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2nd February 2018

Reddit and weep: the influence of the forum

How Reddit posts are shaping our perception of games before we’ve even picked them up
Reddit and weep: the influence of the forum
Photo: Flickr

17,574,855: as of the 29th of January 2018, that is the number of subscribers to ‘/r/gaming’. Safe to say, the gaming community has quite the presence on what is one of the most savage and unforgiving social media platforms. Reddit.

Better still, whilst it may be the primary location for users of the site to give their two cents on the latest titles and gaming news, this is by no means the only subreddit interested in video-games.

‘/r/Games’, though sounding rather all-encompassing, is a smaller, more critical and industry-focused thread, which despite being dwarfed by its older sibling up there, still clocks in at just under a million regular readers. We must not fail to mention either, the likes of the humorously named, ‘/r/pcmasterrace’, which represents an elitist subculture of gamers – around 1.3 million strong on the site.

There are hundreds more specific communities within communities. There are dedicated subreddits for League of Legends, Overwatch, even Pokémon GO, all of which compile and generate a swarm of social media around a single game, with the sheer mass and variety of users, resulting in some of the most unfiltered and thoroughly informed opinions you could hope for. Or does it?…

Now, I am not saying that Reddit isn’t a great place for spreading real fan opinion, but the issue I am proposing is that rather than giving fellow gamers a very honest and matter of fact review of a game — positive or negative — the worry is that this feedback often hijacks the opinions of others before they have even had a chance to play it themselves.

In 2010, NBC gaming writer, Winda Benetti, wrote an article on a recent study by Electronic Entertainment Design and Southern Methodist University, which detailed the extent of just how influential gaming reviews are on others experiences of a game after the fact.

Photo: NBC (on behalf of SMU & EEDAR)
Photo: NBC (on behalf of SMU & EEDAR)

Whilst the study focused on primarily positive reviews, noting that 91 per cent of players exposed to positive reviews of Plants vs. Zombies would similarly approve the game and recommend it to friends after playing through it themselves, those exposed to negative reviews were conversely swayed by preceding opinions of the game, with only 65 per cent offering their recommendation.

Of course, this study operated on a much broader scale, after all, reviews existed long before Reddit and the likes of us lot! The findings were in light of a combination of the player’s experience of the game and their response to 5 mainstream reviews; so, the question is how would the results look if we were just talking about Reddit?

As I mentioned previously, the general vibe of a Reddit review is a much more brutal and unadulterated in how, say, an IGN reviewer approaches a game they weren’t a massive fan of; and to be fair, there is a gulf even in positive reviews, with a Redditor’s approval of a game often spiralling quickly into fandom.

For example, if you look at a game such as No Man’s Sky, which despite having deep-seated issues from top to bottom, still managed to get generous 6s and 7s from the big media outlets. Turn to the Reddit community’s reaction to the game on the other hand, and things get uglier rather quickly. Take this post which sums up the consensus of those who played the game:

Screenshot: reddit
Screenshot: Reddit

The point being is that the culture of those on Reddit tends to be one in which highly passionate gamers feel a strong sense of obligation to deliver what they see as the truth about the latest games. As a community, I’d like to think we’ve gone beyond taking a mainstream review as read, and that our Spidey-senses get a’ tinglin’ when we see a game hit a 6 or 7.

With that being said, I postulate that the same influence gamers take from reviews by IGN or Gamespot, can only be greater when it comes to Reddit, given how the straight-talking spirit of its community is held in such high regard.

This esteem is built on the basis that those behind gaming subreddits are gamers just like you or me, and therefore, we are more likely to trust their words than, perhaps, an “interested” mainstream media outlet.

This is all speculation of course, at the end of the day, I’m sure most reviewers would consider themselves a gamer. However, if gamers are indeed more likely to believe the opinions of a Redditor and fellow player, then whether they love a game or absolutely berate it — and given the pattern of the academic study holds up —, we usually take it on board.

Point being, reviews are all well and good, but nothing beats experiencing a game first-hand. So even if you’re avid user of Reddit, or any gaming media site for that matter, don’t let yourself be part of the statistic that doesn’t make up their own mind up.


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