Anyone looking at that kind of comment section is likely to have a vein burst out of their forehead, but as a journalist you learn how to turn down your anger settings pretty quickly.
Granted there are some comments that point out factual and grammatical errors in my reviews. There are also comments that criticize my arguments and I totally understand that there will always be a difference of opinions on a review.
I want to say right now, I get what you’re saying about my review. I respectfully stand behind my arguments. However, what I don’t agree with are the personal attacks.
“You shouldn’t be writing game reviews”, “What kind of website allows articles like these to go up?”, and so on are often the kinds of temperature-rising comments you’ll see if you click the links above.
However, Criticism is something you just have to learn how to deal with. You can let it destroy you and attack the commenters back, or you can choose to listen to them and digest what they’re saying like I am now. Be reflective, not reactive.
So here’s five tips on how to protect your sanity from them and yourself.
Find constructive criticism
In every comment sections, there are people who will deconstruct your work and give you feedback. While at first you might think they’re just nitpicking, these people are actually trying to help you.
Sometimes people will tell you straight up that there is something wrong with your review and they might even give you another way of looking at your arguments. These kinds of comments are great because they invite a dialogue should you choose to comment back.
Most won’t go beyond the headline, the numbered scored, and the opening paragraphs. They will write their initial gut reaction and who can blame them for doing that? The headline, lede, and opening paragraphs of any story are arguably the most important parts of any article. However, those who read beyond that point show they have a vested interest in reading your stuff, which is great.
A lot of people out there are bad at taking criticism. I’m one of them. When someone tells me what to do or tells me what to think, I shut down and keep doing what I’m doing. I’ve had to change that recently with my current job and have learned the importance of understanding constructive criticism.
Looking at a comments section for this kind of criticism is important. Give their arguments a chance and don’t lose your head thinking they’re being overly harsh on you. Listen to these people and try to take in what they’re saying.
Double check your facts
I can be a sloppy writer. Yup, I’ll admit it.
Sometimes my reviews have grammatical and factual errors. Hey, I’m only human. In my Smash Bros. review, for instance, I put in a line about playing online. I never had a chance to play online and what I was writing about was the multiplayer. A correction at the bottom shows we owned up to that mistake.
Writing and research always go hand in hand no matter what. You’ve got to know the subject matter you’re covering like the back of your own hand if you’re going to write a critical piece.
Read your work! Check your spelling! Fact check! It’ll save you a lot of headaches.
However, there’s a difference between receiving criticism over a bad opinion and over a mistake, and people find it a lot easier to go after how you misused a word rather than writing a 5-paragraph long response to your arguments.
A review is inherently an argumentative piece, so you have to be sure that your claims can be backed up with fact. I’m not saying that you need to get into ridiculous things like frame data or you need to prove you spent 100+ hours with the game, but you should be able to defend your article if someone pushed you in real life.
Turn it off
Seriously, turn it off. Don’t check comments, don’t check Twitter, and don’t check Facebook. It’s the easiest thing to do in order to avoid the aggravation of bad comments. It’s one of the reasons I deliberately do not have a dataplan. I want to switch off once in a while.
Well maybe this is the defeatist choice, but we suffer from enough negativity on a daily basis to warrant being able to write without having to worry about people insulting you.
Of course, you can’t ignore real commentary from people, friends, or your editor, but people who are trying to get your back up online through calling you names… them you can ignore. People who have valid criticism you should listen to.
Even on reviews that have the most sound arguments, where the research has bee done, and an unfeasible amount of time put into them, the comments will always, always devolve into, “You are a bad writer”. Even on this website, there are people who comment without providing you with a real reason why they think you’re an awful person.
However, turn on the positivity.
There are people who like my articles and say nice things, and I love you guys for that! I won’t turn you guys off <3, but my advice to fellow writers is to make reading comments a conscious choice. Ask yourself, with all the stress you probably experience on a daily basis, do you really need any more? I guarantee that you will not feel better having read them.
Remember, nothing is ever 100% positive
This next point goes out to both sides, the writers and the commenters. In critical writing and in responses to said writing, nothing will go 100 per cent your way. Human beings aren’t easily swayed by arguments, so the best thing to do is realize that no one wins when a flame war starts.
It’s the reason why I don’t go onto the comment section to lambaste people for their thoughts. I respect their opinions and I don’t want to make anyone feel bad by arguing back at them.
You might think of the old adage, “If you have nothing good to say, say nothing”. That doesn’t really apply here because people have things to say. People should be critical of the media they consume and both sides have the right to protect their audiences.
I’m writing the piece for a public who wants to know if it’s worth it to make the purchase. Consumers in Canada are on the fence about spending $299.99 + $64.99 on a console and a game. My score reflects that it is good, but may not be worth throwing down an entire week’s of pay for this during the Holiday season.
They have a right to know what I think. At the same time, commenters have the right to say what they want in response of that, but both sides have to realize that neither are likely to be swayed through ad hominem attacks. There’s always room for reasonable arguments.
From my experience writing about games, it seems people hate being told stories in reviews. They like a step-by-step look into the details rather than a first-hand account of playing the game and the emotions that are created during that experience. They like something solid, tangible, and devoid of emotion or subjective opinion.
To that I say, bah!
It’s all too often I go on a gaming sites knowing exactly what I’m about to read. The article’s measured tone won’t take any risks. It’ll go through the pros and cons. It will be so bland that you’ll end up skipping to the end just to see the score. It won’t stir any emotions, it won’t be out of the status quo, and it’ll go totally unnoticed. It does its best to appease people even if there are glaring issues in the game.
That’s what I noticed after reading and watching Kotaku, GameSpot, GameTrailers, IGN, Giant Bomb, Nintendo Power, and Destructoid reviews. Dare to be different. It takes a lot of courage, but you’ll end up writing something that will at least feel like you tried to add something of yourself into it… even if you end up getting attacked for it.
Of course, reviewers should still include the details people want to know, but there’s nothing wrong with cleverly dropping in that information within your writing.
Don’t let people get you down, either. I know not everyone will find my kind of writing their cup of tea, but once upon a time there was something called New Games Journalism. Although the movement is essentially dead, I haven’t given up on it quite yet.
Back in university, I had what remains the most stressful experience of my life. I can’t go into too much detail, but a writer who was working for me at the time was approached, scrutinized, and lambasted by a group of people over an article.
They wanted my writer to bow to their will and to stop trying to get published. I wanted to make sure my writer’s voice would be heard. The end result – other than a knot the size of a lemon in my stomach – was a published piece. The experience exposed the inherent racism embedded in the group.
The point being, standing your ground and defending yourself is very hard to do. It requires argumentation and reasoning; anger and will. On the Internet, it’s almost impossible to express these things without devolving into name calling.
Behind every attack on your character is another human being behind a keyboard. Whether they’re a high school student or an octogenarian, everyone has an opinion. As a journalist, you have to understand that your work is going to be in the spotlight and will scrutinized by people of all kinds. No matter how well argued a review might be, someone will take issue with you for reason they believe.
No matter how right you think you are as the writer, you have to willing to admit when you’re wrong and take criticism when you need to take it. It’s a hard pill to swallow and finding good criticism is hard. The best idea is to find critics around you. Find it in people you can talk to like writers in your life or people who play video games.
You’d be surprised how reasonable people can be when they’re away from their keyboards. Like me! *Throws keyboard out of the window*