Opinion – What I’ve learned from reviewing games

6 months? This is getting serious.

Having passed the 6 month mark, this seems like a good time to reflect on what I’ve learned from this process. I’ve long been interested in game reviewing and commentary, but it’s hard to understand what goes into those things unless you actually do them. Beyond simply playing games and writing about them, the review process rewired my approach to gaming and changed my favorite hobby into something else entirely. Since everyone likes lists, below are the three big things that I’ve learned from doing this blog:

Writing about games both destroys and improves gaming – As I said before, the review process is more than playing games. It’s actively evaluating and engaging with the material presented to create a meaningful critique that has some meaning to the author (and, hopefully, the reader). Prior to this experience, I played games in a fundamentally passive way. I played for enjoyment and could easily drop a game that failed to meet that standard. As I started to review games, I took a hard look at what it was that actually bothered me and what I liked. I developed the vocabulary to express my specific critique and trained my mind to be on the lookout for those factors. This has a negative effect on the enjoyment of games. It becomes harder to tune out the flaws because writing about the flaws is a key part of the process. This bleeds into games I play for fun and makes it difficult to just enjoy the playtime. I also note the similarity across games. With the constant playing of games, I have become used to, and sometimes bored with, the same overused mechanics. If you ever wonder why reviewers tend toward flawed indie titles, it’s because those titles often introduce something new. When you’ve played the same game type to death, unique things rise in value.

As much as reviewing degrades games, it also improves them. Having seen a number of mechanics and stories done poorly, I can better appreciate when they’re done right. Also, I have a better idea of why they’re done right. It is immensely satisfying to me to understand the underlying principles that explain why a game works. Furthermore, reviewing games has forced me to seek out new and different titles I would not have tried before. GTA V, Anodyne, and Gone Home are all things I would never have attempted. I may not always like playing them, but I appreciate having played them and adding that knowledge into my repertoire.

The hardest thing is being consistent – I wasn’t sure what the hardest thing about reviewing was going to be when I started, but I know now that it’s being consistent. I have a job and a life I’d like to maintain so playing, thinking, and writing can be hard to fit in. My weekly schedule isn’t punishing, but I’ve got to come up with an idea, put enough time into a game if that’s required, and then write up an article. I don’t have an editor and my deadlines are self-imposed so maintaining my schedule is entirely on me. Perhaps even more difficult is maintaining consistent quality. Writing these articles takes time and thought. The temptation to bang them out and go doing something else is very real, particularly when I’m reviewing a game I don’t like.

It takes effort to make this worth it – In keeping with the previous comment, reviewing is only worthwhile if I put in the time to make it so. It’s easy to play a game or come up with an idea, write a few lines, and call it a day. I’ll admit to doing that on some occasions, but the benefit of increasing my skills and thoughts on games only comes when I take the time to make it work. It requires taking notes, playing interesting games, and challenging the ideas present, even when it would be more fun just to play through. Games are no longer a seamless flow, instead, they are broken into pieces as I take time to write down and idea or think over an issue.

In the end, reviewing and commentary have been a very rewarding experience. I’m glad I started and I look forward to doing this in the future.

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