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Book Reviews, RPG Reviews - US vs. international?

Started by Gordon C. Landis, August 14, 2001, 12:17:00 AM

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Gordon C. Landis

I'm a little worried about posting this, but  . . . to bring some outside perspective to the "review issue" -

I heard an interview with writer Paul Theroux on the radio a few days back (go to and you can read the whole thing).  Here's the snippet that most directly led me to write this post:

" . . . look at the quality of the reviewers in the New York Times. You have a regular stable of reviewers. Does Norman Mailer ever review a book?  No. Does John Updike? Yes he does. Apart from Philip Roth, no.  William Styron, no. Do the elder statesmen of American letters write book reviews? No they do not. Do they in other countries? The answer is, all the time. So we have very few unenvious, very few Olympian figures who can assess a book. What we have are academics, want-to-be writers, angry, young untrained people. It's really sad. The books shouldn't be put in their hands."

There's more, about how even if a review praises him, he often finds 'em unreadable, and an earlier comment about "eunuchs in the harem" that's worth searching out.  But my point here is simply a) the notion that a quality review might be well served by the reviewer being skilled in the art (science, craft, whatever you want to call it) being reviewed is NOT unique to John Wick and RPGs, and b) the thought that it can/should be otherwise may be a uniquely American perspective.

Now, as I've said elsewhere, I feel a smart gamer can read even the worst, say, review and get value - find out what's out there, a little about what it might be like, and etc.

I'm also quite happy Ron Edwards is doing reviews here at the Forge.

But I'd be most interested if the non-Americans out there could speak to this notion of a different attitude towards reviews internationaly than we have in the States.  Any support/opposition to that notion?

Gordon C. Landis

[ This Message was edited by: Gordon C. Landis on 2001-08-13 19:18 ] (under construction)

Philippe Tromeur

In France the situation depends on the "art".

It's true there are a lot of talented writers who reviews other books. One example is Philippe Curval, a good SF writer who is the SF reviewer in "Le Magazine Littéraire", Philippe Sollers is a talented (and talkative) writer who produces a big quantity of excellent book reviews...
Also, a lot of movie reviews are made by people who studied cinema, and there are some critics who become directors (Christophe Gans ...), and also the opposite, famous movie makers who study the Art of Cinema (famous examples : Bertrand Tavernier, François Truffaut ...).

I can't compare with the U.S. or U.K., but I'm not sure it's so different..

As for RPGs, it depends ...
In magazines, there are some game designers who make reviews, but they are very few. On the web, they are also very rare.
One reason is that it's very difficult to sell RPGs in France. A reviewer is doing something very important ; there are only 2 real RPGs magazines in France, and their reviewers decide the fate of a game.
In France, a RPG (besides CoC, WoD, D&D and a few others) will sell 200 to 1000 copies, a supplement 100 to 500 copies, so the margin is very thin. One negative review can kill a company, 2 will certainly.

This is why people are generally very attentive to reviews in France, even more than McCrakens, Wicks and GMSs in the US.
A RPG author who risks himself making critics can end up being hated by hundreds of people,because he's accused to drown his competitors / praise his friends (for example the silly war there used to be between Multisim ans Siroz/Halloween, through their magazines' reviews).
With the rise of the Internet, authors know it's very quick ending up being nearly universally considered as an ass-hole by the gaming community. That's what happened to Croc, the French designer of In Nomine, Bloodlust and other succesful RPGs, who made some reviews, not especially worse than others, but people cared more because he was someone important.

So, for RPGs, the situation is like the one in the US : reviews are mostly made by "unimportant" people, and that's fine. I think that, in this leisure, the frontier is very thin between amateurs, freelancers and "professionals". A reviewer shouldn't need to show his CV everytimes he reviews a game.

Gordon C. Landis

Thanks, Philippe, that's just the kind of info I was looking for.  Some might argue that if the RPG "community" (ha!) started being less tolerant of "unprofessionalism" (in reviews and elsewhere), it'd gain more respect . . . who know ifthat's true?  Or even if it is, would it be a good thing?

Bah.  Entirely different subjects that don't fit in this forum, and probably aren't all that interesting.  Thaks again,

Gordon C. Landis (under construction)

Ian O'Rourke

Not sure, but going on past debates over 'who should do reviews' Americans bring in the freedom of speach angle in way too quickly.

Ian O'Rourke">
The e-zine of SciFi media, and Fandom Culture.

[ This Message was edited by: Ian O'Rourke on 2001-08-20 17:48 ]
Ian O'Rourke
The e-zine of SciFi media and Fandom Culture.


You've got to keep in mind that freedom of speech*and a disdain for class barriers are ingrained in American culture.  Not that Americans apply either concept perfectly.  

*And yes, I realize that freedom of speech just means that the government can't censor, not that individual publishers can't censor.  But anger at censorious publishers or anyone who tells you that someone's opinion is automatically worthless is related to the rebellious spirit of the First Amendment.

If you want my pen, you'll have to pry it from my cold, dead hand.

Ian O'Rourke

On 2001-08-20 16:57, phillcalle wrote:
You've got to keep in mind that freedom of speech*and a disdain for class barriers are ingrained in American culture.  Not that Americans apply either concept perfectly.  

True, but sometimes people should learn just because you value the right to free speech, doesn't mean you have to speak out on everything

As for the class thing that's a weird belief, because I don't see the USA as less class driven than say the UK? The US class system is based on money (and to some extent colour), and it's also true that the US has political families that seem to hawk around the halls of power to such a degree they might as well be hereditary titles.

As you say, it's not applied perfectly. As for the rebellious spirit of first amendment, while its to be lauded for its principles, the attitude it instils in some quarters is not something to be proud of.

But this is going off topic.
Ian O'Rourke
The e-zine of SciFi media and Fandom Culture.


You've got to keep in mind that freedom of speech*and a disdain for class barriers are ingrained in American culture.  Not that Americans apply either concept perfectly.  

Ha! Barely at all would be a better analysis; in fact I regard America as a heavily censored and censoring state, and also one exhibiting very strong class divides.

It is more accurate to say that this element is part of the self-image of the US state, but like all self-images it is also self-serving.  And I think the frequency with which it appears in this sort of debate arises from that specific social phenomenon - as with any enculturated social virtue, it is unassailable in argument (like the oft-quoted motherhood and apple pie).  It's use in this context is only to seize a putative moral high ground and thus imply the moral fecklessness of your opponent.
Impeach the bomber boys:

"He who loves practice without theory is like the sailor who boards ship without a rudder and compass and never knows where he may cast."
- Leonardo da Vinci


I know this is all getting off topic
But I have to put in a few friendly points.

IMHO, the banter about the first ammendment, it's merits, and how it is percieved and exploited by Americans as a whole is purely a matter of opinion.

Our country has been subjected in the last 10 years to some of the most barrier pushing forms of expression to rival, if not blatantly overtake those of other countries. Half of what we call "entertainment" would be highly illegal in many other countries. Therefore our viewpoint (no matter our opinion) is altered by constant exposure to people like:
Eminem, Marilyn Manson, Hugh Heffner, Howard Stern, Kevin Smith, and the Trey Parker/Matt Stone duo. Whether you are the type of person that embraces these things, or the type of person that feels revulsion at them, you are touched in many ways. Now before anyone states that other countries have the same things (Amsterdam's red light district for example) allow me to impart this: It is because we continue to push these barriers, and because there is too much interpretation into what our "rights" are that we either take a defensive, or offended stance on any form of expression. Therefore we choose, by nature, to be outspoken. That is something that is classless, casteless, systemless, and drawn across the gamut of race, religion, and morals. Americans soak up expression in all it's forms and opinionate on everything. I'm not saying we are better at "reviewing" or "dissecting" anything than anyone else, but as a culture we are more subjected and receptive thus making us more likely to "speak out". This also continues to say add to the old saying "everyone's a critic" because in some sense it's true here. Another good quote for americans is "Opinions are like ******es, everyone has one". To finalize, if you have a country of outspoken populace you are going to have a much larger amount of people making asses out of themselves. However, we also have some extremely insightful and talented people speaking out on very important things. They call America a melting pot, and with the bad you see, you cannot refuse to recognize the good. You also cannot compare our bad to anyone else's good. That's a flippant one sided viewpoint for the sole purpose of proving your own theorium.


Ron Edwards

Gentlemen etc,

This thread is grossly off topic. This is the Forge, not debate and discussion of the free speech issue. Although everyone is being perfectly wonderful and courteous, and I imagine this is the ONLY example on the net of discussing this matter with courtesy, I am stopping the buck.

Please take it to private e-mail.