Reviews, Reviewing, and Reviewers…

What seems to be the biggest story in the gaming industry lately is the large number of people leaving Ritual, the makers of Sin Episodes. Natuarlly, this has people wondering, “Does this mean the end of Sin Episodes?” Although the newly appointed head of Ritual says they are still making the next installment.

Now, I’m not writing this because I particularly care if the next Sin Episode gets made. After all, I found the first one to be, shall we say, “excessive. No, I’m writing this because somehow the rumors of the fate of Sin got so out of control that Slashdot reported the story as saying that on the podcast for the Games for Windows Magazine, (aka Computer Gaming World) “ employees from Ritual Entertainment confirm that SiN Episodes is finished. I was curious, so I listened to the podcast in question (direct link to the mp3) and of course, the podcast contains nothing like that whatsoever. Basically, it is just the editors of GWM just sitting around gossiping about what they think might happen because of the departures.

Oddly enough, after they finish talking about Ritual, they start talking about Left Behind: Eternal Forces (at about the 23:35 point). In particular, they start to talk about why they weren’t planning on reviewing it. This led to a discussion on which games they decide to review and what they are looking at when they review a game. This is of interest because I just got finished playing Call of Duty 2 and was thinking about the experience of playing it.

One of the main reasons that they said they weren’t planning on reviewing the Left Behind game was simply that they didn’t think their target audience would be interested. They said something to the effect that, “That’s why we don’t review hunting games.” I think that’s a perfectly valid (or cromulent) reason not to review a game.
After all, they don’t review a lot of those Barbie or Nancy Drew games.

Another reason that I didn’t find quite as valid was that they were concerned about the subject matter. At about 25:15 in one of them says, “We basically said, ‘No we don’t want to review it’ because of the controversy that goes along with it and no matter how we presented it, someone was going to take offense.” Another of the editors challenged that opinion asking what they were afraid of and what if it was a really good RTS game? The response was, “I think the challenge there that we’re avoiding there I suspect is not being confident that we can address the intersection of content and you know between actual gameplay and the way things are executed and then the thematic — err everything else that is going on that makes the game what the game is. […] if the unit balance is awesome and the tactics are cool, does it matter that the theme of the game is that you gotta kill or convert non-Christians?”
“And that’s a big challenge because we always — and we, I’ll just speak for critics at large — are very capable of going in with a Consumer Reports angle and saying ‘this works’ or ‘this doesn’t,– –these little Satanists that I’m fighting get stuck in buildings and don’t come out when I fight them’ but when you get to the point where what we don’t do so well or very often — at least at large — is say, ‘What does this all mean? How does this come together? What is it saying? What do we think about this thing other than just the mechanics of it was fun to shoot that or that AI worked well or this environment was shady?’ That’s where I think the real criticism is at and this could have been a model game [to do that]’ They then go on to say that you don’t go to a Mel Gibson movie and just ignore any possible themes or messages in it. The reviews editor said that they didn’t review it because they thought that people that didn’t believe in the themes of the game would be offended, but another editor pointed out that conservative Christians might be offended by the themes of Doom. After discussing it a bit more, they decide that maybe they should review it.

While I’m glad at least one of the editors decided that it is worth talking about the themes of the games, it is a bit disheartening that it wasn’t the reviews editor who thought that it was a good idea to do that.

All of this brings me to Call of Duty 2. The game doesn’t have as obvious themes as the Left Behind game, however, unlike many other games, Call of Duty 2, like a whole slew of WWII games is based on an actual event and attempts to recreate situations that could at least have plausibly happened. That is more or less what made me a bit uncomfortable in playing the game. There is a world of difference between shooting the Strogg or Combine and shooting Germans.

Now maybe I’m the only one that feels this was since the WWII genre is eternally popular in videogames, but I think it is more than just my own hangups or German ancestry (They left Germany in the 1860’s so it isn’t as if they had anything to do with the atrocities that happened in WWII).

As I was writing this, I was also playing Postal 2 and apparently one of the patches adds a secret mission (hunt around behind your house and there is a sewer tunnel that takes you to it). This secret mission is populated entirely by characters who look like Osama Bin Laden (and later in the actual game Osama Bin Laden characters show up). So the strange thing is that I didn’t feel weird about shooting Billions of Bin Ladens.

The question, then, is why do I feel weird killing Germans but not Bin Ladens? Is it because Bin Laden is an individual while Germans are a nationality? Who knows? I think that the moral of this long and winding post is that it is important to look at the ideologies and messages of the games we play and review.

Leave a comment