Prompted by DM Osbon's comment I went and re-read The Artful Gamers article and I fear I completely misunderstood it the first time. When TAG said in italics “Game journalism can be just as exciting and enlightening as playing games themselves!” I thought he was poking light hearted fun at criticism that thinks it is art.
If he seriously believes that then I have to fundamentally disagree. In fact I think this “criticism as an art form” movement is a big part of the reason why we are currently so badly served by game reviews.
Criticism can never be more important than the thing itself. Criticism is a tool to aid the buying process, nothing more nothing less. Once the purchasing decision has been made the critic becomes irrelevant. The game and the playing of it are everything.
Anyway - my comments about the difficulty of choosing a decent game still hold so here is the ORIGINAL POST:
Thanks to Rock Paper Shotgun for pointing me to a great article at "The Artful Gamer" about the failings of new game journalism. I have to admit that much of TAG's piece goes above my head but it did get me thinking about the difficulty of deciding whether or not a game is worth buying.
Think about all the useful information you get in a bookshop, right at the point of sale, to help you make an informed buying decision. It is not just the publisher's cherry picked review quotes (although these can help). It is also the classification of titles by genre and author. It is the helpful review information provided in booklets and posters around the shop. It is the lists of best selling books, prizewinning books and books recommended by book clubs. It is the informed and helpful staff who take the trouble to highlight particular books and make their own recommendations.
Contrast that situation with the complete lack of helpful information available in your local game shop. At best you will get a list of "best selling games" which is next to useless in the absence of any more information. The internet is awash with games reviews but in this era of games "journalism as art" it has become extremely difficult to distinguish opinionated self promotion from legitimate critique. The aggregation sites can be helpful but these must be interpreted carefully and the headline scores taken with a pinch of salt. Aggregate score favour populist games and aren't much help at finding niche or specialist titles.
I am particularly aware of this lack at the moment because one of my daughters got a Wii for Christmas and I have struggled to find any games that she enjoys playing on it. She is a thoughtful and contemplative child. She appreciates story and immersion. She dislikes games involving manual dexterity. The best selling Wii titles are clearly designed for someone other than her but I cannot believe that there aren't some decent games out there that she would appreciate. Unfortunately I haven't been able to thread my way through the maze of reviews to find them.