Readers who don’t want criticism in a game review. Thoughts on what a new generation of gamers in Japan want

Image Credit: Towfiqu barbhuiya

Original Japanese text written by. Ryuki Ishii
Translated by. Marco Farinaccia

In addition to gaming news and interviews, the Japanese version of AUTOMATON also publishes game reviews. There are often a variety of comments that are posted by readers expressing their opinions on these reviews; however, there has recently been an increasing number of comments that are not related to the content of the reviews themselves, but rather the way that the reviews are written.

Some examples include, “I don’t need subjective criticism that tries to explain why a game is fun or not,” and “It would be better to just tell us what you like about the game and what is fun about it.” I (the original author of this article) feel that these kinds of comments, while relatively small in number, have certainly become much more common than they used to be.

Yet, it made sense to me why there are some readers who think this way. That’s because I read 映画を早送りで観る人たち~ファスト映画・ネタバレ――コンテンツ消費の現在形, which can be translated to something like “The people who watch movies with increased playback speed – Fast films and spoilers – The current state of content consumption,” a book written by Toyoshi Inada and published in Japan a few months ago.

A generation uninterested in opinions that differ from their own

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Through a number of interviews with people from a variety of different backgrounds, this book attempts to investigate the reasons and circumstances behind the trend in Japan of those who watch movies and TV shows at increased playback speed, by skipping through at 10 second intervals, or by skipping whole episodes.

The causes are many, of course, and the book gives examples such as the excessive amount of video content that is available; the necessity of time-saving options in the busy lives of Japanese people; the increasing amount of content that you feel the need to see in order to have discussions with friends; and the rise of movies and shows that explain everything via a plethora of dialogue, something that makes them easier to understand when watching at high speeds. The analysis of the ways that entertainment is consumed in modern day Japan makes for an interesting read.

As a supplement to the main topic, the book also delves into the mentality of the Japan’s younger generation. Inada discusses how many Japanese people from generation Z (those born between the end of the 1990s and the early 2010s) are unable to tolerate being confronted with opinions that differ from their own and are reluctant to interact with people who don’t share their views. The spread of this mentality is pointed to as one of the reasons that fewer people read film critiques in Japan.

Inada claims that in relation to these tendencies of generation Z, there is a spirit of defiance spreading among young people that opposes the idea of some highbrow writer telling them the “correct” way to watch something. One of the people interviewed in the book commented that “What other people think is irrelevant. As long as I enjoy something that I watch, that’s all that matters. I don’t really care what other people feel about it.”

These kinds of people may look at sites that contain additional background information, explain the mysteries of a work, or feature a detailed synopsis of the story with spoilers, but they won’t read reviews. According to Inada, these people “are uninterested in reading an analysis of a piece of entertainment written by an individual who does not share their own tastes or sensibilities. They seek neutral, objective information and explanations that they find useful, not the personal impressions and thoughts of others.”

Inada continues by saying that “They only want to read things that express praise for the content that they themselves hold in high regard. Rather than a large variety of impressions and interpretations, they desire what they sympathize with. Thus, they avoid critiques and instead purchase things like fanbooks. All they want to read are things that approve of the content that they like.”

What Inada was discussing concerned movie critiques, but surely the mentality held by many young people is not limited to movies and applies to critiques and reviews of any kind. They are looking for positive narratives regarding the content that they enjoy or information that enables them to gain deeper knowledge about that content. In other words, they want agreeable and convenient discourse.

People that seek agreeable information and opinions

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The reviews that we post on the Japanese edition of AUTOMATON are met with a wide assortment of opinions, such as “ It covers all the good and bad points,” “I don’t agree with this at all,” and “This review does a decent job at putting my thoughts about the game into words.” There are only a small portion of reader comments that say they don’t want any reviews. Nevertheless, if the number of people who only seek agreeable information or opinions continues to grow, then we may very well be forced to reconsider how we approach our reviews.

Reviews on our site can be broadly separated into two types. One type consists of reviews that are published prior to or on the day that a game is released and are meant to serve as a kind of buyer’s guide. The main objective is to explain what kind of game it is and provide information that can assist readers in deciding whether they want to purchase the game.

The other kind of reviews are ones that are written sometime after a game’s release and aim to critique the game. The authors of these reviews assess things like the gameplay, story, and themes to express their thoughts about whether the game was able to deliver the experience the developers were aiming for, and what elements were interesting or dull and the reasons why.

While these reviews can also act as a buyer’s guide, they are mainly aimed at readers who have already played the game in question. The idea is to present these readers with one perspective on how to evaluate the game and entertain them while doing so, regardless of whether or not they agree with the opinions presented within the review itself. At the very least, that’s how I (the original author of this article, who is an editor of AUTOMATON) sees it.

Personally, I hope that this kind of discourse sticks around as I believe that the greater the variety of game reviews available to inspire the thoughts of readers, the better. The people who possess the ability to write high quality game reviews are actually quite rare, so I also want there to be a place for them to continue their craft. Yet, we in Japan may be approaching an era where people have less and less interest in these kinds of reviews and don’t see any value in them. A time may come when those reviewers will be asked to devote their efforts to writing buyer’s guides or articles that only serve to promote and praise games.

As a matter of fact, there is a series of articles on our Japanese language site called Now Gaming that has a significantly higher readership than our reviews. Each week our writers create an article that includes short impressions about the games that they are currently playing, and it has received a lot of positive feedback from readers. The articles are focused on what elements the writers found interesting in the games and this has shown us that there is a demand for light content featuring impressions that readers can relate to.

Our work in the gaming media is built around providing readers with content that fits their needs, and we tend to reduce the amount of content that isn’t being read. An even greater shift towards articles that focus on being relatable and pleasant to read may be what lies ahead for the future of game reviews in Japan.