29 Dec 2011

Questions To You: On Criticism

As we move into the new year I wanted to take some time to pose a handful of meta-questions. Instead of doing my usual role of talking about MMOs, I wanted to get some feedback from you on some broader questions. I’ll have a handful of these over the next week, with the first one about criticism – what is its role and when does it start becoming excessive?

There’s a great many things that I like about the current crop of MMOs, the community that surrounds them and the culture that they promote. By the same token there’s a whole bunch of things that I’m not a fan of – behaviour, poor design and unengaging content being a few. That whole edge-point should provide great critical blog-fodder for years.

This is a bit of a tricky topic that I’m trying to handle carefully, so I apologise in advance if I mess up slightly on this one. One of the easiest and yet hardest things I find as a blogger is about being critical. When is it right to be critical, what’s the right level to aim for? Am I being harsh or unfair? Are my claims defensible?

Am I being fairly critical of a game, or am I just bashing it relentlessly?

My personal definition of bashing is being unreasonably critical of a game, ignoring all the positives that it also has to offer. This would be like a reviewer only focusing on the negative aspects – it would be completely one sided. It’s also something that I try to avoid doing.

This leads on to another problem.

Most of the stuff that I write about is a close-up on a particular part of an MMO, such as how a feature works or what the impact of a particular change is. I’m usually fairly critical about the subject, occasionally offering my opinion on how I’d fix the issue it presents. The trouble is, unless I provide some context to my criticism, it sounds like I’m just having a dig.

And if most of my articles cover the game I’m currently playing, it sounds like I’m bashing it. So how do I make sure that I’m fair and balanced in what I write?

Should MMOs get a grace period of a couple of months post-launch to work out any kinks and get their house in order? My own view is this is what beta testing is for – collecting feedback and refining the game instead of using it as a publicity stunt just before launch. That said, I do think that there’s value in giving a rounded first-impression post NDA, as well as a balanced review one month after the game goes live.

I don’t like to whine about the games we play (unless it’s March 17th). I want them to improve, for the MMO genre to evolve and continue to amaze us in unexpected ways. I love it when developers and designers respond to player criticism, and it’s one of the motivations behind what I do. But if I’m being unfair or unreasonable then call me out on it. I’m not trying to bash games into the ground.

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10 Responses to Questions To You: On Criticism

  1. You provide some interesting food for thought. Some I agree with and some I don’t. Let me try to explain.

    One needs to understand the point of view and context of the person offering criticism (i.e. “The Basher”).

    So not to insult anyone’s favorite game, let’s use sports and favorite teams as an example.

    I think it’s safe to say it’s a universal rule that diehard fans will always “trash talk” the other team. I’ve even hear people who follow Cricket bash their rival’s Bowlers. To some it’s distasteful, to others it’s just a way of expressing thier support. And let’s face it, we all enjoy watching the game with a friend who’s rooting for the opposite team. There’s a prima satisfaction when shouting “In your face!” when your team scores or stopa the game winning play. Polite? Nope, but OH so satisfying.

    But this isn’t the Criticism you’re intending or whay I believe is your intent. You’re talking about doing a “Critical Review.” And this is something that one should put much care in being reapectful when writing. Afterall, someone or many someones have put many hours and made many personal sacrifices in creating.

    That doesn’t mean it has to be all positive. Nor does it necessarily need to say anything positive. But I truly feel the Critic shouldbe respectful when writing a review or criticism for the public.

    When doing a Critical Review be honest with your observations. Refrain from comparisons. If you feel you must make a comparisson, then be completely honest with your audience by expressing your personal bias.

    This will all be second nature and not worth mentioning if one remembers the first rule, Be Respectful.

    I play Rift. And I bash a lot ofotjer MMO’s. But all of my bashing is done from the stance of Rift being my favorite MMO.

    However, I also offer an honest and critical opinion of the same games I bash. I’m sure this confuses many, and angers more.

    But my hope is people are able to recognize the difference between when I’m being an arrogant a**hat fanboy and when I’m offering an honest review.

    If they cannot or refuse to see there is a difference. Well, then maybe I should reconsider what I say and how I say it. Or maybe, I should just say F* it! This is who I am and what I think. Take it or leave it. This is me!

    Hmm.. Maybe after all this babbling that’s the answer right there. Do what’s you think is right and to hell what we think!

    Great post, thanks again Gaz!

    • Gazimoff says:

      I like the idea of treating it a lot like football teams. You might have your favourite team, but you can still appreciate the players and skills of others. You’re right about respect – I think as long as I can maintain my respect for the games and the people that build them, I should be OK :)

  2. Tesh says:

    Seems to me that if one cannot separate the good from the bad in a game, or the personal preference from objectivity, there’s little point in fussing about a game. Articles and authors who can manage those disparate elements (noting that all are worth writing about, it’s just best to keep clear what is what) are those that I find myself reading most. Whether or not the bad outweighs the good in a game. ;)
    Tesh recently posted..Bringing a Gun to a Sword FightMy Profile

    • Gazimoff says:

      That’s pretty much what I read too. If people have an opinion about a game or part of it then they’re likely to be passionate about that too, which comes out in their writing.

  3. thade says:

    Whenever I wonder if my criticism and punditry are worth anything, I reread this:
    http://www.eldergame.com/2011/06/punditry-is-dumb-switching-to-developer-mode/
    and then I get all positive about games for a long while. :)

    Anything I might have put here would’ve just been a poor footnote to that article.
    thade recently posted..Slicing has been fixed.My Profile

  4. Syl says:

    I like to echo Tesh here. it’s as much about the reader, as it is about the writer. it’s not all up to you if somebody wants to call you a basher.

    In general, I must ask here whether as blogger you have any obligations to always be objective, never ‘bash’ a game (what if it deserves to be bashed on a lot of points?), always present all sides? you can, but this is a choice you make for your type of blog. it can frankly be rather boring to read bloggers who always ever present a lull of good&bad and never have a clear voice on what THEY personally think. :)

    I’m all for blogger critics personally, I respect personal opinions. what really matters is “how” it’s delivered, is it a reasonable, cohesive and well-argumented article or an emotional rant / bash. I don’t care for the second, but the first is fine in my books and gives me food for thought. if I want balanced 50-50 round-ups on games, I go and read IGN and co. there’s only so many sober information providers I care to read though. bloggers are player voices for me…the only “mistake” you can truly make there is not to be authentic. for what its worth, you always strike me as very constructive in your criticism, far from a ranter type. ;)
    Syl recently posted..Why I don’t play SWTORMy Profile

    • Gazimoff says:

      I’ll always tell you what I think about a game. I just try to describe why I have those opinions, which I guess makes me less of a ranter. I wonder if I could frame my criticism better by saying things like “I still enjoy SWTOR, but…”.

  5. Ahtchu says:

    I’d echo thade. Eric (@Elder) spits truth like he was it, personified.
    I’d make a motion that being critical of something will ultimately yield more ‘negatives’ than ‘positives’. If I were to review a car, I wouldn’t mark down ‘car door shuts’, ‘car engine starts’ as positives: there are so many things that should be “givens” with a presumed ‘working’ product. Perhaps make yourself a ratio if you are worried about being taken for a basher? 5 negatives: 1 positive?
    Also, so long as you aren’t ‘searching’ to meet a tally, I don’t think you’d be taken as a basher. Honest review will come across in your wording, I feel.
    Ahtchu recently posted..Move In ProgressMy Profile

  6. Ravven says:

    I think it is important to present a passionate picture of the things that you, as an individual, love or hate about any given game. That is why we read gaming blogs: for each writer’s personal impressions of a game. Unless you’re writing a corporate review of a game for an MMO site, it should be personal opinion.

    I’ve noticed a distressing trend recently (in direct relation to SWTOR) of both bloggers and readers having over-the-top reactions to anyone voicing any criticism whatsoever to the game/company/etc. This bothers me, because these aren’t just random asshats but are longtime members of the gaming community. It would be a shame if this type of reaction made writers wary of voicing honest, personal opinions for fear of torch-bearing crowds.

    So speak out…if I am reading your blog I want to see how you think and feel. It won’t get sand in my pants if that opinion conflicts with my own. :)