RPG Reviews and the Lack of Criticism Thereof

Ville was interested in unloading some of his RPG collection. He named a few titles and I searched them up. Well, not much use in that. The problem is that the reviews I found where more about sharing information on the game rather than opinions. And yes, you do need opinions.

For example, this didn’t come up yesterday, but I do remember one review of a game, in which the reviewer noted that character creation takes a lot of time and you should set aside a whole session for that. Okay. That’s good to know. Now, I would like to know whether it’s worth it.

Taking up a lot of time for character creation isn’t in itself good or bad. If that time is spent, because the parts of the book explaining it is horribly organized or involves a lot complicated, unneeded decisions, than it is bad. On the other hand, if that time is spent character building, it can be a good thing.

For some reason, most of the reviews I come across are still about completely technical information. They’ll spend time explaining hwo the system works, but not what it does for you.

Suppose film criticism worked the same way. Suppose I simply describe a film. It’s runtime, what year was it made, who’s in it, who’s behind the camera, what’s the intended genre. This is all information I want from film criticism, but that is not all. Sometimes some of these little factoids can be a reason to see film. Certain directors are reliable or interesting enough to follow. On the other hand, I don’t need a reviewer for that. A simple IMDb page is enough.

What I want from the review is criticism. I want the reviews to be a part of a conversation or at least an attempt to start one. I don’t need there to be a deep dialogue on each movie, but rather on the art form as a whole. Each good review should be part of it. Obviously, a small part, but still, they should bring something new to the table. Some opinion on how the movie relates to other movies, to life, to the reviewers themselves.

Just telling me that a game contains dwarves is not part of this conversation. Do the dwarves add to the game? What’s the reason they exist from a game design point of view? Does it work? Are they just short, stocky, alcoholic humans, or do they have an identity of their own? Do they add something to the game or are they just there because the designers felt it would sell a few more books? That is the kind of thing I’m interested in. Of course, you don’t need to dwell on every subject in that way, but if a game is seminal enough, every aspect of it should be looked at through a similar lense.

We do have two goals here. The more immediate one, of course, is to understand a game better before purchasing it. Just having a sci-fi setting might not be enough to work for your idea of a sci-fi campaign. How are you going to figure that out, if the reviewers aren’t helping you with this?

The long-term goal is to advance our understanding of games in general. Again, it’s about a conversation. Simply bringing up certain subjects will help the reader be aware of those issues in other games and thus deepen their understanding of what makes games tick. It doesn’t even matter if you disagree with the reviewer. Those situations might actually be the more important ones, because it’s those times that make you look at your own views and perhaps understand them better or revise them. (Well, unless you just rationalize your opinions as people are in general more than willing to do.)

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