While that’s a clever analogy, it’s also not quite as deep as it sounds. Music is, after all, a written, linear experience. It has lyrics, and occurs in the same exact sequence every time we experience it. Words alone may not capture the experience directly, but there’s a sort of purification that happens as you describe one experience in another medium that can make it effective in communicating our thoughts to someone else. And if all we talked to each other about was about talking it would be a pretty boring world.
But writing about video-games… that’s a bit more difficult. It’s more like writing about a live concert. To get the full effect, you really have to be there. Because they respond to our input directly video games are a unique experience every time you play them. Some games take more or less advantage of that, but people connect (or disconnect) with games for reasons that go far beyond what traditional linear media provide. So when someone is writing about a game they’re not just describing what happened, they’re telling us what happened to them.
Recently an public relations executive posted an email complaining that video-game reviews have essentially failed the industry. His main issue is that, by not factoring in the difficulty of development into the equation, the reviewers are doing a disservice to the games that they’re reviewing. His position is somewhat more nuanced, but it’s not the game reviewer’s responsibility to try and bring in the larger context of a video game anymore than a movie reviewer should be worried about how difficult it was to direct a movie-star, or the quality of food at the craft services table.
But there is a larger point here. How can you parse out an experience that personal in a way that allows the reader to understand whether or not they will connect to it in a way that a reviewer might not? It’s a tough challenge, more so in the sense that if the user is given a set of incorrect pre-conceptions about how to play a game that will have a far bigger effect than lowered expectations on an album, book, or film.
And a good review shouldn’t tell a player how to think. Instead, it should give them the tools they need to help them decide whether or not to spend their most valuable assets on an experience; time and money. And while all reviews are going to reflect the ego of the writer, it does seem that many reviewers in our industry think that it’s their job to make some kind of definitive statement on whether or not something should be played, rather than become part of a larger conversation. In those cases they may also forget to tell the player about whether or not the gaming is working on a basic level.