[Some short notes: All the dates, numbers and most of the facts are taken from my already failing memory, and may be factually wrong. I've been trying to back most of them up with dates found on the internet, but all of them are estimates. The usage of USD($) in the article may not be representative of current conversion-values. I'm converting my national SEK to USD for an easier time telling the story. While the facts may be wrong, they aren't really important, the important thing is the story and how it changed my view of reviews.]
Whether you want to admit it or not, it's been a strange year in gaming-media. Trust has been gained and lost across the board, sites has been created and sites have gone under. Some people have left, some new people have taken their place. It's been a wild ride. For me though, my stance on gaming-media hasn't really changed. I've been suspicious of it for a long time and have kept myself out of it. So, I thought I should tell the story of how and when my suspicion of professional critics started to form. And this is just that story.
It is June of 2003. I've just turned 16 and I'm enjoying my summer break. I'm standing in a local game-store. I'm not sure what I want to get, but I know I want to get something for the long nights ahead. In my pocket is the rough equivalent to 30 USD, and I'm looking to spend. In Sweden, games are fairly pricey, a new game might cost anywhere between 50 to 80 USD. So I'm on a budget. I tell myself that I shouldn't be looking at the new releases, I won't be able to afford any of them. I dig through the bargain-bin and come up with nothing. There doesn't seem to be anything in there for me. Saddened, I turn and walk towards the exit. On my way out, I pass by the new-release shelf and get a quick look. Nestled between new shooters and sports games is a game-box I've never seen. Curiosity gets the best of me and I pull it out. It's a game called “Breath of fire 4”, a JRPG. At this moment in time, JRPGs were things mostly relegated to consoles, this one seems like an exception. Outside of the SNES I shared with my sister, my console experience was sorely lacking. I look at the back of the box and think to myself how cool it'd be to play this one day. While it doesn't seem to be very special, the knowledge of how good the Final Fantasy series is supposed to be is fresh in my mind, and I feel like this game might let me at least sample a bit of the magic that Playstation owners have been enjoying. As I'm standing there, studying the box, reality strikes me and I remember that I'm only carrying 30 dollars and I should stop torturing myself. I turn the box over just to have a look at the price, and to my surprise the tag says “20 dollars”. “This must be wrong” I tell myself, but again, curiosity strikes. I walk over to the counter and ask if the price-tag is correct. “It is”, they tell me. “Sold” is what I say in return.
Fast forward to later that night.
I'm sitting at home, just about to start playing. I'm pretty excited, since this will be my first true experience playing a JRPG. One that I own and can take my time with. Every other game before has been played at a friends house, and with said friend. But this one is mine. A small amount of disappointment is the first feeling that I register while the game starts. The graphics look old, really old. It seems silly to me now, but back in the day, I did put stock into graphics. It turns out that the game I'm playing is a port of a Playstation game. The Playstation 2 was released three years prior to me playing this game, and the graphical jump was very noticeable. “This must be why the game was so cheap” I tell myself. While I'm not particularly fond of how the game looks, this does not deter me from playing it. I bought this game for my own money, and I'm going to give it a fair shake. As I start playing, the game slowly starts opening up to me, and several hours later I realize I've spent all night, glued to the screen. That night, I added another game to my own personal top-list. Turns out a dated-looking port of a last-gen console was just what I wanted at the time. I played it through to the end the following week, and re-played it the week after that.
Fast forward to July, 2003.
I had a subscription to the Swedish PC-Gamer magazine. It was probably the only good gaming magazine in Sweden that specialized in PC. I enjoyed it immensely and had a lot of respect for the people making the magazine. As per usual, I spent he day of its arrival voraciously reading it. This month was special, though. They had a review. A review of my new favorite game. A review that called my new favorite game the worst RPG of the year. A review that totally axed a game I'd spent the last month adoring. Well, totally axed is probably over-valuing a bit. See, the reviewer hadn't really bothered to play the game. It felt quite obvious that the reviewer in question had played the game for an hour or so and then discarded it as “stupid trash”. Every screen-shot in the review was of events happening in the first couple of hours of the game. And the only thing the reviewer seemed to be interested in talking about was of how bad the graphics were. At first this made me sad, then angry, then confused. I mean, the reviewer said that the game was bad, wasn't that fact then? I mean, in my younger years I had a large amount of trust for these reviewers and their power to grade games. Weren't they obliged to be fair judges and be honest in their say? I was filled with doubt, at first at the game, and my experience playing it. After a while I decided to re-play it again, just to try to understand where everything had gone wrong. Playing it I realized nothing had gone wrong, the game was still great, and I was still enjoying myself. The only thing that had happened was that some yahoo had decided to trash a game at first glance and pay no mind afterwards. That night I learned a valuable lesson. That night I stopped looking at reviews the same way. After that I slowly stopped reading PC gamer. I don't want to credit this singular act as the one thing that stopped me reading gaming magazines, life has a way of progressing at a rapid pace when you're young. But this event surely put some small seed of disinterest in my head. A seed that rapidly grew to how I look at reviews today.
Fast forward to today.
I don't really read reviews. I pay little attention to gaming-press. I prefer to get my recommendation from more trusted sources. From family, from friends or from strangers on the internet. I wish I was kidding with that last one, but I'm not. At this moment in time, I trust a stranger on the internet more than a gaming-journalist. Mostly because a stranger on the internet does not really wield any power, so if a stranger leads you wrong, the only one to really blame is yourself. But if some professional critic leads you wrong, that puts doubt of the whole process in your head.
I want to close this out by saying that I hold no ill-will to anyone who has worked, or is working, for PC Gamer. I do not even hold any ill-will to the review of said review, I can't even remember the persons name. I do however, want to thank them for teaching me a valuable life lesson.
Now, if you'll excuse me, I have to go digging through my storage. Writing this story has gotten me in the mood to play some Breath of fire 4 again.