Games

The Power of the Meta

Is it wrong to be a little bit uneasy about the use of Metacritic as part of the criteria with which to cleanse Xbox Live?

I love Metacritic. Really, when you want to read about a game, where else can you go to find five, ten, 15 articles on that game, all offering an evaluation and some insight into what it has to offer? I mean, Wikipedia, maybe, but not for obscure games that nobody knows about. So please, don't misunderstand.

The problem I have is this: When you see rumblings, you see message board postings, you see off-handed comments on websites, but you can ignore those. It's no secret that there's an uncomfortable relationship between those assigned to promote video games and those assigned to review them. Sometimes, PR will go to great lengths to convince the critic that a game is worthwhile, offering swag, big packs of press releases espousing the virtues of the game, and even the occasional big exclusive to a big outlet (see: the hubbub over IGN's exclusive GTA IV review). Why do PR companies care so much what the critics think?

Because Metacritic numbers matter. Apparently.

Gyruss, a personal favorite, is at risk for the axe.

The rumblings (and if these rumblings have been confirmed somewhere and I don't know about it, please tell me) are that PR people get bonuses if the Metacritic numbers stay at a certain level. If this is the case, it's not entirely fair that a PR person should be responsible for the review scores of a product that they had no part in creating, but it certainly explains why the packages we get when we get games tend to be bigger than the size of, well, games.

Microsoft made an announcement yesterday that confirms the sheer presence that Metacritic currently holds in the industry. Microsoft is cleaning Xbox Live Arcade, removing the chaff from it, the things that nobody's downloading, the things that were ridiculed when they came out and simply never took off. The criteria for removing those games from the service? A title must be six months old, it must have a 6% or less conversion rate (that is, less than 6% of those who downloaded it as a demo purchased the full version), and it must score below 65 on Metacritic.

Perhaps it's benign, perhaps it's just numbers and I shouldn't make a big deal about it, but what Metacritic doesn't reflect is the "cult classic", Metacritic doesn't take into account personal preference, Metacritic doesn't take into account those games dismissed by the masses that, against all odds, develop a small, devoted, loyal following. Metacritic is a series of numbers that adds up to one number, a number that allows for no subtlety, for no understanding of how people really feel about it. Sometimes the most interesting games are the most polarizing, and you can't express polarizing in a number. And Microsoft has legitimized that number, by allowing the criteria for their Xbox Live Arcade cleaning algorithm to include it.

And, hell, where else am I going to get Triggerheart Exelica?

To be a migrant worker in America is to relearn the basic skills of living. Imagine doing that in your 60s and 70s, when you thought you'd be retired.


Nomadland: Surviving America in the Twenty-First Century

Publisher: W. W. Norton
Author: Jessica Bruder
Publication date: 2017-09
Amazon

There's been much hand-wringing over the state of the American economy in recent years. After the 2008 financial crisis upended middle-class families, we now live with regular media reports of recovery and growth -- as well as rising inequality and decreased social mobility. We ponder what kind of future we're creating for our children, while generally failing to consider who has already fallen between the gaps.

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Now Truong continues the tale with Saigon Calling: London 1963-75 (originally published in French in 2015), which follows the experiences of his family after they seek refuge in Europe. It offers a poignant illustration of what life was like for a family of refugees from the war, and from the perspective of young children (granted, Truong's family were a privileged and upper class set of refugees, well-connected with South Vietnamese and European elites). While relatives and friends struggle to survive amid the bombs and street warfare of Vietnam, the displaced narrator and his siblings find their attention consumed by the latest fashion and music trends in London. The book offers a poignant and jarring reminder not just of the resilience of the human spirit, but also of its ability to seek solace in the materiality of one's present.

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Canadian soul singer Elise LeGrow shines on her impressive interpretation of Fontella Bass' classic track "Rescue Me".

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