The Purpose of Reviews

Many of you have likely heard something along the lines of “A review is the result of a self-obsessed snob preaching their opinion as fact.” While this can be true, it is certainly not all-inclusive. So, this leads to an interesting question with a complicated answer – why exactly do I write reviews?

This probably seems like the most pointless post I’ve ever done, but bear with me here. Rather than just stating the obvious, I’m going to do a bit of analysis, all while ranting about my personal opinion on the topic.

I’ve written reviews for anime, video games, physical bundles, and food. So the obvious question is why would I possibly want to cover these topics? What does one get out of writing reviews? And what about me specifically?

To get the obvious out of the way, people read reviews to hear an opinion on some topic, and they use the arguments in the review to decide whether something is worth pursuing.

At this point, there is already a split in how people respond to reviews. On one hand, there are those that are looking for a purely objective analysis of the topic at hand, while others understand that reviews will vary from writer to writer based on their subjective interpretations. When the former group complains enough, you get something as dreadful as the “100% Objective Review” of Final Fantasy XIII, a game that split the fanbase upon release.

ffxiiiWhile objectivity in reviews is certainly important, personal opinions are far more vital than trying to relay all details purely through facts. If someone thinks that a character’s grating voice takes away from the atmosphere, how exactly would they relay that detail in a purely objective manner? Would their message end up losing its impact because of the careful wording?

As a polar opposite, pure subjectivity is clearly no better. When a reviewer merely states what they do and do not like without clarifying why, they normally come off as a biased ranter. As one example, here is a review of the Weird Al Yankovic film UHF.

uhfBesides misconceiving parody as plagiarism, the reviewer merely complains about the film without providing any actual reasons.

Another common issue with reviews is what I consider a mismatched focus, when the reviewer or reader are focusing on a trivial or over-exaggerated issue. Someone may focus on a single aspect of some medium, and shape their entire review around it, regardless of its relevance to the topic as a whole. As a recent example, there have been many people over-analyzing what they perceive as misogyny in video games, while the actual issue is stereotypes that have carried over to the medium from popular culture.

When analyzing a specific topic, focus on such things is understandable. However, in a typical review, they tend to be unnecessary unless they are very important to the story, themes, or presentation of the medium.

So now, to get to the meat and the potatoes of this post – what’s my stake in everything?

Mmmm.... steak.

There are generally three cases where I will read a review of something. The first is when the reviewed product is something I am completely unfamiliar with. These reviews are normally written by other bloggers I follow on WordPress or users that I follow on Hummingbird.

The second case is when I am already very familiar with something, and I will look to see other people’s opinions on the topic. I normally do this a while after collecting my own thoughts on a game, anime, album, or whatever else.

The third case is when I am on the fence about something. With games especially, if one has caught my interest but I’m not quite sure whether it’s worth the investment, I’ll read a few reviews, both positive and negative, to get a general idea of what I can expect.

My biggest issue with reviews, and the reason I take everything they say with a grain of salt, is that they can very easily shape someone’s opinion. They can draw attention to things that would otherwise go unnoticed, take minor details and draw them out as enormous problems, or simply overlook things to get some point across. Upon finishing the reviewed material, this type of information could be very interesting, but beforehand it will merely set up expectations and influence the reader’s perception.

If someone tells you this before you eat meat, it will affect how you perceive the meat. Fact.
If someone tells you this before you eat meat, it will affect how you perceive the meat. Fact.

So, why exactly do I write reviews? The short answer is that I want to help others make informed decisions by presenting what I see as the good and bad aspects of some specific thing. If I influence someone to watch an anime, I consider that a success. If I influence someone to avoid a game, I consider that a success. If my review leaves someone conflicted about what to do, I guess I can consider that a success as well.

The long answer is a bit different. While I love writing reviews to help out others, there’s a bit of personal benefit in doing it as well. While I enjoy writing (in the past, this was realized by borderline plagiaristic fiction), high school and college rarely gave me the opportunity to talk about things I was actually interested in. William Faulkner, stochastic music, and every minor detail of American history? Meh. Pretty young anime girls, video games, and food? Hell yeah!

Along with this, soon after writing my first few reviews, I realized that I could better analyze exactly why I like or dislike things. Rather than providing a vague “It was good,” it became easier to provide concrete reasons and fully explain my mindset. Since I enjoy putting together this type of material, I get more out of it than some dry academic paper and actually work towards improving my writing and critical thinking, without trying to tear things apart for every minor mistake.

And lastly, reviews are just a great way for me to put out my opinion on a topic. If someone is curious about what I think of a specific game, and I have already written a review for it, they can read the review to get a thorough understanding of what I thought of it.

So, while there are plenty of good things about reviews, I prefer to tread carefully when seeking them out. It does seem a bit hypocritical that I expect people to use my reviews for the same reasons I won’t use others, but I suppose I’m just weird like that.

But seriously, reviews help to steer people away from... this.
But seriously, reviews help to steer people away from… this.

Why do you write or read reviews? Is it for specific reasons, or just because? Let me know in the comments or via telepathy.

The featured image includes the cover photos of all reviews I’ve done, in chronological order. *cough cough*

The steak picture is from here.

I apologize for my lack of posts recently, but I’ve been generally lethargic. Blegh. If any part of this post was incoherent, I apologize. I’ll fix it eventually™.

Oh yeah, Persona 5.get

2 thoughts on “The Purpose of Reviews

  1. I think my love of writing reviews stems from growing up reading video game magazines. It’s also good to have a written record of how I have rated things I have watched/played due to my terrible memory.

    When writing reviews I don’t intend to influence people’s buying decisions. I like a lot of niche stuff so I accept that what I enjoy is likely to be disliked by the majority of readers.

    1. Up until I got to college, I never really read gaming journalism of any form, so I think it was all the hubbub about Mass Effect 3 that got me into it. I’m pretty good at remembering my general opinion on stuff, even things I played back when I was a kid, but the specifics always escape me, so I understand what you mean.

      Whether you intend to or not, I’m sure it happens a lot. If you mostly review niche stuff, most of the people who read your reviews are likely into that same type of stuff as well.

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