To Play or Not to Play: The Life of a Video Game Reviewer

By Patrick Johnson

Note: This article was originally done solely for a midterm assignment in an English class recently, before Patrick Johnson was added to the staff for artwork, bonus writing, and other duties. This explains the “outsider” tone of inquiring about the particulars of being a video game writer. 

Friday night and work just got out. Time to go home, change into something a little more comfortable, and pick a video game to play on one of five consoles (sometimes more, depending on the selection needed). Oh, and order a three meat pizza from Domino’s. This is a near weekly occurrence for Terry Randolph, a video game enthusiast. Randolph, 23 years old, received a Bachelor’s degree in Psychology at The University of California, Santa Cruz in 2012. He comes from a background of predominantly Chinese and Northern European descent. He loves writing and has been writing short stories and other essays since he was eleven years old. He also loves acting and watching TV commercials in order to memorize the things that make them all unique. “What I love most about all of these mediums is this: there’s something about bringing a universe to life for others to enjoy while also examining issues within our world today.”  Now he lives with two friends and works full time. But what really makes Terry tick is writing about video games. He created a website in 2013 called Last Token Gaming, which is devoted to earnest, thoughtful, and unbiased reviews on video games and their industry, and plans on making it a lifelong project, if not a career. Terry, with the help of his staff at LTG, wants to let people know not only about the quality of certain games, but also how the gaming industry should work for the betterment of gamers.

“Over the years, especially the last few – I’ve felt that video game review sites have lost a lot of readers’ faith and credibility,” says Terry. “I mean, I don’t know about you, but when a site has a running meme like ‘Not COD – 0/10 IGN,’ then there’s a problem.” Terry is referring to the fact that most video game review sites do nothing but give the reader a score and complain about how bad the game is, in lieu of an actual review.  “At the same time, while I don’t think it’s cool to use insult to prove a point, I feel like it isn’t unwarranted – personally, I feel like many reviews lose their objectivity because of this ridiculous idea of a metric scoring system. When you think about it, metric scores are pretty subjective in that it’s one person’s opinion being quantified… but it’s treated as if it’s the score to go by. Most of the time it feels like that becomes the focal point of a discussion – what the score really is versus what makes the game good or bad.”  

As a result of his disdain for this abbreviated style of game critique, he wanted to change all that and help give honest reviews about gaming. “When I started [Last Token Gaming], I had one goal in mind: remain objective and focus on telling readers why a game is bad or good. Instead of a metric score, we’ll tell you whether or not we recommend getting it, waiting for a price drop or to avoid it, but we’ll be able to back it up with our writing. Because for us it’s not about the score; we want you to finish our article seeing our perspective and determining whether or not you want to get the game, but we even explain the reasoning behind that assessment.” The ideas behind Last Token Gaming are fantastic, because it will finally give gamers across the world an opportunity to hear the ideas and review of a game like they would from a friend, and not some group of metric scale gamers.

However, with video games comes history as well, like the history of the industry, along with the in-game history of the games and/or series themselves. These histories play a big role in video games. Terry says: “In order to remain critical, it’s good to take a look back at the history of any subject. We have to be willing to look at what the video game industry was able to do, and what’s it doing right now. This allows us to generate research to expand an article topic we want to write about, and can often generate some amazing results. As I’ve heard this saying, and I know I’m botching it, but still: ‘In order to go forwards, sometimes you have to look backwards’.”

“For me, I just love being able to see how far we’ve come in gaming – from storytelling, to the music, and even voice acting, it’s phenomenal in how short a time games have been able to get where they are now. That, and it’s fun to get that rush of nostalgia from playing, reading about or watching videos about older games.” Terry brings up a valid point, and refers to the fact that Nintendo (one of the world’s leading video game companies) went from a very difficult control system with 16 colors on the Super Nintendo to an unlimited color range on the Gamecube with fantastic controls in just a five year span (a remarkable feat even for today’s technological standards). The modern day equivalent of this would be going from an iPhone 2 to an iPhone 5 in the same amount of time.

Getting into the finer details, Terry has shown that video games have made him into the man he is today and influenced his writing styles, just as gamers have influenced and shaped video games from their initial simplicity to what they are today. “I can say it’s shown me another avenue of writing I want to pursue in the future. Since I was 11 or so, I’ve always felt like writing would be a career path I’d want to take; there’s just something fascinating about building a universe from the ground up and seeing it come to life. Whenever I’m playing a game, I pay attention to the narrative. I’m looking at how the dialogue is written, how the pacing is, how the storylines are written as well as the side missions (if any). It’s a fun challenge to try and gleam whatever I can from playing a game.” The great objective behind video gaming is falling in love with the story, and Terry makes it a point to find any and every way possible that he can do that. It really is what is at the heart of the game, as anyone who designs games could say. There are certain schools that actually focus on these ideas as well. At Art Center College of Design in Los Angeles, California, they claim that the heart of story found in games comes from the creative minds of entertainment designers.

Aside from exploring the life and blood of a game, Terry also talks about the future of games and what potential they have, particularly in the educational field. “I think games will continue to expand in various fields aside from interactive entertainment – most notably in education. In fact, we’re seeing that right now with Minecraft being incorporated into some classrooms. There are other games too that I think can be educational, like Portal. The reason I’m excited for that prospect? Kids get something that’s interactive and engaging while also being educational.” In a recent study done by a group of scientists at Texas A&M International University, studies observed and found reasons behind the motivation for children to play video games. They discovered that “video game play can meet basic development needs in children.”

He additionally states: “I also see video games being used as a window to understanding complex problems that can be hard to empathize or sympathize with. For example, reading about games like That Dragon, Caner or even Papo y Yo show how vast the potential video games have as an artistic medium. In the end, I hope video games are able to become accepted as an artistic medium. The potential is there, the abilities they have are endless, and I think we’re still scratching the surface.” Video games have long been subject to debate over being considered a work of art, but really, they are a massive collaboration between so many different artists.

Of course, with all this potential, Terry, with the help of Last Token Gaming‘s other writers and staff members, believes he can help make a big impact on the world of tomorrow’s video games. “I think that the visions I have of Last Token Gaming making on the video game scene now and in the future are going to be the same, just bigger in scope. In one sense, I want Last Token Gaming to start a trend of critical, thorough reviews of both video games and the industry. Like I said before, I want our site to unflinchingly tell people what works and doesn’t for a game that our readers can determine if they think the criticisms are valid. I also envision us pushing the envelope in analyzing, critiquing and discussing the video game industry. If there are things going wrong with the industry, I want us to generate that discussion and bring up solutions to what can be done to fix the problem without having to worry about repercussions. This isn’t out of wanting to just be critical, or out of spite, but rather out of appreciation for this craft.”

Terry says “The other aspect of Last Token Gaming that I envision us really developing is a sense of community and culture that welcomes anyone. Want to try writing an article about something? We want our viewers to be able to interact with us, talk with us, play games with us because we’re all the same. I also envision us being a place where people can work together on game projects, or even playing together in tournaments. That’s because to me we’re all the same; we play games, we either enjoy or dislike them, it’s just that my staff and I review them is all. Essentially, while this may seem big in scope, I’m really hoping we can foster a revolutionary way of how a review site functions” (Personal Communication, October 17-21, 2014). The future for Last Token Gaming is bright, and will help revolutionize the world of gaming if it is kept going and gets more involved in the industry, and recognized by it. Terry has often approached many people to write various reviews for Last Token Gaming, and sports a whopping staff of fifteen full time reviewers who regularly post an article at least once every two weeks.

With game reviewing, it comes down to the process, and sometimes games can take anywhere from a day to several months to get through, and there are a lot of factors that go into deciding how long it will take. After that, Terry will start his review. “When I go into a game I try to make sure and keep as much of my review focused on the game as an experience of its own versus the creator’s other bodies of work. Games can always be similar to one another, but are still different experiences. After all, players are reading the review to learn more about the game” (Personal Communication, October 17-21, 2014).

The biggest factor in Terry’s experiences comes down to his schedule. Often times it is nearly impossible to sit down and play through an entire game in one sitting, but sometimes Terry finds a way. “As for how long it takes to play a game…well that varies. One thing that plays a factor is my schedule – sometimes I might not be able to play something for a couple days after starting it. However, when I do play it depends on the type of game for me. For example, if it’s a sports game, I feel like a few hours to one day really give you an idea of what the game has to offer. Now when it comes to giant open world games, I’m going to take a while to finish that game to the point where I might take a week to finish it. If it’s really good, like Shadow of Mordor, I’ll get hooked into playing it in [something] like eight hour sessions or so and beat it faster than I expected.”

As dinner was approaching during the interview, Terry brought up the subject of his eating habits during his game play, which were very interesting to learn about. “As for food…I don’t think anything really changes for me. Coffee, Water, Energy Drinks, [it] really depends on what I want to eat or am hungry for.”

Terry Randolph is a writer and a gamer. When writing and video gaming are put together, there is an opportunity to do wonderful things with it, and Terry intends to do just that. He already has, and will continue to do so for as long as he can. Terry is proof that if one follows his or her dreams from a young age, wonderful things can happen, and for Terry, he now writes about what he loves most: video games, and every little thing that goes into making them possible.

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About

Marshall Garvey is a graduate of UC Davis in history, and a gamer since third grade. He has many favorite games, among them “Batman: Arkham City,” “Zelda: Majora’s Mask,” “Resident Evil 4,” “All-Star Baseball 2001,” “Banjo Kazooie,” “Silent Hill 2,” “The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion,” and “Fallout: New Vegas,” among many others. His other interests include baseball, football, boxing, politics, music, movies, jogging, playing trombone, and writing, and he is a devoted fan of the Los Angeles Dodgers, Sacramento Kings, Minnesota Twins, and Oakland Athletics. He recently finished two tenures at the Richard Nixon Presidential Library in Yorba Linda, CA, the first being as an intern at the National Archives wing and the second as a staff writer for the Nixon Foundation. Right now, he’s working on two books for the Sacramento Historical Society, one about the history of baseball in the city and the other about the Governor’s Mansion. He is also the creator of his own trading cards franchise, the United States Presidents Baseball Club, which can be visited at: www.presidentsbaseball.com. You can also see his writing about baseball at: www.brushbackpitch.com

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