I'm not sure if this is a phenomenon that is exclusive to GameSpot, but in recent years the review site has received an alarming amount of vitriol for its scores on many highly anticipated games including Zelda: Skyward Sword, The Last of Us, DuckTales Remastered, and now most recently Grand Theft Auto V. While some of the criticism leveled against GameSpot might be legitimate, it is mostly drowned out by a sea of seething hatred and completely uncalled for remarks. It seems that many people are coming to GameSpot not to get informed before making purchasing decisions but rather just to confirm their own egos and pat themselves on the back for having such great taste. I would like to take this time to remind anyone expressing these views that GameSpot's role is not to pander to its audience and tell you what you want to hear; they are here to express their own opinions and inform you about games both technically and critically.
Typical aftermath of a GameSpot review.
Putting aside the hatred and insults though, there is a recurring theme among many of the negative comments that GameSpot's reviews are being too "biased", or "not objective", as if implying that these are virtuous goals that reviews should be aiming toward in the first place. This kind of perspective shows a failure of understanding of how critical analysis of media is supposed to work, as the context in which these words are thrown around demonstrates that these people don't really know what these terms actually mean and how they should be applied. Video game reviews are fundamentally a subjective opinion-based medium, as critics are offering up their own opinion on the experiences they had. To remove opinion from a review is to remove the entire critique aspect of the review along with an accompanying score, as any score is ultimately a numerical representation of the critic's overall opinion, and thus cannot be objective. This would of course result in a very boring and uninteresting review, as Jim Sterling infamously demonstrated with his brilliant "objective" review of Final Fantasy XIII. However, it should be acknowledged that any good review generally supports and grounds its opinions in actual objective facts that it can reference about the game that it is evaluating. This is where the technical aspect of a review comes in. Obviously if someone just writes a review saying that a game's graphics suck, its gameplay is boring, and the plot is lame without bothering to offer any specific examples to reference in support of these points, such a review would equally be uninformative. By combining technical and critical analysis of a game, potential players can get a much greater sense of what the game might actually feel like to play. I want critics to touch on objective aspects of the game, but anything beyond pointing out technical specifics, the critic's personal biases and opinions should be entirely welcome.
Let's look at some small examples of how to combine the two aspects I've been talking about so you can see how much it helps when a review contains both objective and subjective elements.
Example 1: "The leveling system in Guild Wars 2 sucks."
This is bad because it's only expressing an opinion and doesn't tell you anything about how the leveling system works.
Example 2: "Guild Wars 2 uses a unique leveling system that scales your level down based on the zone you're travelling in."
While this might seem more informative than the previous example, this is still bad as well because it's too plain and descriptive without offering any critical insight on how this might affect the gameplay.
Example 3: "While Guild Wars 2 makes it easier to group with your friends through its unique level scaling system, this also results in a feeling of lacking character progression because your avatar's strength is always being reduced based on the zone you're travelling in."
This is a much more insightful example because it touches on specific technical aspects of the gameplay while extrapolating potential consequences and problems that follow from it. Even if you might personally disagree with the critic's conclusions, you're much more informed about what to expect from the gameplay of Guild Wars 2 than through the other two examples, and that's the most important thing, as a review's primary goal should be to inform.
Now that I've hopefully established the necessity of subjectivity in reviews, let's jump back to Carolyn's GTAV review for a moment. What's particularly annoying to me about criticisms of the review is that many players are basically admitting that her points about misogyny and sexism are right, but they should just be ignored anyway, citing that personal politics shouldn't factor into the score. But why not? As I've already pointed out, a large part of doing a review is expressing the critic's opinion, and since enjoyment can certainly be affected by political messages in the game, then it's fair game to offer commentary on them. Yes, there can be a wide range of opinions where controversial issues are concerned, but such can still be the case for any other aspect of a game as well. Some people enjoy level grinding for example; others may find it tedious. Either way, it is completely appropriate to talk about politics in a game that deals heavily in political commentary. In fact to ignore it altogether would almost be dishonest. I'm not saying anyone needs to agree with Carolyn's opinion, but this idea that she shouldn't even be allowed to express it out of some strange notion of professionalism is ridiculous. Being professional doesn't mean you need to tap dance around controversial issues; you just need to be respectful when expressing your point of view, which I believe Carolyn certainly was. Another argument I've heard is that it's GTA so misogyny should just be expected, as if to imply that if something has already established itself to be morally repugnant previously that it somehow no longer becomes a problem in subsequent iterations. I'm sorry but that's not how it works either. Garbage is still garbage and it doesn't suddenly turn into decoration just because it's been laying on the floor long enough without getting picked up.
GTAV ultimately got a 9/10, which last I checked is a superb score and an editor's choice. In other words, in spite of Carolyn's annoyances with its sexist undertones, she still thought it was an amazing game anyway. At the end of the day I don't see what there is to fuss about considering this. Even if you disagree with her view on that particular point, it did little to affect the overall score of the game, and if we're seriously going to start complaining because of a difference of 1 point, this is clearly no longer about trying to get informed about a game but instead seeking validations for one's own ego, because whether a game gets a 9/10 or 10/10, with that high of a score, it shouldn't stop you from enjoying the game regardless.
I've been saying for a while now that game reviews have become inflated, and anything that receives less than an 8/10 is regarded as a failure. For some well-established franchises, even a 9/10 is starting to become no longer enough. This madness has got to stop. The more we inflate game scores, the more we just devalue the scores anyway until they become meaningless. Ask yourself before you hand out that next 9/10 or perfect score; does this game really stand tall above all the rest as a game that will truly be memorable and revisited for years to come? I'm finding more and more games receiving very generous scores that I end up buying and being sorely disappointed by. These are games that are from genres I normally enjoy as well. As a result, it's becoming harder and harder for me to find critics that I trust.
I literally read from another commentator on Carolyn's GTAV review that if game reviews weren't objective then the scores wouldn't all be the same; as if implying that this would be a bad thing. Oh my god, really? You mean... people might actually have... A DIFFERENCE OF OPINION?!
Someone call the Gamestapo Secret Police! Such dissent must be silenced at once! Unbelievable that this is a commonly shared opinion among seemingly many gamers. There is value to be had in varying opinion being that no one shares exactly the same tastes. If all reviews shared the same opinions then many people could not find critics that they can relate to and trust. As much hate as Tom McShea got from his review of Skyward Sword for example, I actually gained a great deal of respect for him since then. I like many others ignored his review initially, thoroughly convinced that he couldn't be right, but when I actually sat down to play the game myself, I had to honestly admit that the controls were as problematic as he had described. Not game-breaking, but enough of a nuisance that it took a high toll on my experience. The fact that Tom was willing to take a step back and not automatically assume that a Zelda game is entitled to a very high score just because of its established pedigree, and instead gave a score that accurately and directly correlated to his true experience with it, I became much more trusting of Tom's insights from then onward.
The bottom line I guess I'm trying to get at here is be careful what you wish for. If you want truly objective reviews, you're asking for a snorefest. An uninformative, bland and boring snorefest. I welcome opinions, and lots of them. Gamers need to stop using terms they don't understand or they might just get exactly what they want, much to their own detriment.