On Fanboyism and Reviewing

Leigh Alexander has another great Aberrant Gamer column up over at GameSetWatch, this one talking about 'fanboyism' and the inherent conflicts that crop up with the review system:

I would like you to briefly indulge me by participating in an exercise. Remove all of the mascots and familiar faces from Super Smash Bros. Brawl, and replace them with original constructs. Notice, if you will, the somewhat clumsy user interface, the high percentage of total content that must be unlocked to be enjoyed, the complete lack of usability of the Wii controls, and the lack of significant graphical or gameplay progression over the previous generation. It's true that even then, you'd have a good game. But would you have a 10 game?

What does it mean that I'm hesitant to even state my opinion that it'd be a 7 game? And what does that crap even mean, anymore?

Leigh suggests overhauling the review system in some easily achievable ways (starting by scraping numerical scores), and proposing that we "we embrace our own subjectivity, neutering fanboyism by accepting it — because it sure ain't going anywhere." It's a musing that's well-worth a read through.

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    That is the thing that shits me about review scores - reviewers claim to not be fanboys, yet joygasm over everything the game does (poorly!). Review scores to me now mean f all and give no credibility to the review.

    I disagree with almost all of her article.
    She proposes that fanboyism - and, by her definition she means people who have repeatedly seen/played/experience a certain part of the gaming industry, and familiarised themselves with it - i.e playing every Metal Gear Solid, Mario, Zelda etc etc.. - is a bad thing.
    To me, it just seems like experience, isn't it? Of course your opinion of the prior games will reflect on the new one just released (Read: "Super Mario Galaxy"), but this is a double edged sword.
    I'm personally a fan of Mario, i loved Mario 64 and clocked it again not a week ago - but both new Mario games (Paper and Galaxy) were fairly average in my eyes. Paper was disappointing, and while galaxy featured gorgeous landscapes, awesome physics, and fun gameplay, it was so short all positives seem abysmal in comparison.

    I'm not trying to write a quick review here, the point of it is that - while I'll quite readily admit I'm an enormous fan of Mario, him being one of the prior examples of a familiar face, it doesn't stop me from disliking his new works. That his old works are stacked against the new, should be a good thing, shouldn't it? Wouldn't the developer feel pressure to get better, more complex, with extra this and that and the other?

    Alexander also comments on how gamers are "more likely to attach to symbology" to our games, and are "more passionate about the color of the flag we carry".
    Not true in the slightest. I've seen far more Ford and Holden shirts (V8 supercars, for anyone confused or international, those are the only two manufacturers that race) than those "Control Freak" Tees from Jay-Jays with the nintendo control printed on the front. Maybe it's a thing in America, or Japan, but not in Australia.

    I do, however, agree with Alexander in that our fanboyism, as she puts it, is perpetuating more and more of the same elements. But to me, these are two different kinds of fanboys, and that certainly needs clarifying. Alexander, as i understand it, says a fanboy is someone who recognises an icon, sticks to it and defends it vehemently. That's true, and as explained before, it's a double edged sword. There's nothing wrong with being in love with a game - to me, that still seems like fanboyism. Isn't it?
    Then there are the fools who cling and idolise not the game, but the character. This is where the negative repertoire for fanboys comes in. This is, and equally isn't, our fault. Let me explain: The kid from the '80s who saw that little jumpman from Donkey Kong and said "yep, He's bloody awesome and i'd love to see him in anything" - that person doesn't exist. People love the classic game, but did not love and idolise him. Soon, characters had "personality" in their games.
    The biggest name that i can think of is Final Fantasy VII. Aeris died, and you can actually find websites dedicated to "the memory of Aeris" - which i'm fairly certain has nothing to do with 0's and 1's. This was a company trying to involve emotional depth and succeeded to a tremendous extent.
    I'm sure it was not for evil design, as I couldn't imagine the developing team cackling madly on the top floor of their sky scraper, but rather, they gave gamers the opportunity to cling to an individual, and because people were foolish enough to actually cling, we have a plethora of uninspired games.

    Name some large launch titles for the Wii - Galaxy, Paper Mario, Brawl, Mario Kart, Wii Fit, Zelda, Metroid, and arguably Endless Ocean. Of all those, we have two new comers. The rest have been around for over 10 years, and are just reworked.

    This isn't isolated to Nintendo. Final Fantasy XCCVIIMIIXICICIXI, as suggested before, is coming out soon, isn't it? What of Halo, didn't they discover another 38 rings to explore and destroy? Or even a very subtle title, what about the Lego series? Lego Star Wars etc etc.. They all just relive what we now in a mildly altered way - the most notable being graphically enhanced.

    Because of the great marks and revenue these sequels are earning time and time again, they're not going to die. The developers are not going to do anything too inspired, because they can live off a franchise. Instead, we end up with more of the same (Diablo and Diablo 2, anyone?).

    So while Alexander is wrong in stating fanboys (in her definition of the word) are bad and need to be cleansed from the earth, and that Gamers take icons and symbols too far, as well as really clarifying the difference between the fanboys of a series and the fanboys of an individual, she's still right about the need to carefully choose what we pay for, because that's what's inspiring these uninspired titles.

    As a finishing note, to avoid flaming - I own an Xbox 360, Wii, PS2, and am too scared to say what I'm a fan of :P

    @ Cheezel. Wow!

    @ Writer of the article:
    I was thinking a similar thing as what has been said here about SSBB, but about Galaxy, and in reverse. I think Galaxy was *too good* for the Mario franchise. Don't get me wrong, I love Mario games, both the main series and Kart. But I think Galaxy was too original, too creative, and too mature to be at its full potential with that damn red plumber on the front. I think it actually made the game worse in my eyes - sure, I'm not a professional reviewer - but instead of Galaxy being a great, memorable game for me, it's simply now *the best Mario game*. It had no characters to like, no real story, and too much forced stuff from an old game that's getting tired. I just think it would've been better as a whole new idea. This relates to fanboyism because, well, I think fanboy\girlism caused Galaxy to have all that old crap in it, instead of being 100% new. Which in my eyes, was a bad thing. (Not for Nintendo's profits, but I talk from a game design point of view.)

    @myself - whoops, didnt realise how long it was

    @purplesfinx - Good point, but that would involve avoiding the chance to cash in on a major market. People still pay, sure it might get a few lower marks in the eyes of gamers, but it still sells. And now, on top of a top seller we have an enormous franchise already built - updated mario plushies/"collectors" tins/posters... big market in that.

    I think the game would've been equally as successful if they had found or created a cute, child-friendly, fun character - but then again... Originality is such a 1980's thing, isn't it? :P

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