A Post-Mortem On A Bad Game Review
(Or "Stop Writing When You Cannot Write")
A few days ago, 4, to be almost exact, I wrote a review on No Man's Sky. It was a bad review by all measures. I wrote it when I wasn't feeling ready, I wrote it when I didn't even finish half of the "story" in the game and I wrote it when my English skills were in their lowest for many years. Yet, I will keep pushing to try to write my posts in English because if I don't do that - and I wasn't doing that- they will diminish further. I live in a contry where I cannot really speak English with other people and when I do it is very rare, because I completely reject the idea of going to my classes. If I had gone to my classes then I would have at least some practice in speaking English. To be fair, I go to some of them and all I realize is how my skills in English are lacking. That's why I decided to write an essay on No Man's Sky in English, even though I knew it wouldn't be good, even though I knew that it would be torture to my wife and a couple people who read it. I published the essay. I am the shameless student who doesn't give a crap about what the instructor is going to see on my exam paper. I see a question, I write an answer. The rest is the reader's problem.
This of course is a lie. If I was that shameless and delusional I wouldn't be writing this. I am somewhat ashamed of how the review turned out to be. I should have played the game a bit longer, I should have tried to write something with (more) substance. I probably should have not tried to give a weird context for the game I was reviewing. It was such a bad way to create some kind of a background to a story that if you had known nothing about the game or the hype surrounding it circa 2015, you didn't know what I was talking about, and if you had known all of that, then it was meaningless. Who was that review's target audience then? I guess the audience was my desire to write a game review after consuming too much Tim Rogers content in the past three months. After going through videos and written reviews of one particular person who gained my tremendous admiration, I decided to become that guy, while fully knowing that no one can become another person. Heck, I am even imitating this guy's voice in this paragraph. And, I need to stop.
One of the problems in the review, I believe, was that I cannot really shake the traditional game review format out of myself. However, I don't really remember how the game reviews of the old went and how they felt. I remember so little of them, yet I used to read them at least on a monthly basis. All I can remember is how the game engine in Prototype was sometimes buggy and didn't calculate collisions in time, and how Super Mario Galaxy 2 was awesome. Now thinking about them what I realize is that they were just essays on given games. Yes, there were discussions of how the technical feats of the game were compared to other contemporary titles, but in the end, they were essays that happened to touch upon the topics of graphics and gameplay. Maybe I am misremembering them right now. Maybe there was a structure to them, or maybe there were some kind of rules to follow for every other gaming magazine. Still, I can say that a game review is "What a person thought about this game" and that's why it is actually a limitless genre and also this is why I was amazed by Action Button's -Tim Roger's blog- reviews. Those reviews were not some twenty-eight-minute-long video-essay-worthy long form treatises filled with references to the literary theory and philosophy. Nor they were some kind of a discussion that can be boiled down to an argument about graphics and gameplay. They were something else entirely. They were in a place between Jacob Geller-esque intellectuality and Kotaku-like every-dayness. Here was a person -and a team- writing long-form weird essays on games I didn't play and they were amazing. I wanted to imitate the guy. I wanted to be the other possibly French author of the Final Fantasy 7 review on actionbutton.net and wanted to be able to say that "No Man's Sky is a game about nothing, and I want video games to be about something", but s/he had already said it. And I wanted to add my flair and my understanding. I wanted to be original, in a way that they were. A copy of the originals. An imitation. I couldn't be even that.
My first idea was "Cingiler's Phenomenological Game Reviews", with which I somehow planned to -and believed that I was capable of- write game reviews in a "phenomenological" fashion. By which I mean that I was going to report the feeling and the experience of the game very systematically but also in an artful way. Now writing this I am realizing that these are possibly contradictory goals to have in an essay. Also I am realizing that they may not be. I wanted to be able to get a reader and put them into the game by using my written words. I wanted to say that "this is how the game feels like", "it feels like you are a forgotten drop in an ocean yet everyone tries to make sure that you feel special". "It feels like that the loneliness you feel is so artifical, it is almost like you live in an MMO where every character has their own server to play in and the game doesn't hold back reminding this to you". (Even this last sentence is too game review-y). Well, then I realized something. All game reviews, at least in my mind, were already doing what I was planning to do. They tried to convey the feeling of a game through words and through explaining how the game feels. The graphics, the story and the gameplay were the phenomenological aspects of the game and people have been doing that forever, or so I thought.
In the end, I messed up. I didn't write a masterpiece of a review on No Man's Sky, I wrote a pretty mediocre, and to be honest, straight up a bad review of No Man's Sky. The best thing in the review was the post-script at the end where I explained how I felt about the fake discoveries in the game. I still feel awkward about those. I should have been more honest in my review and explained how the game felt to me. Instead I tried to write a background story, I also wrote it in a pretty bland way and messed it up. No one needed to know how No Man's Sky is somewhat objectively, but someone may needed another person's completely honest and personal opinion on it. How the game made them feel, how it was for them, what the experience was like, these were probably the important questions and I answered some of them in the review but apart from saying that "I LIKE SHOOTING ASTEROIDS". I failed.
I failed also because I wrote the review when I had nothing to say apart from "discoveries fake, asteroids good" . I wrote the review when I haven't particulary had any emotional reaction or a thought about the game. I wrote the review because I wanted to get something out and it was already becoming a burden to play the game daily. I treated this project as I treat every other project in my life: With laziness and a lack of care. They say "Perfect is the enemy of good", but is mediocre really a friend of anyone? To finish this, I would like to say: I wrote a bad review and I apologize from every two or three of you -maybe six of you- for putting you through that. It was bad and I knew it was bad but I didn't stop still . I particularly would like to apologize to my wife as I am pretty sure she read the whole thing. Sorry wifey, I wouldn't want that to happen to you if I wasn't that selfish.
I have nothing left to say. Bye