I was looking at review scores before on Metacritic, as I sometimes do when I want to laugh at how pointless the site is, at least in its intended use. I often use it as a set of links to full reviews for games that I have already purchased, in order to find opinions that are well past my buying decision. Occasionally I do use the Metascore, when helping my non-gaming friends when it comes to their occasional games purchases, especially in the field of titles I don’t generally touch, like a sports or racing game. That’s really the only time such a blank score is useful, as these people would not be bothered to dig deeply anyway. They want an objective yes or no as to whether they’re going to buy something, the lack of nuance really doesn’t bother these folk.
That’s fine though. They have an Xbox to play Madden and watch Netflix. They may buy a shooter somewhere in there as well but that is really the extent of it. For these folks, Metacritic is a fine tool, because the flaws don’t present themselves in such an obvious fashion. By using an aggregate of scores from a variety of sites, Metacritic can claim the mantle of “objective” to those not looking too hard. In doing so, it uses the idea that the extremes of either side of a bell curve of scores can be discarded until you burn everything away to a middle point, and wherever that middle lies may be considered to be the “objective” correct score. It was under this flawed assumption, the one that Metacritic no doubt wants people to believe in order to remain relevant; that I came to a funny realization.
In the current, yelling into the void to whoever will listen internet climate that is Twitter, there is a popular hashtag called “Gamergate”. This is a rallying point for a very varied group of people trying to accomplish a myriad of goals. It seems those who started it and are pulling the strings on its continued existence is a group of people bent on pushing a hateful agenda on some indie developers, mostly due to the great cosmic mistake of being born female, and having the audacity to want to make games despite this. While these hateful people have been rightly marginalized and/or reported to the authorities for actual illegal, dangerous activity; there are saner, unfortunately more well-intentioned people occupying the same sphere of this hashtag.
I say it is unfortunate because these people, who have used the space to question the state of transparency in games journalism, have been often lumped into the same idiotic group as the genuine hate-mongers. The mistake these people make is that while they’re demands are not unreasonable, they are allowing themselves to rub virtual elbows with people who want bad things, and use the good intentions of some to fuel the hateful ends of others. But while it is unfortunate that not everyone realizes Gamergate is a poisoned well, it is worth thinking that maybe it is best the hateful stay within this place. The hashtag has been discounted by far too many to be of any real consequence, but those who want bad things seem content to yell into the void there. Let them.
But really let’s get to the point of this article. Somewhere between the misogynists, and the normal people in the hashtag, there is this odd group of people who are yelling hard about the lack of objectivity in games journalism. This usually comes from this fringe who claim that games journalists give indie games, whose creators may be friends with journalists really good scores. While the more Triple-A popcorn games get shafted. At least in the eyes of these people. The amazing thing to me in all of this is that these people actually seem to believe that there can be some weird objective way of reviewing video games. While I get that there is something to be said to account for mainstream spending habits, any review written by any outlet, anywhere is going to be mostly subjective in nature. It is a person playing the game, and applying their own tastes to it. Whether they volunteer to review the title, or have it assigned to them, the expulsion of personal preference and bias on the total level these people are demanding is generally not possible. Nor should it be.
Although…oh god. Enter Metacritic. This is actually the result that these people want. For those decrying the lack of objectivity in reviews, look no further than the score given to a game by Metacritic. By using math derived from the hard writing work and play-time of others, Metacritic applies this cold, dispassionate number, measuring the sum total experience of a video game. This comes regardless of genre, comparison to other games like it, or really any sort of context whatsoever. It is really the most “objective” score out there for people to read. Once the hateful, subjective scores of the “Social Justice Warriors” and such are burned away, you are left with some sort of middle number that should more…accurately get to the number these people want? I guess? I don’t know.
It’s a bit scary. For those that want the subjectivity and humanity to be stripped away from their coveted games reviews, the best place to go is Metacritic. A site that takes the subjectivity out of everything and just cares about the number. For most people who care about video games, it is a dumb website that serves only as a bullet point to be used in a press release. However, for those with more warped and unrealistic sensibilities about what games are, and how they should be covered, Metacritic may be the answer they were looking for. Their future is here, and it is grim.