How to Write a Game Review
Say you wake up one morning and think:
Today I would like to write a game review.
But then you realize:
Wait! I can't! I'm not a game journalist! I'm not allowed to write a game review!
Or can you?
As a longtime game journalist and seasoned crafter of game reviews, I'd like to tell you that it's easy to write a game review. But it's not! It takes years of experience and work and sweat. It's very, very hard work, and that's what all journalists tell their editors in hopes of getting paid more than zero to write and to keep young punks with eager attitudes and fresh ideas from taking our jobs.
Still, while it is extremely difficult, challenging and often dangerous to write a game review , so is driving an M1 tank. And people learn how do to that as well.
So, just follow these steps and you will be on your way to writing your very own videogame review:
Yes, Superman can make diamonds by crushing coal with his bare hands. But can he explain why Batman got the cool game?
1. Choose a topic.
This step is surprisingly easy, as this typical dialogue reveals:
Me: Can I review Assassin's Creed II? I really liked the first game and, in fact, have since taken graduate-school classes on medieval politics to better understand some of the narrative undercurrents in the game's plot structure.
2. Form an opinion.
Once you have a game to review, now you have to think of something to say about it. You'd think this would be the easy step. But it's not! Opinions, as they say, are like, um, bad habits -- everyone has more than they probably need.
The trick is in having an opinion about a game that other people might find interesting. If you think that Rock Band is awesome, then good for you. Lots of people think Rock Band is awesome. But if you think that Rock Band represents a transitional moment in the movement of the music arts with the power transfer of authorship from the musician to the audience, then, hey, you might be on to something!
On the other hand, nobody likes hearing some Mr. Smarty Pants ramble on and on about their Mr. Smarty Pants stuff. So you are better off using the time-honored game-journalist technique of just hating the game. Hate, it turns out, is fun to read! So, when in doubt, get angry. It's that easy. I'll show you:
Rock Band has become the leg warmers of our age. Sure, you can look like that lady from "Flashdance," but you sure can't dance. And you can't play the guitar either, no matter how good you are at gazing at your shoes over that cheap plastic guitar. You suck. This game sucks.
One of the benefits of being a game journalist is getting to work alongside composed, serious professionals like Crispy's Kyle Orland.
2.1. Important sub-step: Swag
Even though hating a game is a surefire way to form an interesting opinion, keep in mind that sometimes you will feel obligated to write a nice review because the game publisher was thoughtful enough to send you something very nice in the mail with your review copy. So, if Activision, to make up an example, sent you a live tarantula along with a copy of a new Spider-Man game, you just might want to write a nice review. Unless you don't like spiders.
3. Start typing.
Eventually, you will get to the typing phase. This is the step where you actually have to string words together. If you don't know how to type, then give up now! Most of journalism is actually typing. True fact!
4.1. What to type: Write a snappy opening.
In the world of journalism, the first sentence you write is important. How important? Let me tell you: really important! So important that it has its own name -- the lead. So important that journalists spell lead "lede."
Learning to write a lede is a dark art mastered by very few. But suffice it to say that the lede doesn't have to have any information in it; it just needs to catch the reader's attention. Something like:
Free Beer! Now that I have your attention, let me tell you, Assassin's Creed II is awesome!
With the fish on the hook, it's time to reel them in.
If you are thinking of getting into journalism for one of these neat hats with the press card, think again. They are out of them.
4.2. What to type: Say something interesting.
At this point, it's all downhill. This is where you remember your opinion and you spell it out. Using facts, dates and clever literary references is always a good idea. It makes people think that you actually put in some thought. Also use examples like:
In the desert level about three screens in, you will see a mushroom box that looks inaccessible, but after dying many times trying to jump over the sand geyser, you will get it! Trust me!
These kinds of "real game experiences" help convince your readers that you actually played the game! It shows the reader that you are a gamer, and not just some wise guy who knows how to type.
Still, if you feel that you haven't played the game enough to sound like an expert, then do the next-best thing. Start talking about cultural references and touchstones, like this:
With the new Call of Duty game, we return to the pseudo-politics of entertainment that ask us to reflect on whether war is about justice or about entertainment.
Who knows if you played the game. Once you get the reader stroking their chin and going "hmmm," they will forget whether or not you played the game. In journalism, we call this "The NPR technique."
Ideally, you can combine both "real game experiences" with thoughtful "NPR techniques" to craft a masterful and meaningful review that will get you called a game critic. Most of the time, people mean this as a compliment.
Mario gets high with a little help from his friends!
4.3. What to type: The score
Unless you write for a really cool site that uses a "Buy It," "Try It" or "Fry It" system of evaluation, you will probably have to get your calculator out in order to run the necessary statistical regression required to come up with the "fun factor" and "graphics" scores.
When in doubt, though, give every game a B (that's an 8 out of 10 or a four-out-of-five stars, in case you were curious). People that don't like the game will be happy you didn't give it an A. People that really liked the game will figure you didn't play it long enough to see why it was great, but will let the B grade slide.
And if you really hated a game, tell people to buy it and give it a really high score. They will either think that you are trying to be fair, or that you are so coolly postmodern that they wonder what they missed and think you are a very good game critic and should work for NPR.
4.4. What to type: All the other stuff
Another true fact about game journalism: When the review is done, you still have endless little activities left. Depending on the outlet you write for, you will probably need to come up with:
5. Follow-up: Basking in the glory
After you have filed your review, don't think it's time to put your feet up! Oh, no. Now it comes time to manage the influx of email and forum comments. You'll be up late re-tweeting all those comments made about your review on social media networks. Either that, or that one guy on NintendoSuperMushyForumz.com will send you a long, personal email filled with typos and Basque swearwords. These are the sort of things that make reviewing games the most special job in the world.
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