Reviewing Scores of Biased Review Scores

Thanks to the recent events surrounding ‘Gerstmanngate,’ the term bias has been thrown around like a cheap whore. All across the blogosphere sites are trying to reach out to the disenfranchised Gamespot readers with a “non-biased” arm of reporting; however, that leaves the question, can anything truly be unbiased? It seems this event may have just uncovered something we have known all along? The review system is broken.

We all have certain predispositions to like certain things. That fact is irrefutable. When it comes to gaming, I know I tend to look more favorably on certain aspects than others. I can’t stand bad voice acting or a terrible story, but I can sometimes overlook the occasional glitch. The case in point here is Mass Effect. I love this title. The width and breadth of the universe Bioware has created astounds me. I’m a sucker for the astonishing atmosphere of space exploration. However, this game is not near perfect. I’ve been stuck in a wall on board the ship. And I almost put my fist through a real wall thanks to the game’s dastardly devil of an autosave system. I’ve fallen asleep while in an elevator, and I’ve been bored to death trying to match a combination of lights on my controller.

Yet I am a sucker for Mass Effects story, which reveals my bias towards compelling narratives. I can accept Mass Effect’s flaws because they are ultimately outweighed by its strengths. People who don’t share my bias for great stories and open-ended exploration may not be able to get over these issues, though. Some of us are predisposistioned to prefer shiny graphics and don’t mind if a game is little more than a flashy tech demo with very little depth. Others, would rather have hours upon hours of RPG style game play, and could care less about graphics. Some need a strong compelling story, while others may only ever glance at the single player and delve deep into the trenches of online combat.

Although no reviewer can completely divorce themselves of all bias, with a bit of self awareness, these biases can be mitigated. I’m about to say something that may make you disregard everything I have said till now: I enjoyed Shadowrun. It appealed on a very basic level, and encompassed much of what I like in a title; however, it was clear to me that most people would loathe it for the myriad of problems inherent in its design. And thus, I put my opinions aside, and I focused on the facts. As a reviewer, we can’t do anything more than that. We can try to explain what we know is there, but the ratings may not always match your personal opinion. And that is because of bias, not on our end, but on both. That’s why we write the whole review instead of just giving a number. You know what you like better than we do. Judge for yourself based on the contents of the review, not just the score.

Can art ultimately be quantified? Are you willing to accept another person’s subjective opinion as your own? Next time you read a review, remember that that number means nothing. It’s just a number. It’s an arbitrary way of saying I enjoyed this game or I didn’t enjoy that game. It’s the written justification behind the number that truly matters. And when it comes to that we are all biased.

Author: John Laster