The Soapbox: This is how reviews actually work

Welcome back to the Soapbox, folks. Actually, let's call this a mini-Soapbox, since it's just a wee thing compared to some of the walls-of-text we've previously published in this space. Anyhow, let's talk about reviews, bias, and subjectivity. Whether it be film criticism, concert recaps, book reviews, or game reviews, there's an illogical expectation out there regarding "unbiased" work and -- to directly quote a recent Massively commenter -- "correct and honest" reviews.

See, you can do an honest review (or in Massively parlance, an honest editorial, since MMOs are impossible to cover completely even after several months). You can't do a "correct" or an "unbiased" review, though. It's not possible because the initial act of selecting a game to write about -- or to avoid writing about -- is fraught with bias. And this is before an author offers up the faintest trace of opinion! Now, I could just link to the definition of subjectivity and call this a post, but the value in subjective reviews would likely continue to escape gamers who believe that unbiased reviews, Santa Claus, and the tooth fairy exist.

So let's be real.

Subjective and biased reviews are the only reviews available, and that's a good thing. They're not an insult to your sensibilities if you disagree with the author, and they're not necessarily a knock on the author's competence. On the contrary, reading a pro reviewer enough to learn her biases normally proves informative in its own right, as you are then able to run the words through a given filter and determine whether or not you'll like a product based on what a particular reviewer had to say about it (regardless of whether what he had to say is positive, negative, or some combination).

And sure, an author could simply jot down some pertinent facts on a given game. It's an MMORPG, it's made by Acme Studios. It's a PvE-focused sandbox with skill-based progression and a player-driven economy. Those are certainly correct and unbiased, but they're also wanting in terms of how well the game delivers them, how they all work together, and how they compare to what's come before -- all of which are naturally subjective observations that a skilled author might use to season her review.

In short, unbiased bullet points don't constitute a review. They're also something that Google can deliver to you inside of 30 seconds. When you want a more complete picture of a given entertainment product, turn to a professional review. Just realize going in that all reviews are by definition subjective, and that subjectivity is both OK and the only thing of value that reviews bring to the table.

Everyone has opinions, and The Soapbox is how we indulge ours. Join the Massively writers as we take turns atop our very own soapbox to deliver unfettered editorials a bit outside our normal purviews (and not necessarily shared across the staff). Think we're spot on -- or out of our minds? Let us know in the comments!

This article was originally published on Massively.