Imagine you've only got one word to describe Mass Effect 3, a game that hundreds of thousands of people have been waiting for. Tough decision, huh? Well, on one new website, most people are using the word "shit" to describe Bioware's sci-fi threequel. Which one would you use?
It's pretty clear that One Word Reviews is the work of just a few people, if not one man. But what's more interesting than the mystery mind behind it is the portrait that emerges of who might be going there and why.
It can be hard to encapsulate the qualities of a video game in a bunch of paragraphs or on a 10-point scale. The About section of One Word Reviews says that the "site is intended to be a middle ground between the longform review and the very shortform ratings system." Users can search the site's database for games that they're looking for, click on words already tethered to the game and add their own adjectives if they want. Stars and numbers have no place here.
As with anything crowd-sourced, traces of fan and hater agendas pop up in the words attached to various games. So, the most popular descriptor for Mass Effect 3 is "shit," followed by "bad" and "meh." It's telling that visitors took the time to call Metroid: Other M "misogynist" while Metal Gear Solid 4 gets tagged as "geriatric." OWReview users think Ghost Recon: Future Soldier is "shit," too, despite the fact that the Ubisoft shooter isn't even out yet.
Part of the fun of clicking through the site's pages is the surprise of an unexpected word choice. It's not unexpected that a widely loved game like Shadow of the Colossus has the word "masterpiece" next to it. But pegging League of Legends as "Brazilian" or Trine 2 as "sweaty" hints at a furtive language that only those initiated into the mysteries of secret communities can understand. Portal, however, gets "triumph" and that's a single-word review that's just perfect in more ways than one.
Since the site is new-ish and relatively low-profile, it's not clear just how many votes or words it takes to swing the opinion on a particular game. Maybe it was only five people who deemed the 1994 SNES Super Mario All-Stars + Super Mario World "racist" but it's still enough to beat out those who think it's "awesome".
Browsing a site like One Word Reviews is like looking at the collective psyche of hardcore gamers. Passions run hot and there's a fever to either canonize or demonize the games that people love. Glimpsing through only a few entries illustrates how the word "casual" gets lobbed as a hand grenade at various games. Don't like Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3 or Dark Souls? Click on "casual" to give it an upvote in each game's entry. "Overrated" holds a similar damning cachet, undercutting the "groundbreaking" and "great" attached to Half-Life 2 and Fallout 3 respectively.
The activity on One Word Reviews isn't like that on Metacritic, though, where the bombing of a game's Metascore gets done in retaliation of some professional judgment that users disagree with, as happened with Dragon Age II and Mass Effect 3. Folks on One Word Review don't have media outlets opinions to buck up against. They're only jostling against each other. The result of all the terse wordplay are—to quote the leading term for last year's cult hit Catherine—"captivating."