One of the debates circling the great tornado of fecal matter that is GamerGate is whether or not mainstream gaming news review released titles properly and use an appropriate format. Of course GamerGate did not start this discussion. The topic has been kicked around since there were mediums to say whether this or that title was worth your time. Granted, one of the corner stones of the early NES days is the famous Nintendo Power which was little more than a promotional catalog of Nintendo’s products. Since many early sites took such material as a prototype to work from, it’s become expected for gaming magazines to heap acclaim and praise on the games sold by big name publishers. There’s often the accusation that many of these outlets are unfair since they often receive free review copies of games ahead of their release dates and therefore aren’t judging the game like someone who slapped down $40+. On a personal note, I think that raises some fair points but overlooks exactly what being a critic entails. I review comic books online, and I do in fact receive advanced copies of titles (Pretty much anything save for Marvel Comics and DC Comics.) Several times I’ve considered whether I’m harder on Marvel and DC books on account that if I dislike an issue, I’m left with the loss of having wasted my hard earned money. That being said, access to review copies gives me the liberty to experiment with series I’d otherwise stay away form or wouldn’t be able to get at my local comic book shop. In fact I probably wouldn’t have many of my favorite series if it weren’t for this. On top of that, there are many review copies I receive which I don’t even review, I just read them. That allows me to not just read more comics than I’d otherwise consider reasonable to buy on a weekly basis, but also grants me a connect the dots, draw comparisons, better understand the medium as a whole, and do my job better.
I think it’s unfair to say review copies before release date are causing any damage to honest critique. Instead, I believe Erik Kain illustrates the real problem that makes talking about games difficult before they’re released properly. The problem is that games, unlike film, books, comics, music, etc. Tend to have much more contended than any of the previously stated. There are exceptions, but most players will agree that with a big game release, the expected play time should exceed 10 hours at the very least. The time required takes to play Grand Theft Auto 5 is most likely more than a it takes to sit through a feature length film. It’s time consuming. In some cases, reviewing a game before it gets in the hands of the general public is self-defeating. How does one experience an MMORPG when those games are designed around having hundreds of players on a single server? How are you supposed to get to level 50 with your character if you only have a week before your article’s due? Couple that with regular labor of any other work, sleeping, eating, shopping, relationships and that writing for news sites and gaming magazines isn’t a vocation known for fat paychecks, summing up a game in 1,000 words seems downright bass ackwards. So how do people become better informed in their purchases?
My honest opinion is Let’s Playing. Let’s playing is exactly what the title implies, started sometime around the middle to late 2000s, it’s where someone(s) sits down and literally plays an entire game from beginning to end. There are many people who currently do it and with various angles. Some are simply a player’s run through the game, others provide commentary be it critiques or jokes. I currently follow the Super Best Friends Play series. It features four friends, Matt, Pat, Woolie, and Liam, whom sit down and play various games while dropping in jokes and all around having a good time. They come from various backgrounds of competitive fighting games and play testing which allows them to drop in some interesting insight to who games are made every once in a while. I like them over LPers who prefer to work solo as they have an excellent chemistry and their size allows them to cover a lot of games at once. They’re often LPing somewhere to four games at once by splitting themselves into pairs for each series. A big reason I watch their material, aside from me just finding them funny, is that I’m not necessarily able to play many games at the moment. I have a tiny little laptop that has amazingly not gone unresponsive on me while I’m trying to write. Their videos allow me to get as close as I can to fully experiencing games that I will likely never get a chance to play until I’ve graduated or would have never played to begin with. They’ve covered a variety of games and from the start of this year have played Super Mario RPG, No More Heroes, Game of Thrones, Silent Hill 2, Parasite Eve, Life is Strange, MadWorld, and Resident Evil Revelations 2. That’s excluding games they’ve only highlighted for a single video or two like Call of Duty Advanced Warfare, Dying Light, Evil Zone, Saints Row Gat Out of Hell, Assassins Creed Unity, The Next Penelope, STRAFE!, Darkest Dungeon, Apotheon, etc. I can tell you I feel much more in tune with the gaming culture from watching their videos than I’d ever feel about a brief seven minute long diagnosis of a game on IGN.
Granted, as Kain says, games are so packed with content you can’t cover everything through a single play through. The Super Best Friends Zaibatsu are limited, even if they spend 50+ episodes on a game there’s still things left unseen. However, their videos are a much more honest look at what gaming is than I think any article can supply. That being said, the problem also arises that I can’t really recommend that people go out and sink their time into watching Youtubers play video games. I watch close to all of the Zaibatsu’s output as it comes out, but that’s because I’m not the model of time management. To do so is effectively subscribing to a television show that puts out about an hour of content (at minimum) every day of the week. That’s not really the sensible way to go about getting a quick summation of what makes a game work. Still, these producers allow people who like video games but are however inhibited from playing an honest perspective, skewed however it is by the people actually playing it. I have no real answer to what’s the better format to learn about games and make informed buying decisions, I just like listening to a quartet of likely drunk Canadians swear a lot and ramble on about wresting, Platinum games, and David Cage. What are your thoughts?