Saturday, 17 January 2015

reviewer bias; game taster mood

Should a game review specify whether the game being reviewed is one the reviewer bought / asked for / sought out, or one that someone else suggested or was a review copy sent in cold by the publisher? To expect this caveat in every review sounds absurd. Where I am coming from though is the reviewer's personal bias. I wonder how that can be communicated. Readers can only grasp a reviewer's personal bias if they have been following him and paying attention for a long time. Sometimes they don't know it despite having read many reviews. For me, I only have vague ideas of what kind of games a few game reviewers like, from among the many reviewers whom I follow. I read too widely to remember who is who and who likes what. I wonder whether it's possible for a standalone review to communicate the reviewer's personal bias, so that the reader is better informed and reads the review in the right context.

Many times I am tempted to tell people not to trust me blindly, because I find that I tend to be biased towards the games I buy (or seek out to try etc) and against those others buy. The former almost always gets a positive impression while the latter more often than not gets a lukewarm response. This can be explained easily. Naturally I only buy or seek out games that I think I will like, so it is no surprise that I do end up liking them. And since I'm a jaded old fart of a boardgamer, most other games do tend to get automatically categorised as booooring or been-there-done-that by me.

When I play a game which I seek out to try, I am emotionally invested, because I have spent the effort reading about it, researching it, reading the rules and usually also making a rule summary for it. That adds to my personal bias. So. Don't trust me too completely. I don't trust myself entirely.


I find that I have been in a game taster mood lately. I think this is the after effect of Essen 2014. I normally don't consider myself a boardgamer who chases after the latest releases, but recently quite many at-least-moderately-interesting games have popped up in my boardgame circle, so I thought why not do some tasting around. I have been reading rules and making rules summaries slightly more than usual. I am enjoying this spurt of game tasting, and I'm quite content to play many of these games just once. Some of them are actually quite good, and deserve multiple plays. However it doesn't bother me too much that I may not play them again. This is contrary to my normal mantra - play fewer games and play them more times. Maybe it's just a phase which will pass, or a fancy that comes and goes.

I have been thinking about the current state of the boardgame industry, or at least boardgame as a hobby, to be like a pop industry. Many games are hot for a short time, and then forgotten. People quickly move on to the next new hotness. Boardgames are made to last many plays, and when you think of them being as short-lived as fireflies, it is hard not to feel sad. This tragedy probably applies only to hobbyists and not muggles. If you are a hobbyist, you will likely be paying attention to the many many many games that are being released every year. You want to try so many different titles, it results in you constantly jumping from one game to the next and never quite stopping or revisiting older games much. If you are a muggle, you will probably be content with just a handful of mass-market games and you get lots of plays from each game. Come to think of it, many muggles are already doing what I always tell myself to do.

One other way to look at the boardgame hobby is this: it can be a one-time consumption hobby, i.e. like watching movies or reading a book. In most cases you watch a movie or read a book just once. That one-time experience encapsulates all that the content creator wants you to see and feel. Now boardgame designers don't intend their creations to be just one-time affairs. Boardgames definitely have more replayability than books or movies. However, as a boardgame hobbyist, I don't think it's a sin being a taster. If you can afford it, and you are not hurting anyone (including yourself) in the process, who is to say what's the right way to enjoy your hobby?

Panamax. I quite like it and enjoyed my first game very much, but somehow I don't feel any hurry to play again or any urge to buy a copy.


Unknown said...

Well for one, bloggers legally need to disclose any payment or freebies they receive in the process of a review/endorsement of a product. You the blogger won't be sued (per a NYT article), but instead the FTC will go after the company who sent you the game. Here's a link for more info:

Hiew Chok Sien 邱卓成 said...

Ah I see. I was not aware that USA has this law. I wonder whether Malaysia has something equivalent.