I love reading reviews- especially for games I know very well I’ll never play myself (often because of the difficulty curve that would be involved and the frustration associated with that), but also for games I am intending to play, because I enjoy having a sneak peek behind the scenes to whet my appetite and feed anticipation of how I’ll respond to something that another reviewer might have interpreted very differently.
One of my favourite aspects of reviews is when people add in personal anecdotes- expand on the perspective they’re bringing to the table- since there’s such a colourful cast of characters on these forums, and it’s fascinating to learn more about the person behind the screen and how their life has shaped how they interact with art.
It also coincidentally is helpful sometimes, to hear from different viewpoints -(parents especially, since I tend to write an older cast, and while I base many of the leading men in my stories off of my father figure, he’s quite the eclectic personality himself and not a great everyman template- a mean left hook having, bare handed rock climbing, former drag racing, poker playing extraordinaire with a soft spot for kitten accoutrement, building blanket forts, and fluffy robes and slippers in his “old” age, so it’s interesting to me to see how other parents speak about their kids)- for my own IF. That last point especially comes to mind because of one of Mike’s recent reviews about that Mormon anti-dating simulator, and how he mentioned it’s a bit odd how the toddler and husband are sketched in so lightly- since babies tend to occupy more mental real estate than that!
Anywho, I was just curious as to why you read reviews? Do you read reviews for games that aren’t yours? Do you only read reviews for games that you’re not going to play (if you mind spoilers for games) or do you read them for games after you’ve played them? I’d love to know!
A good question, honestly, and one I’d never really thought through before.
I tend to read reviews that come from writers I’m interested in, such as Jason Dyer’s exploration of early adventure games; I’m steadily reading through his “All the Adventures” series. Or I read reviews of games that someone has pointed out to me for one reason or another; recently that’s included Rematch (2000) and Scavenger (2003). In other words, if something makes me intrigued enough to look at a game’s IFDB page, I’ll read the reviews there before playing it.
I’m glad that personal aspect of my reviews works for you – I’m aware it’s often a bit self-indulgent, but it’s definitely something I like seeing when I read reviews by others.
My take on what makes for good games writing is very largely shaped by the New Games Journalism movement – which is almost 20 years old at this point so uh not so new anymore! There are a lot of different views of what NGJ was all about, but to me the key takeaways are to lean hard into subjectivity rather than faux-objectivity, and trying to convey the experience of playing a game, including the cultural and sociological context of the game. I think these two pieces go hand in hand, since you need to know where a person is coming from in order to evaluate what they’re presenting as their experience of a game.
That perspective means that I love reading reviews across a broad swathe of media, even as my life circumstances mean I don’t consume nearly as much of it these days as I’d like – but I read pretty much every review on IFDB, and outside IF also keep up with reviews for games, movies, and TV that sounds interesting to me even if there’s no chance in the world I’ll ever get to them (this isn’t so much the case with music, I have to admit, since I find music is more elusive than more narrative media and so I don’t get as much out of reviews unless I’m able to listen to at least a bit of the album or song being discussed – which I almost never can).
The exception is when I know I’ll be writing my own review of something, since I find when I read other folks’ takes before formulating my own I get excessively self-conscious and find myself reacting to others’ reactions without being sure of what I actually think. I do think those conversations are valuable, though, so after I get my review done I often try to track down what other folks have said and respond to them if there’s something that resonates, or doesn’t, with my own experience – but in the crazy train that is the Comp, it can sometimes be hard to manage that while keeping up with the pace needed to get through the games!
EDIT: it belatedly occurs to me that my Cragne Manor Let’s Play is very NGJ-y , though I wasn’t conscious of that while writing it.
I’ll read the beginnings of reviews to see whether or not the reviewer liked or hated it. I generally don’t want to play games that are very buggy or problematic, and reviewers are very reliable like that. Then I’ll read the whole review after I play the game to see a different perspective.
I read all of @kaemi’s reviews because they’re art unto themselves, whether or not I intend to play or have played the game.
I often find jumping to the very end gives that info for some reviewers. So I’ll usually peek at the beginning and ending of a review, but maybe zone out the middle until I’ve played it myself.
I read every review I can find for every game I write about, and I will often consider its rating on IFDB, if only to say, “gee whiz, people liked Zork Zero more than [game]?” I don’t just check IFDB, though; I search everywhere.
I have a list of games that credible people have recommended, so I don’t look at reviews to decide what to play. I just look at the list. It’s a big list; I’ll probably never get through it all.
I read reviews for games that I have played as well as for games I know that I will not play. Usually, my motive is curiosity. I wonder what other people think of a game more than I wonder about said game. If I finish an IF game and I’m still interested, I’ll go read the reviews.
So far as blogs go, I follow Jimmy Maher, Jason Dyer, and Art Maybury (Arcade Idea) closely. JM and AM don’t really write about IF these days, but they’re very good and have done some great coverage of Infocom games in the past. I think each of them did something that made me want to write about games.
I’ll often go and read a bunch of reviews right after finishing a game, especially one I enjoyed or found interesting. I think this does the same thing for me as eg. a book club might; a chance to get other perspectives and a deeper analysis on a work, and maybe just a way to spend a little more time with it.
I also like reviews for the discussion of craft, either digging through the work of a reviewer I find insightful or in collections like IF Gems. I find theory easier to apply when I have concrete examples to hang off it, and some more theoretically-minded reviewers do a lovely job connecting the two.
I find myself reading reviews of the games I didn’t like. I want to understand what might make someone else like it. If I like a game, that’s enough; I don’t need to know what others though of it.
I have a weird problem with reading other reviews during a comp, because I don’t want to read reviews before I play a game (because I don’t want to color my judgment) and I don’t want to read them after because I already know what the game is like.
The main times I read other reviews are:
-If I got stuck and I want to see how others got past it,
-If I found part of the game surprising or interesting and want to see if others felt the same way, or
-If I suspect I didn’t see all content in the game and want to see if others found more.
I look through reviews to get recommendations for games.
What matters for me is the description of the game, not what the review thinks of it. For example, I only discovered Thanatopia in this year’s IFComp when I read a (fairly neutral) review. It sounded fascinating, I played it and I’m glad I did.