A gamer reads a review or hears somebody talk about a game he absolutely loves. What he reads or hears runs counter to his feelings about the game. What the gamer sees as a masterpiece of mechanics and theme is, to the person to whom he is audience, a hot mess of broken code and poor design.
The gamer sees the need to respond, even if he previously wasn't part of the conversation. He outlines the game's strengths and appeal, countering each criticism with some valid examples of why the game is better than given credit. His opposition has equally well-grounded textual evidence of his assertion, and is holding his own in the debate. Finally, exasperated and unwilling to admit that his favorite game—while personally appealing to him—is fundamentally flawed in at least some ways, just like every other video game ever made, he just screams out, "Well, that's just your opinion!"
Godwin's law states that as an online discussion (usually about politics) continues, the probability of somebody comparing a person to Hitler and/or the Nazis increases to 100%,at which point the inevitable comparison is actually made. A similar rule applies to discussing a subjective article—such as a video game review—and a response pointing out that the author is, indeed, merely expressing his opinion.
The extra layer on top of this inevitability is that it is an attempt to invalidate what the author is saying. Certainly their argument isn't sound, simply because it's their opinion. After all, an opinion is not rooted in facts or logic. I can have the opinion that clowns who use purple noses are way funnier than clowns who use red noses, and nobody is ever going to hold me to task for proving that claim. Therefore, because a critic (be it a professional critic or not—we all play the part of the critic at times) is expressing their opinion, their review of the game is only so much words.
Yes, the logic is dizzying.
A review is an opinion, nobody's disagreeing with that. It is, however, ideally an informed opinion, one rooted in personal experience and filtered through a legitimate critical lens. Therefore, it does hold some weight, and the fact that it is an opinion doesn't instantly invalidate it, as if it were some kind of alter-universe Moebius strip.
Take a less inflammatory sector of our entertainment media: books. Book reviews are often written by people who know what constitutes a good book. They have a literary background, having been educated in literary study and craftsmanship. A book critic may be (or have been) an author themselves, or at least have experience as an editor. Anyone can express their opinion about a book's quality, but the professional book critic holds some kind of authority in determining a book's worth.
Therefore, when a critic points out that a book uses flowery language, or its characters are poorly-developed, or the tone lacks consistency, they tend to know what they're talking about. When asked about those poorly-developed characters, they can articulate on their development and suggest ways the author could improve.
The book reviewer can also place the book in a larger social, political, and economic context. They ask (and seek to answer) the question of what this book is saying about our society. Does it have some message beyond the narrative? Is the author lifting the veil on some of his/her personal beliefs? What kind of cultural norms influence this book's presentation, and does the work accept those norms or question their validity?
It is because books can be engaged on such a deep level that they have persisted through generation after generation, to still be a major entertainment and information medium today. We take books seriously, and even the most popcorn adventure-thrillers are considered more than mere juvenile diversion. Furthermore, we value the book critic's contributions, because we want to know if a book appeals to us, in whatever form that appeal may be, before we invest the time in reading it.
There's no reason the same kind of criticism can't be applied to games; in fact, many critics are trying very hard, and many are succeeding, to create a consistent critical language for games. Yet it seems that a vocal minority of gamers simply cannot tolerate the fact that some critics dislike their favorite game, and lean on the fact that a review is just an opinion to justify invalidating what a critic has to say.
The person doing this is trying to win the argument (or at least end it) by pointing out that the critic is merely expressing his opinion. I call this the Dude Fallacy, such named after one of the best lines delivered in one of the best movies ever made, The Big Lebowski.
In the film, its delivery is comedic. Intoxicated and more than likely stoned, the Dude simply cannot come up with a counter-argument to his friend's point, save for, "Well, that's just like, your opinion, man." We laugh because 0fcourse it's just his opinion; merely pointing that out doesn't seek to address whether it's an informed opinion or an uninformed one. The former has some weight; the other could be based on prejudice or bias, and thus has less meaning. Failing to do effectively then acts as a concession, ironically giving the initial critic the win.
More so, this completely ignores the point of the review. Many gamers cry for "objective" reviews. There is no such thing as an objective review! They simply don't exist. Reviews, by their very nature, are subjective. They are values-based statements on a work's quality and the context it plays in the larger culture. Sometimes, these statements are flattering and steer us toward works that are enriching and thought-provoking, or satisfy some visceral twitch in an engaging manner. Reviews can help a gamer (or reader, or film goer, etc.) avoid works that will leave them bored and unsatisfied; an objective review wouldn't do such.
Yes, sometimes the critic/reviewer is a jaded cynic who seeks out the poor qualities in everything, and as such never givens anything a favorable review. Sometimes, they are overly optimistic and somewhat immature, liking just about anything that doesn't actually put them to sleep. Like it or not, sometimes the critic is on the take and gets reimbursed, in some way, for favorable reviews, or they have not sufficiently engaged to truly be familiar with all of it has to offer. All of these are reasons to question whether the critic's opinion should matter, if it actually contributes anything meaningful to the discussion.
But an opinion is not invalidated simply because it's an opinion. Even for someone who is not getting paid money to write about video games, opinions matter. They are what turn press releases into recommendations, ad copy into award nominations. They are what make the discussion of video games just as exciting as the games themselves.
"That's just your opinion," is not, and never has been, an appropriate rebuttal to a review. If you expect the critic to ground their opinion in examples and examinations of the game play, so should you when it comes to formulating your response.
My name is Brandon. I used to watch my aunt and my mom play Frogger while I was a baby, and I've been a gamer ever since. My paying job is as a librarian. I currently write Library Journal's "Games, Gamers, and Gaming" column so that librarians all over the nation are informed about games and gaming culture. I'm on Twitter and Steam as level250geek, so feel free to look me up.