This very post is a result of two things that recently occurred to me. The first was mentioning to one of my contributing Platform writers that seeing the obligatory “graphics comment” in reviews was driving me up the wall. The second was then going home and hearing Alex Navarro express how he was fed up with the formula of game reviews on the Giant Bombcast.
When you’ve read, edited and analysed as many reviews as I have in the last 18 months you soon reach a point where you yearn to escape the cliqued formulas and restrictive structures that have been drilled in over the years.
Amongst all this, I’ve also got a fear that if (or maybe when) I do make it onto a games publication I will find set of formulaic criteria that must be met for all reviews horrible. Criteria that will make my job hell and possibly make me loath to continue it. I don’t wish to find myself in that situation.
But, I will admit that having a formula has its advantages. For one thing it allows critics to develop a routine, which is often crucial for working under pressure with so many frequent deadlines (I certainly know I would have coped less well with the torrent of material I’ve edited and written this year if I was at least sticking to some formulae). It’s also familiar to audiences, who grow to understand the structure and feel relaxed reading a publication of consistent style.
Nevertheless, for game reviews, I’m sick of it.
One thing I’ve always loved about reviews of games, or any artistic work, is when a confident writer makes a point using a bit of well placed humour or an in-jokes specifically aimed at their audience. I’m content with some of my effort this year to keep my write-ups lively and I think it’s something I nailed with a couple of my openings (read: “Finish the fight? Bungie doesn’t seem to want to.”). However, I’m still having a tough time breaking the bonds of old in the subsequent paragraphs, to go to off on strange tangents that intrigue the reader and leave them just as informed and satisfied at the end.
This is why I’ve enjoying reading more experimental, and at times openly subjective, reviews of late from alternative sources. I’m not in favour of Ben Croshaw’s (better known as ‘Yahtzee’, of The Escapist fame) jaded, every-game-under-the-sun-sucks-in-my-opinion approach, but there have been a couple thoroughly interesting independent sites I’ve come across, like Game People.
It’s mostly been stuff from the Guardian Gamesblog writers, the odd Giant Bomb piece (for experts and layman) and Edge.
Half the time I can’t tell whether Edge are publishing game reviews or cultural theorems, which I quite like. Their treatment is less be-all-and-end-all than exclusive mags and today’s commercial video game sites, assessing games in a colloquial, yet grownup, fashion. Still, for all their intellectual charms, I must be careful not to unconsciously validate their style as the only or best way to analysis games for grownups.
So in an effort to continue expanding my writing repertoire, I’ve been checking out reviews from outside the games media. Music journalism (which I still think is not for me) has surprised me the most. Q Magazine’s band of well spoken music sceptics craft some absorbing articles, and though some can be difficult to make sense of (particularly for a noob to music culture like myself), they are musings are more about personal experience and what the music feels like or conjures up.
I’ve tried my hand at a few music reviews this year, which have a distinctly more opinionated tone about them. But they also feel much freer and open to more verbal language and made-up words to describe to the reader my thoughts on a piece of music.
Exploring different writing styles outside of the game space is already proving beneficial, and will give me new angles that I can then apply to game reviews.
In the coming months, I hope I can put the dreaded necessity of the ‘technical’ features paragraph behind me, in flavour of critique that is more unexpected but just as informative and judgmental.