I'm really feeling it!

Re: Objectivity

To put it lightly, a lot has been said lately about the need for more "objective" video game reviews.

A quick look on Wikipedia defines objectivity as meaning "the state or quality of being true even outside of a subject's individual biases, interpretations, feelings, and imaginings."

When we apply this definition of objectivity to video game reviews, in theory, a game should be reviewed without bias. We should view video games under a clear, spotless lens; the idea is to review a game without leaning one way or the other. Not judging the game based on, say, the existence of other games in the same genre, or what sort of feelings the story or setting evokes from us.


When we follow this train of thought, certain aspects of a game. Such as graphics and music, shouldn't even be mentioned in a review at all. Seeing as how most every game today is in full HD, and most every game has a soundtrack.

What would a review like this look like?

Most likely, a review of, say, a new Battlefield game would explain how Battlefield is a shooter, has multiplayer, loads of guns, vehicles…and that's it.

This Battlefield 4 ad is kind of objective. If only just. Would you like reviews like this?


"But wait," you're saying. "How is the game? Is it any good?"

"Well," the objective reviewer says, "Ah, Battlefield is, um, a shooter, has multiplayer, loads of guns, and vehicles."


A so-called objective review would read like a list of features in the game, and wouldn't help you one bit in deciding whether or not to make a purchase.

That's one reason objective reviews don't exist. That's one reason why objective reviews cannot exist.


The other big reason is as follows:

When we play video games, we play for fun, for excitement, for story, for realism, or for competition. Sometimes it's a combination of these aspects. Sometimes it's all of them at once.


But the main reason why we play, whether you want to admit it or not, is escapism.

Now, I'm not saying that's a bad thing. Quite the opposite. Escapism is a great thing. In my Game of the Week series of articles, I often bring up the subject of immersion. That moment when you stop being you and start being a starfighter pilot, a Dragonborn, an ex-SOLDIER member, or a wisecracking, dual-pistol-wielding demon hunter.


When you play a game, even if you don't want to admit it, you are in another world; you are somebody else, even for just a few minutes. This works for virtually any game you enjoy. For a brief time, you're a half-vampire seeking to destroy Dracula.

Or maybe you're a British SAS Captain, crawling through the grass in your Ghillie suit, hoping desperately the enemy soldier walking by doesn't look down.


Or this time, you're the entire New York Giants team, fighting for one more yard.

Maybe you're just crushing candy. That's fine, too.

Because even when you're playing a puzzle game, your brain is still tuned to the puzzle and nothing but the puzzle. For a moment, you've forgotten that you have work in an hour. Or it's 6AM and you're playing "just one more turn" in Civilization.


I WILL HAVE WAR...also I will be six hours late for work.

As video game enthusiasts (which you are if you're reading sites like this all the time), these and many, many others are experiences we take with us wherever we go. Maybe a game can't "change our lives." Maybe it can. The point is, of course we're going to take these experiences with us when it comes time to bestow judgment on a new game. As a journalist, I can be objective about things like release dates. "Monster Hunter 4 comes out on February 13th." There.


But when asked to do a review?

We play video games to experience new worlds, to challenge our reflexes, to sharpen our brains. We play to excite ourselves. We play to laugh. We play to cry.


How can you be objective about that?


Try writing an objective review of Shadow of the Colossus. I'll wait.

Video games are purely a subjective experience; that's why two people can meet and disagree, sometimes vehemently, about the same exact game. The game that gets a perfect 10 on thirty-five different websites just might not be for everybody. It's because we play other games that we are immediately biased when a new Call of Duty comes out. Some of us like it and some of us don't.


You can certainly be objective about games when talking about a release date, console exclusivity, game features…in other words, the giant cardboard standee you see in GameStop, listing the game's features, is, in it's own way, being objective.

When it comes time to write a review, though, objectivity becomes impossible, based purely on the fact that we writers have played a game or two (or hundreds, or thousands) beforehand, and plan to play more after we're done with this review.


Objectivity, in a review, is a completely impossible goal. The whole point of reviews is for the writer to share his or her views with the reader. It's exactly the same as asking your friends what they think of the game.

After all, we can't be objective about things we love.

Brian White is a journalist at Current Digital and a kind of fringe freelance writer. He writes Game of the Week every Tuesday here on Kotaku TAY. He can be followed on Twitter, you can follow his Re: Gaming series here, and you can support GOTW and essays like this one on Patreon.

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