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What is an Objective Review? Do We Want Them?

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Reviews are absolutely a hot button issue. As a community, we gamers seem to demand “objectivity”, but honestly, what is that? Does that actually help us?

One important question to ask is what is objectivity when it comes to art? Can we be truly objective? If you consider things like performance art, certainly: sports like figure skating, gymnastics, ballroom dance, etc. are all graded on a numerical scale, and there are very specific point demarcations of missing a factor in the performance. That’s a subtraction of .25 points for missing the triple lutz, but they made it up on the difficult of the performance. Then again, there’s room for subjectivity in those points: that’s why we always complain about those damn Russian judges who just can’t give any American a break!

So yes, to a degree there’s definitely room for objectivity. If a game’s buggy, then points should definitely be lost in the review. If it wasn’t what was promised, the same. Does it add anything new to the industry or genre? Points should definitely be added. The list of possible objective categories goes on.

The Escapist : Jimquisition : The 100% Objective Review

Jim Sterling’s recent “100% objective review” lampoons the entire concept of what is a purely objective game review, and yes he straw-mans the hell out of the point. There is room for objectivity about “does the game deliver what was promised?” Then again, he is onto something. A completely objective review would be lifeless. Opinion is at the very heart of any review.

The very act of assigning point values to anything is subjective. At one publication, bugs might cost a total of .25 points, at another, it might be .5, or yet another there might be a threshold of bugs before points get deducted. Then again, it could also come down to the nature of the bugs. If one publication found bugs, but another didn’t, is the review still objective, since that’s a subjective experience?

A lot of these calls for objectivity remind me of the above scene from Dead Poets Society (1989). When we implement a strictly objective viewpoint of art, we rob them of their power and what really makes them art. There absolutely must be room for subjective interpretations of all parts of the art, from technical performance, to themes, to execution. When we tell reviewers their personal feelings on any of these points don’t matter, then the review itself doesn’t matter. Art is only fully realized through the eyes of the audience, and there are as many perspectives as there are viewers.  It’s up to us, as gamers, to read more than just the number score and determine whether the review takes into account what we would take into account.

Accountability should also be placed on the reviewer, however. Their biases matter, but it’s important to consider how much their biases affect the review, and adjust accordingly. If I don’t like Call of Duty as a franchise and I review Call of Duty; Advanced Warfare, I should take into account my personal feelings on the genre, set at least some of them aside, and judge the game on its individual merits in the FPS space. The review might be a little harsher than someone who is a fanboy of the series, but so long as those biases are understood and the review still remains fair, then there is no problem.

As with so many other debates, the nuanced opinions get drowned out in the comments section, and there needs to be more room for nuanced opinions, and nuanced reviews. Is the system currently broken? Absolutely. Metacritic is hurting the industry in many ways, but that doesn’t mean subjectivity should be thrown out the window. Instead, it just means we need to understand it more and its real place in reviews. The call shouldn’t be for more objectivity, but better stated subjectivity. Reviewers must justify the scores in a clearer fashion, and gamers need to understand that subjectivity is okay, and disagreement is okay.

About Stephen Crane

Stephen was hooked by the NES at a very young age and never looked back. He games on a daily basis and is currently trying to climb his way up the ranked ladder on League of Legends! Outside of the video game world he actually likes running and owns a rapidly growing collection of toed shoes. Stephen Crane is the owner of Armed Gamer.

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