If you Google reviews for Amazon’s hotly anticipated show The Lord of the Rings: The Rings of Power, you’ll see a huge disparity between critics and everyday users, leading to speculation the series has been “review bombed.” It’s a term that originated in the video game community but has become increasingly mainstream in response to movies, TV shows and music. So, what is review bombing and why did Amazon temporarily suspend The Rings of Power reviews? We explain.
What is review bombing?
“Review bombing” is used to describe a group of disgruntled fans that take to the internet to swarm a piece of media with negative reviews, which then presents a distorted version of how it’s been received. Review-bombing originated from the video game community way back in 2008, but it’s since started affecting film, television and music. Sometimes negative reviews have valid feedback–maybe there’s a significant bug in a video game or the CGI in a movie looks cheap or unrealistic–this feedback is considered constructive. But as Bond University academics Christian Moro and James Birt point out in an article for The Conversation published in August 2022, “review-bombing” usually comes from a more toxic, and often bigoted, motivation: “[Review-bombers] may be driven by ideological disagreement with the content of the game or dislike of the actions of a developer.”
What is the first example of review bombing?
When Electronic Arts released Spore in 2008 with a DRM (digital rights management) system that stopped buyers of the game to install it more than three times, it was meant to prevent piracy, but because it was poorly implemented, users took to Amazon in a widespread coordinated backlash. Consumers are entitled to have their opinion, of course, but with regards to Spore, Ars Technica reporter Ben Kuchera observed at the time how quickly it can become manipulative. “Review-bombing Amazon is a particularly nasty way of getting the point across as well; casual gamers who aren’t aware of this campaign may not bother to read the content of the reviews and only assume the game isn’t very good,” he wrote. To really make their point, users went beyond reviews for Spore and infiltrated other EA titles, distorting how other games by the developer had been received.
Sexism, racism and other bigotry
Though users held valid criticisms of Spore, the culture of review-bombing has become a lot more toxic, with racist, misogynistic or otherwise bigoted undertones. Video games with female protagonists. Unfortunately, many senior members of the gaming industry have cultivated the notion that women have no place in the world of video games. Jean-Max Morris, the creative director of CapCom’s game Remember Me, famously told Penny Arcade in 2013: “We had some [publishers] that said, ‘Well, we don’t want to publish it because that’s not going to succeed. You can’t have a female character in games. It has to be a male character, simple as that’.” Hence, in a gross misunderstanding of what video games should be about, some male gamers feel video games are solely their territory and women need to be driven out.
As an example, Creative Assembly’s Total War: Rome II–a military strategy game set in Ancient Rome–was initially released in 2013 but in 2018 was updated to allow for female generals. Users veiled their sexist criticism as complaints over “historical accuracy,” but a female community content manager hit back, saying the game was designed to be “historically authentic, not historically accurate”. Users responded by accusing the community manager of pushing a personal agenda.
The Last of Us Part II controversy
Perhaps the most famous example of review-bombing in recent years, Sony/Naughty Dog’s video game The Last of Us Part II was dragged through the mud by so-called “fans” who were upset by a beloved character’s direction, the ambiguous ending, and the fact that the game was led by two female protagonists, one of whom had a same-sex storyline. Some homophobic reviews accused the game of “pushing an LGBTQ agenda,” per the review aggregator, Metacritic. It got so savage that YouTubers disabled comments on their videos on harassment grounds and others were receiving actual death threats for speaking of the game positively. This is despite the game receiving overwhelming critical acclaim and a slew of awards. The Last of Us player base is particularly protective of the subject matter, so it’s possible HBO will face similar vitriol when their adaptation debuts next year regardless of how good it objectively is.
Why did Amazon suspend reviews on The Lord of the Rings: The Rings of Power?
Shortly following the debut of Amazon’s The Lord of the Rings: The Rings of Power on September 5, the streaming service suspended user reviews to weed out trolls and ensure reviews are legitimate. Critically, the show has scored well thus far. It’s sitting on an 85 percent approval rating on review aggregator Rotten Tomatoes but holds a 39 percent audience score. Unfortunately, racism and toxicity abound with regard to the casting of Ismael Cruz-Córdova who plays the Elf Arondir, and other Black actors in the series. We won’t give that bigotry airtime here. Ismael has stood wrong, though, writing in a long Instagram post: “I’ve continued this quest in the hope that I would make it at least a little bit easier for someone else. And perhaps inspire at least one person to do the same. In there I kept my Elven dream alive. And here I am. Black, Latino, Puerto Rican, proud, and Elven AF.”
One Reddit user on the subreddit “LOTR_on_Prime” summed it up perfectly: “If you’re really a fan, you’d treat everyone’s adaptation of this work at the very least with respect and reverence for what it stands for. What would’ve really had [Tolkien] rolling in his grave would be the juvenile and pathetic behavior exhibited by so-called lovers of his work. If you really loved and cherished the work, you’d want the stories and the beauty to be spread as far and wide as possible, even if that means adapting the story to be widely consumable in the 21st century.” Recently, cast members of Peter Jackson’s cinematic trilogies made their stance very clear on the subject of the racist vitriol: There’s simply no room for it in Middle-earth. The original hobbits, played by Elijah Wood, Billy Boyd, and Dominic Monaghan (minus Sean Astin), posed with t-shirts that depicted Elven ears, identifiable for their pointed shape, in different skin tones. The caption read: “You are all welcome here”.
The Lord of the Rings: The Rings of Power is available to stream on Amazon Prime Video.
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