At a writer’s workshop during last week’s PAX East, professionals in the industry taught newcomers on how to write a review. Unfortunately, the lessons fell apart after it was discovered that no one could write a review without attaching a numerical score to it.Surprisingly, this workshop actually had quite a few helpful tips on writing reviews. It was suggested that writers should start with an introduction that expresses how they feel about the game. Furthermore, they should always substantiate any opinion with facts based on what they played. It would have been extremely useful if the students actually got that far.
However, the teachers were not professional game journalists but rather independent writers who have won awards for their opinion pieces. The lessons they tried to teach seemed to fall on deaf ears as many of the students kept asking questions about what kind of number should go with a review and how to leverage that number into more hits for their website.
“This obsession with numbers just baffled me,” said writer Richard Payne, “Sure, you can add a number to your review, but I find that the best reviews are ones that clearly express their opinion without being misleading or confusing. But no one seemed to care about what actually went into the words. In fact, I don’t think anybody actually cared about writing at all.”
“I wanted to gauge their skill levels so I had them write a short paragraph expressing their opinion on a painting of a cat,” recalled Payne, “I did not expect much as it is extremely difficult to describe a very plain picture. But these paragraphs I received were just plain garbage. Why would anyone subject themselves to reading anything these people produce?”
The following is an example of an opinion that an attendee had written:
This painting is definitely a 10 out of 10. It is quite possible that we have found the next Mona Lisa. The visceral nature of this picture speaks volumes about the artist and brings tears to my eyes. It just makes me feel human unlike other paintings. The cat may not be perfect, but is the cat even important when we look at the whole picture? After all, the high quality frame shows that the artist spared no expense bringing this masterpiece to us. By the end of my viewing, the cat did not even matter. Instead, I discovered something new about myself.
“After reading these paragraphs, we decided to give some quick pointers and have them start over again,” continued Payne, “We just kept receiving these reviews with numbers and pointless abstract commentary that somehow did not match the number at all. What frightened me the most was that some reviews just had a number and that these writers could not stop themselves from doing it. I swear it is almost instinct for them.”
Even a few veterans attended the workshop including IGN review editor Dan Stapleton. Stapleton said that he needed a refresher on how review scores worked. He got into some trouble when he kept arguing about the importance between review numbers. To make his point, he took out a pen and almost stabbed a teacher saying that .1 of an inch is the difference between life and death. No charges were pressed.