Creative writing, descriptive language and curse words do not automatically make a review good

I apologize for linking to an old review of Twilight Princess. I only recently read it and feel compelled to comment. My first instinct was to write the entire review off as a cry for attention. While it may be, writing it off is the easy way out and allows the author the satisfaction of being dismissed, as opposed to critically assessed. So let’s discuss the merits of her positions.

Whether games are all ultimately very similar and it is only the façade of graphics, sound, and plot that differentiate them or whether the façade doesn’t matter because games are ultimately the game mechanics underneath is not a debate I am equipped to settle. I tend to come down on the side that the façade usually doesn’t matter and the mechanics are really what a game “is” at least 95% of the time (for example, Fumito Ueda titles may be in the remaining 5%).

My point is that complaining about the plot and characters of a Zelda game seems to be missing the point. Drama is loosely draped over the actual game in order to give us some paltry excuse to continue forward, mostly because reviewers get very upset if they aren’t explicitly given a quest from a well developed character. RPGs tend to have decent but repetitive gameplay that is tolerable because of a good plot. Zelda is not an RPG. The series requires only a skeleton of a story because the gameplay itself is enough.

Then there are the complaints the author targets towards Twilight Princess that seem to be complaints against most games. Yes, after falling in lava Link is not permanently dead. Buying a new game every time you fell in lava would get very expensive. The counter complaint is levied even more frequently, though — dying and having to cover a lot of ground over again pisses off most reviewers. By fixing this, Nintendo apparently now must face the ire of gamers who want to be forced to start over at the last save point.

The final and most significant flaw in this Twilight Princess review is that fun and work are not clearly divided. Humans evolved to receive pleasure from overcoming obstacles and solving problems. I figure this positive reinforcement pushes us to think and use our brains to better survive. Now the problem is that the Zelda review calls the game work. Does this mean Sudoku, crossword puzzles, and jigsaw puzzles are work? Despite their appearance as similar to work, they are entertainment.

In a similar fashion, whether or not I can explain to a friend why Zelda is entertaining, solving a puzzle in Twilight Princess, or any game for that matter, is fun. Failing to understand this basic fact about human evolution and game design is criminal for a game reviewer. I’d ask someone to arrest Heather Campbell, but that sort of notoriety may be exactly what she craves.

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17 years ago

I’m no fan of that Heather Campbell either. In the latest The Gamer’s Quarter, hers was the only article I actively hated. It was mainly an outlet of her personal life and only tangentally related to video games.

17 years ago

Hi DeeMer! Glad to see someone else reads Gamer’s Quarter. I’m going to have to agree with your points. On the forums I frequent, Heather is a great person, but I don’t always get behind her philosophy on games. I don’t mind some personal anecdotes in a review (really I don’t), but I remember one TGQ article about Final Fantasy that just went on with it for too long. Its a tricky line between personal reviewing and autobiography, though ultimately I’d rather see people try than have nothing at all. Man can’t survive on Gamespot reviews alone.

Heather Campbell
17 years ago

Hey Gang,

Thanks for reading the reviews. I’m not looking for fans. I am looking to express game ideas and opinions in original ways, and to that end I’ll experiment with format, voice, and bits of autobiography.

I don’t think games journalism works without invoking the self, because the player is part of the game. So, here I am, striving to evoke My Feelings in Your Brain, so you get a sense of what it was like when I played the games I’m reviewing. I have no doubt that your experiences will be different; all I can hope is to find individuals who are in similar states when they play.

For more traditional journalism, you can always read my work in print.

Thanks for the link, though. I think your site is very well-written.