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The role of a critic: to be a portal, not a mirror.

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Part of being a critic is writing or stating things that aren't necessarily what everyone wishes to hear. Of course, it's impossible to mirror everyone's opinions; no matter what we write, some guy on the Internet will say we overrated something, and some other guy will say we underrated it. I've gotten death threats over reviews, been called many terrible things, and have been accused of activities so far outside the realm of reality that it boggles the mind.

And while such negativity can occasionally hurt, I am ultimately glad for the hate. I am glad for it because it means we share a passion. And the more passionate we are, the stronger the words we use to express that passion.

Today, I received an apology message from someone who had written some (perhaps) unkind things to me regarding my review of Star Wars: The Old Republic. And since much of what I wrote in my reply to him expresses my feelings on the current state of games criticism, I thought I would share it with you.


There is no reason to apologize. You love games, and it's that love that fills you with passion. And when we are passionate, we use strong words to express our passions.

I have very strong feelings about the state of games criticism, and the 1-10 scale often hinders more than it helps. We're stuck with this idea that a 1-10 scale is the equivalent of American school grades, and that the entire lower half of the scale is associated with an F, while a great score of 8 is somehow indicative of a disappointment, rather than something to celebrate.

My goal for the reviews team in 2012 is to take back our scores, and to take back games criticism. I want an 8 to be what an 8 used to be in games criticism: a fantastic score. A score that says, "this game is great, and there's a good chance you should be playing it." I want those 9-range scores to be reserved for the truly special--the games that redefine expectations, the ones that define the years they come out, the ones we remember in a decade, when memories of others have long faded.

In other words, I want those numbers to have meaning that goes beyond "1-7.5 means a game sucks, an 8 is just ok, and 9s are good!" We've reached a point where most games are fun--and I don't believe that "fun" is enough for a game to be called an all-time great. There should be a small handful of 9-range scores at the end of a year, not a bushel of them. That doesn't mean I don't want us to reward the amazing games that come out in any given year--only to remember that those super high scores should be reserved for the truly special.

I don't know that we critics have always done a great job of that in the last few years. Now that I am heading the reviews team, I truly hope we can hone our critical eye. I want us to be critics, rather than fanboys. And not to hand out high scores like candy because we were wowed by pretty graphics and lots of explosions.

I have no idea why I have written so much, when so little of it as actually about SW: TOR! I think my eventual point was this: Star Wars: The Old Republic is a great game. It is a refined, put-together game that deserves to be played and loved. I have gotten messages from some, like you, insisting I was too hard on it. I have gotten others angry that I would dare to score it so high. That's normal: it means that human beings are individuals, with their own ideas of what games are, and what they could and should be. I could never mirror every single person's thoughts: it's impossible. But I can always promise that when you read a review on GameSpot, it reflects the thoughts and feelings of an experienced and talented individual free of preconceived notions. Our goal isn't to make fanboys happy, or to make publishers happy, or developers happy, or some guy on the Internet demanding a high score happy. It's to evaluate, dissect, and express.

I hope that even when what you read doesn't hold a mirror to your own views, that you can always find value in our reviews. Because we value people like you--with love for the medium, and thoughtful opinions about the games you play. Never stop having that passion. Without it, we will never expect more than what we are given. And if we don't expect more, we'll only ever get the same kinds of experiences in games that we already have.

With much respect and admiration,

Kevin

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