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Social agendas won't ruin game criticism

This is my agenda: I want marginalised people, those frequently targeted for some aspect of their identity, to feel included and safe in as many places as possible. This is not something I’m ashamed of, so being told I “have an agenda” is a bizarre thing some commenters love to throw out.

There’s nothing wrong with having an agenda: what matters is what that agenda is. Indeed, the people who complain about my inclusion of social issues in my reviews also have an agenda: they want me and others to not make our agendas known.

A desire to see a dynamic changed in terms of social discussion (whether improvement or silence) is an agenda and people should own it.

And the thing is, if your view of social issues in games is “don’t talk about it”, that’s your choice.

Write your reviews, read those reviews you like that don’t discuss … well, people. I’m not dictating my colleagues talk about race or sexuality, when such things trouble me personally.

Many readers dislike hearing about social issues being discussed in game reviews. People were very upset with Arthur Gies for, essentially, having a lowering of his Bayonetta 2 review score because of its hypersexualised nature (though Polygon’s scoring isn’t determined by the writer).

Bayonetta2.jpg

But it’s an immature reaction to be upset by this. Why are we allowed to say bad graphics can lower scores, but the impact of ubiquitous sexuality of the main character can’t? I think Alien: Isolation’s graphics are gorgeous, many do not. Why are my colleagues allowed to lower the score for the way visuals affect them, but not sexuality?

The mythical rulebook for reviews does not exist. Variety is precisely what a thoughtful consumer should seek and have, before making a purchase decision. Standing against variety in opinions is to be in favour of unethical consumer advocacy.

Homogeneity is unethical journalism

With all this talk of wanting game reviews to follow some set of rules – no discussion of social issues, must discuss these aspects, etc. – supporters of this homogenous perspective undermine criticism itself.

Criticism thrives on disparate perspectives coalescing into an ongoing discussion, allowing consumers to come to their own decisions.

For example, if you don’t care about hypersexuality, you can ignore those criticisms. If you care about good combat, you’ll see every review of Bayonetta 2 – even Arthur Gies’ – praise the gameplay and combat. Like a rational adult you can say: I don’t care about sexism, I just want to make things die. Then purchase and enjoy the game.

Similarly, those who do care about women’s portrayal can ignore the game, purchase it for criticism, or whatever. It’s a product to be consumed in various ways and we’re all free to do it.

Demanding homogeneity would undermine arming readers with information to make informed decisions, since they would be cut off from insights, perspectives and data that has been deemed “unimportant” by an arbitrary authority: it is a call for a deeply unethical media practice.

Why not let readers themselves decide what it is important? One thing they can determine unimportant is my opinion. And that’s really OK with me.

Those three readers who do appreciate my reviews benefit. Those who don’t have the entire internet. I’m treating both groups as adults.

Reviews are by definition opinion, not PR

Recently: A reader told me I had to tell him the framerate, resolution, etc., of a game - instead of, say, why making people of colour all criminals is kind of insulting. Do you see the issue here? Anywhere else on the entire internet, this reader could find out that information. The game’s website for example?

That “perspective” exists, in multiple forms: but what about those of us who are more affected by racial characterisation than how the rain physics works? What about those who hate horny teenage boys’ depictions of women characters and can’t take a game seriously when these are included?

I won’t stand for this demand that reviews to be glorified PR, as opposed to the result of an adult person’s perspective and experience.

Strong feelings do affect how we rate games: like my and others reaction to constantly seeing brown-skinned people as terrorists. It’s not whether my review will be affected; it will be, because I’m human and have certain differing reactions to different, powerful social portrayals. You don’t have to and I’m not demand you do either (though it’s great when more people agree things are problematic when, in games, all women need saving, non-whites are always criminals, etc.)

The Homogenous brigade is essentially dictating our reactions, even these really powerful ones which colour our view of the game.

Another kind of property that induces strong feelings is fear. Think of scary games. Some people can be so terrified of a game they can’t play it; others can sit with headphones in the dark playing it. Are we allowed to talk about our reactions to being scared? Why?

If you say the game is “intended” to be scary which is why we can talk about our “feelings”, then it means we’re only allowed to talk about what’s intended.

That. Is. PR.

Differing perspectives, including touching on subjects we think are difficult, should be a cornerstone of us making informed choices. We need more variety, not less. The fact that we can put things on Metacritic is enough to tell you that much homogeneity already exists.

Nothing is sacred

Games are not sacred. Devs are not gods. Your love or hate for a game doesn’t give you licence to hate someone.

The recognition that things are fallible, but still enjoyable, matters – because everything is fallible. It says more about you as a reader who is so concerned about one reviewer talking about social issues than the reviewer herself. As adults we can ignore, look elsewhere – what we should not want is less information, fewer perspectives, because our ability to make an informed choice is diminished.

And that is deeply unethical.  

Tauriq: Twitter / about.me / MWEB GameZone: Twitter | Facebook

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