This week sees the release of Forspoken, a new RPG for the PlayStation 5 and PC. My copy should arrive in a few days and I’ve been looking forward to it since I saw the trailer alongside the original PS5 release.
If you read the press, Forspoken is anything mixed quality at best to the worst game of 2023! I played the demo, which apparently was full of issues that I didn’t note, and am still looking forward to the game. Why is there a difference between my experience and that of others?
At play are assessments, standards and authority.
Whenever something is reviewed, the reviewer is usually making assessments measured against their expected standards. If you are expecting perfect quality graphics at a high frame rate1 the Forspoken will disappoint. Now, graphics are subjective and so that’s where assessments come in. They are the reviewer’s opinion combining both quality and “should-be-thereness”. In other words, the reviewer has determined a certain graphics quality should be in the game and if it’s not, the game falls short. That should gets treated as fact and millions of people are influenced.
There are objective graphic measurements that can be checked. Frame-rate and resolution are the two easiest to objectively measure. Graphics experts will also pick up on how the graphics were made. Digital Foundry provides examples of all this in Forspoken on PlayStation 5 - What Works and What Doesn’t - DF Tech Review.
This can lead to statements such as:
“I don’t like this game because it does not meet my standard of what I expect this game should be.”
Can you see where the problem lies? We are not comparing my apples with the reviewers apples, and certainly not against the creative decisions of the game designers.
Add authority to the mix and reviews become murkier still. Digital Foundry are well respected for their graphical analysis of games. They do it well, as precisely as possible, and in thorough detail. But if I have given DF too much authority, then whatever they say will influence me more than is warranted. It’s an easy mistake to be drawn into when authority and assessments blend and they sit beside objective measurement. We can fail to recognise which is which and the review becomes accidentally biased2.
Next time you watch a review of anything on YouTube, keep an eye out for the difference between subjective assessments and objective assertions, and how much authority you are granting the reviewer.
For me, I’m still looking forward to Forspoken this week. It was the promise of the story that hooked me in and it’s one of only one games that I’ve ever ordered in advance based on that alone.
Generally in computer games, a high frame rate means a smoother visual experience and better reaction times to what happens on screen. Achieving higher frame rates often comes at the cost of detail quality. ↩
My personal bug-bear is the Rotten Tomatoes score of The Dark Tower movie. It’s as if it became popular to slam this movie because everyone else has. I’m glad to see the ranking has climbed to 15% from a low of 7% when the movie was released. ↩