Yesterday, I briefly mentioned my time as a game reviewer. I’ve touched upon it once or twice before, almost always in the context of “man, I’m really happy I don’t do that anymore”, but maybe it’s worth elaborating on a bit.
When I was a kid, the only source of information on games was via the magazines; EGM, Gamepro, even the infernally wacky Ultra Game Players. I never really thought about the people writing the articles and reviews, simply trusting their position of authority to shape my gaming tastes. I’d say it worked out pretty well, though they never did return my letters or print the multitude of hand-written reviews I’d offered for games that had been out for years. Their loss, really. I had some pretty insightful things to say about Aero the Acrobat.
As I got older and the internet became more prevalent, I started to better understand those jobs and the people behind them. There was an ease of access there that we’d previously never had, but with that also came some pushback. Reviews, and their purpose, started to change. As I started my own career path in games journalism, I learned firsthand just what the modern reader was expecting from a review and more often than not “an honest opinion of the game and your experience with it” wasn’t the answer. Reviews became less about evaluation of a subjective art form and became more about expectation. Any score that doesn’t jive with preconceived ideas is immediately a red flag for “bias”, being “paid off”, or some other silly justification, and that’s just from the reader’s perspective. Publishers themselves have often put pressure on the press to represent them well or lose advertising. Jeff Gerstmann lost his job over a review score a decade ago. Thankfully, he went on to do better things.
But it’s that pressure to keep your integrity whilst trying to serve multiple masters that ultimately lead me to abandon the format altogether and it’s the very same thing that’s highlighted in The Reviewer. By the author’s own admission, it’s a “well-meaning parody” that’s not meant to be taken seriously, but at the same time, I couldn’t help but nod my head in recognition at the various obstacles put in front of you. It’s a scarily accurate look at an occupation that increasingly fewer people seem to understand the realities of. It’s no surprise to me that I failed very quickly, ignoring the peanut gallery of the Twitter-verse and proceeding to do my own thing. It’s not too dissimilar to how my real reviewing career went south.
Really, all that was missing was a website offering you an opening that would have resulted in you being paid in “exposure”.