There Is No ‘I’ In Review … Oh Wait, Yes There Is


(This is the another edition of “</RANT>,” a weekly opinion piece column on GameFront. Check back every week for more).

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.

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15 Comments on There Is No ‘I’ In Review … Oh Wait, Yes There Is

Matthew

On January 26, 2011 at 4:55 pm

It’s sad that this keeps needing to be repeated. I read reviews because I enjoy hearing other people’s opinions. It seems like all people want is a number, a yes or no. No middle ground or personal opinions. It’s sad.

Brandon James Clark

On January 26, 2011 at 5:08 pm

Actually, numbers should reflect opinions. Maybe people are just really lazy and want to be able to skip to the chart or something, I dunno.

Todd

On January 26, 2011 at 5:38 pm

The review wasn’t too subjective simply because he used “I.” It was too subjective because it was loaded with phrases that told us more about the reviewer’s tastes than anything useful about the game. What do statements like “none of them did anything for me” and “This isn’t want I want out of a Dead Space experience” tell me about the game?

Jim Sterling

On January 26, 2011 at 5:47 pm

Todd: Yeah, but like I said, I’m not out to defend the review. I don’t think it was well written. I said that. This article is specifically about the use of “I” in a review.

There are a billion threads (most of ‘em on Reddit) for you to talk specifically about the content of Miller’s review.

Chris

On January 26, 2011 at 5:50 pm

Another commenter on this page pointed out that the main problem that the Reddit community had with Miller’s review was that it wasn’t really a review of the game, merely an exposition of the author’s own tastes. Furthermore, I think it’s important to reiterate that the use of the first person was one of the many, many, many things with which Reddit users were upset.

fnbaptiste

On January 26, 2011 at 6:09 pm

I actually liked the review. Sure, the writing wasn’t as “top notch” as other articles, but the enthusiasm for the game was obvious. Instead of being a about it and saying “This reviewer sucks at writing”, I thought “This guy clearly really likes this game.” In other words, he got his point across from the first sentence to the last. Not eloquently. But effective nonetheless.

Derangel

On January 26, 2011 at 6:39 pm

When I was younger I used to be one of those people complaining about opinions in reviews and the need for objectivity. Those thoughts have gone so far out the window since I started writing reviews that they’re never coming back. I wish you didn’t have to write articles like this, but for some reason people just don’t get it. It is impossible for a human to be totally objective. We are highly opinionated creatures and we thrive on our emotions and our views on the world. The next time someone talks about reviewers needing to be more objective I’m going to link them to your objective FFXIII review and ask them if that is what they want. Then I am going to link them to this article in hopes that something gets driven into their thick skulls.

PS: I constantly use possessive terms in my reviews. I use “I”, “my”, and “me” often as well as tossing in a few tidbits of information about my playing style and preferences to allow people to get a feel for where I stand on what a game offers so that readers are able to get a feel for how my tastes differ from their own. I firmly believe in the idea that a reviewer should reveal bits about themselves to the reader. It is vitally important that a reader understands the reviewer and where they are coming from. Without that information a review is useless and is a disservice to the reader.

Andrew

On January 26, 2011 at 7:03 pm

You’re telling me that you managed to pick a post that is way at the bottom of the page–”14 points” at the time of this writing–to spearhead your attack on Reddit and people who have the “nerve” to criticize a reviewer? What about the hundreds of other posts–very clearly–explaining why the review was awful?

But yes. There’s an ‘I’ in review. But there’s also an ‘i’ in ratings. Keep up with the sensationalism.

Katrina

On January 26, 2011 at 8:07 pm

Who has ever claimed that unbiased meant unbiased vis-a-vis things the reviewer likes? Unbiased in the context of reviews means (and has always obviously meant) without consideration to non-game related interests. Saying a game is rad because its publisher buys tons of ads on your employer’s site would be biased. Saying a game is rad because you love platformers and it’s a great platformer isn’t. And like that, we’ve solved a contradiction you grappled with for 1000+ words.

Finally, note that saying whatever you feel like without any reason in the words of a middle schooler also has “I” on it, but that doesn’t make it valid, interesting, or immune to criticism.

Jim Sterling

On January 27, 2011 at 6:05 am

Andrew: Did you read every thread online? There was a lot more backlash against “I” than one scant comment.

Silly sensationalist commenters.

David

On January 27, 2011 at 9:37 am

A agree with fnbaptiste – the review was not all that well-written, but unlike reviews that lambaste the game and then give it a 7/10 or 8/10, his enthusiasm was very apparent, which justifies the score at the end.

mrandydixon

On January 27, 2011 at 11:44 am

Great write-up, as usual. It always bugs me when a reviewer uses “we” as opposed to “I” (GamesRadar comes to mind), and I’m happy to see the practice defended!

Senior Coconut

On January 27, 2011 at 12:33 pm

One doesn’t need to use the first person “I” in a review at all simply because the review is in any case the result of the “I” who wrote it. It’s ludicrous for anyone to conceive of the review as anything but subjective interpretation whether the reviewer explicitly makes themselves the subject of every single god-forsaken sentence or not.

Jim, you’ve missed the point entirely. The fundamental concern of Reddit isn’t with the use and abuse of pronouns; it is that the joyfully juvenile nature of Miller’s piece symbolizes the endemic plague of “professional reviewers” who have completely lost the art of writing passable art criticism that contains any meaning or value whatsoever.

Matty Mc Matt Pants

On January 27, 2011 at 2:18 pm

I love personal reviews. I hate ones in like OXm where they are based not on opinion as much as a grading system. I like hearing peoples opinions. Especially those who like/dislike what I do. Gives you more insight!

Andrew

On January 27, 2011 at 9:01 pm

@Jim: The earliest post I see leaving any comment about the usage of “I” is, interesting enough, well down the page with *14 upvotes*. The post is here, if you’d like to read it: http://www.reddit.com/r/gaming/comments/f841p/dae_think_a_middle_school_kid_reviewed_dead_space/c1e2o4p

The consequent posts are similarly well phrased, although even lower on the point scale. The top rated posts don’t even mention the topic of pronouns your article discusses. How long did you have to search to find this inflammatory comment that you based your article on?? I didn’t notice any mention of this in your article, nor in your links, or the various images you included.

So I’m just curious; where is this public outcry about using the word “I”? Because “I” am just not seeing it.