I’m someone who pays attention to the reviews of video games, movies, and even kitchen appliances. In our modern, data-driven society practically every product asks buyers to voice their criticism. I feel I’m not unique in letting the wave of reviews determine what I ingest and digest. I buy items online only based on good reviews. The movies and TV I watch are sorted by the freshness of a tomato. I even decide where to eat based on the opinions of thousands of people I do not know. Feel free to call me a sheep. But ask yourself this: when you’re looking on Amazon for a toaster to replace your recently deceased “bread tanner” who do you consult? Friends? Family? Maybe. But most of us will undoubtedly say reviewers play some part in what we buy.
Video games are no exception. For the most part, this purchasing philosophy has served me well. I resonate with critics’ “must play” assessment of great games. But there are times when I simply do not agree with critical acclaim. I call it “the wrong side of Metacritic”. It’s a lonely and dark place, full of self-doubt and fear of missing out. When residing there, questions arise such as: Am I crazy for feeling the opposite way about this critical darling? What am I missing? What is there to celebrate? Though the answers are informative I can’t seem to answer the big question—why do I not like every great game?
You Better Love It or Hate It
In mid June, Sony Playstation released the long anticipated The Last of Us 2. Sorting through the mound of 10/10 reviews would take an eternity. Practically, the entire gaming industry shouts its praises. But there happens to be a few whose brave opinions land them on the other side of the fence. Obviously, these reviewers’ opinions do not reach the glowing impressions of the majority. In most circumstances for the gaming community negative opinions are an easy pill to swallow. But this particular pill was impressively polarizing.
These middling reviews were considered to some people as bad reviews conducted by bad reviewers. To them this game was inescapably great and feeling the opposite was unexceptable. Seeing this carnage made me feel sorry for those that had given their honest opinion and were now being told how they should feel about this game. But I was also reminded of my own experiences of being on the “wrong” side of the Metacritic divide.
Diablo, more like Diab-lost
Diablo III is the only game I have ever played where I was checking my phone as I was playing it. It was so boring that I had to consult my other electronic device to remain awake. I mowed through horde after horde without needing to press a different button—essentially, autopiloting the entire game. I even turned up the difficulty and I still wasn’t engaged. Interestingly enough, Diablo III is one of the most addictive and rewarding games ever made according to reviewers. It currently sits at 90% on Metacritic. I’m completely bewildered by this. In an attempt to understand, I’ve tried to play this game five times and have quit five times. I constantly ask my friends questions on why they enjoy this title. But their answers are unhelpful.
Because of this, I’ve felt left out and a little dense. I’ve wanted to downplay the validity of glowing reviews because I just don’t agree. I want to glean the enjoyment of Diablo III that others rave about, but to this day, I have not. But I have learned a valuable lesson about excellent games in general: I do not have to like them, and that’s okay. People enjoy games that I don’t. That doesn’t make anyone inferior or superior. It solidifies that popular opinion, though telling, is not always correct for me.
Dark Souls, The Dark Souls of Recommendations
Simply put, gaming is never as dire as I’m making it out to be. The need to enjoy a great title is in many ways fleeting. Mutual appreciation is not going to happen with every game and that’s okay. This was made clear to me by recommending to a friend one of the most engaging games of our time: Dark Souls. The combat is frustrating, but fair. The world is mysterious and deadly. The bosses are powerful and entertaining to solve. It’s on the short list of Greatest Games of All Time. But despite critical acclaim, Dark Souls is a tough game to recommend. I have suggested to several of my friends to try it out.
They inevitably report back with concerns. Some of the concern is for me, for recommending it, but most of the issues are targeted at the game itself. To them the frustrating-but-fair combat is overly punishing and masochistic. The mysterious and deadly world is vague and difficult. And the bosses are a major test of patience. This criticism cuts to the core of my taste, but it’s valid. And if I’m opened-minded, I can see what they’re saying. We witnessed the exact same elements of the game and feel differently about them. The reality is this: opinions on games are not a right or wrong assessment. They’re points of view. Reviews have the right to be as unique and varied as the people who write them.
In Interest of Moving On
As for “why do I not like every great game?”—I’ve resolved that this question doesn’t need to be answered. I play video games to enjoy them and take a break from reality. It’s a chance to breathe and have some relief from a stressful day. My enjoyment is only muddled by assigning too much power to the importance of reviews. It doesn’t make much sense to burden my diversion with the thoughts of critics. I can be satisfied with my opinion being the greatest deciding factor in what games I should play. There is never a need to feel threatened for not enjoying a critically great game. In thinking this way I don’t have to fruitlessly poke a game, asking for it to show me the goods. Instead, I can pay attention to the games I love—”great game” or not.