Critic Spotlight: Kill Screen’s David Wolinsky

It's time to hear what one of the industry's most intriguing critics thinks about...a lot of stuff.

It’s time to hear what one of the industry’s most intriguing critics thinks about…a lot of stuff.


We always like to get the skinny from accomplished (and even not so accomplished) critics, especially those who have a lot to say.

VGRHQ recently honored Kill Screen’s David Wolinsky for his insightful, entertaining review of Tomodachi Life. Wolinsky was nice enough to give a shout-out back via Twitter, and we decided to set up an interview. Here, he speaks to our co-founder about a variety of topics relating to the gaming industry, and it’s well worth a read.

For a brief background, check David’s published work at Kill Screen, and he tosses up a podcast a couple times a month; listen to the latest here. He also has experience outside the industry, working with notable companies like Adult Swim and the legendary comedy troupe Second City in Chicago.

The process of reviewing games can be as simple or as complex as you want it to be.

The process of reviewing games can be as simple or as complex as you want it to be.

VGRHQ: What is the current state of reviews, and where do you see it going in the future?

David: “We’re very binary as humans; we want to lump everything into one camp or another.  Is it getting better or worse? If you asked me this question a year or two ago, I would’ve said its’ getting worse. But that’s just because it’s changing.

I think today the scapegoat is Metacritic. It has kind of been a ‘fastest gun in the west’ routine, like who can get their review up the fastest. And you have aspiring blogs and websites wanting to secure their position on Metacritic, and established sites already having a seat at that table.

I think it’s very had to be thoughtful and insightful when you’re on someone else’s timetable. Metacritic arose because people want to know another binary thing: Do I want to buy this game or not? For a long time, people were very angry at Metacritic, but you can’t really blame them. As far as where I see things going, I think we’ll start seeing a bigger emphasis [in reviews] on user-generated content.

Tangent Addendum: I think anyone in this day and age can be an expert. I don’t think there’s one definition of what an expert is. Everyone has to agree objectively on what the game is, is it good or bad? When I talk to people who don’t really understand games, they think there’s only one reason to play. But the reasons people play are so diverse and richly textured.”

Game journalists aren't usually respected, but what exactly is a "video game journalist?"

Game journalists aren’t usually respected, but what exactly is a “video game journalist?”

VGRHQ:  Do you think game journalists are looked down upon and will it change in the future?

David: “In general, there’s a self-consciousness that surrounds video games. You know, like that whole stupid debate about whether or not games are ‘art.’ Is a game journalist a journalist? Can games make you cry? Can games be funny? When you’re always asking these questions as a journalist, it sounds like you don’t know what you’re doing.

I never identified myself as a game journalist. You never get a call from city hall, for example, and you’re just reporting on marketing. But really, there’s an art to anything. Part of the reason I’ve come back to write for Kill Screen is because it gives me a platform to write about those weird, nuanced, strange things that don’t have a home anywhere else.

There’s a need for more voices, too; both genders and all races should be represented. Don’t do it arbitrarily, but we need a healthier industry with a wide range of voices.”

VGRHQ: Do you think we should adopt a standardized scoring system, or do you not want scores at all? 

How we score games is a little bizarre and very subjective.

How we score games is a little bizarre and very subjective.

David: “I don’t believe in scores. I’m not comfortable assigning a score to my reviews. I don’t think it works; you’ll be reading this scathing review and then at the bottom, it gets a B- and you’re like, ‘what?’ I’m not sure there’s any way we could all agree on what a certain score is.

Also, if you’re reviewing games with the approach that ‘I know more than the person making it,’ you shouldn’t be doing it. I know some critics and sites love to be snarky but how do you get the right to shit all over everyone’s stuff? [Roger] Ebert made a movie once; it was terrible but he was still proud of it.

I don’t care if other people use scores, though, because it serves the audience. The problem is that everyone comes at games from a different angle. Some people play games, hang out, drink beer, etc. Others experience games differently. I’m just glad there’s stuff for everyone. We live in a time where everything is out there; you just have to be patient.”

VGRHQ: Should smaller indie games be compared to be big blockbuster production? And should older classics be compared to modern-day games?

Is there a reason to go back and play old games? Sure, it just depends on the reason.

Is there a reason to go back and play old games? Sure, it just depends on the reason.

David: Games are games. So absolutely, why not? When you’re talking about content, it’s not about quantity; it’s about quality. Sometimes you can extract more entertainment from something that’s only one hour long as opposed to a game that’s 30 hours long.

I think games should be discussed on their own merits. All games should be approached with an open mind; you have to put your own personal spin on it. If you’re curious about games around you, why not play old and new games? You can get into games strictly because you love certain characters and aesthetics. What were those Japanese games like in the ’80s? For people who feel that the landscape today is all about shooters, or if you’re bored, you’re to blame.

There’s 30 or 40 years of gaming behind us. You should be able to find something that interests you. I think it benefits everyone to honor the heritage of the industry. My hope is that we get to a point where everything is available if you want it.”

End Interview

We’d like to thank David for taking the time to talk to us, and there’s a good chance our co-founder will show up on David’s podcast at some point, so stay tuned!

5 thoughts on “Critic Spotlight: Kill Screen’s David Wolinsky”

Excellent review!

I like that VGRHQ is interviewing critics. I mean, how often does that happen? I can’t think of the last time it did…

I like the way this guy thinks.

I especially agree with his thoughts regarding review scores. I really don’t even like to see the score; I just read the text. Too many times has the score and the text contrasted. And besides, as David said, how can we really assign a score to something like that?

Great review. Very different from the kind of stuff we normally see. 🙂

Don’t you mean “interview?” 😉

Very cool. Nice to see some critic insight in the press (FINALLY).

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