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Elitism in Gaming and its Roots in Reviews

Since when did playing videogames become as sophisticated as attending a wine auction? OK, so we’re not exactly consuming these products or getting a buzz from them, but the aura of elitism has grown so strong around our beloved hobby that I can’t help but wonder whether I’ve been transported to the rolling hills of Sonoma when I read about videogames.
Online videogame forums are an obvious place to start, as rampant fanboyism has made participating in most online discussions an immature and hardly l337 experience. But let’s avoid picking on the low-hanging fruit and investigate the true source of this newfound elitism, because it actually has roots in the earliest issues of Nintendo Power. The culprit? Videogame reviews.
We’ve all heard the comparisons of the game industry to Hollywood, and with Peter Jackson opening a Microsoft-funded studio and Steven Spielberg teaming-up with EA, it’s easier than ever to draw comparisons. Thing is, movies and videogames still aren’t the same, and most non-gaming consumers still believe games are a child’s hobby. True, the statistics show the average gamer is 28 years old, and videogame storytellers may soon evoke the emotion of a Hollywood film (David Jaffe wants to make gamers cry), but they’re not there yet. In fact, it’s not until you compare a movie review to a videogame one that you see the headwaters of the videogame industry’s growing sense of elitism.
When was the last time you heard a movie reviewer complain about bad camera work? A bad soundtrack? Poor stuntman “animations”? Movie reviewers take a more holistic approach to their medium, answering Big Picture questions such as “Is it entertaining?” “Is the story compelling?” and “Are the actors consistent and believable?” As for special effects and audio, the latter is only mentioned when there’s a gripping score, and the former is only mentioned when something groundbreaking happens, like entire herds of dinosaurs running through Jurassic Park or seeing actual emotion conveyed on King Kong’s computer-generated face. But here we are, reading (and in our case, writing) reviews that evaluate miniscule details of a game, then downgrade or praise those games because of them. What, no ragdoll physics?! What, no user-controlled camera?! What, no radical gameplay innovation?! In the grand scheme of things, these don’t really matter. Ragdoll physics help immerse you in a game, and user-controlled cameras help make games easier, but are they really necessary? Look no further than the popularity of Xbox Live Arcade games for the answer to that question (“no”). And gameplay innovation? Let’s see…the only substantive thing that’s changed about first-person shooters in the past decade is online multiplayer, but look how popular those games still are.
Log-on to an online forum, though, and you’ll see a game’s minutiae causing fanboy wars of epic proportions. You’d never see a single movie review incite personal attacks on the reviewer, yet one statement about a bad camera or poor animations can cause hate email to flow like sweat from Robin Williams’ brow. Even the simple act of asking fellow forum members to justify their fascination with a game can incite “n00b” riots, a trend now so commonplace that there’s a shorthand phrase (IBTL, or “in before the lock”) to indicate how quickly forum moderators will close the thread and spare the inquisitor the pain.
So why the ‘tude, dude? I blame Nintendo Power, because as great a resource as that magazine was in the early days of gaming, it soon opened up a whole new world of technical jargon that made average gamers feel, well, “empowered.”
Raise your hand if you remember hearing about Mode 7 graphics on the Super Nintendo. How about the system’s Super FX chip? OK, now tell me whether those terms actually made a difference in your gaming experience. Sure, the end result of using them was great, but when was the last time you heard a movie reviewer highlight the superiority of the Sony digital camera used to capture a scene? Or praise a cinematographer for the isometric view in one important sequence? You probably haven’t. Why? Because such things seldom affect the overall enjoyment of a film, and movie reviewers look at the Big Picture: is it entertaining?
We at DailyGame want to ensure videogames stay fun, so from this day forward we’re going to borrow a page from Hollywood, much like the rest of the industry is trying to do. We’re not going to fuel the growing sense of elitism by throwing technical phrases around or getting caught-up in the “I’m more informed than you” pissing match. Rather than focus on minutiae, our reviews are going to focus on the Big Picture, the elements that truly matter, and whether the game is actually fun to play. We’ll look at things like whether it’s entertaining, whether it’s got a good story, and whether it offers anything new. And, if it doesn’t offer any innovation, whether the game is still worthy of revisiting the same experience in a slightly different wrapper. Lord knows Hollywood churns out enough of those clones — and that they succeed.
If you don’t like this new, arguably more-casual take on game reviews, that’s entirely your prerogative, and we wish you well. We believe it’s time for games and game reviewers to get back to the basics, to focus on what’s actually fun and entertaining, not what sounds sophisticated and elite. We all have enough to worry about in the real world without getting two ulcers fretting over a game’s technical merits. It’s time to remember why we play games in the first place: entertainment and relaxation. If you want to hear about the merits of a game in a way you’d expect to hear from your trusted drunk buddy, we’ll be here for you. Well, minus the drunk part.
— Jonas Allen

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