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Golden Slumbers

March 29th, 2015 | Posted by Philip J Reed in personal - (5 Comments)

Metal Gear
Just a few short words about where I’ve been. Or, one short word: asleep.

This entire week or so I’ve been feeling drained and lethargic. As best I can tell, it’s due to a medication I’m on, which has recently had its dosage reduced. This is good news, at least on the whole. But my body seems to want to hibernate until it adjusts…and that’s been problematic for a few reasons. The most visible to you is probably the lack of updates on this site. It’s something that I hope gets rectified soon. Especially since there’s something I really want to get written and ready for this week.

I’ve been more or less useless outside of work, which soaks up what little energy I have. It’s nothing to worry about in the long-term, and I don’t feel sick or uncomfortable at all. Just dead, dead tired.

So…yeah. I appreciate your patience. Again, I’m hoping to have something special ready this week, and to resume my normal level of erratic productivity soon.

Goodnight.

Valentine

One of my most appreciated (and appreciative) friends, Emily Suess asked me to share a request. And…yeah. The moment I read the post, I knew I’d be more than willing to help.

Emily’s post about it is here, but I’m going to paste the content below. It’s short, and I don’t want an extra click to stand between anyone and participation.

At Christmas, Cheryl Gregory had a stroke.

She is unable to see her two sons.

Her siblings have been doing their best to visit her and keep her spirits high, but recently she was transferred to a new facility. She wasn’t recovering as well as the doctors like, so they transferred her to a new location in a different county. While the distance makes visiting her more difficult, it also doesn’t help that her brothers and sister are only allowed to see her for two hours a day.

Recovering from a stroke is hard enough, but fighting depression and loneliness makes getting better even more challenging, no matter how good the doctors and nurses may be.

Cheryl is only 63, but if her recovery doesn’t progress, she may have to stay in a nursing home for the rest of her life.

So I’m reaching out to my own family, friends, and complete strangers to show Cheryl some support. As Valentine’s Day approaches, I’m asking everyone I can to mail her a postcard, a get well card, a Valentine, or submit an online patient card to lift her spirits. Have your kids draw her a picture. Fold and mail an origami crane. Anything you can think of that might bring her a little extra joy.

Send a Valentine or get well wish by snail mail.
Cheryl Gregory
C/O Serenity – St. Mary’s
1116 Millis Ave
Boonville, IN 47601

Send an online greeting to be printed & delivered by hospital volunteers
St. Mary’s – Send a Patient Card to Cheryl Gregory

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If you’ve only got five seconds or you already have plans for Random Act of Kindness Week, consider passing this post along with a simple like, share, forward, or retweet. Don’t forget to use hashtag #RAKweek2015.

I don’t know Cheryl. But I know depression. I know loneliness. I know distance.

I’ll be participating, and I’m asking you personally, if you have it in your heart, to send something as well. I know I have a lot of talented, artistic, and good-hearted people who visit this blog regularly. If even one of you took the time to mail a valentine to someone who’d appreciate it as much as Cheryl, you’d make my day, too.

Pills

November 3rd, 2014 | Posted by Philip J Reed in personal - (7 Comments)

antidepressants

I’ve opened up, a bit, about some of the emotional struggles I’ve faced. What I’m not sure I’ve opened up about yet — and what actually has bearing on what happened here at the end of October — is the fact that I take medication.

Which makes me crazy. Right? I mean, I’m not in pain. I don’t have cancer. Is it fair of me to just pop a pill and gloss over the hard times when everybody else has to deal with their problems like an adult?

These are the kinds of things people assume. They must. Otherwise people like myself would be a lot more open about the fact that we take the medication we do. Somebody can mention openly that they take Percocet — a very addictive and frequently abused painkiller — because they sustained a physical injury. Very few people would begrudge them this escape from their pain. In fact, they’d be likely to make allowances for fluctuations in that person’s behavior. They are, after all, on drugs.

Mention that you take an antidepressant, however, and you get a very different response. Anything from a skeptical “You don’t seem depressed…” to an openly dismissive eyeroll. Every so often, yes, you’ll get a response of understanding and support. These responses tend to come from people who have taken them as well, or have close friends or family members who have. That is to say, they’ve learned that it’s nothing to be afraid of.

Why, exactly, is this something that needs to be learned? Isn’t the fact that somebody is taking medication to help them through their problems a good thing? Wouldn’t the far scarier situation be that somebody with psychological issues refuses to treat them?

When this site went down, I was in Chicago. I’ve never been there before. I didn’t get to see much of the city. One reason for that is that I was there on business, and though I wasn’t in the office, eight hours’ of work still needed to be done each day.

The other, much more serious, reason is that I was suffering withdrawals.

I take a pretty minor dose of Zoloft. Not because it’s a magical pill that makes the bad things in life go away. That doesn’t exist.

What does exist is medicine that helps to regulate the chemicals in my brain. And that’s what I need. Before I started taking it, I had issues with anxiety and with depression. Now I still have those issues, but in ways that are far easier to deal with, and to understand. Anxiety is no longer crippling, for instance. It still exists, but the way I experience it now — thanks to medication — is closer to the “normal” experience of anxiety. Depression isn’t as deep anymore, nor does it linger anywhere near as long.

I’ll be honest with you: medication doen’t unfairly circumvent the problem. What it does is give me the help that I need to face it head-on, and learn to deal with it in a way that will not kill me.

It’s not evasive action. It’s not retreat. It’s the opportunity fight in the battles that I used to lose outright.

I say it’s a minor dose because that’s important. It’s so minor that I’ve missed taking it for days, and haven’t had any problem. In Chicago, however, far from my pharmacy, with my forgotten plastic bottle an insurmountable distance away, it happened. I went through withdrawals. When I realized I’d left my medication at home, I didn’t worry. It’s never been a problem before.

But now, all at once, it was. And so when the site went down…well, no offense to anyone, but that was the least of my worries. Sure, I probably could have called my hosting company and handled it that way…but…

…I couldn’t.

At all.

I couldn’t do anything. Because my body was rebelling. My mind was rebelling. They got used to medication that they wanted, badly. And it was mutiny.

That’s the best way I can describe it. I was barely able to force myself out of bed and for much of the trip unable to force myself to eat. My body was having none of it; it wanted Zoloft. Which I didn’t have. And which I could not have. It wasn’t pleasant.

Years ago, before I left New Jersey, I took Lexapro. I was sold on the idea because it wasn’t habit forming, and only had to be taken temporarily. Apparently the medication was designed to “teach” your brain the appropriate chemical levels it would need to operate normally. So you’d take it for a while, and when you stopped your brain would remember how much of what chemicals it needed to produce. Sounded great.

In Florida, I went off Lexapro.

It was habit forming. It didn’t teach my brain anything. And I entered what was probably the worst three or four weeks of my life.

The withdrawals were severe and debilitating. I wasn’t me. So much of that time is a blur, and a dark one. What I remember about it I remember second hand, from friends who were there for me, listened to how I felt, and can remind me now what it was like.

Otherwise I’m left only with scattered details. Mornings that I’d wake up on the floor, unaware of how I got there. Times at work that my brain would seem to shut down and reboot…sensations of sight and sound coming back only gradually. Phantom shadows that belonged to nothing. And a day that I was driving in my car and heard Neil Young singing “Harvest Moon” on the radio. It’s a sweet song, one I quite like, and not sad at all. But hearing it, in that state, I had to pull over, because I was breaking down. Weeping hard. Some emotion had been triggered by it. One I still can’t place. This wasn’t me.

In Chicago, the withdrawal wasn’t as bad as that. It was bad enough that I wasn’t in any kind of shape to do…well, anything apart from the work I was sent there to do. I brought a book, and couldn’t read it. I brought my 3DS, and couldn’t focus enough to play. I had friends near there…but I didn’t want them to see me in that state. That wasn’t me, either.

I meant to say all of this in my last post…but was still recovering. I didn’t have clarity of mind. And I wanted to make sure I got one point across better than I could have at the time:

People taking medication for emotional problems just need a little bit of help. That’s all it is.

It’s nothing to be afraid of, and — as I hope the above makes clear enough — not at all an easy way out. People who take that medication are necessarily working harder than those who don’t need it. For most people, brain chemistry and emotional stability just happen. Like breath. Or a beating heart. You don’t need to focus on it. Sometimes something may interrupt it, but it doesn’t take much to get it back on track again.

For me, and for folks dealing with things so much more difficult than I am, that’s not the case.

Getting things back on track takes labor. It takes time. It takes focus and attention. It’s hard work, because the track may have to be built again from scratch.

Just understand. That’s all.

When you find out that a friend or a colleague or a family member of yours takes some kind of antidepressant, antianxiety, or even an antipsychotic medication, you know the best thing to say?

Nothing.

At all.

Because that’s not them. The medication is a tool, and a necessary one. Otherwise — I can promise you confidently — they wouldn’t put themselves through what’s involved with taking it.

Don’t draw attention to it. It will just make them feel uneasy, even if you think the attention you’re giving it is positive.

If you must say something, let them know you’re there for them, and leave it at that. If you’re not there for them, or you aren’t able to leave it at that, don’t say anything.

Mental health issues are scary precisely because we know so little about them. Limitations in the field of medicine — both logistical and ethical — make it very easy for doctors and scientists to study the physical healing process, and almost impossible for them to study the mental healing process.

We’re making progress. We’re learning. But we’re in dark, scary waters, fighting an enemy we know nothing about.

Don’t be afraid of the people who need help. By definition, they’re weaker than you are. If anything, they’ll be afraid of you.

Help them. Or don’t.

But never hinder them. And be aware that you’ll never know what that person is going through on the inside. They’re suffering wounds so deep nobody — that person included — can see them.

You might think their medication is frivolous. And you’re welcome to think that.

But if so? Keep your mouth shut. And have the decency, at least, not to trip them up as they seek the safety you take for granted.

Reviewing, Reviewed

September 15th, 2014 | Posted by Philip J Reed in internet | personal - (8 Comments)

Statler and Waldorf

This past weekend, my final review for Nintendo Life went live. It’s the quiet punctuation at the end of a five-year+ tenure with the site, and, as you might imagine, the decision to quit wasn’t an easy one.

Well, actually, forget that: it was pretty easy.

Not because of the site itself. After all, I had a regular audience tuning in regularly to read my thoughts on whatever game it was (or games they were) that had been assigned to me that week. It was an audience that numbered in the tens of thousands. It was a massively visible platform, and a chance for me to write regularly about things I enjoyed.

And it wasn’t the people who made it easy to leave. On the internet, five years equals something like twenty years in terms of the number of acquaintances who come and go. For that reason, yes, there were at least a handful of team members over time that I didn’t entirely get along with. But, largely, the great ones stayed, and the great ones that didn’t at least stayed in touch. Now, as I leave, we may actually have our strongest and best team yet. So saying goodbye, in this case, is certainly not saying fuck you.

It was easy because of the readers. If you’re insulted by that, I might as well anger you some more: readers don’t understand what reviews are.

That’s daunting, and discouraging, as a reviewer. While, certainly, there are plenty of reviewers in the world who are perfectly happy to crank out whatever amount of low-effort plot summaries is necessary to keep their job, there are a large number of them — myself included — that work extraordinarily hard to provide worthwhile content to readers. To have effort like that met with an opaque misunderstanding of what the medium even is wears one down more quickly, and more severely, than you might imagine.

This was not a problem by any means unique to Nintendo Life. I’ve written reviews for many sites in the past, but with the large audience specific to that site, the problem reared its head more frequently. And because the site maintains a policy (which I still happen to endorse) of not needlessly picking fights with its readers, it wasn’t something I was ever able to address openly.

Now, certainly, I can. And will.

1) Reviews are not rigid.

Reviews are easy to misunderstand, I think, because they can take so many different forms. At least, they should. Instead what we face is an odd sort of retroactive standardization, in which one’s opinions are expected to follow some invisible, mathematical rubric. Which, in itself, is tragic.

The expectation becomes a kind of self-fulfilling prophecy. Because readers expect to find a relative balance of criticism regarding graphics, controls, sound, storyline, etc., they, in large part, abandon and ignore the reviews that give them more, or the ones that actually tailor their approach toward the game in question.

It’s an oddly archaic expectation that these things be given anywhere near equal weight. Do you need me to tell you what the graphics look like? You’re on the internet, and the odds are good that whatever page you’re looking at has screengrabs right there for your reference. Do you need me to tell you about the soundtrack? Putting aside the innate impossibility of translating one medium into another — really, now, can text ever give you more than the vaguest possible idea of what music sounds like? — there’s the fact that we live in the YouTube age. You can listen to game music (often made officially available) on your own and come to your own conclusions.

“Your own conclusions” being the operative phrase. Because if I love the graphics, and tell you in some predetermined number of words why I love the graphics, does that change your mind when the images running alongside the review look to you like steaming shit? Of course not. Nor should it. The same goes for the soundtrack, which I might find to be dull and forgettable while it moves you to tears.

Yes, that boils down to difference of opinion, which is to be expected, but it’s a difference of opinion that really didn’t benefit anybody to express in the first place. The benefit of a game review is easy to see: somebody took the time to sit down with a game, become immersed in it, and would now like to share with you what he or she thought of that experience. The benefit of a book review is to give somebody an idea of whether or not a 500 page novel is worth the weeks it would take them to read it. The benefit of a film review is to give somebody a little help deciding whether or not their night (and money) would better be spent seeing something else.

That’s what the review should focus on: the compound experience. It’s not graphics, sound, controls. It’s a piece of art. And it’s exactly why books, film, and music aren’t reviewed by dissecting them into similarly unhelpful chunks. Game reviewing, for whatever reason, has developed and sustained this fragmented, destructive approach, and when one deviates from it, readers get confused. “You didn’t even mention the story.” “You said the soundtrack was good, but what does that mean?” “Do you jump with A or with B? I’m not going to buy it if you jump with B.”

The compound experience is what matters. Details, when they stand out, warrant a special mention. But if a reader can see and hear what a game looks like without ever having to plunk down one cent, isn’t the reviewer’s time better spent explaining and exploring the things that aren’t already apparent?

At the very least, one thing that would be apparent to someone who has played a game and not apparent to somebody who has not would be the weight that these components deserve. Braid, for instance, has a storyline that outright defines (and then, arguably, redefines) the experience. Should that not be discussed heavily? VVVVVV has the barest hints of a story at all, and allows you to disregard it altogether without missing out on anything. Do we need to discuss it at all?

The Wind Waker deserves exhaustive discussion of its animation and visual style while New Super Mario Bros. certainly does not, and should probably be discussed instead in terms of its approach to level design and replayability.

A Guitar Hero game needs to have its soundtrack discussed song by song, but a review of an Elder Scrolls game can disregard that entirely and run down the types of locations and side-quests available. The Binding of Isaac, meanwhile, can be discussed entirely through the filter of its warped spiritual message and warnings. Does it really matter what button you press to shoot?

By allowing reviewers to assign appropriate weight to different aspects of the experience, we allow them to convey passively to the reader what the experience is. Write more about the narrative, and the reader should understand that that’s what’s important. Disregard the controls and the reader shouldn’t conclude that you didn’t take note of them (how could you not?), but they should rather assume that they didn’t warrant a mention over something more important to the experience of playing this particular game.

A review should conceivably be written without discussing any of the above, except where necessary. Every game is different, and if we want to think of them as works of art, we need to be prepared to discuss them as works of art. That is to say, on their own merits. We discuss how they affected us. How they challenged us. How much they stuck with us for weeks on end. And if an element of a game didn’t happen to stand out, it’s dishonest of a reviewer to pull it out and discuss it as if it did.

2) Reviews are not timeless.

One great thing about the internet is that so much of what you can find today can still be found (in some form, somewhere) tomorrow. One not so great thing about the internet is that so much of what you can find today can still be found many years down the line, when it may no longer apply. And this is, sadly, a necessary problem.

Reviews need to be timely. Why? Well, you know why. A site’s traffic is determined by how many people want to read about the thing that you’re posting about. It’s a bit reductive to say that and leave it there, but if you rely on advertising revenue to maintain your site, you need a large amount of regular traffic. If you want that regular traffic, you need to write about popular things promptly, while they’re still popular. This leads to reviews being cranked out before opinions have settled into their more permanent forms.

How many times have you seen a film, read a book, listened to a song, or anything along those lines, and never, ever had your opinion change? I can’t speak for you, but my opinions change constantly. The silly ending of North by Northwest reveals itself to be darker and more subversive the more I think about it. The incomprehensible labyrinth of Gravity’s Rainbow resolves into a gorgeous meditation on the helpless self-destruction of humanity between readings. The catchy little toe-tap of that “pumped up kicks” song becomes an irritation because you can’t go anywhere without hearing it.

These are the things that reviews, ideally, should reflect. However, they don’t. The fast turnaround requires insight to be shallow, and judgments to made quickly. There have been games to which I’ve awarded low ratings that, in retrospect, should have probably been higher, if only because I’ve found myself returning to them long after I ever expected to care. In other cases, a game that seemed great at first might have gotten a lower score, had I been able to spend more time in it, and probe it more exhaustively. The mad dash from Stage A to Stage Z might have been fun, but if I’d had more time to explore the side missions, perhaps I’d have discovered that the game was actually a buggy mess.

Most unfortunately, the speed with which reviews are required to be turned around reflects most poorly on the games that try hardest. A simple, mindless clone of Bejeweled might get a decent score simply because it works. There’s not much to see, so it’s relatively easy to get a “representative” idea of what’s on offer. A much more complex, interesting game, with multiple paths, multiple solutions, randomly generated items / characters / situations, various endings, and so forth wouldn’t get a fair shake anywhere that relied on prompt reviews, because there’s simply too much to see. To a gamer, that probably sounds like a great thing. To a reviewer, it’s a potentially unfair negative. After all, you won’t be able to see everything, let alone fairly assess it. You’ll take a path through a game. Maybe you’ll have time to take two. Were they the easiest paths? Hardest? Most rewarding? Least? Funniest? Scariest? Buggiest?

When your experience cannot reflect the questions of your audience, you’ve failed as a reviewer, and I will say conclusively that strict turnaround times on reviews mean necessarily that your experience cannot reflect the questions of your audience. You have failed, are failing, and will continue to fail as a reviewer as long as the deadlines are more important to your publisher than fair appraisal.

I had a friend who once suggested the idea of a tech review site that would use phones, computers, and other gadgets for one year before reviewing them, that way the reviewers would be far better able to speak to the long-term advantages and disadvantages of things…potential problems and boons that simply can’t be seen with a few hours of superficial usage.

Of course, people don’t want to wait a year to buy things. They want things now, and they want your opinions now. If readers could exercise patience, they’d find themselves rewarded with mountains of more reputable, reliable, respectful reviews.

3) Reviews are not objective.

Reviews are not objective. Reviews are not objective. Reviews are not objective. Reviews are not objective. Reviews are not objective. Reviews are not objective. Reviews are not objective. Reviews are not objective. Reviews are not objective. Reviews are not objective. Reviews are not objective.

Seriously. Reviews are not fucking objective.

This has always been pretty clear to me, but it’s easily the most common misunderstanding I’ve seen in my years of writing reviews. Readers are concerned about objectivity…in an opinion piece.

The fact that I even have to discuss this baffles me. I’ve been accused of being biased in my reviews of games. And, here’s the thing: I am. I’m going to give better scores to the things I enjoyed, and worse scores to the things I did not. Because that’s what a reviewer does.

Bias is not an inherently negative thing. If you believe it is, then that’s fine, but you should not be reading reviews, because the two concepts are inseparable.

An objective review is an oxymoron. Objectivity would result in a list of facts and features. You know, the kind of thing you’d find on the back of any given game’s box anyway. The fact that reviews exist at all is evidence that objectivity isn’t enough. People want to know what they’re getting involved with, and the reviewer can explain that….but the reviewer can’t explain it without bias.

Here’s the thing: video games are creative works. And, like all creative works, we are each going to react to them differently. While it’s obvious that something like the soundtrack, for instance, will impress or disappoint different people to varying degrees, the same is true for even technical features. Lower frame rates, for instance, might not matter to the reviewer as long as they don’t affect gameplay. They may well matter inherently to a reader. So what is a reviewer to do?

The answer is obvious: the reviewer needs to score the game based on his or her own experience with it, and not on the experience he or she expects somebody else might have. The latter option would be dishonest, and honesty is far more important in reviews than some vague and impossible avoidance of bias.

This is where readers should be taking the verb in their title more seriously. As a reviewer runs through the positives and negatives of the gaming experience, the reader needs to focus on what’s being said specifically, rather than generally. That is to say that if a reviewer didn’t like a game because the humor was sophomoric, focus less on the fact that he didn’t like it and more on the fact that the humor was sophomoric. If that kind of humor appeals to you, then the review was still helpful, even if you ended up disagreeing with it. The reviewer is not obligated to ignore bias and pretend that he or she enjoyed the humor; the reviewer is, at best, obligated to provide you with enough information to decide whether or not the things that were important to him or her would be important to you.

Bias, in fact, can be extremely helpful to readers…if they understand it. After all, there’s no shortage of game reviewers on the internet. They’re a click away, and reading their reviews almost never costs more than the time it takes you to do so. If you find a reviewer that shares your biases, you have probably found a very good guide through the release calendar. Follow that person’s reviews and put more stock in them. The more often you end up agreeing — for the same reasons, natch — the more weight that reviewer’s opinions should have when you make your purchases. On the other side, you may find a reviewer you never agree with. That’s exactly as helpful, and, actually, it’s kind of beautiful.

Objectivity in reviews would lead to a sea of reviews that all say exactly the same thing and reach exactly the same conclusion. They’d be long problems of provable algebra that take the medium of fun and attempt to reduce it to a string of inarguable equivalencies. In other words, it would be impossible, and also fucking bullshit.

When you ask for objectivity in an opinion piece, or decry the evidence of bias, all you’re doing is betraying the fact that you don’t know what you’re reading.

4) Reviews are not exhaustive resources.

In many cases, reviews are subject to wordcount restrictions. This is something you might think I’m less than thrilled about, considering my rantlette about rigidity above, but, honestly, I find wordcount to be one of the more productive restrictions. Nintendo Life helped me to hone my voice. Had I thousands of words at my disposal, we’d end up with something like we have here: a meandering kind of explorative essay that helps me explain things to myself as I attempt to explain them to others.

Reviews, however, should be a bit more concise and to the point. And I like that. I think we owe it to the readers and developers to focus ourselves. That’s not to say that a review can’t be 20,000 words long if that’s what it takes to truly discuss it…it’s only to say that if it takes 20,000 words to truly discuss it, don’t use 50,000.

Due to these restrictions, however, not everything can be covered. Again, I’d argue this is A Good Thing. By keeping limitations on length in mind, we gravitate toward covering the most important aspects of the game. In some cases this might be its pacing, in others it might be its stellar narrative. You know…something that defines the individual piece in a way that other pieces are not defined. Something specific to the game, and the experience of playing it…which you’d think might be a good thing to focus on.

However, people get upset when features aren’t covered. In perhaps the silliest example of this, one game that I reviewed was ported to the 3DS, and a commenter complained that I didn’t mention that the title screen had been changed.

Could I have mentioned it? Of course. Do I think mentioning it would warrant distraction from the things far more deserving of mention? Absolutely not.

Other times commenters were concerned that I didn’t mention how long it took to finish a game, or how many levels it had. To be honest, these are things that are nearly always pointless to me. Sure, a 50 hour game sounds nice, but if it’s 50 hours of boredom, wouldn’t I rather spend my money on an exciting and fun game that only lasts for 30 minutes? Does it matter how many levels are in the game when I’d rather talk about how well (or poorly) they are designed? The impulse to artificially pad out games is destructive, and the more we demand longer games and more content for the sake of longer games and more content, the less we’re actually getting for our money. Sure, it might be bigger in a mathematical sense, but if the experience is shallower, isn’t that more important to note? That’s the kind of thing I’d prefer to discuss: how deep or shallow the experience is. What do you learn from hearing that a game has 12 levels? If you’re anything like me, you learn exactly jack squat.

What’s more, there’s a kind of “best-practice” that discourages giving away too much information. While I go back and forth on the whole spoiler debate, the fact is that people don’t open a game review and expect to read about the ending. They also probably don’t want all of the surprises along the way ruined. Secret weapons, hidden worlds, Easter eggs…these are all things that exist in order to reward the impulse to discover. To make these things explicit to somebody who hasn’t yet played the game is to rob them of that part of the experience, and I’m not comfortable doing that. Yet reviews tend to be “wrong” or “incomplete” (or “half-assed,” if you’re on a site that allows such language) if any stone is left unturned.

Again, why would you come to a review for that information? If you want a list of all the hidden items, there are resources for that. A review isn’t one of them. A review isn’t meant to be exhaustive, and things that you might feel are important will be left out on the grounds that the reviewer did not find them to be important. Remember, it’s ultimately the reviewer’s opinion that needs to be honestly and accurately expressed…not yours.

5) Reviews are not reliably factual.

Or, at least, they don’t have to be. Ideally, all of the information contained in a review would be correct. However, reviewers are human beings. They make mistakes. They have deadlines to respect. They have played so many games it’s impossible to keep everything straight. Sometimes well-meaning copy-editors will even create errors where there had been none.

And it’s okay, because that’s not what you’re coming to a review for.

If the reviewer doesn’t know everything about the Zelda timeline and speaks incorrectly about a game’s place in the overall series chronology, that doesn’t render his opinion on the game any less valid. If he thinks the game is lousy, it doesn’t matter where in the timeline it falls.

It doesn’t matter if they incorrectly credit a voice actor, or if they don’t realize that the character you play in this game is the vague relative of some other character in a different game.

It doesn’t matter if they get a year of release wrong. It doesn’t matter if they think Koji Kondo wrote the music when he really only supervised it. It doesn’t matter if they say there are 11 villages to explore in the game when there are actually 12.

Why not? Because none of that changes the main point of the review: this was / was not worth playing, and I’d like to tell you why.

Roger Ebert a few years ago got in trouble with readers because he walked out of a film he wasn’t enjoying. He was honest about that in his review. That honesty is what got him in trouble; otherwise, nobody would have known that he didn’t finish watching it.

He caved to pressure and went back to watch the entire film, appending his review to reflect that fact. Lo and behold, his opinion didn’t change. It went from being a film he walked out of to a film he only wished he could walk out of. And I’m sorry that he did not stand his ground. The fact that he walked out of a film — Roger Ebert, who has seen more films in their entirety than possibly any other human being, from masterpieces to the cheapest, laziest cash-ins — saw a film that finally made him say, “No. This is not worth my time.”

That is a review. That is all we need to know. If we’re reading an Ebert review, it should be because we want to know what Ebert thinks. If Ebert thinks it’s not worth two hours of sitting in a chair, that is a review, and he should not have let himself be browbeaten into producing something more traditional.

I’ve seen film critics — Ebert included — miscredit actors. I’ve seen them report incorrect running times. I’ve seen them repeat lines that were clearly only half-remembered. But none of that matters. None of it. Because the main thrust of their review — whether or not they enjoyed it — is unaffected by these mistakes, or oversights.

Again, ideally, these facts would be correct. But we don’t live in an ideal world with ideal writers and ideal editors. In fact, you’re on the fucking internet, so…y’know. You’re about as far from an ideal world as possible. The fact is, though, that these mistakes ultimately don’t matter. Point them out, certainly, but don’t attempt to call the review’s validity into question, because, I assure you, correcting the error won’t change somebody’s opinion.

So, that’s an awful lot of aimless talk about what reviews aren’t. What are reviews?

Reviews are a writer’s best attempt to put into words that which can never be adequately expressed.

…and that’s something so many fail to grasp. And it takes its toll. As much work and effort as I’d put into my reviews, it was disheartening to see comments appearing more quickly than it could have possibly been read, with concerns about the score being too high or too low, and the effort dismissed as a result. It’s futile enough just trying to express through one medium the merits of an entirely different one…why lump complaints on top of it just because it didn’t achieve irrelevant goals as well?

Cries for objectivity, dismay that certain things were or were not mentioned, and the preposterous idea that a piece of art can be ranked in the first place all speak to a fundamental misunderstanding of the actual value of reviews. They exist for a purpose, but everybody seems to want them to exist for a different one. An impossible one. And in doing so, they miss out on the discussion and debate and inward reflection that an actual review — a real review, doing what real reviews do — can provide.

I’d much rather have you — specifically you, reading this right now — than ten thousand readers who don’t understand what they’re looking at. I’d be lying if I said that the above reflects the readership at large that I dealt with at Nintendo Life, but I’d also by lying if I said it didn’t often feel like it did.

And that’s why I’m staying here. This group of regular readers and commenters will never be as large, but it will always be more fulfilling. Because as many times as you call me out on my rightful bullshit, you understand what you’re reading.

Which is ultimately what things boil down to. Respect.

You don’t have to respect every piece of writing that you find. You certainly don’t have to respect anything I’ve ever posted here. But if you don’t, you can move along to something you do respect. And if you do, you can disagree with everything on the page, because you’ll be engaging with it rather than dismissing it.

Reviewing could be a wonderful thing, if only anyone knew what the fuck it was.

Jennifer Lawrence
…but you’re not one of them.

The big hubbub this past weekend, as I’ve sure you’ve heard, had to do with leaked photographs of Jennifer Lawrence. Some other celebrities (only one of whom was male, as far as I can tell) had photographs leaked as well, but the attention has been mainly on Jennifer Lawrence.

It’s easy to see why. She’s at the height of fame. She’s popular with both critics and audiences. And she is — this is a fact; there is no room for argument — an incredibly beautiful woman.

Wait…did I forget to mention that she’s naked in the photos?

Because she is. Sorry, that was probably important to bring up.

Oh, and…actually, did I refer to the photos as leaked?

Ugh, sorry. I’m not paying attention at all today. I meant to say “stolen.” And that’s absolutely crucial to bring up.

I like Jennifer Lawrence. I’ve never seen The Hunger Games or, well, most of the stuff she’s been in. If I hear that she’s going to star in a film, that doesn’t make me much more likely to see it. And, really, if she retired from acting tomorrow, I can’t imagine my particular future as a movie-goer would be impacted at all.

But here’s why I like her:

She’s real. She’s humble. She’s down to earth.

She’s a charming human being. She has a natural wit and warmth. She’s intelligent and, by all accounts, friendly to a fault.

It’s rare that I’ll catch an interview with an artist (of any kind) that I don’t already follow and find myself won over. And yet, I hear her speak…I listen to her engage with her interviewers and fans…I see an honesty in a smile that has every right to be forced…and I think, “I respect you.”

She’s also beautiful. I’m positive that if we met in real life and she fell in love with me, I’d have no qualms about engaging in a sexual relationship with her.

…but that hasn’t happened. She doesn’t know me. The odds are very good that she will never know I exist. And so it’s irrelevant how attractive she is. It’s irrelevant how many people would like to sleep with her. It’s irrelevant, because we don’t get to choose whether or not we get to see her naked. She gets to choose.

Which is why those photos exist. Those were taken for somebody that she wished to see them. That person wasn’t me. That person sure as hell wasn’t you. They were taken because she chose to let that person — that specific person — have them. That is her choice. She is famous, and she is gorgeous, and she is a human being. It’s the third thing that matters here…the first two are only details.

This is also why it’s important to distinguish between “leaked” and “stolen.” A “leak” implies that somebody involved — deliberately or not — released into the public something that wasn’t scheduled to be released. Sometimes it will be an early cut of a film, a draft of a script, a record album that won’t be in stores for another month. In other words, things that eventually we would see, in some form, at some point, anyway. Other times it will be somebody’s private letters. A sex tape released by a jilted — or money-hungry — lover. A surreptitious recording of a politician quantifying the precise number of people in the country he doesn’t actually give a shit about.

Leaks can be noble, leaks can be selfish, leaks can be problematic. But, strictly speaking, a “leak” needs to occur somewhere along the chain of custody. Somebody involved takes a look at what they’ve been handed and says, for better or worse, “I’m supposed to do A with this, but I’m going to do B.”

Theft is different. Theft is overtly taking what you are full-well aware does not belong to you. And that’s what happened with these photos.

The distinction, I think, is important. Had Jennifer Lawrence taken nude photographs for a boyfriend who later, embittered, released them, that would be a leak. It would not make their circulation much less troublesome, but there’d be an element of accountability there. Charges could be pressed, for instance. Jennifer Lawrence could step back and think twice about the kinds of guys she trusts with these sorts of things. While the end result might seem the same to passive observers like me and you, there is still a degree of corrective action that can be taken. A chance to reflect upon the decisions made that caused something like this to happen.

Instead, somebody just took them. I don’t know the specifics, and I wouldn’t understand even if you laid them out for me, but, essentially, these photos were retrieved from data accessible through the cloud. Not directly, and not openly. Somebody sought these out, identified the things they would need to do, break, and exploit in order to get them, did those things, got them, and distributed them.

No breach of trust, no apology, no lesson to be learned. Unless, of course, you count the lesson that the world is full of assholes.

We can fingerpoint. We can say that she shouldn’t have stored those photos in the cloud to begin with. But…did she? It’s possible, but I doubt she deliberately stashed them there. More likely, something synched in some way she didn’t expect. The hacker who stole them, however, played his part in this game will the full knowledge of what he was doing. There is very clearly somebody at fault here. And it’s a thief.

To circulate, to save, or even to seek out these photos is an act of cruelty, and it’s one that dehumanizes an innocent woman.

You have every right to decide who does and does not see you naked.

Think about that. Imagine, now, a world in which that was not the case. That somebody, with enough work, could retrieve photos, videos, transcripts, phone conversations, love letters…or anything, really…that you shared with somebody. With one specific somebody. Somebody you trusted and cared about enough to share them. And that once those things were retrieved, that’s it. It’s over. From that point forward, you no longer have any control over who could see you naked. (In any sense of that word.)

To deny Jennifer Lawrence that basic respect is to reduce her to sub-human status. It is to say, I am in command of who I am. I am also in command of who you are. My decision to see you naked overrides your decision to not let me see you naked.

And that’s pig-headed. Disgusting. And a pretty easy way to perpetuate the horrific rape culture we’ve so successfully built up around us. Sure, a woman might say she doesn’t want us doing this…but, really, how’s she going to stop us?

The disconnect here — preventing us from seeing this for what it really is — seems to be facilitated by the fact that she’s famous, as though that’s actually the key factor here. But it’s not; the key factor is that she is a human being who is now being exploited.

It could be your significant other. Your spouse. It could be one of your children. It could be your niece or nephew. Your colleague. Your best friend. Your neighbor. If any of them were being exploited in the same way, would you be just as quick to dismiss it? Would you seek out the photos yourself? Would you send them to your friends?

Everyone has — or should have, and needs to have — this basic right: the right to their own body. You don’t lose that right when you become famous. You don’t even lose that right if you choose to become a porn star or anything else extreme; you are still making the choice of who gets to see you naked. Maybe that choice is “everyone.” That’s a perfectly valid choice. So is “no-one.” And “I will decide on a case-by-case basis” is more valid still.

I haven’t seen the photos. I don’t want to see them, because that’s unfair. Jennifer Lawrence is one of many thousands of women I’m sure I’d enjoy seeing naked. But if they don’t actually want me seeing them naked, then that’s their choice, and I’m compelled to respect that.

I’ve never met her, and likely never will, but that doesn’t mean I shouldn’t — or can’t — respect her as a human being. Think of all the people you don’t know that, in the blink of an eye, could suddenly cease to respect you as a human being. What a cold and frightening new day you’d find yourself in. Could you willingly do that to somebody else?

Here’s my thing:

Jennifer Lawrence managed to be wholesome. Maybe not personally (I wouldn’t know) but in terms of her image. That’s what I liked about her in those interviews; the sense that she was a person. Not a body. Not cleavage. Not veiled entendres and teases. Her body was not her language. She was a young, attractive woman in Hollywood who managed, against all odds, to build and maintain a career based on something other than sexuality.

That’s valuable to me. The moment a beautiful young woman enters the public eye is the moment that the clocks start ticking down until we successfully drive her to abandon all self-respect for the sake of our entertainment…at which point we chide her for being a slut, and move on to the next one.

Jennifer Lawrence has sex. Big deal. Jennifer Lawrence lets people see her naked, in the privacy of the bedroom. Who cares? Jennifer Lawrence is the kind of star we need more of; stars with dignity, with talent, with a personality that refuses to be crushed by the machines we’ve built to crush it.

If you want to see a woman like Jennifer Lawrence naked, work on making yourself worth her time. She dates. She flirts. She fucks. She’s a human being.

The least you can do is treat her like one.

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