I should spend the time it takes to write these Sunday Time Waster columns playing games because I don’t have much time to play them. Sure, as a group we in the media play most, if not all, of the games as they come out, plowing through them like we’re watching an entire season of Mad Men in one sitting via Netflix. When you do that, sure, you technically see all of the shows and can discuss plot points with other fans, but your experience is going to be a little different from the person who watched it during the regular season, eagerly awaiting each week’s episode just to see how Christina Hendricks can fit into that dress….
For a lot of game writers, the products we review are disposable. Sometimes, they have to be simply because the product isn’t very good but other times it’s impossible to really dig inside a game, to get to know it inside and out. You can make the case that you don’t need to do that in order to do the job, but the number of games I feel I know on that level truthfully is limited – even after “completing” a game it’s not the same as the person who pays $60 and spends weeks or even months with it.
When you write about games either as a full time freelancer or (I’d argue especially as) an editor you get a very limited amount of time with a game before you have to write an evaluation of it. For most websites that’s roughly a week. Seven days to play a game, think about what you played, and then whip up some magical words of wisdom on whether or not you should buy it. Seven days for a game that could have taken years to develop. Of course, as I have said many times, I try not to look at reviews in that light. Who am I to tell you to buy a game or not? All I can do is relay my experience with something and you can judge for yourself if my criticisms matter to you. I’m no mind reader.
It’s why review scores are totally useless.
In truth, I miss print writing. Well, print writing as it was in the “old days” of the late 90s. Longer lead times—sometimes more than two weeks to review a game. It’s one of the reasons I run later reviews on GameShark. Ask the people who write there; I rarely even hand out hard deadlines. Our reviews are later than most sites as a result but I like giving writers a chance to let a game breathe. I hate power game reviews. Gamers know their games better than the critics do. That’s not a jab at the people who work in this field but it’s also impossible to deny. My friend who has played Halo 3 since release knows that game far, far better than anyone who played it for 7-10 days and wrote a review.
When you find a game that you like, how much do you play it before succumbing to the lure of GameStop or Amazon for your next fix? I find myself struggling with this a great deal and it’s one of the downsides of doing this job. We are constantly putting our heads down and acting like a fullback on 4th and 1 and running straight ahead through these games – even games that are not meant to be plowed through. Sure, your typical action game might contain an eight to ten hour campaign with typical multiplayer modes thrown in but what about other types of games?
I reviewed Shogun 2, loved it, and played it for as long as I could before being forced to move on to other projects. I literally don’t have the time to play games post review for any serious length of time – Out of the Park Baseball being an exception because of our online league which I fiddle with for about 30 minutes a day. Perhaps people with different life styles can do that, but I have a wife, a ten year old daughter who wants to spend time with me doing things that don’t involve videogames. I love to read, I play basketball three times a week, I’m a music junkie, I play boardgames with family and friends when I can – I like to think I have a life outside of videogames so sitting down and playing another long campaign in Shogun 2 simply isn’t possible.
Last night I sat down and played the brilliant PC game Hannibal: Rome and Carthage for about an hour. It was great. Smashing Romans with my elephants, not caring that it was historically inaccurate. I didn’t finish the game and I doubt I will. It was an hour of gaming for no other reason than to simply ‘play a game’. That’s rare. Ironically enough I am playing FEAR 3 at the moment for no other reason than to play FEAR 3. As a gamer at heart, I miss that – a lot. Of course NCAA 12 will show up Tuesday and I’ll get to work on that review and Out of the Park 12 is out now and I need to get cracking on that too. Panzer Corps drops July 11th. Warhammer 40K Kill Team is right around the corner. So is Madden. And I have other articles to edit for GameShark. Then there’s are work here at NHS. The cycle continues.
Every job, almost no matter what that job is, can turn into…a job. I’m not naive about this sort of thing though; my father worked 30 years in a steel mill, and I worked summer jobs there so I know how cool this job is compared to “real work”. In fact it’s a big reason I vowed …not to do that. That said, Shogun 2, even with all of its great post release patch support will have to wait.
I might as well uninstall it.
Just a heads up — we’re running a new contest this week. Make sure to stop by, I’m thinking Wednesday. Maybe Thursday.