More on the Escapist, PA, and Cameron Lewis

My comments on the Escapist article regarding responsibility in game review have gotten a little attention. But in the ensuing discussion, an assumption has been made, and it’s a really dangerous one.

GameSetWatch commenter jeffk says:

The thing is, Dan entirely sidesteps the point. Mike’s main criticism is that, having played the game, he was pretty sure that the review hadn’t even bothered playing past the tutorial phase before writing his review.

I didn’t address this for two reasons: 1) Whether or not Cam played the game isn’t what I wanted to discuss, and 2) Mike’s allegation is wrong, albeit honest. Mike doesn’t think Cam played it all the way through, based on his interpretation of the game and how it contrasts with Cam’s. Suggesting that someone isn’t doing their job a very serious allegation, and yet without anything else to go on than a suggestion of wrong-doing, many people were quick to agree.

The truth is, Cameron finished the game when he reviewed it. Even though I didn’t think the allegation was fair, the first thing I did when contacted Cam about it was give it credence. “Well, you did finish it, right?” “Yes, 1000 points.” He didn’t enjoy it, mind you, but he wasn’t hired to enjoy it. He finished it because he was being thorough and professional. Had Mike’s allegation been true, you certainly wouldn’t be seeing me voluntarily bringing it back up in my personal blog; you’d be reading some sort of embarassing apology from GamesRadar for hiring a lazy gadabout. Instead, Cameron has been writing about games professionally since 1994 and has proven himself to be responsible. Someone disagreeing with his opinion does not invalidate that, but defending a person’s credibility often makes you look…defensive. So nothing was said.

Still, since it’s become a sticking point, I was hoping to provide some proof. Camfinished the review on a debug 360 almost a year ago. Unfortunately, the debug profile he used to play the game has since been destroyed by debug firmware upgrades etc. and there is no record that he finished the game. (“Convenient,” say the cynics. But it’s happened to me too — I’m on my third debug profile, due to reinstalls, firmware upgrades, and general debug hardware flakiness. Perhaps you’ve heard, sometimes those 360’s don’t work so well.) I’d hoped that a screen of his debug profile showing his 1000 Gamerscore for Enchanted Arms would make the allegation go away and we could move on. But I can’t offer that proof after all.

Jeffk brings up another good point:

Actually, did anybody ever go back and check the achievement dates on Lewis’s Gamertag? That would clear up the problem pretty quickly.

Unfortunately, the debug snafu kills this…but I looked at Cam’s tag anyway. Cameron usually has his Gamertag profile locked, but he’s on my friends list so I was able to look it up online and take a screen. Sure enough, long before this current conversation came up, he’d finished the game a second time on his retail, purely out of personal responsibility. (He didn’t do a follow-up or post publicly about this, to my knowledge — GamesRadar did not ask him to re-evaluate the game in the light one of loud disagreement.) I knew that he was pretty ripped up about the suggestion that he didn’t do his job, so apparently he wanted to see if he’d really just made a major error in judgment. Mike’s criticism was taken seriously, even if it was based purely on personal interpretation and a guess. The public nature of the situation made Cam take a long, hard look at how he does what he does.

I’d argue that replaying the game and rechecking his instincts was healthy but unnecessary, because Cameron never did anything wrong in the first place. Cameron simply isn’t one of those people who phones it in or does half the work for all the credit (or in this case blame).

Of course, that’s after the fact, so it’s no smoking gun. Instead, we’re left with Mike’s word that he didn’t play it against Cam’s word that he did play it. But as the editor, I gotta point out that that’s the same “proof” any media outlet has ever had. “Are your sources good? Can we say this in good conscience? Did you do the work?” It’s the leap of faith and trust in responsible reporting that comes with the territory. And it’s the opposite of the situation the Escapist article brings up, where editors allegedly overrule their writer’s opinions for their own personal interests. Suffice it to say, in this case…that didn’t happen.

I understand that some of Mike’s criticism is that Cameron simply didn’t bring up a lot of good things about the game that Mike liked, or that Mike felt the game had more to offer than Cam gave it credit for. That is a very different point, and certainly a valid one — again, as Warren Spector said in the Escapist article, knowing some of the editorial voice and being a regular reader does give you more insight into personal quirks and values and who to trust, and Mike says he doesn’t regularly read any of them. But I think Mike’s reaction post is actually longer thanCam’s initial review; Mike is blogging and therefore not working under the strict word-count templates that Radar uses. Cam’s trying to get the most important elements in to support the score while working in limited amount of space. Clearly, I didn’t think his review was irresponsible; I think I tweaked the wording a little bit, but I felt I understood, from reading it, what the game’s flaws were and why he gave it that score. But is it bad because it’s misinformed, because he didn’t finish the game? No. Again, I respect Mike’s opinion, but the assumption he made was wrong this time.

Despite seeing or hearing the same thing, two reviewers can have totally different impressions of a film or a book or a CD. It’s not unrealistic to think that two game reviewers might latch onto completely different aspects of the same game during their experiences, and walk away with two very different opinions.

The average score for this title is around a 7. (I see 1UP, EGM, OXM US, and Game Informer clocked in at 6.5; Edge gave it a 6.)Many reviewers found notable flaws in the game, butCam’s 5 is definitely on the low end of the scale. I don’t know what Mike from PA would have given the game if he’d reviewed it (I mean, he’s not a reviewer, so I don’t really expect that, any more than people expect me to start drawing), but it sounds like it would be higher than most other people who played it. Cam’s is lower than most other people who played it. Who is “right”?

Whoever you agree with, clearly!

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