The WSJ Borderlands 2 Review and the standards of criticism
So about a week ago, we were treated to a review of Borderlands 2 from the Wall Street Journal. It was kinda negative, but, even worse, it was flat-out ignorant that not all shooters are trying to be COD. Rather than just laugh at the author for liking COD so much, I think it's important to slow down and just talk about what we need to expect from a critic.
(Please bear in mind I've yet to play Borderlands 2, and am basically using the first game as a reference here. It's not really about whether or not the game is good, but I'm assuming it's still a lot of the same general mechanics)
Read the original review here: http://blogs.wsj.com/speake...
I've seen a couple of articles defending the writer a bit just because he's writing for the WSJ, not a hardcore gaming magazine. Some people say that makes it okay, but it really freaking isn't. A good critic shouldn't underestimate his audience's interest in a medium. (obviously SOME gamer was reading WSJ) If he himself isn't well-versed in it, he shouldn't be writing. And if he attracts a casual audience, he should be able to communicate the merits of a product in a simpler language. Let me show you: "I spec'd my pally in tanking" becomes "I specialized my paladin character in a defensive role, that drew the enemy's attention in order to protect weaker allies." If the person reading isn't familiar with certain elements of a medium that they need to understand, they should be by the end of the article.
For example, I'm no movie buff. I'll watch a movie, I can tell you if I enjoyed it or not, what I did and didn't like, but I'm no film expert. However, I see critics all the time that can explain to casual viewers like me what MAKES a film good or bad. They do a service by heightening my understanding, so I now have a better appreciation for that film, or a better-founded distaste. That's what a critic's supposed to do, other than make recommendations. There's no reason a game critic shouldn't be able to do the same.
Now, obviously the most glaring problem with the article is the constant comparisons to CoD and Halo. Going back to the movie critic thing, I don't want to listen to a movie critic that only speaks in terms relative to The Dark Knight and Transformers for the same exact reason. It's unprofessional and shows inexperience, and the audience deserves better, whether they realize it or not. More appropriate comparisons would be Fallout 3 or even Diablo.
The point is that Borderlands 2 isn't even trying to be grouped with those games. It's not a competitive game, in the pure sense. You go on quests, you shoot monsters, you get better guns. Sometimes with a friend. If you prefer to go straight through a story from gunfight to gunfight, and then hop online to shoot your friends, that's fine. But you NEED to recognize the difference before you even call yourself a critic.
Let's use myself as an example. Real-Time Strategy and I just do not get along. I like to be down there, in the action, choppin' up dudes! Here's what separates me, though: Just because I don't normally play them doesn't mean I'm not familiar with how they're supposed to work and what fans expect. I've yet to come close to winning a game of Warcraft III, but I have experience, so I can still tell you why Brutal Legend's RTS segments are so shallow and unengaging, and why console adaptations of the genre typically fail. Again, just like film, you need to know your classics to understand where the medium is now and what the standards are for a genre.
That and for some reason, he makes a big deal about the price, $60. Which anyone reading this knows is the norm. I'm a little more willing to forgive MENTIONING it because the casual gamer is more used to charging $5 on their iPad. There are a lot of games that I'd tell people to "wait til the price drops" for, but this again ties back to the author not understanding what the target audience is looking for. Borderlands' $60 value comes from the sheer amount of content, not a hugely active community like CoD's. Whether or not a player gets his money's worth, again, changes drastically with the genre. It's why I expect 200 hours of content from Disgaea, but totally embrace Max Payne 3's 10-hour length.
I feel as if I'm getting side-tracked talking too much about this one article and not the bigger problem. Gaming is kind of going through mainstream puberty right now. Everyone has had some contact with it, but not everyone is quite aware of the depths of the subculture. It's okay for a PERSON to not be knowledgeable about the medium, but it isn't okay for a professional writer, no matter how broad their audience. Whoever reads the Wall Street Journal or any mainstream paper/magazine's gaming section, you don't realize it, but you probably deserve better than that. Once that happens, when we have respectable gaming experts in every pocket of media, I think we'll see greater awareness and acceptance of core gaming.
Now I know what you're thinking, newspapers: if ONLY there were some handsome, young writer out there with a lot of free time, maybe studying to enter the game industry himself. That was currently looking for a job, willing to work for peanuts, had writing experience on an independent gaming news website, and could provide your paper with a kickass video game section to hook younger readers. *sigh*... if only...
Thanks for reading!