Anyone who knows me knows how much I love The Onion, America's finest news source. However, if you twist my arm, I'll admit that I love its sister publication The A.V. Club even more. Essentially The Onion's Arts & Entertainment section, The A.V. Club has reviews, features and articles about film, music and TV with the same witty, sardonic sense of humor of The Onion.
A few years ago, The A.V. Club started running videogame reviews. When this happened, I was elated. Who gives a fuck if Roger Ebert doesn't recognize that games are art? The A.V. Club is writing about games with the same insight as film, music and books. For all I knew, the Louvre could have added a videogame wing.
But it recently occurred to me that there's something odd with the way the A.V. Club does its game reviews. Each review is broken down into sections. First there's the review proper, and then short one- or two-sentence blurbs with the headers Beyond the game, Worth playing for, Final judgment, and finally, the one I take umbrage with: Frustration sets in when.
Now far be it from me to say I've never played a game that frustrated the hell out of me. But that phrase, "Frustration sets in when," appears in every game review that The A.V. Club runs, from mainstream blockbuster titles to under-the-radar indie games. For the recently-released Punch-Out!! it's when "Trainer Doc spits out another rote motivational entreaty instead of offering a hint you can actually use." For the intuitive browser game Today I Die, Gus Mastrapa explains, "Those who think too long about the financial limitations that prevent this kind of experimentation from sneaking into larger, longer, and more expensive games may be inspired to go looking for a rock, a rope, and a deep lake."
By incorporating the phrase into every game, regardless of genre, platform or overall quality, it's like the A.V. Club is assuming a priori that each and every game must have something frustrating about it, and the writer's obligation is to point it out. I humbly disagree.
I could point out games I've played that never frustrated me, but really, the whole experience is entirely subjective. But then again, that's the entire point. Everyone experiences games differently. One person might find a game to be entirely frustrating, while another person could breeze through it. By having that phrase form part of their review format, The A.V. Club is enforcing an unfair, and quite frankly false, standard.
Overall, The A.V. Club's game reviews are among the best out there. And having them alongside reviews of current movies, music and books just reinforces the point that games are on the same playing field as mainstream entertainment. But no other reviews on The A.V. Club suffer from this unfair standard. You won't see every film review pointing out the boring parts, and not every CD review mentions tracks that are worth skipping. So why the unfair treatment for games?