Saturday, July 13, 2013

Metacritic: A Thing I Feel No Guilt About

In a conclusion to a well-sourced feature on the pernicious uses of Metacritic, Jason Schreier wrote something that as a longtime critic, I cannot countenance. He wrote that "[Metacritic is] harmful to critics, who have to deal with PR pressure and the guilt of taking money out of people's pockets."
That's wrong and I'll explain why.

 First, last and always: You're a journalist or critic. There's always going to be PR people looking to influence your opinions. It was around before Metacritic, it'll be around after Metacritic. That's the price of the job.
Second and more worrisome, it moves the guilt for lost wages or compensation from the people who signed a contract in good faith to the critic who isn't a party to that agreement. Critics are not responsible for a) the contracts that publishers and developers sign b) for a third party's secret interpretation and secret mechanism as to how they collate and weigh an unknown number of reviews, the end result of which they call critical opinion c) the quality of a videogame they didn't make.
Guilt is for when I actually did something wrong. Guilt is not for when people who aren't me secretly interpret my thoughts, then though a secret mechanism weigh it alongside 30 other reviews and spit out a number which two parties agree to use for the exchange of money. If developers and publishers want to use that for the distribution of money, the only place I have in that conversation is to remind them reviews are subjective, I am biased and the mechanism they're using changes my language and skews my intent.
The critic's job is to have an opinion, write it as clearly as they are able and defend it. The critic's job is to express their synthesized thoughts on an experience, whatever they may be. Good and bad in the same review. Certainty and confusion. Ignorance and knowledge. Transparency and more transparency.
This is not to say I am perfect. I have been influenced by PR people. I have failed in articulating my thoughts and I have failed in which ones I chose to publish. That said, critics shouldn't feel guilty for other people's use of Metacritic and anyone who makes them feel they should is not their friend.
To presume to speak to Mr. Schreier directly,  the next time someone blames you for not making an incentive because of a delicate score, you tell them you've got some sympathy for them, but that's as far as it goes. And you say it just like that, too, because the contracts signed by developers and publishers are things that are their responsibility, and any guilt they want you to feel is something that gives them cover. Now, if you made a factual error in your review, that's different and that's legit and you fix that. You make damn sure that fix is reflected in the conclusion or score.
But your score doesn't take money out of the hands of developers. Deals that make the money developers receive from a publisher dependent on Metacritic (an entity that openly admits to skewing a critic's words) do.

 "The Bride" by Crime In Stereo. I listened to this all of my junior and senior years of college, and not merely for the phrase "your bachelor's won't earn half the debt that you've incurred." It remains poignant today. As an aside, I had to write this blog four times before I got it to where it is now. This one is the shortest, best and most defensible, I think.

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