Why Dunkey (and Many Others) Get It so Wrong About Game Reviews
It goes without saying that the gaming media has a very vocal set of detractors. If you click on any post on any of the major gaming sites, you’re likely to see more than a handful of comments decrying the publication and its staff, and any semi-notable game critic will tell you of the damage inflicted upon their Twitter notifications every time they share an opinion online. But while games media gets enough negative attention as it is, the popular YouTuber Dunkey has decided to offer a little more, with his video outlining his issues with game critics and their reviews having received over 2.2 million views in just two days and prompting widespread discussion online as a result. However, Dunkey’s misguided criticisms only stand to highlight the divide between the perception of how games media should operate, and the reality of how it needs to operate in order to meet readers’ expectations.
Dunkey has become an increasingly prominent figure in online games criticism, with his videos veering from funny musings on the notoriously terrible MMO Roblox, through to insightful commentary on the likes of Hollow Knight and Yooka-Laylee. His channel has been gaining a lot of momentum in the past year or so, with his videos frequently being upvoted to the front page of Reddit and him standing out on YouTube amid a sea of Let’s Players and less accomplished comedy/gaming personalities. His latest video argues that outlets such as IGN should have a greater consistency with their reviews, and that the importance of “building an understanding between the critic and the viewer” is undermined when a site has multiple writers with different opinions, some of whom are “consistently wrong.” While Dunkey is just one lone (albeit popular) voice and his video would otherwise not be of that much importance, his opinions echo those of many readers, so I thought it was worth deconstructing his arguments and explaining why he’s completely wrong.
But before I explain exactly why he’s wrong, you can watch his video below:
Different strokes for different folks
Dunkey’s first criticism of games media is how major sites such as IGN are “decentralized.” “When you have multiple writers working on a website you can lose track of who’s talking,” he argues, and while there’s a very valid and simple counter-argument that can be made here for reading the byline of a review to check for the reviewer’s name, let’s look at this particular argument in a little more detail.
An outlet as big as IGN has multiple different departments working on multiple different elements of the site, from reviewers through to video producers and podcast hosts. With so many elements in play, it’s inevitable that the site may host a positive review of a new Sonic game (a specific example made by Dunkey), only for its video presenters or podcast hosts to then criticize the same game. While this can be confusing for the viewer/reader, there are only three possible ways that this could be avoided, and each presents a larger problem than IGN employing two people with different opinions:
- IGN would have to enforce a rule that would see all staff members agreeing with each review posted to their site, which would not only be almost impossible to do, but would also require individuals to feign positivity for games they disliked, which would inevitably lead to much more distrust between critics and their readers than one IGN staffer giving Sonic 4 an 8 out of 10 and another calling it “mediocre.”
- IGN would need to tell those with different opinions to those expressed in a game review to keep quiet. This would mean that if a reviewer awarded a new release with a high score, but a video or podcast host didn’t like it, they wouldn’t actually be able to talk about said game with their viewers/listeners.
- Every staff member or freelancer on IGN would need to constantly point to the site’s review of a particular game whenever they discussed it, explaining to their audience how different opinions work and that just because a particular reviewer liked/disliked the game, this doesn’t mean that they do, too.
None of these options are more favorable than IGN plugging on ahead and hoping that their audience understands that, just like any other company, a gaming outlet is going to employ people with different opinions and tastes. Obviously this isn’t the case for many of their readers, but most of the people who don’t understand this are also the sort who believe that reviews should be “objective, not subjective” and therefore have no clue what they’re talking about.
“Consistently wrong” reviewers
Dunkey also argues for gaming outlets to be more personality driven, in the vein of YouTubers such as Angry Joe, ProJared, et al. He points out that his viewers know that he has issues with certain genres, and that his own personal biases will affect his stance on games such as turn-based RPGs, which he dislikes. He argues that this means that when he recommends Persona 5, his viewers know that it’s a good game because he usually hates turn-based RPGs. Critics should “acknowledge [their] shortcomings,” he says, and that written copy should reflect these biases.
I do agree that in circumstances in which the critic may not be too familiar with the genre or series they’re reviewing, this should be indicated in the text. For instance, a few years ago I was asked to write a review for Diablo 3: Reaper of Souls for one of Crave’s sister sites, with it also being the first time I had ever played a Diablo game. I acknowledged this was the case in the review, but that created another issue — though some readers appreciated a fresh perspective, others were confused as to why someone with no prior interest or experience with Diablo was offering their newbie take, as opposed to someone with more knowledge of what Diablo fans wanted out of the expansion.
Dunkey suggests that as he hates turn-based RPGs but liked Persona 5, that somehow means that his opinion holds more weight. However, any gaming outlet editor will tell you that readers generally want to see reviews from those knowledgeable about a game’s particular genre, which is exactly why major outlets specify the genres they need covering when they hire staff and freelancers. Would anyone really expect IGN to post a job listing asking for someone with a complete lack of interest in JRPGs specifically to cover JRPGs? I doubt it.
But my main quibble with his argument here is his criticisms of “consistently wrong” reviewers. He discusses this right after bemoaning commenters who say that they’ll no longer pay attention to a critic after they gave a negative review to a game they like, before then immediately going on to feature IGN’s positive reviews of the Call of Duty franchise and negative review of Donkey Kong Country: Tropical Freeze, in order to outline how their opinions are wrong because they liked CoD but disliked DK. This skirts into the territory of those who erroneously believe reviews should somehow be “objective,” suggesting that because IGN reviewers have generally praised CoD, their views are somehow inherently wrong.
The “broken” scoring system
Now here’s something I kinda agree with, but not for the same reasons as Dunkey. The YouTuber argues that the current video game scoring system is broken, with most games typically being rated from 7 to 10 out of 10, and anything lower than a 7 being indicative of a bad game. I do believe that the current system doesn’t make a great deal of sense; most sites have a reviews guide that indicates that a 5 out of 10 is an “average score,” though it is generally accepted that if a game is given a 5, it’s probably not a good game at all. As such, 7 has become the universal number for “it’s pretty good, but you can probably skip over it without worrying too much.”
However, whereas Dunkey believes the flaws of this system is solely the work of the gaming media, in reality there are a number of factors that prevent the numbers 1 – 6 being utilized as much as they arguably should be. Game reviews indicate to the reader whether or not they should buy a game. That is their sole purpose. Over the years, the goal posts of review scores have been shifted due to a number of factors, from score aggregation site Metacritic causing publications to make their review score standards more homogeneous, through to consumer perception of what does/does not equal a good review score changing. As such, if someone stumbles across a review for a game with a 5 out of 10 attached to it, they’re less likely to think it’s an average game than they are to think the game is outright bad. As reviews are naturally supposed to be useful for the reader, 5 out of 10 being used as an average score is therefore counter-productive, as most readers no longer perceive this as an average score.
Most critics will tell you that they don’t like the amount of power Metacritic has over the industry, but it’s an unfortunate reality. A good example of said power is the shit-storm that accompanied critic Jim Sterling’s review of The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild, with some readers incensed that he dared to give the game a 7 out of 10 thus decreasing its near-perfect Metascore, leading to his website being subjected to a DDoS attack from angry readers in the process. This is an extreme example, but it shows just how far the divide is between the belief that 5 out of 10 should be perceived as an average score, and the reality that 5 out of 10 can no longer be an average score in a world in which Metacritic exists.
Now here’s something that Dunkey gets very wrong. In the video he claims that critics rush their reviews to ensure that they’ll be the first on Metacritic and gain more traffic, an argument that shows a complete misunderstanding in regards to how the review process works. The vast majority of the time, review copies will be distributed to outlets alongside an embargo. This embargo is created specifically so that reviewers don’t rush their reviews, and get to spend an adequate amount of time with the game before publishing their final thoughts at exactly the same time as their peers.
On the rare occasions that this doesn’t happen either a publisher hasn’t distributed a game to an outlet, meaning they’ve had to buy it with their own money, or the review code has been sent out after the game’s release date, as is the case with Bethesda’s new releases following their alteration of their review policy. However, 95 per cent of the time an embargo will be attached to a review copy, and the outlet reviewing it must abide by this embargo. There is no “rat race” to be the first to get on Metacritic, because systems have been put in place by publishers to specifically ensure that this doesn’t happen.
(Edit: I should clarify here that I am specifically referring to Dunkey’s comment that reviewers take part in a “rat race” to be the first to push their review out and get it on Metacritic, which as explained, rarely happens. However, it is true that some games aren’t distributed by publishers in a timely fashion — i.e. receiving a huge RPG just over a week before release — and this certainly is an issue that I’d want to see rectified. With that being said, I still feel that Dunkey’s argument that such time constraints would only lead to “weak-ass first impressions” is dismissive of the amount of hours put in by outlets in order to adequately judge a game, even if certain embargoes aren’t conducive to providing an environment reflective of the consumer experience.)
In the end, Dunkey’s video unwittingly serves as a summary of what many people get wrong about the review process. While each outlet is different and there are certainly criticisms to be leveled at the current scoring system and the looming presence of Metacritic, his complaints echo the frustrating lack of logic employed by some when it comes to analyzing how games media should operate. Given that Dunkey’s video has been met with praise outside of the media he’s criticized, it seems that these preconceptions are unlikely to change anytime soon.
Paul Tamburro is the UK, Tech and Gaming Editor of Crave. Follow him on Twitter @PaulTamburro.