Shop Talk: Dealing With Rowdy Readers

Having your work published is a rad feeling. Having it torn apart by vapid assholes is not. When you’ve just spent many hours plowing through a game, scrutinizing its every minute detail, and then rendering judgment in a well-thought out critique, the last thing you look forward to seeing is a bunch of asshats talking smack in the comments section about how you should be strung up by your toenails for giving their favorite franchise’s latest installment a 7.5 instead of a 10. The Internet is home to lots of interesting folks with plenty of good stuff to say, but it’s also rife with idiots. Knowing what to expect from them and how to tune out their white noise is something you should be prepared for if you want to make it as a game critic.

The beauty of writing reviews for print outlets is there’s no angry mob armed with pitchforks and flaming torches waiting to lambast you at the slightest sign of conflicting opinions. An issue comes out. People read it. That’s about it. They may be inspired to write a letter to the editor or post a rant on their blog about it, but their running commentary doesn’t muddy up the page.

The situation is very different with writing reviews for online publication, where readers will take any opportunity they can to point out just how wrong you are — then suggest you should be eaten alive by a pack of rabid timber wolves and defecated into a pit of boiling acid. Constructive reader commentary, genuine questions, and words of encouragement are always welcome, but the Internet is rarely such a gentle place as that.

Comments sections can be a great way for readers to interact and become a part of the discussion. Unfortunately, they are also a breeding ground for rabid fanboyism and petty squabbling. Write for one of the larger, more popular sites, and you’ll inevitably see readers gnashing their teeth at your expense at some point or another. You’d be surprised how easily people take personal offense when you write a negative review of a game they enjoy or write nice things about a game they think is total shit. Thanks to the anonymity of the Internet, they have no qualms about speaking their mind.

For every morsel of thoughtful opinion offered up by the fellow gamers who read your work and feel inspired to weigh-in, you’ll find many others who aren’t content until they’ve horked up a wad of putrid bile and spat it at your face.

What so many readers seem to lose sight of is the fact that a review is nothing more than an informed opinion based around your experiences playing and evaluating a given game. While the goal is to give each title a fair shake, the process is far from objective. Beyond the technical details you’re looking at – graphical quality, gameplay flow, distinctive features, etc. – it often all boils down to one core question: is this game any fun? What makes it fun or not will vary widely from critic to critic. Reader opinions will fall along an equally broad spectrum, which can lead to some heated debates.

If the comments section gets rowdy and full of rancor, it’s best to remove yourself from the equation, lest you make things worse. Arguing with readers is time consuming, unproductive, and bound to sap your energetic focus. Furthermore, some folks love to get into it and will actively seek to bait you with personal attacks. Don’t engage the trolls. It’s tempting…but not worth it.

Want to read more Shop Talk? Why not scope out the archive for past installments!

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