I feel this is an important question to ask myself, because to write effective reviews one must understand how they will be read. A bit ago I read an article that claimed people don’t use game reviews to influence game purchase decisions (I can’t, for the life of me, find that article now). “That’s stupid,” was my first thought, “of course they do.”
Then I thought about it again. I’m always saying that the only real way to decide if a game is worth your money is to play it yourself. There are two reasons for this, and they are why, until recently, I focused only on book reviews. With games (at least modern day games), pretty everything is handed to you – the sounds, the visuals, etc. in addition to the story. Everyone experiences those in the same way, the difference is how the player feels about these things. Those feelings are unique to every individual person. While a review can tell you how the reviewer felt about the game, and how you may feel if your tastes are similar to the reviewer, it can not truly tell you how you will feel.
Books are different. With books you are handed only the story and a description of the characters, and your brain is left to fill in the rest. If I describe a character as “beautiful with almond shaped eyes,” you’re going to envision those eyes almond shaped as little or as much as possible to make the character beautiful in your mind. If we both read “Jenny pressed the ‘random’ button on the radio, pausing briefly to listen to each song, before finally settling on a romantic melody,” you’re going to imagine a song that sounds romantic to you. You may be envisioning My Heart Will Go on while I’m envisioning My Neck, My Back.
With books you basically need to be told if it is written well, if the characters are fleshed out and realistic (or at least in some way relatable if they aren’t meant to be realistic), if the story is composed appropriately, and the basic premise. Your brain will fill in the rest; with games, that isn’t the case.
The second reason is that reading reviews and watching videos of a game is a very different form of interaction than playing a game. When you read a book review, you’re doing exactly what you’re doing with a book, and it can invoke similar reactions. With game reviews and even videos, the feelings are completly different. Even though a good review or video displays the emotions of the player, again, those feelings are going to vary from player to player.
For what, then, do I use game reviews? I don’t care about proving that I was right to buy a game when I read a review of a game I already own. I’m extremely unlikely to buy another copy of something Darkstarmatryx reviewed and therefore already possesses. But one of my hobbies aside from gaming is reading. At some point it clicked in my mind; I use game reviews as a form of entertainment separate from gaming and separate from reading books but at the same time connected. I’m reading, but it’s still about video games. Game reviews – and journalistic opinions about game news, for that matter – are opinions about games and gaming related stuff, turned into an entertaining read.