A note about our reviews policy

Kill Screen is publishing reviews!

We are. We believe critical reactions are essential to the health of a medium. History is full of examples of critics whose ideas changed the course of things, from—What’s wrong?

I’m bored already.

Okay, how’s this: we like reading and writing reviews. 

So why don’t you talk about the gameplay?

We like to stay away from the word “gameplay.” Kill Screen’s primary concern is the interaction between games and culture, and so that’s what our reviews hold a game to task for: how it reflects and responds to the world around it. Good art does that; bad art does that; games do that. Describing “gameplay” doesn’t often add to that conversation, and anyway, watching a video of it online will do more than our words ever could, if that’s what you’re looking for. All of which is not to say that we don’t discuss the game’s various systems or mechanics, but that merely describing them isn’t our aim, and also that, as a word, “gameplay” is vague and over-applied.

Sometimes, of course, a game is just a game—something straightforward, unpretentious and well designed—and in those cases we’ll still probably not talk about gameplay, per se. We’re much more interested in the sublime, abstract aspects of play—what the net impression of that game is on the player. (For a more academic read on the subject, it doesn’t get much better than this essay, by Robin Hunicke, Marc LeBlanc, and Robert Zubek.)

I disagree. I think the role of a review is to talk about whether or not the gameplay is good.

We think differently. There are a lot of other websites out there that provide that sort of coverage, but we hope you’ll stop back here every now and then to get a second opinion from us.

Okay, fine, let’s say I’m sold on your big ideas about criticism. But if that’s the case, why are you scoring your reviews?

It’s true: a lot of great critics out there don’t use scores. As writers, we admit that it can feel reductive to tack a number on top of a sometimes-personal, labored-over piece of writing. But history is full of great critics and publications that used scores to elucidate their taste, and part of what’s so exciting about videogames right now is that the breadth and variety of them means we can finally have taste. For a long time, the biggest games were often just the best ones—think of Metal Gear Solid or Super Mario World. It was a time of monolithic greatness. Now, games are all over the place—there are big ones, weird ones, ones you barely play, ones you can barely find. There are beautiful, big-budget trainwrecks and unpolished gems. Our reviews and their scores express a specific set of tastes within this spectrum. We’ve fluctuated on this issue over time—never forget the Duke Nukem Forever incident—but right now, scoring feels useful and urgent. 

Videogames are too subjective and variable of an experience to be scored. Why don’t you just use a “yes” or “no” scale, or “recommended” or “very recommended”?

Those work, too. Every publication is different and talks to its readers differently. We think if you’re going to use a tool, be specific, but different strokes, etc. 

Who decides on the scores?

Scores are a collaboration between the writer and her editor. Ultimately, the editorial director has the final say, for consistency’s sake. The score reflects the writer’s experience with the game, not the entire publication’s, although over time those writers’ experiences express the publication’s tastes. Still, this is why a review might conflict with a preview or feature or even year-end ranking—it’s based on an individual writer’s experience. 

Why do you tend to score lower than other outlets?

Our big goal is to keep the top of the scale expressive, so that when something like, say, Bloodborne comes along, our 90 means something. In general, something in the 80s should be a frontrunner for the writer’s favorite game of the year; something in the 90s should be a favorite of all time. Scores in the 70s mean the game is one of the more memorable of the year, and a score in the 60s means the writer enjoyed it or found it worthwhile. Even something in the 50s has merits, although it probably also has some pretty big problems at that point. 

Okay, but what about Metacritic?

What about it? 

Scoring games on this scale can ruin a game’s Metascore.

Well, first off, “ruin” is probably putting it strongly. But ultimately we’re not beholden to any individual game or its creators. We like a lot of indie games, but we’re not beholden to “the indie movement.” We like some big companies and series, but we’re not beholden to them, either. But you know who we are beholden to? You! We score the way we score because it communicates something clearly to you, the reader. Even when we’re an outlier on aggregation sites, we hope readers will be interested in a different opinion than the one they might already have or be able to read elsewhere. We think Metacritic and its ilk are wonderfully useful tools and are happy to be listed on them. 

That’s only because you score low to drive traffic to your site from there. You’re clickbait!

To be blunt, if our goal was artificial clicks, there would be much easier ways to do it than running a doggedly cerebral videogame site and occasionally posting contrarian review scores accompanied by thousand-word exegeses. And anyway, we’re in the business of creating repeat readers, not brief surges of angry ones. We’d much rather have happy readers of the site make the leap to our wonderful print edition than have angry ones comment once and then disappear forever behind their Joker avatar. 

That was a low blow.

Sorry, it got testy there for a minute. We love The Dark Knight, too. 

You do?

We do. We probably agree on lots of stuff, actually—like the fact that videogames are awesome and we love to talk and read about them. At the end of the day, that’s what our reviews represent. We encourage you to disagree with us on any of them, or on any part of this policy, but let’s not ever act like there isn’t a sentient, well-meaning human on the other end of the dialogue. We promise to treat our readers that way and hope you’ll give us the benefit of the doubt, too.


Header image via Matthew Paulson

Last update 11/2 by Clayton Purdom