So I’m late to the game again. Big surprise right? Actually I wasn’t really planning to write on this topic at all and this week was going to be a purely GTA V themed piece (not a review because I’m not even CLOSE to finishing the main story yet), but I realised that I really had to say something about this topic. And as you can see from the title, the topic in question is the furor that resulted from GameSpot reviewer Carolyn Petit’s review of GTA V and whether that was fair, but it’s also more generally about the nature of reviews. In case you haven’t heard about the controversy surrounding the review, she basically gave the game a 9/10 and mentioned that she felt that brilliant though the game was, it was also ‘politically muddled and profoundly misogynistic’. The ensuing shit storm was greater than anyone could have expected. People were really really angry. Some even felt betrayed and disillusioned. There are a number of issues here and a few perspectives were expressed on the dissenting side with, I think, varying degrees of validity. Now, I don’t entirely agree with her opinion, but that’s pretty much unnecessary in the equation. The question is whether she was wrong to have expressed that particular opinion at all. I think is important to discuss because to me, this incident is indicative of a wider problem with the community, like the excessive outrage that happened over the Xbox One or death threats to COD developers for changing a minor aspect of the game were. It’s both an exciting and a sad time to be a gamer. We’re not all like that of course, but enough of us are for the rest of us to be cast in their shadow.
Let’s start with the obvious. Just because you don’t agree with someone that’s no excuse to attack someone on a personal level. Clearly there’s something wrong with the gaming community and it’s more than just immaturity, It’s this sense of entitlement and the amount of aggressiveness some gamers exhibit just because they’re not getting what they want. Maybe it’s because we have such awesome content at our fingertips with such little effort and the fact that with the internet the way it is, we can all express our opinions no matter how heinous with pretty much no consequence. Most of these people wouldn’t dare make these threats or spew that kind of hate towards her if they met her in real life, but it’s the internet and it’s safe. It’s just that saying stuff like that does have an effect not only on the people you say things like that to, but also on the people who read it and the rest of us who are just trying to play games. Of course, no amount of exposition on the topic will change the fact that that’s the way the internet is. It’s up to individual sites to filter out the hate and honestly I think they should, because as important as free speech is, there are lines that shouldn’t be crossed. In real life, racial or other discriminatory types of abuse and threats are actually illegal. In terms of just raging because you don’t agree with someone… well, like I said there’s not much to be done about it and anyways, they’re the ones who look foolish and are probably just mostly 12 year olds. Reviewers are obviously not there to simply parrot the opinions of the majority and certainly not there to read your mind and say the things you want them to say. So with regard to those commenters who got angry just because the reviewer gave a game that they hadn’t even played yet a 9/10 (an incredible score) instead of a 10/10 because of all the hype surrounding the game or, even after having played it, got angry because someone didn’t have the same opinion as them, well that’s just silly and I’m not going to waste anymore breath on that. It’s commenters like those that makes the rest of the world view the gaming community as a bunch of juvenile, reactionary and hateful people who live in their mother’s basements and contribute nothing to society. Instead, I’m moving onto people who actually had coherent points to make about what they felt was wrong with her review.
Now onto the meat of what I wanted to discuss – the nature of reviews. Not everyone was just angry because of the score. In fact many people were upset because they felt Carolyn shouldn’t have brought her own personal political opinions into the review at all. Many people argued that they were disappointed in GameSpot, because by bringing up misogyny into the review she was expressing an subjective opinion in what was supposed to be an ‘objective review’. Here’s the problem I had with a lot of these arguments – what exactly is an objective review? Some people argued that an objective review only discusses things like gameplay, story, graphics and so on. On the surface that seems reasonable enough. It’s true that ‘gameplay’ is an objective element of a game. Describing what makes up that gameplay, for instance, ‘in GTA V you can drive cars, helicopters, planes and many other vehicles’ is an objective statement. However, that’s not why people read reviews. They want to know whether the game was any good. They don’t just want to know what that you can shoot things, they want to know whether the shooting mechanics are original or smooth or intuitive and by attaching an adjective it necessarily makes it subjective. That’s what opinions are. A review without opinions and is therefore objective, looks like this. Yeah, not so great right? There isn’t such thing as an objective review and if there is, it’s certainly not something gamers would actually want to read. So, the argument that she shouldn’t have brought up any moral or social issues because reviews are supposed to be objective is really, I think, based on a misunderstanding of the nature of reviews.
Of course, there’s still the question of just how subjective a review should be and that’s entirely different issue. Some people wouldn’t deny that reviews are to an extent subjective, but still maintain that she shouldn’t have brought in political opinions into the equation, because that’s not what people read game reviews for. I agree that reviewers shouldn’t constantly be going on about their own political views if they’re irrelevant. If Carolyn was constantly going on about misogyny in games and rating down every game because of that, then yeah fair enough, we have a bit of a problem, but that’s not what’s going on. As I mentioned before, the point of a review is to tell you whether the reviewer thinks the game’s good and that necessarily involves their own personal opinions. Most of us have no issue if we don’t agree with everything a reviewer says about a game as long as they express it well and their opinions aren’t totally off the wall. Whether a game is good depends on a lot of factors and sometimes a factor I think is important might not seem as important to you. Journalistic integrity requires that rather than sweep it under the rug, if she felt it was an important aspect of the game then she should point it out. I should also mention that the total space that was used to discuss misogyny in GTA V took up all of a couple of sentences. It wasn’t just her that it mattered to either. There were many other reviewers, both male and female and many fans who were bothered by it. Just because it doesn’t bother you personally or it doesn’t reflect a popular opinion, that doesn’t mean it shouldn’t be included. If it made the game less good in her eyes, she needs to convey that to her readers. I doubt people would have quite the same reaction if someone accused Muslim Massacre (a game where you go around shooting Muslims) of being a racist game and said that they thought it wasn’t enjoyable because of it. The reviewer wouldn’t be reviewing the game honestly if s/he ignored any political messages it might be sending and just focused on gameplay and graphics. I think at least part of the reason that people were so quick to criticise in this case was because the topic in question was misogyny.
Misogyny is a hot button word. Some people go crazy when they hear it and honestly, I do think we should stop writing whole articles dedicated to it, because the points have been made and I think beating a dead horse helps no one. For more on my thoughts on the issue, have a look here. However, I also think it’s a different matter if someone feels it’s something particularly wrong with a game and as a reviewer they have a duty to honestly communicate that to their readers. It would be easy enough to just say what you think people want to hear, but in any other field, journalistic integrity means stating exactly what you think regardless of popular opinion. Having an opinion is necessary as a journalist. It does not equate to bias. If it were a review of a book or a movie, people would expect you to discuss the social and political issues if those arise. Obviously if the book in question is ‘Where’s Spot’ discussing the deeper issues would just be pointless, as well as slightly crazy. However, most books and movies today have some sort of message to convey and even if they don’t, it’s pretty much standard for reviewers to mention if they thought it was offensive or unrealistic in some way. I would argue that as GTA V is clearly a satire of criminal life, they deliberately raised a fair number of issues regarding violence, consumerism and so on, so it’s there to discuss anyway. Obviously you can go through the whole game ignoring all of that and just enjoy the strippers and blowing stuff up and there’s nothing wrong with that, but the issues are there regardless. Even if they weren’t, in any other medium it would still be discussed if the reviewer felt it needed discussing and it’s expected that some people won’t agree with them. In mediums that other people consider more ‘serious’, controversy is just part of the process. It’s expected. So why is it not the same with games? Well, because in many ways, we’re still a really young industry and as a whole it still has a lot of growing up to do. If we’re ever to be taken seriously by the rest of the world, then things need to change.
Personally (although as I said, it’s not really relevant here) I didn’t entirely agree with her in that I didn’t necessarily think the misogyny (because I haven’t heard anyone trying to say that GTA V wasn’t misogynistic) was intended to be nasty. One of the things I love about GTA V, other than its pure escapism is that it’s actually a very clever satire on various racial, political, social and gender stereotypes. I mean Jimmy is your stereotypical lives-off-his-parents-money-and-does-nothing-with-his-life-other-than-call-people-bad-names-online gamer and I thought his portrayal was brilliant. Like I mentioned with the Far Cry 3 review I wrote, satire only serves its purpose if it actually undermines or challenges the stereotypes it portrays and although in many situations Rockstar pulled it off brilliantly, the fact that there aren’t any female characters who aren’t strippers or air-headed bimbos (at least that I’ve come across so far) means that it isn’t really satire. It’s just misogynistic. However, does it bother me? No, not particularly. I have a pretty high tolerance for this stuff and like I mentioned here, I think things will change naturally as more women enter the industry and I don’t really think talking about it nonstop will help. I certainly think it should be brought up if someone thinks it affects the game experience for them and that it’s not just an opinion which is completely irrelevant or something that no one could possibly accept. Even though the portrayal of women didn’t really bother me, I still respect Carolyn’s opinion and her freedom and in fact her duty to express it as a journalist. What people seem to forget is that freedom of expression goes both ways. The same freedom that allows you mouth off about whatever you feel like in an anonymous space also allows journalists to state their opinions and quite bravely might I add, considering they’re not anonymous like you are.