Should reviewers be allowed to review any game they want? Should they only stick to genres they like? Without being biased or fanboyish, how far should this go?
Jenni: I think that, ideally, a reviewer should have some say in whether or not they review a title. After all, a video game news outlet would ideally have enough staff members to allow for a wide variety of interests. I say this not because someone should be able to only play the games he or she enjoys. A reviewer who favors RPGs will have better knowledge of how RPGs work than ones who favor FPS or sports games, and would be able to provide a more intelligent and informed review that would be more helpful to readers.
However, I don’t think reviewers should only stick to genres they enjoy. A journalist isn’t much of a writer if he or she can’t compose an unbiased and intelligent article on any game presented. Plus, a fresh viewpoint from the eyes of someone who isn’t accustomed to a certain genre of game can often result in a review with less favoritism.
If there’s a game that must be covered, and no one has any particular love for the genre it belongs to, then an assignment is in order.
Louise: I echo Jenni’s thoughts on this. If there’s a genre of games that I really despise, it’s my responsibility to pass it on any game in the genre to someone else. For example, I’m not much of a sports sim fan. I’m bad at those games and I usually have no idea what the rules are. It wouldn’t be fair for me to review a sports simulation game because I literally would not know if it was a good game in the genre or not.
At the same time, I’ve played a lot of games I normally wouldn’t have played for review and even enjoyed a lot of them. It’s nice to come to a game with a fresh mind, without any pre-conceived ideas of what the game should be like. Sometimes, after I play a game and write the review, I look up reviews others have written about it and I’m glad I didn’t read any reviews beforehand. Things that normally wouldn’t have bothered me if I hadn’t known about them would definitely have bothered me if they were in the back of my mind while playing the game.
Spencer: I don’t think I’m a “reviewer” since I don’t actively look for and point out flaws. Outside of gaming I’m the type of person that tries to see the bright side of everything — an eternal optimist you know? So I always try to communicate what a game is instead of what it’s not. This means I only end up writing about games I’m at the very least curious enough to play. I think long time SE readers know that my favorite style about writing games is straight gameplay impressions, sort of like a game diary.
This is difficult with RPGs (and Siliconera covers a lot of RPGs!) since I let details about the plot slip. But, I believe the more information the reader has the better and if early bits of the plot are discussed I think that’s OK. If I hear about a really unique setting or awesome characters I may be drawn to a game even if the gameplay isn’t revolutionary.
Ishaan: I’m with Jenni on this one. We’re very lucky at Siliconera in that we we’re allowed to choose the games we want to review, not only because you tend to be more passionate and enthusiastic while covering topics that you care about, but also because we prefer to take a more design-oriented approach to how we write our playtests. So, for example, you’ll see us talk more about a particularly interesting design choice instead of whether or not a game is worth your money. (Unless the game is terrible, of course)
That said, I also agree that any writer worth his salt needs to be able to step out of his comfort zone every now and then and be able to explore other topics, if only to gain some much-needed perspective. Take a game like Fallout 3 for example. I’m sure many an FPS and RPG fan could gain a new outlook on both genres after playing it. It’s important to make sure you check out what you usually tend to miss so you’re always in a good position to write intelligently about a wide range of genres and design philosophies.