Wednesday, 23 October 2019

Getting your own opinion may be a dangerous thing.

Zzap!64 was always a trusted source for games reviews.
Ignorance is bliss, or so they say.

In my early days of gaming, back when I had my Sinclair ZX81 and Atari 2600, I didn't have much idea of what was or wasn't a good game. I didn't have many games for either machine, so I usually borrowed Atari 2600 games from my cousin or typed in games for my Sinclair ZX81 from magazines and books. My cousin had more games than me, so I trusted his opinion on what was or wasn't considered good.

When I eventually got my Commodore 64 - and I think my cousin had a ZX Spectrum by this time - it came with ten copies of Zzap! 64 magazine that had been collected together by the previous owner, and I enjoyed reading them so much that I decided it was worth ordering from the local newsagent.

Zzap! was full of great stuff. It was funny, informative and entertaining. And, above all, I felt that the writers could be trusted to give me an honest opinion on what was or wasn't a good game. I used to read all of the reviews every month, and any game that scored above 70% was definitely on my radar.

As I got older, and my games machines changed from C64, Mega Drive, Amiga, PC and Playstation, the magazines changed with them. My strategy for buying games, however, didn't. I still felt that I could trust reviewers, and even though Zzap! 64 had long since gone out of print, I felt that the likes of Sega Power, Amiga Format and PC Zone weren't going to steer me wrong. That was until I encountered Wipeout in 1995.

The Playstation was the new big thing! Everyone was raving about Wipeout at the time, and I remember that I bought it for my PC expecting it to blow me away. It didn't. I felt that the game was okay, but certainly nothing exceptional. I'd played better racing games on my Amiga, Mega Drive and C64 before. Not better in terms of technology, but certainly more entertaining to play. I really didn't get what all the fuss was about, and I started, for the first time, to think that reviewers and myself had started to go a bit wrong somewhere.

This happened more and more with different games as the 90's wore on, and I started to wonder how the reviewers were getting it so wrong. In the past I'd pretty much always agreed with a reviewers opinion of a game when I'd bought it based on their recommendation, but here I was playing games that were scoring highly and I was wondering how they were considered to be good. A lot of stuff was just leaving me cold.

This was definitely more of a problem for me on Playstation than it was on PC. With the PC, I could still buy many games that were rated highly and enjoy them. Civilization, Grand Prix, B17 Flying Fortress, Lemmings and The Sims were all games that I bought based on the review score, and I thought they were great. There were a few that didn't work out, but many did. The console reviews, though, were turning up quite a few more lame ducks. Sure, there was still a lot of stuff that I liked, but there was also a heck of a lot that I didn't like as well.

It could simply be that I was no longer so easily captured by the review scores, with 9 out of 10 no longer having the magical hold on me that it used to have, meaning I couldn't overlook the flaws in a game, thinking "Well, it got  high review scores. So the problem can't be the game!" when I encountered an issue. Whatever it was, there was definitely an ongoing difference of opinion between the reviewers and myself with many games.

Maybe I've just become too fussy, or too jaded, over the years. Or perhaps I simply thought I knew more than the reviewers, which I'm probably completely wrong about, but in my defence virtually every gamer thinks they're an expert on games, so I'm probably not alone in this train of thought. It could also be that I'm no longer impressed by flashy graphics. I know that in the past I'd often play something and marvel at how good it looked, but these days I don't really tend to do that.

Maybe, and this is more my fault than a fault with gaming, I just expect too much from video games these days. Games are technically a lot more advanced than they were when I first started playing them, but the actual gameplay in many cases doesn't seem to have moved on with the fancy graphics. Maybe I need to start exploring VR a bit more to discover something different.

Whatever it is, I feel that I can no longer trust reviews as much to give me a true opinion on a game, and so I spend a lot less time looking at reviews and a lot more time watching videos on YouTube to gauge whether or not a new game will be worth playing. That being said, I recently bought the three newer Tomb Raider games on PS4 based simply on the review scores and I'm having a great time with them, so maybe all hope is not lost.

Anyway, the point of all this is to suggest that maybe to enjoy games properly it might be better to not form an opinion on them right away, as having an opinion might actually end up ruining the experience before I've even played it. Things are so hyped up these days that I find that I usually have a lot of assumptions about what a game will be like before I've even played it, and this means I tend to have a lot of ideas about the game before it's even loaded.

If I see a 9 out of 10 on a game, I often go into it expecting something amazing. Often times, though, it usually doesn't meet my lofty expectations of it and I'll start nitpicking instead of enjoying the ride. Perhaps the real lesson here is to go in with no assumptions at all and see what happens from there. When I knew very little about games I enjoyed them more, so maybe assuming the Buddhist concept of beginners mind is the key to enjoying games now?

"In the beginner's mind there are many possibilities, in the expert's mind there are few." - Shunryu Suzuki.

Sometimes,though, I wish I could just go back to a more innocent time, when I didn't know so much about games, could trust reviews, switch off the analytical part of my brain, stop nitpicking and simply live by "Well, it scored a Zzap! Gold Medal, so it must be a good game!"

You knew a game was good when it got one of these!

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