An odd thought occurred to me as I was playing through my review copy of Kirby: Canvas Curse for Happy Puppy (please, be gentle). The thought had to do with whether or not the experience I was getting playing the game was truly comparable to the experience my audience would have if and when they played it.
This wasn’t purely an idle musing on the superbly subjective nature of interactive gameplay (well, it didn’t start out that way anyway). I thought of this because I happened to be playing through the game using a Mario Kart DS stylus given to me by a Nintendo representative at E3 (who says all swag is useless).
Anyone who has used this stylus will immediately know why I chose it over the tiny, flexible, cramp-inducing piece of grey plastic that comes with the system — the increased size and weight of the E3 version makes playing the DS infinitely more enjoyable. But I couldn’t help but wonder as I played whether that additional comfort was doing a disservice to my readers.
I’ll make a small assumption here and say that most people who will be reading my review did not attend E3 and will not have access to this special stylus, or any stylus besides the one that came with their system. So my question is: should I have used the superior Mario Kart stylus, or used the standard stylus that most of my readers would be using (or a mix of both)? If you think I should have used the Mario Kart stylus, should I have told my readers about it?
This may seem like a trivial example, but there are plenty more I can think of where the same basic question applies. Do you use the fancy joystick or the default mouse/keyboard controls for a flight simulator? Do you test a DDR game with a high-quality metal dance pad or the cheap plastic version? Do I play that new console game on the 52″ plasma display or the 13″ black and white TV (or even the 7″ flip-top LCD screen)? Even things like a broadband connection or an optical mouse can impact the gameplay. Regardless of the choice, how much information do readers need about the reviewer’s setup to judge the review?
On the one hand, readers ought to know if the review their reading is colored by extravagant extras or substandard equipment, even if it doesn’t relate directly to the actual game itself. On the other hand, no two people will play the game in exactly the same conditions anyway. Do we have to set up our reviews like a scientific test, setting the lighting, seating and humidity conditions to present a truly controlled play experience? I know a few computer game magazines list the technical specs of the system they use to review hardware-intensive games (or used to, at least), so there’s a start.
In this case I did use the “good” Mario Kart stylus throughout and didn’t reveal this fact to my readers, so you know where I stand on this particular example. But on some of the more substantial issues I’m not sure exactly where I stand. Where do you draw the line between too much information and too much deviation from the norm? Leave your answer using the comments link below.