Bayonetta, Tom & Jerry, and The Issue Of Agendas


Recently, Dualshocker’s own Giuseppe Nelva published an article proposing that the problem with modern reviews is that they often take into account someone’s own personal agenda. The article in question responds to a review from Arthur Gies of Polygon who wretched at the hypersexualization of characters in Bayonetta 2 and presented a lower than Metacritic average score of the game. However, Mr. Nelva states something I disagree with from him and from members of causes like Gamergate* because a review is exactly the place where personal opinion on a game should be found and its influence on the review should be found within.

For context of my disagreement, here are a couple of statements from Mr. Nelva I disagree with along with some reasons I disagree with them.

"The problem is deeper and is starting to take deep roots in modern reviews. Authors are departing from the idea of giving their readers a fair assessment of a game’s quality, and are increasingly using reviews as their personal soapbox, or as a high horse on which to sit to educate the allegedly unschooled gaming masses on whatever personal agenda they happen to support, and to “punish” those game developer that happen to produce games that don’t fit said agendas."

How deep does this problem actually run, if, indeed, it is a problem? Bayonetta 2 currently sits at 91 on Metacritic, which means that not only did many reviewers play the same game as Mr. Gies, but they also reviewed the game very positively on its merits as a video game even as it featured a hypersexualized protagonist. Of 44 reviews on Metacritic today, only 2 of those reviews were mixed, neither of those were Mr. Gies’ review as it was at a level Metacritic considers a good review. Of all Nintendo Wii U releases, Bayonetta 2 is rated as the third best game on Wii U. It is rather evident Mr. Gies is an outlier among reviews for this game. There are even worse reviews for Bayonetta 2 on Metacritic. One reviewer who does not like Bayonetta 2’s hypersexualization  is not a symptom of issues with modern game reviews.

"This doesn’t mean that a reviewer can’t mention his personal problems related to a game, but this kind of thing definitely should not reflect in the final judgement, as it simply has nothing to do with the game’s real value as an entertainment product."

I fundamentally disagree here, as every review is highly subjective because what entertains one person does not entertain everyone. How someone may be entertained by a product is highly subjective. Calling for objectivity in reviews, understates, immensely, how much personal taste is involved in receiving entertainment. It also implies there is a level of perfection that a game could achieve beyond reproach, but such an implication is false. There is a reason why you can ask 100 people what is the perfect song and they’ll give you something near 100 different answers.

Some people enjoy games based on the way they look and how they interact with those environments. For those people, they may only need to see what a game looks like to tell if they may at the very least want to explore it. Some people enjoy games for the narratives they tell. For those people they may care most about whether the narrative is good or not and they care little about whether the environments are pretty. This is the argument for why people call for an end to review scores. Here at Gamesided, we continue to use a review score system, but I do my best to illustrate the many ways in which a game earns its score in my reviews.

"When you see games with extremely high production values like Destiny being slapped with a 4 or a 5, it’s obvious that the reviewer is completely ignoring the objectively positive aspects of the title, and is replacing them with spite and misinformation in order to punish the developer for having released something that didn’t match his personal expectations."

No review score can accurately measure what is most important to every individual that reads them. Most games start out at least a 5 out of 10 (to me) because the major part of making a video game is just getting the mechanics to work and for the art to look good as Mr. Nelva points out. These are objective things you can point out. If the game has won that battle, it is almost impossible for it to get below a 5. Combine the technology with the amount of content and you are looking at no less than a 6 most times. People complain about 7-10 review scales, but this is why games get passing scores a lot of the time even if they are the most rote, boring, and tiresome games around. People complain of objectivity and bias if you even dare give a game below a 7. Even though a 6 is still probably a well made game without much else going for it. Major websites have even written about the idea games rated a 6 are not bad games, but to justify a 6 in most reviews the review has to come off as basically scathing many times.

If someone did not enjoy a game it is their right to express their dissatisfaction with elements of the game in the review. If you disagree with the foundational perspective from which they did not enjoy it then you should find someone who isn’t from that perspective to read. There is no objective lens through which you can view a piece of cultural media as everyone grows up and shapes their own biases and those biases will be represented and manifested in their critiques. This reads to me as Mr. Nelva being more concerned with the review score itself as opposed to the content of the review. Which is another reason why the existence of review scores harms the conversation around video games more than it bolsters it.

You can get an objective view of an iPhone. You list out the specs as it compares to other phones, but that is not a review of the iPhone. It is just a comparison. The objective viewpoint of an iPhone ends there and the subjective review begins shortly thereafter. A review of the iPhone talks about the snappiness of switching between applications, whether or not the motion blur as apps blow up and size down cause motion sickness, and other personal user habits that one could look for. Those are the subjective aspects of the iPhone that some may find a turnoff or a boon to their purchase. Those things are just as valuable to consumers in the tech space as the knowledge that a video game may hold imagery that you find unsettling.

Subjectively, I find this beautiful. That is a problem?

When reviewing any form of cultural media, it is important to factor whether this piece of art looks, reads, or feels beautiful and the mechanics, grammar, or textures work great together. If those mechanics and all of that beauty is however used to depict racist character tropes or to tell the same story that has been told a million times without any additional perspective or technological advancement then at what point is it not the job of the reviewer to make mention of these things as they perceive them? It is not my job or any reviewer’s job to only give you the technical aspects of how the game looks on screen as a factor in the review. Otherwise people would never know the shooting in Destiny feels immensely more satisfying than any shooter I’ve ever played first or third person. They would never know my personal disappointments in some of the end user entertainment experience unless it related to those technical aspects. Games are much more than just technical pieces of art though just as a painting is judged by more than brush strokes.

Further, and this is the crux of my issue with anyone who complains that reviews are showing too much of a personal agenda, most of the items that pop up criticizing video games for their characterizations or bland storytelling or repetitive nature or violence or any varying topic happens outside of the confines of a review. It is not just that people scoff at the idea of ever addressing the subjective aspects of a game in a review they openly attack you for ever doing so outside of those confines as well. Even when addressed in what could be considered greatly scored review, as Carolyn Petit did while working for GameSpot, the internet reacts in a way that makes it seems as if the game was done a disservice. She reviewed Grand Theft Auto V and scored it as a 9 but asked why there were no female protagonists. The comments on the piece and around the internet were deplorable. The game received a 9 out of 10! Not a 9 out of 20. Not a 9 out of 50. A 9 out of 10. The demerits for the game were listed out and there were more than enough to suggest the game received a 9 instead of a perfect score because of reasons aside from Ms. Petit’s personal inquiries into having a female playable character in Grand Theft Auto.

Rather innocent looking isn’t it?

It reminds me of the recent controversy over Amazon’s showings of Tom & Jerry cartoons on the Amazon Instant Video service, which include a disclaimer of the racial prejudices and characterizations therein. People are going to Twitter to complain because they think what they watched as children is still perfectly suitable for children in 2014 without featuring interpretation. It is not however presented in the context of 1947 though. The character of Mammy Two Shoes was a racist stereotype from her name to her occupation to her belongings. She was not a real character, she was only ever every characteristic of a minority that could be used for entertainment. What is more is that scenes have been being removed from these cartoons for years because of those depictions. The holders of the license see them as a problem, but consumers of the media constantly balk at the idea they could be inappropriate. These things were happening before the “it’s just Twitter outrage” people like to say in order to dismiss complaints. So a large part of me does not believe for a second that the complaints of “personal agendas” in reviews is only tied to those circumstances in many cases. Even the most scholarly critique of entertainment is resisted regardless of the praise leveled in the critique as the only thing people latch onto is the one angle by which they point out an entertainment property fails.

These things manifest themselves in the real world and without context, without dictating the time and place where such things are demonstrable then we end up where we were for years with regard to the representation of black women in media where having Olivia Pope of Scandal as the first black female lead role on network television since the 1970s is progress. Progress of a severe kind still needing to be highlighted 75 years after Hattie McDaniel could not even enter the front door or sit in the front of the room to accept her Oscar from the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences. In between time, there have been long periods of constant background treatment for black women with some great character outliers in between much the same way Mammy Two Shoes was presented. That is much too long and it was a symptom of the larger issue of minority representation and treatment in media that went unquestioned by major outlets for many years.**

There is little discussion to be had with regard to “agendas” in video game reviews. For we can talk about what we want to talk about with regard to video games in our reviews or outside of them. We can all talk about them online. It is the beauty of the internet and of the technological age in which we live. Record your thoughts about what you agree or disagree with and submit them to someone. Participate in academic debate on this topic you believe in without resorting to anger or ill advised shouting down. It is rather difficult to want someone to listen to you if you attack them. Engage them with your own outlets as Mr. Nelva did when he addressed Mr. Gies or as I have as I addressed my disagreements with Mr. Nelva here. Gamesided is looking for writers; I will post the information below. I do not gain a thing from your voice being present here, but just that, another voice.

Arthur Gies may have misinterpreted Bayonetta 2, but he also may be a person repulsed by a hypersexualized woman. Such a question of why is his to ponder with those he feels he can trust, but to add his personal feelings of what he saw while playing a game or thinks a troubling trend is not something so wrong to add into a review, especially one that could be categorized as good. Such a thing is what having an actual discourse on the game can solve for any misunderstandings in the future. No one can say every review they have ever written was the right score or can say every thought they have written on games has not changed with time. The major outlets of the time rarely, if ever, questioned Tom & Jerry or other media for their depictions of colored characters or of minority culture. Even if someone is getting it “wrong” here in 2014, we are at least looking to ask the right questions.

* – I am not attempting to imply that Mr. Nelva has any attachment or ongoing relationship with the online Gamergate movement. He happened to make a similar argument that others have made within the online Gamergate movement. I do not know of Mr. Nelva’s personal feelings towards the online Gamergate movement.

** – I write this with a heavy leaning towards the United States’ treatment of minorities in the media as that is where I live and the context wherein I consume my media. So I understand some may read this and not understand the cultural anecdotes of Tom & Jerry or the characterizations of black women.

The views expressed in this article explicitly belong to the author, and do not necessarily reflect the views of, nor should be attributed to, GameSided as an organization.

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