn't just enhanced my appreciation of those specific games, but of games in general. Ultimately, criticism isn't just about telling you whether or not a certain movie is worth seeing or a certain game is worth playing. It's a dialogue meant to enhance our appreciation for the things we love.

That's right, a dialogue; ideally, one that involves engaged, passionate fans and critics. Of course, with Amazon, Twitter and countless other outlets of expression, it's infinitely easier than it used to be for anyone to get his or her opinion in front of thousands of people. But more opinions don't necessarily equal more constructive dialogue. Not every opinion expressed about a movie is film criticism, and not every opinion expressed about a game is game criticism. As Mott notes, "To award The Avengers 5 stars out of 5 because it’s just awesome and Scarlett Johansson is so fuckin’ sexy is not film criticism. It’s a fanboy orgasm."

There is no danger in the expression of or the exposure to substantial opinions about a game or its advertising. On the contrary, such engagement and expression is vital.
And yet the flood of comments that have nothing substantial to contribute to the larger discussion about a work or an art form are a frustration worth putting up with for the privilege of participating in a community in which people are empowered to say things that are substantial. Alongside the conversation raging in my Twitter feed of late about enraged fan reaction to some reviews of The Dark Knight Rises has been another conversation about whether criticizing something about a game--the way it handles issues of sexual assault, for instance, or presents religious figures--amounts to a kind of de facto censorship.

The answer, in my humble opinion, is no. There is no danger in the expression of or the exposure to substantial opinions about a game or its advertising. On the contrary, such engagement and expression is vital. Just as the people who create films, games and other works have the freedom to deal with whatever themes or subject matters they wish in any way they wish, we, as people who are passionate about these art forms, are free to express our opinions, to criticize, to speak up when we think something is offensive or harmful.

This is a crucial part of the ongoing social dialogue about art. If we stop talking about it, if we walk out of movies and step away from games and tell each other only that these things were "awesome" or that they "sucked" without delving into the reasons why, then we get away from what Mott described as "that uncompromising search for truth, beauty, and wisdom."

So by all means, chime in on discussions. Express yourself. And embrace the diversity of opinions--it's good for you, and can only deepen you appreciation for the things you love. There's no reason to get upset or angry if someone likes something you don't or doesn't like something you do, even if that thing is something you and lots of other people have looked forward to for a long time, like, say, The Dark Knight Rises, or Assassin's Creed III. Thoughtful debate and discussion move the dialogue forward, bringing us closer to truth, beauty and wisdom. Fear and hostility only get in the way.

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Savoritias
Savoritias

The problems are from both sides. First the reviewers aren't like the old days. The good reviewers nowdays get less and less. And from the other hand the fans are too agressive on the critics and too close minded.

DarthLefein
DarthLefein

It doesn't make sense.   You're industry is slowing down, because Wii U, Xbox 720 and PS4, Vita, and 3DS are 12 - 24 months late to market.   It's your whining,  Nothing thoughtful will change this.  Release Wii U in November 2011.  Release 3DS in 2009.

Vari3ty
Vari3ty

Don't dish out what you can't take. If you're a critic, it's only natural for people to turn around and criticize you. 

Scholar_Of_Time
Scholar_Of_Time

The Criticism gamespot deserves is criticizing lots of things that ordinary gamers already know...

 

like the one where the staff posted a video declaring that they "stopped playing Diablo III while everyone else already stopped playing a few weeks ago..."

Murder422
Murder422

Tom McShea deserves criticism for his criticism of Medal of Honor: Warfighter's "authenticity" or lack thereof. I feel the issue he was drawing attention to, but I find it difficult to feel him. In other words,  I respect what he was saying, but I find it difficult to respect him. His input is as valid as anyone elses, unfortunately he has only himself with which to input said input through. This is the classic case of a human being failing to learn or understand the concept of or impliment said concept in order to ultimately become a "Renaissance Man" or "Completionist" or basically someone who attempts to master all skills, as opposed to a smaller set of a chosen few. This fact allows the weaker aspects of his character to cause, or be used to create, distraction by his opposition, his support, and even indecisive listeners. Sadly, ad hominem is often invalidly used by humans as a way to subvert the truth of claims. Therein lies the criticism Tom deserves, allowing the invalidity of his character to eclipse the validity of his point.  I don't want to or even know where to start with Carolyn Petit...

Scorpion1813
Scorpion1813

I don't read reviews - not because I'm scared the person will disagree with me, but because I like to make my own mind up about a game or movie and my opinions don't always match-up with what is said by the critics.

We don't need to have THE perfect movie in order to be entertained - we can still thoroughly enjoy what critics consider a mediocre movie. Suckerpunch for example is one of my favourite films and look at the review that got.

 

But that's not to say reviews aren't useful or they're not needed. On the contrary - film and game makers are more likely to listen to these critics than they are of the general public. It could be argued that the "fans" and the "haters" would be biased and not give constructive feedback, and for the most part that would be true. And while I know critics strive for unbiased reviews, that's not always the case.

 

Often times critics can be just as opinionated as the fanboys and the haters and I've even heard about reviews being nicer than they should be in order to please the games publishers. This stems from the publishers having the rights to stop critics from printing reviews of their games. So if a magazine/website wants more customers/traffic they need to review the popular games that people will be interested in - but they can't do that if the publishers withhold the rights do do that.

 

Publishers shouldn't have that power and it's another contributing reason as to why I don't believe reviews.

Manji14
Manji14

What makes the internet so special is that is has place for everybody, if i only wanted politically correct stuff i would be watching the tv.

This extreme sincerity is something extremely valuable, even if sometimes it comes in the form of angry cussing.

robfield
robfield

Without internet criticism I wouldn't be able to feel tough.

splinter10
splinter10

Who actually reads movie reviews?

cjimrun
cjimrun

The internet has made these problems possible.  Back in the day we read film criticism in papers and game criticism in magazines.  There was no such thing as trolling and sometimes I think we were better off.  Don't get me wrong, I like posting and reading comments, especially when they're constructive...but sometimes all the negativity turns me off and overshadows any value an article may have had.

nereza
nereza

The other big problems, is that critics get the arrogant feeling of supremacy, and think fans are bashing them for no reason. There's a lot of bias in recent years, and is masked as professional reviewing.

kiramasaki
kiramasaki

My problem with critics is that they hold no weight. If I read a scientific article with research on some new topic, I know that a. it will have research and backing of evidence in the paper itself, something that can be tested over and over again, and b. written by someone with legitamite credentials, probably someone with at least a PHd and years of research in that field. What do you get from critic, they are merely people who voice their own opinions as if they hold some weight, when they really have nothing to back that. They are rarely game developers or in the case of movie critics people with experience in the field, and at best we can hope for someone to at least have a degree in literature as a basis.

krazken
krazken

Perfect example of what Caro is talking about--read some of the comments on DMC and you'll see gamers complaining about aspects of a game that they haven't even played yet.

eva02langley
eva02langley

@sonicare

I understand your view, but unfortunately, sometime it is just true. I remember a couple of reviews who were utterly fanboys rant given to someone having a tribune for doing so. Not so lately, GS reviewed Zelda on Wii... can you honestly trust a review like that?

 

As for The Dark Knight Rises, I must admit that I agree. It is the worst of the three. The characters are lackluster at best and cannot rival the mafia, the joker and two face... or even Rahz Al Goul (played brilliantly by Liam Neeson). Seriously, that last Batman was nothing else than a copy of the last Die Hard...

 

The Avenger was so much better, but The Dark Knight was still so much better than the Avengers.

sonicare
sonicare

Never understood why people get so upset about reviews - whether they be film or game reviews.  I suspect some people just identify so strongly with a movie franchise, character, or game franchise that they take any criticism as a personal insult.  The clamor over some of the TKDR reviews is almost hilarious.  CNN posted a less than favorable review, and legions of diehard batman fans have been threatening, cursing, and coming up with all kinds of conspiracy theories as to why the review isnt perfect.  

 

But the corollary is also true.  A review or critique of any product or service can, itself, be critiqued.  Sometimes reviews are less than pefect, offbase, etc.  I've seen some bad reviews where the person seemed to miss the concept or didnt seem to really know what they were talking about.  Almost like they hadnt seen the film or played the game.  That can happen.  But, I agree that a lot of fans tend to immediately discredit any criticism toward their item of pleasure.

ziproy
ziproy

Yeah you all are a bunch of saints. You all work so HARD playin your games and watching your movies and all us fans do is yell at you :'(. Nevermind the fact that there seems to be a correlation between the amount of ad space a game publisher takes out on Gamespot and their final review score

mccoyca112
mccoyca112

What's the saying about wishing in one hand?

It'd be nice, but I wouldn't recommend anyone holding their breath for this.

dr_jashugan
dr_jashugan

Please don’t mix reviews or criticism of movies with games. To begin with a movie ticket can cost up to $8, but a game today can cost an average of $60. If you watched a bad movie, you can accept the loss of $8. But who wants to get stuck with a $60 bad game? That’s why (for me) game reviews or criticism are MORE important than reviews of movies.

nereza
nereza

Then again critics rarely admit that their reviews fail in an epic manner.  Their search fro truth about something is in fact, their objective opinion and if critics want to be valid, they need to evolve as people, follow to cultural and underground tendencies, and live in the present, with fresh mind...most of them don't.

ahpuck
ahpuck

 Truth be told, most reviewers are too old to understand modern gaming and movie making. I was reading an article last week about how most kids this days find The Godfather to be boring. Apparently kids this days don't have time for a story, they just want to see stuff blow up.

spoonybard-hahs
spoonybard-hahs

What Mott said is right, however it completely misses what happens when an online critic gives a bad review. And what happens is good business. Those few who dare give a film that is almost universally excepted as being a great representation of what films should be see almost five times as much traffic as those who give a film the praise it might deserve. This drives up ad revenue resulting in a wind fall for the Web site. This kind of commentary is probably just about as dangerous as labeling something as awesome, so-so, and suck without the deeper expression as to why that is. However, this is really an extension of how society is being conditioned for personal exchange.

 

Quite simply, as time goes on and as our zeitgeist gets filled with more and more avenues of expression and information exchange, our attention spans become shorter and shorter. What used to take five minutes to say had to be said in two and a half. Then that two and a half had to be said in one minute. Then thirty seconds. Now it's 140 characters.

 

As this continues, it will be harder and harder for people to actually express what they mean and feel beyond simple reflex verbiage, even with an unlimited character cap. Consider: Facebook used to have a limit on how long status updates could be. If you went over, it forced you to post your words as a note which would get banished to somewhere on your profile to never actually convey what you were feeling or what not. Now, they've lifted that limit. But hardly anyone actually uses it convey anything beyond going to the movies or that they're pissed off at their boss.

Luizao2779
Luizao2779

@carolynmichelle Great article, you are kinda becoming my favorite "GameSpoter" to read. Keep 'em coming!!!

Henrique2324
Henrique2324

Holy crap. What's up with the overly constructive comments? 

SoNin360
SoNin360

It must be a natural tendency to think so much of other people's opinions, especially the "professional" ones. People don't seem to realize that only their opinion is the one that should matter. I do enjoy reading and listening to other people's opinions to broaden my perspective as mentioned in this article, but for no reason should a low rating for a game I like or someone's contradicting thought towards something bother me in the slightest. Honestly though, I still am occasionally guilty of losing my calm when one of the previous events happens, but generally I keep any bitter thoughts to myself. That was a nice read and was well thought out, 9/10. Oh yeah, I just rated an article, come at me :P

sonjoza
sonjoza

Thank you for this article. Very good read and well-written. Objective criticism is useful in finding material worth our attention for either good or bad. This is why I originally began following GameSpot. Bad has to surface at some point, otherwise nothing would be worth reviewing in the first place. Sometimes the 'bad' is loosely defined, or defined more by our own presumptions. While truly bad decisions and mistakes are apparent in our culture and tend to stir peoples reactions, I find most people get too easily hung-up by a mistake, or disproportionately evaluate media based on something they can't overlook. It's simpler to evaluate media on the surface, but much more difficult to really understand what lies underneath. In the same way, a director's approach isn't always made clear to everyone, which makes for far more interesting situations and outcomes and deeper introspective. I think fans are too easily subdued by their own assumptions and create reasons to disregard things altogether. Fans too often desire being treated like pampered babies.

 

To be safe, I usually try to drown out critics and approach new things feeling indifferent. Optimistic when I already like something, but then I'm usually not really tested or engaged in any way if something meets my expectations every time. So sometimes what seems bad at first, then becomes much more enjoyable later on. Also, it's best to separate opinions from criticism. As previously stated, being critical isn't attempting to appeal to, or agree with one-another. This is the approach a lot of people take instead of offering useful criticism. Taking an outsider's approach is never popular, so opinions work to humor ones subjective bias.

 

Case in point -- the Dark Knight series -- didn't everyone originally paint Heath negatively for Brokeback Mountain, and were afraid he'd destroy the Joker in The Dark Knight? No one for a minute considered the man's ability to act before having seen the film. There was palpable amounts of squeamish fan boy alarm and for what? Now Ledger's a legend and any criticism is automatically shot down. This is a perfect example of absurd opinions vs criticism. I can understand the want for more, but more doesn't always prove something's better or worse. More sometimes tends to rob things of their creative value. Maybe it's just more entertaining to others to abuse subjects with fiery words and slander when they disagree, but that's not being open-minded or critical in any useful way either.

Fencie
Fencie

Why are people talking about that Batman movie and whether it was good or not? That was just an example for this article, hahahaha.

 

I enjoyed the read, the thought behind the words. I agree with the sentimentality behind it, however, realism sets in and I know that it won't happen. I would like it to, but it won't.

I'd much rather be asked for my opinion than attacked by people I don't know. So I didn't like your movie/game, there's no need to say I'm unintelligent or unfeeling or whatever else you can come up with.

But that's the way people are. Something they like, or enjoy isn't being perceived as great as they think it is so they feel the need to defend it with all they have.

interrasteral7
interrasteral7

In my opinion, Dark Knight Rises was an okay, but diappointing movie. It was not even better than the phenomenon, The Dark Knight. It is much worse that Batman Begins is even better than Dark Knight Rises, because I did not even like watching Batman Begins that much.

Dinostrich
Dinostrich

Personally I never go by movie critics except one, Jeremy Jahns on youtube!.  They are almost always too harsh on the movies.  They rip into movies that I have found enjoyable and praise movies that I couldn't stand, like True Grit.  It was so boring!  I don't mind movies with lot of dialog but I hated that movie.  I always listen to the user reviews, and if I see a movie that interests me, I always look for the people who rate it badly to see their thoughts as to why they hated it.  As for games, I trust this site over everything else.  For the most part they get it right.  In the end what does anyone else's opinion matter if you enjoy the game or movie it all entertainment.     

swyg
swyg

"What we need is Less angry, more thought expressions."

 

I hate to say it, but that will never happen on any kind of general scale.  I've only seen this possible on small scales and in remote places that attract a specific kind of mindset; and most of the time those kinds of places attract the more articulate, but far more negative/cynical people.  This has been true since the dawn of humans.

 

"A person is smart.  People are dumb, panicky, dangerous animals and you know it."

-Kay

DieselCat18
DieselCat18

Sorry but your comment misses the point of this article completely !

cryingdevil63
cryingdevil63

 @splinter10 I know right,I never watch or read movie reviews,I just watch whatever looks interesting in the trailer or on the back of the DVD box

Redskyze
Redskyze

 @cjimrun I hear you on that. I think people have somehow forgotten that all critics are doing is offering their opinions on whatever the subject may be. Opinions are allowed to conflict, and should often because that's what leads to compromise and improvement. These days, everything seems to fall into camps of for and against, with no room for discussion, and that's probably why things have become pretty stagnant as far as movies and gaming go.

Daemoroth
Daemoroth

 Exactly what I was thinking. As long as reviewers see themselves as "above the public" and don't admit that it is merely an opinion piece, I think tempers will flare. Especially when the public perceive it as a biased "review".

 

GameSpot has been quite guilty of this, and it becomes evident when you read a "review" for a game from a publisher who advertises on the site quite often.

 

Another fault often made is to throw a critic at a game/movie genre that they don't enjoy, meaning that the opinion piece coming out of it is especially skewed. Instead of the critic admitting that it's not their kind of movie/game and skipping it, they'll still feel entitled to have their opinion published as a professional review.

 

Sure, nobody deserves to be treated badly for their opinion, but critics need to get off their high horses and admit that, at best, they're writing down their opinion of the game/movie, while making a concerted effort to remain unbiased.

RedLegZeff
RedLegZeff

 @nereza Should you bash them for that or just think they lack credibility and move on? There are a lot of movie critics that don't know squat about scifi or comic based movies. I view it more like my aunt and uncle talking about the thing they heard on the news about something on the internet. You just roll your eyes and stop listening to them. Don't go screaming obscenities. 

RedLegZeff
RedLegZeff

 @kiramasaki That is a problem with many critics who I think aren't worth listening too. Others however do spend a great deal of time and have viewed/played enough of their medium to know what they're talking about. Those kind usually do back up their review with reasons and details that inform you about the game and their evaluation of it. I think a critic's only real qualifications are their work and their understanding of their medium, which won't have a fancy degree attached. 

eva02langley
eva02langley

 @krazken I am sorry, but that game is made by another bunch than the original developer... you know it is born to fail. The only game I could think about that went kind of well is Twin Snakes when Silicon Knights were an incredibly promising bunch... what a waste...

TohouAsura
TohouAsura

 @dr_jashugan . . . .Movie tickets cost about 20$ for me, without buying anything else.

 

Where do you live, man?

ArmorGod
ArmorGod

In response to your 3rd paragraph, the same thing happened with the annoucement of actor Daniel Craig replacing Pierce Brosnan as 007 James Bond. There was so much fanboy furor that Daniel would totally ruin the franchise because of his looks. Well, after 2 movies and a much anticipated 3rd in the works, Daniel Craig has been getting praise for his "accurate" portrayal of Iam Flemmings (author) character. This is perfect example of fanboy opinion vs actual criticism of the film/actor. 

sidewinder_na
sidewinder_na

 @Fencie no one will come asking for your opinion, you need to give it when it counts.

but give it well, like someone who knows a little more about expression then the kids who

should really be doing something other then playing M-rated games like there's nothing wrong

about that.

WillyChong
WillyChong

 @Daemoroth I highly agree, reviewer themselves should not feel that they are above us, customers, in fact is the opposite, proud their work maybe, they ultimately themselves are doing service for us, customers,  if not, then we should not need any sort of official critics or reviewers, anybody can be reviewer, even a 5 year old will do, as long as it based on his/her opinion on that film.

 

Lets face it, there is always fanboys, flamers and trolls around these websites, its not a fact of whether they should comment or not, but is whether to accept the facts or fiction from those guys, if critics or reviewers can't take criticism from others, why should they criticizes others. Feeling biased existed in us, I may agree on one review, only to fight back ferociously on another reviewer simply because I was touched by that particular game while the reviewer don't, and that your lack of that feeling justified your poor review and score, and why can't I strongly disagree with such comment, even so, the reviewer will definitely not willing to change their stance as backing down is a sign of weakness that their review can be easily changed by others. 

 

This is the fact we said what we want to express from us, is up to the critic to hear it out or left us be, death threats are immature ways of imposing someone that they are not be ignored with, but why not actually trying to hear them out.

 

The most important thing is that the reviewer/critic should not only at least look through what others had to say, but also learned from their mistake, I know recently big budget publisher are more than willing to pay reviewers and critics to improved their score, so please, be fair towards what you actually see, not the cash in front of you the the big screen.

 

Honestly, if you actually reviewed a game without gaining additional benefits to the company or yourself, then some of the games in recent time should not have been overscored or underscored, and people would not have been so critical on this. But hey, money is the reason Gamespot still live till this day.

krafty_pk
krafty_pk

 @spKeeper20 im in the uk and you are lookin at £10 a ticket which is what... $15 or something lol

 

Fencie
Fencie

 @sidewinder_na I apologize for not being clearer in my statement, I had a whole thing before that, but I deduced it was a little much and not needed.

What I meant by that was even if I don't like it, I'd much rather be asked as to why, not attacked and then drummed up as whatever they come up with.

However, I agree with your statement

WillyChong
WillyChong

 @krafty_pk wow, if that then you should watch movie in my place, the ticket of a blockbuster cost RM13, which is $6 and major 3D cost about RM20, which is $10 in  your place and Dark Knight, Ice Age is still on, though some come a little later.