Electron Dance
18Oct/13Off

Stanley Scores Reviews

This is the story of a man called Stanley. He used to believe that all game reviews should have scores. Look, a reviewer would write, this is the best seven out of ten that I have ever played. And all the other reviewers wrote the same thing, and no one knew why they did this. It was just something that happened and everyone was happy that there was a objective truth that they could all agree on. This was comforting. Stanley always knew when someone had not played the game, because they gave the wrong score.

But then someone told Stanley that because all of the scores were the same, the score was quite irrelevant. In fact, all games were seven out of ten. Every one. So there was no score, really, just a symbol at the end of the review. It might as well been a photo of a loaf of bread, fresh from the oven.

And then Stanley had to decide whether he wanted to read more of this article, because if he did not, then he would not know if there was any more to know. At least he had to make a decision.   

Stanley stopped thinking about scores. He looked for reviews which had words but no photo of some old bread. But he was shocked to discover that the reviews disagreed. What was he to think? Reviews were opinions that were not his own opinion. How could he know what his own opinion was by reading other opinions? It would be sheer madness to believe such a thing could happen. It would mean that he would never need to play the game because he already had an opinion.

He decided to have an opinion before reading other opinions. That way, he could be sure he had created this opinion himself and not some faceless hack living off the minimum wage praying that a PR firm might hire him out of this terrible lifestyle of writing copy on games he or she found banal, frankly.

The problem with having this opinion is that Stanley became angry with the reviewers who had a different opinion to him. So he took it upon himself to inform wayward reviewers where their opinions had were in error. This all seemed to go terribly well for a good while. Here's another wrong review, Stanley would think, I will tell him to change things.

Now the reviewers were unhappy being told their opinions were wrong because they still felt such nostalgia for the days they used to give scores and had something that might pass as "authority" in quotes. So they came up with a new plan. They would write about their own lives in the reviews and then declare that their opinion was the true one because the review contained something that actually happened to them. And who could disagree with that? Who would challenge that these things had happened?

Then Stanley became very confused about what part of the review was telling him something about the game. So he began assigning scores to the reviews, to help him decide which reviews were useful. But it was not long before everyone realised Stanley was not scoring their reviews. He was scoring the reviewer's lives in the reviews.

Everyone liked Stanley's scores, except the reviewers. What was useful about his scores is that everyone could use them to decide whether they liked the reviewers or not, whether they would have a drink with them in the bar. It became more important to find a reviewer that could be a personal friend. If Stanley gave the reviewer a score on the low end, perhaps a meagre three out of ten, then the reviewer became fair game on Twitter.

The reviewers, still not being paid any money and rather unhappy about the whole scoring thing, decided to assign scores to the people who left comments on their reviews. When the comment agreed with the reviewer, the reviewer gave them a good score. When the comment disagreed, the reviewer gave them a really bad score.

Of course, what the comment writers really wanted was to get a job writing about games for free, which sounded important even if they were slowly starving to death. They wanted to be reviewers and so receiving a low score from a reviewer, even one they did not respect, might hinder their future career prospects. So the comment writers agreed to agree with the reviewers and they turned on Stanley.

And Stanley decided he didn't want to play games any more.

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  1. I found myself distanced by all the chatter about the evil of reviews on Twitter today so just started doodling some words of nonsense after I dabbled with The Stanley Parable this evening. Then I ended up with 700 words of nonsense. I can assure you there is absolutely no meat in this post.

  2. Nailed the tone though.

  3. Thanks Pippin! I wrote straight after I played the game last night. Get in my Stanley parody piece before it becomes the rest of the internet ;-)

  4. I enjoyed it. Clever words are an end in themselves.

  5. Thank you Arthur! This will undoubtedly encourage me to write more often at midnight when my brain is normally shutting down.

  6. Haha, I enjoyed this. Especially given that I played the new Stanley Parable demo two days ago.

    My time on twitter is sadly limited, so I miss a lot of teapot tempests. What’s all this nonsense about the evil of reviews?

  7. Inspirations here…
    Obviously the review kerfuffle yesterday after THAT piece about reviews being bad and Bioshock Infinite literally being the worst game in forever. I didn’t read it, I was just subjected to radioactive fallout online.
    Colin Northway tweeted that we should ignore critics and love the things we love. That turned into the bit about other people’s opinions.
    Finally the trend to write about oneself when reviewing the game. I guess it’s Ethics of Selling Children revisited.
    And of course the sublime and one and only The Stanley Parable.

  8. Shaun this is the article that inspired a million tweets about “ooh god someone gets it this is the truth man” and another million about “what a ruddy mess why would you read this bilge”.

    on video game reviews

    I have not read it.

  9. I reeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeally don’t dig the whole TL;DR attitude but honestly, you don’t need 8,000 words to say that a lot of people really liked BioShock Infinite, may have missed or not considered a number of elements that led others to have contrary opinions, and hey maybe reviews and criticism should express this or that attitude. There may be more than that in there but honestly, life’s too short.

    And I knoooooow you don’t want to engage with all this stuff but from a brief skim it looks to me like the bugbear in that original article is with reviewage on the large commercial sites, and obviously to some extent their review coverage is going to reflect the preferences of their audience. There’s no shortage of people expressing divergent views, ‘revelling in dissent’ and so forth if you bother to look.

    I’m glad I missed all the crap on twitter. I really like the output of the Northways so to hear that Colin Northway thinks critics should be ignored is disappointing on both a personal level, and to the extent that I think criticism can be as creative and thoughtful a medium as any other. Ah, but hell, creatives working in other mediums say similar things in the context of far more mature critical fields, so I shouldn’t let it bother me.

    Anyway, I guess I better get back to work, working on my non-games related stuff.

  10. P.S. Incredipede is pretty sweet.

  11. Where Stanley really went wrong was in thinking it would be sheer madness to “know what his own opinion was by reading other opinions”—because he was treating each opinion as a singular artefact reflecting only the actual quality of the game itself. *That* is sheer madness, because of course any opinion, whether expressed in words or as a picture of a loaf of bread, only reflects the game via the individual tastes and values of the reviewer; and sometimes also, those of their editor.

    In all of this, he was implicitly thinking that the important thing was to have an opinion! Thas was also madness. What Stanley did not yet realise is that the important thing is to play, or not to play the game; simply reading other people’s opinions is only of value—apart from any entertainment one gets from the words themselves—in deciding whether to play the game or not.

    But as I spoke these words, Stanley suddenly came to the same conclusion. “I will not try to decide my own opinion from other opinions,” he said to himself, “but will instead use them to decide whether the game is worth the time to play it, forming my own opinion while playing.”

    Now Stanley strode on with a new resolve—then suddenly halted. “But wait!” he thought. “What if the other reviewers still cannot agree on their opinions? Whose opinion should I follow? If three reviewers praise the game, and three others denigrate it, should I buy the game or not?” Stanley was so perplexed by this, he actually stopped walking forward for a minute.

    Ah, Stanley. You’re still thinking of all the reviewers’ opinions as if they were proclamations from a shining crystal minaret. No, Stanley, I’m afraid that is still the wrong way to think. You see, each of the reviewers is a person like yourself, whose opinions of any game are formed out of all the games they have played before, and all the rest of their lives too. You can’t possibly treat them all as equally valuable.

    I know what you’re thinking: if every review is actually (gasp) *subjective*——then why should I read them at all? How will I know, before it is too late, if their review encourages me to play a game that I won’t actually like? The answer, Stanley—the answer is in the reviews themselves. Because the reviews reflect the reviewer, from reading a review you can get to know something about the reviewer as well as the game they are writing about. Think back to the games you have played before that you liked, and those that you hated, and those that were merely OK; then see if a reviewer has written about those games, and why, and how much they liked the games that you liked, and why, and how much they hated the ones that you hated. This roughly indicates how similar their opinion is likely to be to your own, when you have formed it. In fact, this can even let you know that you will probably like a game by reading a review by a reviewer who hated it—just so long as you’re familiar enough with the reviewer to know how his opinions tend to correlate with your own for games of this type.

    Stanley took a while to digest this. It was heady stuff. New thoughts were swirling around his brain, a feeling he was quite unused to. “Maybe I *should* play games again,” he thought, “and maybe I should read more reviews, too.”

    *Well done,* Stanley! You have won.

  12. Damn! I rewrite this many times! So I will simplify! About reviews of video games and their source (“journalism”) and everything that come with it. Maybe, just maybe (because I don’t want to rewrite!), the main problem could be first with the “journalism”, who produces your products, but his product (games) it’s not make by himself, appearing the difficult to be bounded with the entertainment (games), being the “journal” a entertainment about entertainment made by others. Many sites mostly seems to be more a publicity guide shop wish list moreover a “journal”, which many people like myself go see and dream in the showcases. And a second problem is the people (cyberpunk people) who consume that, which are problem itself (a big one!). I think I don

  13. NOOOOOOO! Damn computer! Well! Thats it folks! =)

  14. Shaun – the quote may be out of context. Someone retweeted a couple of Northway ‘s tweets into my stream. But I do know that he is not interested in critical analysis in general. If anyone wrote an analysis of Incredipede I don’t think he’d read it. But the implications of what I saw were too interesting to pass up.

    Andy – hah thank you! The above wasn’t written with seriousness in mind but my feelings are largely the same as yours. There are a lot of different people writing reviews and criticism out there. Not happy? Shop around! There is a different argument to be made about the “power” of mainstream sites like IGN etc but that’s a tricky road because you start having to qualify the implication that the readers are SHEEPLE.

    Pedro – a shame! I spotted reading those “appeasement” reviews because I want getting anything out of them hence I drifted towards reviews on RPS and Tap-Repeatedly etc. We have plenty of options.

  15. Actually I barely read reviews these days, just because I don’t see anything that could increase my experience with the game or don’t tell anything that I couldn’t tell to myself. This is true not only with games, but with movies too. In the case of movies I just see when I want a extended synopsis. Of course when I see that are cool stuff I will read it. But my traffic on these big sites are not less to my purpose to consume fast informations and news. It’s not so cruel how it seems through! Of course again when I want other things I will seek in other places, like here, in that case I read even the reviews! Maybe the problem in this stanley case is what we want and what we find, not only in terms of like or dislike, but what we really want and what we think we want. Seeking more and more informations could not satisfy the need of something bigger that are not filled with something superficial. The internet can be superficial. Maybe in these cases, read some books would do some well. After all, a read, a write and a talk are the closest friends to evolve our consciousness. But only that in the future could not be sufficient, then, when this happen, it will be another chat…
    I don’t know if I’m talking about the subject discussed, but, like the famous saying: “it’s not the hero we wanted, it’s the hero we needed.”

  16. About a 9, then?

  17. Pedro – I admit I too tend to read few reviews these days, although I listen to the opinions of some trustworthy friends and confidantes. Reading reviews used to be like (a) playing vicariously through the reviewer’s experience or (b) reliving the fun of the game after you’d finished it. YES, I would thank, I REMEMBER IT FEELING LIKE THAT. I don’t get that these days. I have so many games – it seems ridiculous to waste time reading reviews about games instead of playing what I’ve got.

    Phlebas – The brains behind The Stanley Parable, Davey Wreden, also asked me if I thought it was worth 8.5 out of 10. I told him to go hang himself.

    (I wasn’t sure if there was anything I could write about The Stanley Parable but I’m pretty sure there is now, having played a fair amount.)

  18. Steerpike had stopped by Electron Dance for the first time in several days. “I’ll stop by Electron Dance,” thought Steerpike, “since I’ve got a free moment.”

    Steerpike had been very busy at his regular job – a job quite dissimilar from his work reviewing video games – and had missed some of Harbour Master’s latest musings. Which made him sad. Harbour Master had recently asked Steerpike what he did for a living (when he was not reviewing video games), and Steerpike answered, and then Harbor Master said, “My god, I made it to the fourth word of that and then got too bored to carry on listening.” Far from being hurtful, this was a fair assessment of Steerpike’s job, and a good explanation of why Steerpike also reviews games. He avoids Twitter, though, being unable to form a cogent thought in 140 characters. He can only imagine what reviewers of reviewers would say about him in such a place.

    Steerpike, in any case, was pleased to have visited Electron Dance, as it took his mind off duller subjects, such as the daily toils of a global brand manager for an R&D management consortium. It also reminded him to buy The Steerpike Parable, which is downloading now. For this, Steerpike feels that Davey Wreden owes Harbour Master some sort of thank you. Perhaps a cookie bouquet.


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