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Foaming at the Mouth: On Roleplaying

Regarding Reviews

Erich S. Arendall
July 5, 2000

John Wick once said in an interview with "Graveyard" Greg (at Gaming Outpost) that there shouldn't be game reviews. At first I didn't realize some of the scathing humor he buried within his diatribe and took it at face value. However, I've had quite some time to think about it since then and I've come to agree with Mr. Wick - up to a point.

The problem with reviews, especially those written by folk like you or me who don't write reviews for a living, is that they tend to be overly lopsided or completely bland. Praise is gushed forth in an almost sickeningly sweet fashion or the game is picked apart for every nuance that does not fit into the reviewer's mind-set model of a perfect game - neglecting the fact that no game has ever fit the model of a perfect game and never will (look up the word perfect). The game is compared against other games and scored, which is odd considering each game is it's own entity that more-or-less defies comparison with the other RPG entities out there.

Unlike board games, card games - even CCGs - Role-Playing Games, while they have rules, can be played like a completely different game from one group to the next. While games like Monopoly, Magic: The Gathering, and Chez Geek are virtually the same base games anywhere you take them, an RPG can have a totally different feel to it from game to game, because the rules are background, not forefront. However, most game reviews often focus either on the rules of the game, which are all background and very malleable, or on the forefront of the game, which is very group (or even session) dependant. How could one expect an un-biased or poignant review to come out of that?

In lieu of that, I agree with the creator of the upcoming OrkWorld that there shouldn't be amateur game reviews. Gamers have proved that they just can't handle that sort of power. Perhaps what there should be are game articles, in which the game is taken as a whole, rather than a book-by-book basis. In this way the writer can look at the entire body of a game, not just the guts in one sitting and the left elbow in the next.

Game articles should be not be based on the mechanics but the game-world itself, because most games are bought not because of the rules, but because of the genre and atmosphere of the game (and the artwork, too). Again, the mechanics of a game are an afterthought to the initial purchase. Need proof? Look at the success of White Wolf's Vampire, a broken system (which has been cleaned up in later editions) that brought some life back to gaming. White Wolf's concept was on style and feel, and in a time when most RPGs read like tech manuals it was a welcome change. It even got good reviews at the time, despite the mechanics.

Mechanics are not unimportant, but when looking at a game what should be presented is the developers' vision of how the game should be played and how well the mechanics work within those parameters and then look at the mechanics in terms of how the writer's group plays the game. However, the former is more important than the latter. Mechanics should be looked at, but like a gaming session being played they should be considered in the background - unless flawed to the point of ruining the game.

It's been said before, but RPGs are unlike any other type of game out there. If that's the case, shouldn't the way they're looked at and judged be different, too? No more scoring RPGs against other RPGs, no more basing how good or bad a game is on a session or a group. An RPG should be looked at like what it is, a living entity constantly in motion and evolving... until it dies.

I'm attempting my first game article in the pages of Gaming Outpost which should be finished by the end of this month. I don't expect to be a trend-setter or for my "review" to be the best ever, but I do think that people need a push in the right direction, and this is mine.

Erich S. Arendall

Special thanks to John Wick for bringing the point up in the first place and for the usage of his name, even though I'm sure he didn't expect to see it here, too.

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What do you think?

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All Foaming at the Mouth columns by Erich S. Arendall

(plus earlier items from the Sprite archive)
  • Hanging up the Dice Bag February 7, 2001
  • It's All In The Details August 8, 2000
  • Regarding Reviews July 5, 2000
  • Rest, Relaxation, and Role-Playing May 23, 2000
  • Gaming, Yes! Gamers, Argh! April 18, 2000
  • Kudos, Komplaints or Kriticism, I don't Kare! March 28, 2000
  • Three Little Words February 1, 2000
  • Stories, Characters, Supplements, and Modules December 7, 1999
  • Real Roleplayers? Real Snobs. October 12, 1999
  • Socialism and Systems September 14, 1999
  • Same Earth, Different - You Know the Rest... August 17, 1999
  • It's Evolution, Baby! July 20, 1999
  • Buried in Dice June 8, 1999
  • Look Ma! No Dice! No Rules! May 18, 1999
  • Oh, Servant! April 27, 1999
  • Motivational Evil March 30, 1999
  • Love and Sex... In Gaming! February 9, 1999
  • You're Doing What On-Line? January 19, 1999
  • I do it for the Toys December 9, 1998
  • Everybody Else is Doing it... November 24, 1998
  • All the Game's a Stage October 20, 1998
  • Nobody Wants to GM! September 15, 1998
  • Ugly, but not Frightening August 20, 1998
  • ...And I'll Be a Baker! July 21, 1998
  • Cultish Followings and Golden Ages June 16, 1998
  • Hocus Shmocus May 19, 1998
  • Crossbows over Characters? (or, Gaming Mentalities) April 21, 1998
  • Hey! You're Not Smart Enough to Play that Character! (Part 2) March 17, 1998
  • Hey! You're Not Smart Enough to Play that Character! (Part 1) February 17, 1998
  • Computer RPGs and How Most Aren't January 20, 1998
  • Sprite's first guest column, on The Economics of Gaming December 23, 1997 (or, "How to Dissuade Those Pesky Non-Gamers")

    Other columns at RPGnet

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