There Is No ‘I’ In Review … Oh Wait, Yes There Is
The fine folks who inhabit Reddit aren’t known for being the most positive of chaps, but they’ve outdone themselves with their continued destruction of IGN’s Greg Miller. If you’re not up to speed on the latest review drama, Miller posted his review of Dead Space 2 last week, a review that was not exactly … well … let us just say that it didn’t exactly meet the highest of standards. Reddit, and several other online communities, have had a field day with the review, which has been accused of resembling a middle school essay.
Here’s a little excerpt of the review, if you’d like to draw your own conclusions:
Dead Space 2 is an amazing game. I’m going to write about its scary moments, cool kills, and how much I dig the main character’s internal struggle, but Dead Space 2 is about more than this. When I beat it for the first time, I sat on the couch with my heart racing and dissected the journey I had just taken. Then, I started my second playthrough, and when that was done, I jumped into a new game for the third time. Dead Space 2 is just that good.
I’ll be honest. It wasn’t the best writing I’ve ever seen. In fact, I don’t think it even meets the standards of Miller himself, who exhibited a greater aptitude for writing in his personal rebuttal to Reddit than he did in the professional review. I want to stress my belief here, because I do not want you to think that I am, in any way, defending the review. I don’t think it can be defended, not when IGN, Miller, and most part-time game reviewers can do far, far better than what was published. However, I have taken umbrage with a few reoccurring criticisms of the review, which went from justified complaining to puerile nitpicking, seemingly within seconds.
Chief among the griping is that Miller’s review was “too” subjective, that it was about the author more than the game itself. This argument has been backed up by the review’s constant use of the word “I”. Miller wrote the review from his personal perspective, without pretending his words were coming from some vague hive mind (“we loved this game”) and without putting words into the mouths of gamers (“you will love this game”). Some of the most fervent backlash was against Miller’s self-referencing and statements such as, “I’ve already said that I’ve played the game over and over.”
Now, among all the justified criticisms of this review — and several are quite justified — this distaste for “I” strikes me as thoroughly nonsensical, and it exemplifies one of the biggest misconceptions people seem to have about reviews — that they should be, or are even capable of being, completely objective.
As the man in charge of reviews at Destructoid.com, I use “I” in my reviews. I used it in my own Dead Space 2 review, and I’ll continue using it. Many reviewers I know do the same. We do this because the reviews are what we think of the game as individuals. When I review a title, I’m not speaking for every single person on my staff. I’m not speaking for you. I’m not speaking for Pope Gregory IX. I’m telling you what I think about the game. My opinions are the only ones I know, and it would be fairly disingenuous for me to write a review based on what I think you might believe, rather than what I personally believe.
I’ve been accused many times of writing reviews that are not “objective”, as I’m sure many other reviewers have been. Miller certainly has. There is a fatal flaw in this argument, however, and it is this simple, perpetually unanswered question — what is an objective review? Looking it up in the dictionary, objectivity in this case be defined thusly:
Not influenced by personal feelings, interpretations, or prejudice; based on facts; unbiased
And so we come to the meat of the issue. How exactly does one go about evaluating a videogame, or indeed any product, without using their personal feelings, interpretations or prejudices? The word “bias” is thrown around a lot these days, but nobody stops to consider that “bias” is not an inherently evil thing. We’re all biased in our own ways, we all carry prejudices, and we all have opinions. I argue that it is impossible to write a review without this bias influencing our writing, not if we want to actually publish a review, as opposed to a bland list of features, devoid of context or criticism. Who wants to read a review like that? Isn’t that what manuals are for? I lampooned the idea of the 100% objective review last year, and in attempting to write a review without bias or prejudice, I had created an obtuse, meandering, bland piece of writing that provided no valuable information to a prospective consumer.
Fact is, a review is an opinion, no matter how many twisted ways you may try to argue otherwise. It’s not an information manual or a sales pitch. It’s what you thought, and if you’re going to write your own opinion, why not use “I”? It’s better than to be pretentious and write as if you represent a body of editors. There are some outlets that use “we”, but I find that so impersonal. I want to know what the person who played the game and wrote the review thought when I’m reading game coverage. It doesn’t make the opinions any more valid if you pretend that some incorporeal idea reviewed the game, a collective consciousness created by the minds of every writer on a publication’s payroll. Unless the article was genuinely written by multiple people, only one guy is laying his thoughts down at the end of the day, and I want to know if that person liked or hated the software in question.
It’s become really cool lately to rag on the gaming media, and I completely understand that there is genuine criticism to be voiced. I get it. Stuff like this, however, where people are seriously getting bent out of shape because a reviewer represented himself in his writing, only serves to take focus away from legitimate complaints about the games press business. If tearing down games “journalism” is your thing, there are far more pressing matters for you to attend to, and if you are one of those who can’t stand the use of “I” in a review, then you seem to lack a fundamental understanding of what a review actually is. Until emotionless, subservient androids write videogame reviews, you’ll never get a real article that lacks subjectivity and can ignore emotional responses or individual preferences when attempting to critique a videogame. Something tells me that you wouldn’t want a review written by a soulless android anyway.
There is an “I” in review … and there damn well should be.