I’ve noticed that writers sometimes talk about choosing the appropriate perspective to match their audience. Do we write this article for the “casual” gamer, or do we write this from the “core” gamer’s perspective? Who is likely to read our reviews and how do we meet them on their level?
I think that’s silly. When I’m writing, there’s only one perspective I can adopt: my own. Anything else is posing for Cool Points, which only works if people can’t tell you’re posing . . . and those people aren’t worth impressing. When I’m giving up my time to read someone else’s thoughts, I want the writer to be genuine. That’s rule #1: be genuine. The only question of perspective is among readers — are they experts in the genre, or are they novices? Are they looking for the best the genre can offer, or are they just ready to ditch some dollars on whatever sounds interesting?
So let’s say a would-be critic realizes he’s not a shooter expert and decides to write a genuine review from his non-expert perspective. He views shooters as a repetitive, mindless, and absurdly difficult genre. (We’ll ignore the inherent contradiction behind those descriptors.) Instead of practicing and steeping himself in other shooters to become more of an expert, our inexperienced critic puts together a dismissive article that mixes game-specific complaints with genre complaints.
Our hypothetical critic’s theory is that, for a reader to really understand whether or not they’ll like a game, they need to read reviews from both experts and non-experts. His theory is wrong; let’s look at the types of readers to understand why.
THE HYPE-DRIVEN CASUAL READER: He has money to burn and wants to buy a new game. He looks at a review for Black Ops. The review’s final YAY or NAY is irrelevant; it’s all about charisma. These readers let “witty” writers get away with saying nonsensical stuff like “ALL SHOOTERS SUCK BUFFALO PENIS” because they have nothing invested in the outcome. These readers just want to be entertained — and in the end, they’ll buy whatever their friends are playing.
An expert gamer’s humor tend to be better than a novice gamer’s efforts, since humor powered by insight strikes more forcefully than generic jokes.
THE WELL-MEANING NOVICE READER: This reader opens a Halo: Reach review, because he thinks the game sounds cool. He wants to know whether he should buy Modern Warfare 2 or Halo: Reach. Experts are best-suited to answer that question, because only experts understand what sets one shooter apart from another. So, as you’ve probably realized, it was a mistake for this reader to seek out reviews instead of asking experts at FPS message boards.
In any case, let’s assume that the reviewer is a non-expert (as most reviewers are). This non-expert reviewer explains that Halo: Reach lacks a cover button. The reviewer then explains how cool it was to roll around and hide behind cover in Gears of War. When reading a non-expert review, curious/novice readers may misinterpret genre complaints as game-specific complaints. They don’t know any better, and they assume they’re reading the words of an expert . . . especially if the writer uses proper grammar.
The well-meaning novice might actually learn something if they were reading the words of an expert.
THE CRITICAL PRO READER: Complain about the lack of a cover button in an FPS, and expert gamers will make fun of you and your website . . . not just for failing to recognize how prevalent the “flaw” is in other games of that genre, but for failing to understand why a cover button is a stupid idea for an FPS in the first place. These readers use reviews for entertainment, because they know that real information comes from message boards.
Point of all the above: understanding the reader is unimportant because the expert writer who is also an expert gamer is the only one who says anything worthwhile. Has the writer clearly captured what works within the game’s design? If it’s a port, how does it compare to other versions? Is his use of jargon appropriate? Has he chosen the most effective and efficient way to communicate a complex idea? Does the review even contain any complex ideas?
So, rule #2: be an expert.
Combine those two rules for the only “perspective” that matters: genuine and expert.