Experienced Points: Should Any Aspect of Gaming Be Off-Limits to Discussion?

By Shamus
on Nov 4, 2014
Filed under:
Column

My column this week is a little on the rhetorical side. Even the title is one of those things that @SavedYouAClick…

…would boil down to a simple “No”. Maybe followed by “Duh”.

But it felt good to write and serves as a sort of mission statement for both the column and this site. Who cares how many stars the game got, how much it sold, or where it appears on one of those idiotic clickbait “Top X Games” lists? Let’s talk about this obscure mechanic, or why nobody wanted to bother with stealth, or how the marketing drove away the people most likely to enjoy it. That’s all way more to me interesting than “did the public like this game?”

It won’t do any good, of course. In a month I’ll dump on Beyond Earth and someone will tell me my opinion is invalid because I didn’t play multiplayer, or I didn’t have the difficulty high enough, or whatever. But we do what we can.

Really, this entire hobby would feel kind of empty if I didn’t have this outlet for obsessing over details. This blog is at least half the fun.

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  1. CraigM says:

    And literally the first comment over at the Escapist is a guy completely missing the boat.

    *sigh*

    I don’t think I’ll ever truly understand the mentality that leads people to thinking that ‘X shouldn’t be discussed about games’. If nothing else exploring things like tone and theme in the context of games is one of the most encouraging things about the medium, it means it is evolving. You couldn’t have a conversation more than 2 minutes long about the mechanical themes of Pitfall, but a game like Brothers or Saints Row 4? There is some meat on those bones now, and I love to just gnaw on that.

  2. Jake says:

    In the same vein as SavedYouAClick, you should know about Betteridge’s law of headlines:

    “Any headline which ends in a question mark can be answered by the word no.”

    The logic is that if they could have stated it as a fact (“Bill Clinton is Gay!” vs. “Is Bill Clinton Gay?”), they would have.

  3. Warrax says:

    I can’t wait to be offended by your opinion on CIV:BE. Or maybe I won’t be offended since I have no problem admitting to the flaws in the things that I like, and BE definitely has issues.

    You are probably playing on too low a difficulty though :)

    • James says:

      i too cannot wait, cus i can still enjoy a game i enjoy after a person who opinion i respect doesnt or finds faults with it, hell if i couldn’t id never go near fallout 3 ever again since “the troubles”

    • Thomas says:

      Angry Joe was saying even the hardest difficult setting really doesn’t stretch you like it should. Civ is a long game to be playing and then realise the difficulty settings are out of whack :(

    • Felblood says:

      I don’t get mad when people I respect have different opinions on games from me, I get… excited?

      As a (wannabe/amateur/indie/failed) game designer, I’m completely fascinated by the way that two intelligent people can walk through the same mechanical experience, and have an entirely different emotional journey.

      This broadening of perspective is especially crucial for me, since co-op multi-player experiences are one of my main areas of focus, and that means I need to be able to produce games that will click with everyone in a given gaming group.

      Every time Shamus hates a game that I liked, I want to see it on the next Spoiler Warning, so I can wring all the juicy insights out of his head. (#ShadowofMordor for #SpoilerWarningShow !!)

  4. Chris Robertson says:

    https://twitter.com/shamusyoung/status/529741308114780160 Shame that the web is not a fungible media. :o)

    On a related-to-the-column-subject note, I see a lot of similarities between politics (which I am not bringing up in specific, and have no interest in discussing) and game reviews. It can be difficult to hold a rational conversation about either.

  5. NotDog says:

    Anti-criticism as you called it is common is because games and people who play games are diverse enough that things you’d consider flaws can be things I’d consider features.

    Say a game has, I don’t know, regenerating health. Person A hates regenerating health, Person B likes regenerating health. What’s the best way to discuss regenerating health?

    • Shamus says:

      Why do you like / hate it? How does it enhance / ruin the game? There’s a pretty interesting discussion right there.

      Regenerating health effectively turns fights into simple pass / fail encounters. As long as you survive the fight, you’ll emerge in the same condition regardless of your skill. You’ll never find yourself in that dire situation where you’re scrounging for health.

      Without regen health, your performance in each fight matters, and acing a fight will leave you better off than if you just barely scraped by. It’s a resource to manage.

      On the other hand, regen health saves you from entering an unwinnable situation where you hit a checkpoint save with 1% health and have no hope of surviving. Also, stepping on medkits to heal yourself works well enough in Doom, but as the game becomes more realistic these kinds of abstractions stick out as archaic and cartoony.

      And then there are the hybrid systems like Resistance, where you have several stacked health bars that only refill if not drained completely.

      It’s a pretty interesting design choice.

      • Mike S. says:

        Is there any healing mechanism that isn’t, if not cartoony, a clear break with realism in the interest of fun? (Which obviously isn’t a bad thing.) It can be justified in universe with magic or tech, but even speculative fiction (outside game tie-ins) doesn’t use that sort of casual healing. Aragorn may be able to manage something with time and materials, and the local autodoc may be able to regenerate the arm you lost or replace it with bionics. But neither is going to happen right in the middle of an expedition using a handy potion/first aid kit someone dropped.

        (In Arthurian legend, Excalibur’s scabbard did have the property of closing any wounds the bearer suffered– possibly the earliest instance of regenerating health?– and was deemed to be worth many times the sword for that reason. But even though that’s in Malory, I can’t think of any times the fact actually helped Arthur in the older stories; modern post-D&D authors have occasionally run with it.)

        I prefer it if there’s some effort to at least handwave it, like Mass Effect’s medigel. (Which works on robots!) But I don’t really ask that the writers spend that much time justifying it, because it can’t really be justified. If your magic/tech is really that good, no one should ever die except of extreme old age or seriously bad luck, and who wants to have to follow that logic in every game background?

        • Shirdal says:

          The more realistic the game is, the more you question these abstractions. It seems so preposterous to me when watching the Spoiler Warning episodes of the Last of Us how everyone can soak multiple instances of blunt force trauma and bullet wounds, and how Joel can just make it all better by wrapping his hand in bandages. And I only question this exactly because of the way the game presents itself.

          But that doesn’t bother me as much as something else that games sometimes do: just like you have Plot Armor, there are also Plot Injuries. It’s that old question of why you couldn’t save Aeristh with Phoenix Dawn (am I really tagging FF7 spoilers?).

          Healing abstractions are fine so long as the story doesn’t draw too much attention to health and injuries. But when it does, I think the game has to work extra hard to justify how gameplay injuries heal without lasting effects but Plot Injuries don’t.

          • Eathanu says:

            Phoenix Downs explicitly cure “unconsciousness.”

            The question is not “why can’t I bring her back to life with a phoenix down” and instead “why are my characters merely knocked unconscious when they’re set on fire eight times and have a meteor dropped on them?”

          • Vegedus says:

            Phoenix Down does not resurrect the dead. According to the wiki, it revives characters who have been *KO’d*. Characters who reach zero hp aren’t dead, they simply faint and lose consciousness. Phoenix Down is basically a strong smelling salt and the name allegorical, rather than literal. The implied reason you lose when all party members are knocked out is then that the enemies finish the job or you bleed out. In Final Fantasy Tactics you characters do in fact start bleeding out when they run out of HP and you can lose them permanently if you don’t do anything about it.

            Granted, in some of the older games the status condition was in fact referred to as “dead” so the terminology is indeed confusing. There’s also the spell “Death” that one then has to take to be metaphorical as well. But overall, really, I do think people are just assuming Phoenix Down can do something that it’s never stated it can. I would posit that many JRPGs don’t actually mean that healing items and spells can bring back the dead, even if they accidentally imply that with vivid imagery.

            Why no one aknowledges Softs, though, I have no justification for…

            Then there’s the whole other can of worms how one can get shot by a full automatic rifle, or bear a city-destroying blast from a WEAPON, or sephiroths hilarious solar system destroying meteor and then be ONLY “knocked out”. One possible approach is to, as some editions of DnD do, see HP not as wounds, but as a finite amount of “luck” or ability to narrowly dodge attacks. If you’ve watched the Advent Children movie, we see cloud dodging the massive attacks he simply stoically takes to the face in the game. It’s simply not possible to have him have such animations in-game, and gameplay centered around all attacks being instant KOs, but with a 99% chance to miss would suck. So, we use HP as an abstraction, and even then, we can head-canon it such that our character only got narrowly hit and is only knocked out. You know, as it would happen in a movie.

            • Mike S. says:

              Though that’s just shifting the anchor point to hang one’s willing suspension of disbelief on, since luck/dodging that can be used up like that is the same sort of break from reality. As is for that matter, the knockout sans long-term harm inherited from pulp detective stories. (If you’re actually injured to the point of unconsciousness, especially by a blow to the head, you’re not going to shake it off and go back to chasing the black bird.)

              Something like that is necessary given the level of routine violence in adventure stories, because realistic consequences use people up way too fast.

              (Compare air or space combat games– winning five dogfights against comparable opponents in reality was a significant enough achievement that it rated the title of “ace”. In a video game, it probably means you’re partway through the tutorial level.)

          • Ivan says:

            The more realistic the game is, the more you question these abstractions.” It seems so preposterous to me when watching the Spoiler Warning episodes of the Last of Us how everyone can soak multiple instances of blunt force trauma and bullet wounds, and how Joel can just make it all better by wrapping his hand in bandages. And I only question this exactly because of the way the game presents itself.

            For exactly this reason I think Far Cry 3 looks absolutely ridiculous. I watch my little brother playing and I see him get riddled with bullets only to hide and re-locate his arm. It is less abstract but also a completely inappropriate response to being shot… multiple times. Theirs also an animation where he picks a bullet out of his arm with a stick, which is all well and good, except that does nothing for the blood loss and internal damage.

            I think the issue is that they don’t need to be more realistic, but more abstract. There is nothing realistic about sustaining a serious injury and shrugging it off. Instead they should try to draw less attention to the injury, or at least to the method of healing. If you’re vague enough then a player is much more likely to let you heal them without it harming their immersion.

            Then again the biggest problem may be that we are watching these games rather than playing them. Maybe this stuff wouldn’t stick out so much if we were more immersed in the game, like we might be if we were playing it.

        • Lord Nyax says:

          In regards to Arthur’s scabbard, it was an important facet of at least one of the legends around him: his duel with Sir Accolon of Gual, where both he and Accolon were tricked into fighting for Morgan Le Fay. Morgan convinced each separately that she was a fair innocent maiden and that they had to defeat an evil lord in single combat to save her, though in reality they were fighting each other. Since they were both wearing full helms, they did not discover this until Accolon had been mortally wounded.

          However, back to the point, Morgan Le Fay wanted Arthur to die so she gave him a fake Excalibur with scabbard while giving the real set to Sir Accolon. Arthur almost died as his wounds continued to bleed while Accolons wounds did not, thanks to the power of the scabbard. He only prevailed because the Lady of the Lake pulled a bit of a Deus Ex Machina and cast a spell that caused Accolon to drop the sword and scabbard, at which point Arthur picked them up and handily defeated him.

          So. Yeah. That was a thing. I’ll just…I’ll go back to my books now.

          • Mike S. says:

            I’d forgotten about the fight with Accolon. Good catch!

            It’s interesting that fighting with an enchanted healing scabbard at your side wasn’t considered an unchivalrous advantage.

            • Lord Nyax says:

              I guess that never came up because, as you mentioned earlier, the scabbard’s power doesn’t ever really seem to be a factor! It’s suprising how little it’s arguably OP nature comes up. I suppose it’s because most of the stories are about Arthur’s knights getting into fights rather than him.

              • Mike S. says:

                “Bet you guys all wish you had a magic scabbard that heals all wounds! (Would have made that whole Green Knight quest a lot less scary, eh Gawain?)”

        • Trix2000 says:

          Shields always seemed to be a good way to handwave quickly-regenerating health. It’s not too much of a stretch to say they can only take so much before needing to recharge, and they by nature can’t take lasting damage themselves (barring targetting the shield generator or something, but we’ll ignore that). Then you could just have a very small health bar (if any) which better replicates how much actual damage someone/thing could take.

          …Of course, there is perhaps some additional problems when you consider how a shield could even work (what does it allow in? how does it actually stop things? can you even see through it, and if so… why does it block lasers???). But most people probably won’t think of those.

          • Alex says:

            “can you even see through it, and if so… why does it block lasers???”

            Lasers aren’t just light, they’re polarised light of a constant wavelength. If you wanted a somewhat scientific explanation for how a ray shield could work, I’d say the shield generator would produce two overlapping polarising filters. The first is always on and set to the angle of the most common enemy laser emitters. The second is set at right angles to the first, and activates only when the first comes under fire. When only the first is active it blocks polarised light, but when both filters are active the shield becomes temporarily opaque.

            Amusingly, this also means that firing your laser “gangsta style” would be a viable strategy, since the different angle of polarisation would allow more damage to get though the shield before it goes opaque.

            • Tom says:

              You’d also need to have your own laser adjusted so you could shoot out of your own shield. Peter Watts put it best: perfect shielding is perfect blindness. You HAVE to have an imperfect shield if you want to actually get anything done on the other side of it. (That goes right back to the original space invaders!)

              Unless it’s a Dune-style shield, of course. Then you *really* don’t want to have lasers going off anywhere near it.

          • guy says:

            I like selective countering as an explanation, where the shields only activate on threats. They could block all light, but you don’t want to do that.

            • Mike S. says:

              Though managing to activate against a lightspeed weapon before enough energy gets through to do any damage requires a heck of a fast processing time, to say the least.

              Shields also have to be able to do some pretty fancy tricks with, e.g., letting you breathe while not allowing the concussion of an explosion to kill you.

              Then you get the shields which are obviously author-designed to promote a certain form of combat– e.g., Dune, where they ignore slow-moving objects, so they bounce bullets but properly-wielded swords work fine. (Though I suspect that in practice it would be possible to calibrate projectile speed, possibly with explosive payloads, to be more militarily efficient than blades.)

              • Deoxy says:

                I never read the books, but in the movie, the shields were rare enough that they were very powerful in combat… but common enough that such a weapon did exist (and was eventually used on someone).

      • NotDog says:

        I only picked regenerating health as an example. I could have picked jumping puzzles, anime art styles, real-time-with-pause combat, scaling back mechanics to focus on the narrative…

        Now, I like the style of critique you gave about regenerating health, since you’re basically considering how it would work in the context of a game. So, if a game has regenerating health you could consider if it’s intentionally working with pass / fail encounters. Of course, now we must talk about people’s preferences for pass / fail encounters.

        • Ivan says:

          “So, if a game has regenerating health you could consider if it’s intentionally working with pass / fail encounters. Of course, now we must talk about people’s preferences for pass / fail encounters.”

          Exactly, people play games for all sorts of reasons. This could easily be the difference between someone who likes to play 15 to 30 min of Super Shoot Guy while waiting for something else to happen verses his friend who enjoyed SSG for the story. Only thing is the friend is used to making a much larger investment in playing a game, he prefers games like Sandbox RPG Sim IV where he can go on adventures and role play. He likes to master the game and be rewarded for his skill.

          Anti-Criticism is a thing because neither of these two take the time to realize why they like what they like and so they get too distracted by pointless arguments over whether or not regenerating health is a bad thing to actually have a meaningful conversation. Like whether or not regenerating health was a good mechanic for Super Shoot Guy.

        • Chauzuvoy says:

          I think the broader point is that you can’t write it off as being merely an irreconcilable difference of opinion. The difference between someone who likes the single-encounter pass/fail design with regenerating health and someone who likes the resource-management/system mastery of non-regenerating health is probably rooted in far more than just that single element. The different design elements lead to games that people enjoy for radically different reasons. Examining why a game uses a certain mechanic or the impact a certain mechanic has on the game gets at the heart of why people play or enjoy that game. Or, if the mechanic doesn’t fit with the rest of the game, why people don’t play or enjoy that game.

          Criticism and analysis looking at games on a narrative, mechanical, and thematic level is the heart of the conversations that help better games get made and help us appreciate the games we do have. Yes, you’ll get a lot of cases where the disagreement boils down to people playing games for different reasons and trying to get different things out of the experience, but getting to that point and understanding what people are getting out of these games that you hate (or what people aren’t getting out of the games you love) makes the conversation more valuable, not less.

          • Abnaxis says:

            See, this is why I think it would be better if we could all agree on a concise definition for what “games” are. I find what was said about regenerating health fascinating and interesting, but ultimately I have never seen a single one of these discussions ever lead to actual change in the medium. It all strikes me as an echo chamber of people interested in games talking about interesting things, while developers (especially AAA developers) keep developing to get a higher Metacritic score, because all the interesting critique can’t gain traction.

            The problem is, when you talk about making a game “pass/fail encounters” versus “earlier mistakes haunt you,” why does it matter? What goal is adding regenerative help trying to achieve? Why are people even picking up controllers and sitting in front of the television to begin with? What is the point of this hobby?

            In my mind, each question begets the other, and you have to answer the base, “what’s the point?” question before you can have any meaningful conclusion beyond “that’s just my opinion.”

            One of my favorite Film Crit Hulk articles is the one where he criticizes Les Miserables for it’s camera placement. It gave me a lot of perspective on the design decisions that go into scene composition, and now whenever I watch a movie or television show I can see tricks being used to manipulate audience affectation with the camera. And while Le Mis was financially successful and generally well received critically, after reading the article I can watch the film and understand the thing it did wrong and advance my own understanding of the art of film.

            The way things are now, I would never be able to draw that kind of insight from an article about gaming. Without any definition for what “gaming” is, all criticism, positive or negative, is called into question. Defining “how well the artists did what they were trying to do” becomes an ambiguous mess of unfounded presumptions and personal biases. Nobody involved can agree on even a basic, fundamental level, and so any criticism is trivial to write off as a petty disagreement and so loses much of its ability to effectively shape the medium.

            That’s why you get all the “you’re missing the point of the game” arguments. You can say the story in Shadows of Mordor is half-assed, but why exactly does it matter? You can say the gameplay doesn’t hit the right high notes, but in what way is it really failing? The nemesis system has it’s low points, but again, why do we care? Defining “game” lets us answer these questions and get on with making games better.

            • MichaelGC says:

              I dunno – I think a definition would just offer tremendous additional opportunities to argue about stuff based on unfounded presumptions and personal biases! I certainly don’t think that without one, all criticism is called into question.

              For example, I enjoyed Shamus’ articles about Shadow of More Door. I didn’t entirely agree with them – actually, that’s not right: I did entirely agree with them. And then I went home and had a blast slaughtering orcs anyway. However, the articles (particularly the first) did make me see things in a different light: I was much less bothered about finishing the story, for example, and because I wasn’t, I actually enjoyed biffing random orcs even more.

              Suppose the First Intercontinental Gamer Congress meets next week, and after a ceremonial game of Pong, cordially agrees on a definitive, er, definition of “game.” Everyone is super-happy and the meeting ends in a giant group-hug. However, the definition so agreed happens to rule out Shadow of Just One More Door. So, would that invalidate Shamus’ articles? Or – perhaps a better question because it doesn’t directly involve the criticism itself – would it invalidate my reaction to those articles?

              (It might be thought that Shadow of Enough Sodding Doors Already is a bad hypothetical, as no one would claim it isn’t a game. If (if!) anyone were to take that view, I’d have to say that it perhaps sounds like we have a better working definition than we thought…? :D )

              Definitions are certainly useful tools, but I don’t think they need to be the basis on which all else sits – they can be, certainly, but other things can be as well. Your example – “how well the artists did what they were trying to do” – might be a good one. There one could say, “I’m not concerned with whether this is a game or not, but the artists wanted to achieve x, so let’s evaluate on that score.” (Often the main barrier to knowing what the artists wanted to achieve is a practical one, but even if it weren’t, you can just posit it – “I believe the artists wanted to achieve x, so on that assumption…”)

              So, I guess whilst I totally agree that for each discussion, or for interesting knowledge in general, something has to be assumed, held firm, treated as inarguable, I don’t reckon it has to be a definition (although that is certainly often an option).

              And then the slightly-weird thing is that the ‘thing-held-firm’ doesn’t actually have to be the same thing each time!

              • Ivan says:

                I decided I’d take a crack at a definition to see what I could come up with.

                Game- An interactive experience where player agency allows each player to have a unique experience.

                Honestly I didn’t expect this to be very useful in the first place, I knew it would have to be very general to account for both games that are about a story (The Walking Dead) and games that are about mechanics (Tetris).

                I’ll leave this as a jumping off point for someone to try to build off of, I don’t think I was very through and I’d like to see if anyone can add to this without excluding any games. You might also note that this definition is broad enough to include even board games and sports.

                • Dragomok says:

                  I think yours is at least better than the one proposed by TotalBiscuit, that hinged on presence of failure states – it was meant to exclude “interactive vignettes” like Glitchhikers, but by that logic it would also exclude most of linear adventure games. TB tried to suggest that lack of progression is an implied failure state, but then again, it is so in these vignettes, so the definition broke there.

                  Also, I can see people arguing how different each playthrough needs to be to be considered “unique”. If you haggle hard enough, you can ungame not even Dear Esther, but also several Modern Warfare titles.

                • Abnaxis says:

                  That’s an interesting definition. Usually, the first problem I have with anyone’s definition is that it’s easy to find obvious counterexamples, where they consider something a game that isn’t one, or they leave out something that’s obviously a game.

                  I mean, I could still hit yours with that kind of logic. Technically, wouldn’t going through all the work in the licensing office to get your driver’s licence be a unique experience for you, since your ID will presumably be different than everyone else’s. You can refine the definition to get around that, but this gets at the core problem–that you’ve taken one definition and branched it; now you have to define exactly what you mean by “agency” and “unique.” Do you have agency as you stand in line at the licensing bureau? Maybe you could mail in an application instead? Does the fact that your ID will be different than everyone else’s make the experience unique? Does the uniqueness somehow have to be tied to the agency, and if so how?

                • Abnaxis says:

                  Since my critique got kind of long, here’s a separate post for my own definition. In layman’s terms:

                  A game is a set of rules that exists for the hell of it

                  Basically, a game is a set of rules that has no pragmatic reason for existing, it’s only there to affect the audience or to communicate some sort of message or theme. This definition is highly influenced again by Film Crit Hulk, specifically the one article where he argues against video games being art.

                  I really like his definition for art, but I disagree with him on whether games qualify. Rather, if you accept his definition of the word “art,” I would define games as “a set of rules created to be works of art.” In most cases, the “thematic message” is “have fun,” but that’s a perfectly valid theme and it is far from exclusive. There are many games that go for different themes, like Papers, Please. This gets around goofy stuff like saying traffic laws are a game, while preserving the categorization of most systems that people generally regard as games.

                  Now, it does call into question some of the more debatable titles out there. I honestly don’t know if you can call The Walking Dead a “game” by this definition, because the mechanics of that title don’t really exist on their own to communicate their own independent theme. If you are playing TWD for the gameplay, you are missing the point–the primary intention for the title is to tell a cinematic story, and the mechanics exist to reinforce the story rather than to create their own unique experience.

                  This is important, and it gets at what I was talking about above: by my definition, if you want to make a game then the gameplay has to be the primary priority needs to me to make the interactive experience more enjoyable. Following the Shhadows of Mordor example, if you make the game less interesting to play in order to shore up the narrative, you are doing a disservice to the overall work because it is a game. In TWD, it is the opposite–it’s primary priority is the story, and you can find numerous examples of less than stellar gameplay, where it’s clear the designers made a choice to sacrifice interactivity for the narrative. From a critical perspective, that’s not as damning for TWD, because it isn’t trying to be a game first.

              • Abnaxis says:

                I agree with you, up to a point. However, I think we are talking about the issue from different perspectives. From your perspective, Shamus’s article was informative and helpful. However, from Shamus’s perspective (going from what he said in the article, not meaning to put words in his mouth), he keeps getting negative feedback from people, and he has no idea how to address it. No matter what he says in criticism, he is told that he is “missing the point” of the game.

                This does nothing to advance his ability as a critic, to say nothing of giving useful feedback to the developers, and generates a not-insignificant amount of vitriol in the gaming community. It’s inefficient.

                The problem with changing your definition situationally are many-fold: First, it’s unwieldy. Very few participants in the discussion are writing thousand-word essays that give them the leeway to define exactly what they mean by “game” in front of every discussion. Second, it doesn’t matter how clear you are about what you are basing your conclusions on, someone will still bitch at you for using the wrong basis, which really doesn’t generate useful debate. In order to argue any position, at some point you need to establish a common frame of reference. Finally, I’m not sure how you can say “I’m not concerned with whether this is a game or not, but the artists wanted to achieve x, so let’s evaluate on that score,” without making some implicit assumption about the gaminess of More but Still Slightly Less Than Infinity Doors, and you’re right back to the same problem. I mean, what exactly do you think “x” should be in our example?

                I think “x” is “the artists wanted to give player a romping good time killing Tolkien orcs.” From this perspective, it doesn’t really make as much of a difference that they made a poor narrative that was unfaithful to established Tolkien themes. The primary point of the game is to have fun killing orcs, and while a better structured story would further enhance the orc-slaughtering experience, as long as the narrative doesn’t get in the way (by, say, cutscene bullshit, or by restricting the player in unfun ways to better fit with pacifist themes) then it is serviceable.

                I am strongly of the belief that in any artistic work, countless choices have to be made that will sacrifice one aspect of the work to serve another. Last Spoiler Warning, the cast talked about the video-gamey zombie level–clearly inserted for more varied gameplay, setting aside the story for a while so the player gets some enemy variety. Is that the right choice to make? How can you know, if you don’t know why the work exists to begin with?

                • MichaelGC says:

                  Ah yes – I think I went somewhat awry in that I was certainly thinking of discussions where the participants are able/willing to agree the terms of the discussion in advance (likely implicitly – it would certainly be tedious to have to make a big list of all underlying assumptions every time one said or wrote anything!).

                  However, as you say, the central topic of the article involves those situations where there is no such prior agreement! There I can certainly see the utility of a more “objective” basis: a point over which the participants cannot argue. And universally-agreed definitions might well be a good candidate for such a basis: I’m certainly struggling to think of too many alternatives!

                  (There remains the practical problem of actually agreeing on a definition: Ivan takes a good stab at it above, but as he says, it’s not easy! However I think your point still stands even if the actual details of implementation might turn out to be a bit … tricky.)

      • Thomas says:

        I think the best way of making the regenerating health/non-regenerating health is to figure out what you want the player to focus on. Non-regen health is great for making your character feel vulnerable and to make the player think of long term survival (at the expense of each encounter being a little less lethal), but that’s not a great thing when you’re playing a game about inhabiting a super duper action hero, or portraying an elite unit.

        Actually I said ‘I think the best way’ when actually I mean ‘what I care most about in games is the feeling of inhabiting a world/character/situation’.

        I guess people who look at the mechanical implications probably care most about the ‘play’ aspect of games instead.

      • Felblood says:

        –but by the same token, these same “flaws” make regenerating health into a perfect feature for a co-op game where weaker players are likely to drag the group down by gobbling up all the medkits or forcing allies to waste mana on heals, buff and roots.

        This way, the party leader’s little brother is only a liability during the course of each individual fight, and not an anchor that drags the entire mission on a slow-but-inexorable slide into failure.

    • Daemian Lucifer says:

      No game mechanics is bad in all the situations.Not even quick time events.If you put them in the correct place and use them in a correct manner,it will fit well.Obviously,even then it wont appeal to everyone,but those it will appeal to will appreciate the effort of doing it well.

      But if you just slap it where it doesnt fit at all,then even people that like the mechanic generally will still hate it.

      • Robyrt says:

        So true. Quick-time events were pretty good in God of War, where they determined success on a player-initiated minigame. There was even gaming’s best QTE tutorial: the very first event is hardcoded to always make you press Triangle, so you can get used to the concept of pressing buttons during a canned animation. They were also good in Shenmue, where they served as reflex tests that aligned with the cutscenes, like the famous “press Y to dodge a soccer ball”.

        The blame for QTE abuse can be laid largely on Resident Evil 4, which had little or no distinction between the times you should watch for button presses and the times you shouldn’t.

        • Theminimanx says:

          I played Resident Evil 4 for the first time a few days ago, and I was very surprised to find that it actually uses QTE’s pretty well. During gameplay it’s used for dodging attacks, and because only two button combinations are used for this throughout the entire game, it becomes a test of reflexes rather than memorization. Even in cutscenes it’s only a single QTE, with the same button combinations, and if you fail you can skip the cutscene up to the point where the QTE happens. The one time it’s a long sequence of QTE’s, it’s a sequence of dodges with the same buttons that you’ve been using to dodge for 10 hours now.

          It’s probably my favorite example of how a trendsetter for misused ideas can still have used those same ideas well itself. The grey-brown aestheic, over-the-shoulder shooting and the set-piece based action game were popularised thanks to this game, but Resi 4 uses them all very deliberately, and wouldn’t be the same game without them.

          • Daemian Lucifer says:

            Whenever qtes are used in cutscenes,they arent used well.To dodge in a game,or to escape hold attacks,or to execute elaborate combos and finishers,those are all ok,as long as they dont lead to instant death/fail to down an enemy if you dont pass.Dialogue interrupts in mass effect are also an example of good qtes.

  6. syal says:

    A lot of (mostly young) people put enough time into the games they play that they view the games they like as a part of their personality. You’re not discussing a game they like, you’re discussing their personality, and you’re finding fault in their personality, and their immediate reaction is to try to find fault in yours, especially when your opinion is obviously subjective. Every argument they make is just dressing for their emotional defense of themselves.

    The only solution is to talk to more confident people.

    • Sigilis says:

      Applying that solution is not possible, I fear.

      The Internet does not usually give you a choice as to who you have the pleasure of addressing and even if it did, how could you detect if the person who you are talking to has replaced a part of their soul with a video game? And aren’t you obligated to help the poor sods if they replaced a piece of their essential humanity with a game that promotes themes that are objectionable, or has narrative issues, or some other defect?

      It seems kind of weird to say that people on the Internet should have thicker skin, so I’ll approach it from the other end: commentary directed at a piece of artwork is not inherently commentary on it’s author or its audience. Unless of course, such an intent is made clear through the criticism itself (“Clearly, all CoD players are deviants as this review will reveal.”) When this is not clear, it points to a disconnect between the expectations of the reader and the nature of discussion itself that should be addressed, though I have no idea how we’d go about it without doing things like adding things to curriculum in schools which is not easily or universally done.

      • syal says:

        “And aren’t you obligated to help the poor sods”

        There’s nothing you can do apart from giving those people time to grow out of it, and ignoring them until they do. And for every person growing out of it there’s some kid growing into it.

        I guess I just view this column as shouting at the wind. It’s a knee-jerk reaction to other knee-jerk reactions, and you get this wonderful loop of people kicking each other endlessly.

    • Shirdal says:

      I always thought that expressed opinions on a creative work, be it video game, film, book or anything else, are sometimes (but not necessarily) also implicitly directed at the people who enjoy that work. The things we enjoy (or don’t) are tied to our personalities. An attack on something also carries over to the personality that enjoys such a thing.

      I say “attack” deliberately, because, in my experience, people often express their opinions in inflammatory ways: something is boring or stupid or just plain bad. It’s easy to take offense at that: if you say it’s stupid, what kind of person do you say I am for thinking it’s brilliant?

      I gravitate away from those who would simply insult rather than discuss. There are those who would take offense where none was meant, explicitly or implicitly, but what I am trying to say is that sometimes this offense might be justified. Cool-headed and friendly conversation has to begin that way.

      • syal says:

        I didn’t say whether or not it was justified, because whether it is or isn’t doesn’t change the point that their opinions are largely emotional responses and will come about regardless of reasoning. I’m just trying to point out the thought process because it sounded like Shamus missed it.

        Although I do feel that not enough people on the Internet try to avoid taking offense. Lots of people are inflammatory, but not everyone that is is trying to be. Hyperbole is quite popular, especially among the kinds of people that review things on the Internet, and assuming everything someone says is set in iron just leads to trouble.

        • Shirdal says:

          I think that emotional reactions can be avoided, or at least reduced, when we take care of how we express our opinions. What I am trying to suggest is that confidence (or lack thereof) isn’t the only culprit here, and that better communication can prevent some of the unnecessary friction.

          • syal says:

            Some, certainly. All, no way. And it’s related to who else they listen to as well; it doesn’t matter if you’re the nicest guy in the world, if you agree with the overall opinion expressed in The Arrogant Asshat’s Bitchslap Review Of LOTR, people who listen to both of you are going to act like you’re him. That’s not your fault, and it’s not under your control.

      • NotDog says:

        This is mostly what it is. Some people see a value judgement upon themselves in a piece of criticism, whether the value judgement can be explicit, implied, or imagined. The motivations for people’s reaction can range from truly identifying with the work being criticized to simple buyer’s remorse.

        It doesn’t help when there are amateur criticisms of things on the Internet (forums, etc.) that really are inflammatory, and are written in much the same spirit that fuelled the Star Trek/Star Wars rivalry. People can get paranoid.

        Hell, I can get defensive of JRPGs and all of their weird tropes even though they’re not actually my favourite genre.

        • Tizzy says:

          If you’re going to stop expressing opinions on the off chance that someone will get offended, then you’re not making good use of your right to free speech.

          I wouldn’t express an opinion unless I think it brings something constructive to the table, and I don’t go trying to antagonize people who disagree with me. But once you’ve taken these basic precaution, there will still be people who are offended, still people who take it personally, and you simply cannot let these people stand in the way of a good discussion, because if you do, tehn, really, what’s the point? If you cannot run the risk of offending anyone, you don’t have communication, you have white noise.

          • Shirdal says:

            By no means should people stop expressing opinions, but I propose that they should take better care of how they express them, and not be surprised if poor expression rubs a lot of people the wrong way. There will always be those who will get riled up regardless of what you do, but those people are not worth consideration: they are a problem with seemingly no solution.

            • syal says:

              My standard rebuttal; changing the habits of a thousand people is several thousands of times harder than changing your own, with roughly the same effect in this case. If you make a point to not take offense, it doesn’t matter how many people offer it, while if you make a point to not give offense, you’d better hope no one else does either or your efforts will be wasted.

        • Wide And Nerdy says:

          It doesn’t help that sometimes criticism of a game actually does include criticism of the people who play it. Morrowind fans attacking Skyrim fans for needing so much hand-holding for example.

          Now if the criticism of Skyrim is “games shouldn’t treat people LIKE they’re idiots” that’s different and I’ve seen in put that way too.

      • lurkey says:

        “if you say it’s stupid, what kind of person do you say I am for thinking it’s brilliant?”

        Well, that’s easy – you are a kind of person who enjoys things I find stupid. That’s all of it. I don’t have any more data on you and therefore cannot make any other assessment of your personality.

        Yes, common flame wars turn into ad hominem flinging, but I imagine that mature, introspective people giving criticism are aware that “person likes things I find stupid” is not equal to “person is stupid”. Also mature, introspective critics doesn’t give a toss about you getting offended because that wasn’t their intention in the first place, and so snuffing out your kneejerk reaction before it goes public really benefits you the most. And if the criticism is deliberately antagonistic and taunting, isn’t it more satisfying to be unpredictable and not to give the reviewer what they obviously want?

        What you do in flame warfare is whole ‘nother question. Anything is allowed, I guess. >:-)

        • Shirdal says:

          I would only argue that mature, introspective critics should probably think twice about using words like “stupid” in the first place, unless it is their intention to offend (sometimes these words are useful in a constructive and friendly discussion, but not often, in my experience).

          It would be better for discussion if people did snuff out their knee-jerk emotional reactions, but that applies to criticism as well. Everyone should strive to be mature and cool-headed and to express themselves in that manner, not just the reactionaries.

          I am, at least in part, playing devil’s advocate here. I am nowhere on the side of censoring or limiting criticism, but am trying to convey that sometimes people take offense because they are, in fact, being offended (no that is not a tautology).

  7. Corpital says:

    Since nearly everything I have to say boils down to one point, I’ll just say that and be done with it: People need to slow down, take a deep breath and start being more introspective.

    • Sigilis says:

      If only there was a way to make sure that you are always at the right level of introspection…

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      It forces you to breathe deeply and monitors your blood oxygen so that you are kept at the very edge of hyperventilation all the time. Yes, no more off the cuff responses being interpreted as hostile because your brain decided that breathing as for chunguses.

      RespirGate, available in 2016 (back our Kickstarter, which totally a legitimate thing, and not a ploy to take all your money).

    • Daemian Lucifer says:

      What?!How dare you tell me to slow down and take a breath?!!Breathing killed my brother,you insensitive prick!!!

  8. tmtvl says:

    “you want to do a couple of thousand worlds on the environmental undertones of Sonic the Hedgehog?”

    Editing, yay!

  9. Daemian Lucifer says:

    “No game is perfect.”

    Except for starcraft 1.

  10. Daemian Lucifer says:

    Well,if every aspect of gaming is up for discussion,whats your opinion of hatred?

    • Shamus says:

      I’ve been hearing the controversy, but that’s the first time I’ve seen the gameplay footage. Wow. Makes me REALLY uncomfortable.

      Most games are empowerment fantasies: “If you had the power, wouldn’t it be cool to be able to kill all of the evil in the world?” I know you can’t ACTUALLY kill evil by shooting dudes. But the Nazi and Zommbie foes serve as cathartic strawmen to blow away.

      Even Postal tapped into this. The people in town weren’t evil, but they represented various annoyances in life: Obnoxious, angry, condescending, stupid. They were stand-ins for the annoyances of daily life. The world was insane and absurd.

      Other games let you revel in evil, but it’s cartoony, abstracted, and played for laughs: Overlord and Dungeon Keeper have a sort of playfulness about them.

      Saints Row fits a little bit into all of these categories.

      But hatred is way too close to the real thing for me. I mean, this is a thing that happens in real life, and the very idea of running around murdering helpless unarmed civilians as they beg for their lives is actually sickening to me. I have trouble reading NEWS about these events, so I certainly don’t have the stomach to participate in them in videogame form.

      I don’t get the appeal.

      • Daemian Lucifer says:

        If you look for a game that its closest to,original gta was like that,only with less of a backstory.And it came at a time when it was a bit farther from real life.

      • syal says:

        Also it’s yet another Angry 30-Something White Dude. Why couldn’t Sergeant Hatred be a woman? :p

        More seriously, that trailer doesn’t show any opposing forces, so I’m assuming it’s just a shallow game with no replayability. I can’t imagine it being any good unless it’s like Hotline Miami where you have to use strategy to not die.

        And those cutscenes are just going to slow the game down once you’ve seen them a few times.

        • Wide And Nerdy says:

          I’ll second that. I enjoy playing my Sgt Hatreds as women. It helps me maintain some separation from the character while I’m being comically psychotic.

      • MadTinkerer says:

        So wait… Hatred is basically Postal played straight? I really don’t get it either. I wonder if there’s some kind of twist, like the violent maniac is actually the villain (as he clearly should be) or something.

        Maybe it’s going to be like the Columbine game where the action quickly shifts to Hell after the killers’ deaths and the demons are much more difficult to deal with. The Hatred guy (whose lips don’t move? A clue?) says “It’s time for me to kill, and it’s time for me to die.” but you don’t see him dying much in the trailer.

        Regardless, the game looks too easy (in that trailer) to be fun. One of the big reasons why there aren’t more games with violent rampages against a civilian population as a main theme is that gunning down waves of mooks that are at least a threat in a group provides a challenge, but killing people who pose no threat just sounds terribly boring. Take away the shallow shock value and it’s just uninteresting.

        EDIT: “Genocide crusade”!?! But there isn’t even any genocide happening. The guy is clearly an equal-opportunity murderer. (Also, it’s not actually a crusade if the Pope doesn’t tell you to do it.) There’s just got to be more to this game than the trailer is admitting, even if it’s something that’s not nearly as interesting as what I’d do.

        EDIT again: And the whole thing is oddly stylized. Maybe the trailer itself isn’t supposed to be “real”? I’m probably reading too much into it.

        • syal says:

          Be interesting if they were actually trying to pull a Spec Ops.

          …you get shot at the end of level one, and the next six levels are in the hospital learning to walk again, and when you finally succeed you get tried for a hundred counts of first degree murder and go to jail.until you get executed.

      • poiumty says:

        I think of games not necessarily as power fantasies, but outlets for doing things you aren’t able or willing to do in real life.

        Under this lens, Hatred makes more sense: playing a cold-blooded killer for the hell of it just to sate your morbid/sadistic curiosity. I don’t believe games encourage specific behavior in people, therefore no game can possibly be “harmful to society” or not have a right to exist.

        I don’t like roleplaying someone being evil for evil’s sake, but if other people want to, I can understand that without altering my opinion of them.

        What I’m saying is I wish there were more games like this: uncomfortable, distressing affairs that show the worst sides of humanity and thus allow us to look deeper at ourselves and the things we believe in.

        • Daemian Lucifer says:

          “What I’m saying is I wish there were more games like this: uncomfortable, distressing affairs that show the worst sides of humanity and thus allow us to look deeper at ourselves and the things we believe in.”

          There are plenty of those.Its just that 99% of them focus on rape.

          • poiumty says:

            I said I wish there were more of those, implying I don’t think there are plenty of them at all. And whenever someone gets the courage to make one, it gets negativity thrown its way as if it was an inherently harmful product.

            Needless to say I don’t like the implication.

            I want there to be more of them because the more of a thing, the better the chances you have of finding actual quality. In a world where such experimental games are only produced by niche developers with no budget and little writing experience because every veteran is scared of people’s reactions, you really have to dig deep to find anything of worth.

        • Tom says:

          “What I’m saying is I wish there were more games like this: uncomfortable, distressing affairs that show the worst sides of humanity and thus allow us to look deeper at ourselves and the things we believe in.”

          “I have no mouth and I must scream” was aiming for something like that, although the game hasn’t aged well and had very sketchy, hit-and-miss execution to begin with. As-produced it was, unbelievably, actually toned down a bit from its original conception, in that it was actually possible to win. The original idea was supposedly to have a game where there was no way to win, and all you could decide was how nobly you lost, or how low you would sink to stave that off.

      • Anonymous says:

        Thank you for being the type of person who says “I don’t get the appeal” instead of calling everyone who likes it awful people or whatever.

    • Gruhunchously says:

      I’m not sure if that was meant to be tongue-in-cheek or not. The dude’s nihilistic monologue was so ludicrous and delivered in a theatrical trailer voice, and yet it was played so straight with the grimy, gritty music and visuals. In the end, I just wanted to reach into the screen and take all of his weapons away from him before locking him in a room full of butterflies and rainbows.

    • Aitch says:

      I’ll say it again – that trailer made me laugh out loud, and I don’t do that very often since Tim and Eric went off the air.
      It has about as much to do with reality as any other video game. This whole “controversy” is the same lame arguments I heard about Wolfenstein 3d and Doom and GTA and every other time the line was pushed. Either you understand that it’s a joke or you don’t, and the people who don’t either ignore it or start up with the righteous indignation shame on you how immature and what about the children and this happens every day in the real world and is not to be made fun of and there is no room for levity in this office building blah blah blah…
      If you can’t see that it’s a joke, I don’t know what I could even say to help. Not asking you to laugh at the joke, or even get it – just to understand that it is one, and one that’s been done over many times to the same reaction.

      It is cartoony. It is abstracted. The people do represent various annoyances in life. The world that’s presented is insane and absurd. If I had to guess the appeal, it would be watching people squirm at the prospect and proudly puff up their squared shoulders as they dramatically walk themselves behind the line in the sand, declaring their this and that and how could theys and whyfors and this is whats wrong withs and ugh… just… it’s a joke, Data. It’s just a joke.

      • Otters34 says:

        So it’s a joke, but one solely at the expense of people who are uncomfortable with stuff like this? That’s about the weakest joke I can imagine.

        It’s like killing a cat in front of somebody who loves the animals, or pushing them down some stairs or spreading ugly rumors about somebody at work. “Can’t you take a joke? Why is your skin so thin, it’s just a bit of fun!”

        • Daemian Lucifer says:

          Making a video game about fictional people killing fictional people is not the same as actually hurting someone in real life.Its not even comparable.

          • Otters34 says:

            I agree. But making one for the purpose of tweaking people in real life, for wholly spiteful reasons, is getting there.

            • Daemian Lucifer says:

              And how is that different from whenever someone expresses an opinion about a highly political topic you disagree with?How is it different than what Jon Stewart or Stephen Colbert are constantly saying about highly political stuff?

        • Moridin says:

          It’s more like making a video where you kill a cat, and then advertising it. If you see more than a picture or two, chances are you either intentionally watched the video to get riled up, or someone other than the creators tricked you into watching it – and even then you can just close the tab when you realize what’s going to happen. So not at all comparable to killing a cat in front of an animal lover, really.

  11. SlothfulCobra says:

    It is really true that every aspect should be open in one way or another, but there’s a certain sort of “paying your way” that really has to be done for the more out-there subjects. Like for example, if Shamus was criticizing World of Warcraft about the Tolkien-accuracy of its elves and orcs, he’d be more of a crazy old man.

    The first example that sprung to my head of a topic that maybe should be off-limits was the holocaust, and if you bring that up, clearly you’ve made a wrong turn at some point, but then again, just a couple months ago people were doing that for good reason because of that new Wolfenstein game. It’s all about context.

  12. Mephane says:

    I imagine this is the Metacritic effect: Low scores can and do impact funding decisions and can convince execs to greenlight some projects and cancel others, and at the same time the whole industry is really sequel-driven. So if a game you love gets a low score you have an incentive to try and counter that opinion, lest it harm something you enjoy. If a game has a feature you hate and it does well, then there’s a very real worry that the next entry in the series will focus even more on the thing you hate. It can feel like you’re not just haggling over review scores, but fighting to see more of the stuff you love.

    This is so true that I am wondering why it hasn’t been said much more often already.

    That said, I believe there are legitimate cases where there is such an effect, especially in the indie scene where small studios or lone devs are more likely to listen and react to opinions voiced by players than a behemoth company with the inertia (and possibly also other characteristics) of an iceberg.

    One game where I believe this is the case is Star Citizen. I can’t help but feel that CIG wouldn’t redirect so much of their energy into selling* spaceships if the community did not consistently praise them for their spaceship designs and keep buying them en masse, and limited-number sales weren’t regularly sold out on day 1.

    (*In before someone explains how it’s not a purchase, but a pledge of support. The Duck Principle quite clearly tells me that they are running a shop for ingame items. I am not even saying this is an inherently bad thing, it is just not my thing.)

  13. Xakura says:

    But Sands of Time’s sexual tension was resolved?

  14. poiumty says:

    To be completely fair, sometimes criticism is factually incorrect, like a reviewer arguing that a game should have feature X while feature X was there all along and easily able to be spotted by the majority of people playing the game. You could argue that the game should have pointed towards it more fervently, but how much assistance is hand-holding? So now we go into the realm of fair and unfair criticism: is it fair to criticize Dark Souls for not having an easy mode? Maybe. Is it fair to criticize it for not having a top-down view, or for having a moody atmosphere? Maybe not. But all of these aspects are subjective, and will resonate more or less with people. Just like in reviews, there’s a certain degree of objectivity that needs to be kept in mind if you don’t want people to dismiss your criticism as unreasonable. Know your audience, and don’t use subjectivity as an excuse. (more on this later)

    The issue people will take offense with is how criticism is worded and/or expressed. I like to differentiate between criticism and condemnation. To exemplify: arguing that one game could be better and you would’ve personally enjoyed it more if it had more guns is reasonable criticism. But saying that the game suffers, drags the industry down and forever leaves a scarring mark on the entire medium because of its gross lack of consideration for more gun models borders on the inflammatory. The latter is condemnation and not criticism, and people WILL attack you for this, as anyone should expect, even if it’s just your personal opinion. Especially if you follow it up with “I conclude that the developers are lazy and overpaid and this highlights a growing concern in the gaming industry as a whole where game development is getting less challenging because of the toxic attitudes of the people who make them”. There is a context in which that statement could make sense, but it needs to be carefully considered. If most people think it’s an exaggeration of current events, it probably is.

    But I will no doubt agree that there is a trend for people to be passionately defensive of their beloved product. Bias is simple human psychology, after all, and we all need to be aware of ours. I will also certainly agree that there is no criticism that doesn’t have the right to exist – but it’s not as simple as that in practice and when it comes to the reception it gets. You need to consider the context and the importance you give to criticism. For instance, a passing mention of a thing that irritated you within a review is one thing, spending half a review complaining about it is another. The important thing to note here is that as a reviewer/critic, you are also not immune to bias. And sometimes, observing people’s reactions to your work can serve as an indicator of your own biases. After all, since all art is subjective, we cannot establish objective standards for the quality of our art – all we can do is try to gauge what people commonly like, declare that as a flexible standard, and then choose the niche of consumers we want to speak for (presumably the one we have the most in common with). For example, I won’t go arguing that Planescape: Torment has way too much story on a forum full of RPG fans. But if I were speaking to a forum full of people who aren’t into wordy games, I might consider cautioning that the game will most likely bore them.

    Note that I’m speaking in general here, as I haven’t read the Mordor article and thus cannot criticize it in particular. But judging by this article it seems like you were placing the blame on your readership for being narrow-minded, whereas I don’t see it as such a simple problem to begin with.

  15. RandomInternetCommenter says:

    Should any aspect of game criticism be off-limits to discussion?

    If we consider game criticism an exclusive outlet for enlightened curators to preach to an uneducated audience, yes.

    If we see game criticism as a discussion where everyone can have a voice and contribute to a greater understanding, no.

    There is an unfortunate trend to disregard insightful comments in favor of focusing on the silliest extremes, and dismissing all replies based on that. People who feel a particular analysis is intellectually weak, shallow, underdeveloped or plain wrong are lumped in as people who are against the idea of criticism.

    With certain themes, some critics insist on ignoring years of previous work and start over at the basic point. Imagine taking an advanced math class and having the teacher tell you about additions. On the first lesson, on the second lesson, on every lesson after that. Never moving beyond additions, for weeks, for months, for years. This is what much of mainstream game criticism boils down to, and it can become aggravating to watch as we’re not talking about math. We’re on topics much more subjective, making it all the more important to formalize and analyze, and not just throw away everything that’s been done before.

    Then there’s themes some people keep on pushing, ignoring everything else. Imagine math classes now represent 3/4 of the classes you can take. We’re still talking about the math class where you can only learn additions.

    Where is the game criticism about the pros and cons of iron sights? What are the advantages and inconvenients of abstract level design? What differences arise from using projectiles vs hitscans? You could write novels about this, and there are healthy discussions on these topics in small forums and communities; but in the mainstream press, when these critiques exist at all, they are drowned under waves of articles saying “I don’t like this feature, so this game is bad, now let me tell you how bad this game is for having this feature I don’t like”.

    We have a medium so powerful the only limit is your imagination, and professionals insist on restricting the conversation to a tiny part of it. We’re given endless new worlds to explore, and professionals judge these through the lens of their topical prejudices.

    It’s such a waste of potential, is all. You look up at the sky in a starry night, and it’s beautiful, but then you hear everyone around you bitching about someone else having a better looking spot, or whining because someone takes too much space, or complaining because these guys have had it better the last time we looked at the sky so they should be behind everyone this time, and soon there’s nothing left but the bickering about such pointless things. Bring that up and you’re a “troll”, you’re “young”, you’re “ignorant”. Soon it’s you who isn’t focusing on the real issues, for daring to look past your own nose.

    Whatever.

    • Daemian Lucifer says:

      “Where is the game criticism…”

      Well,to be fair,those arent critiques,those are studies.And admittedly,those do have their place,and should definitely be incorporated in any place that teaches/researches video games,just how we have such stuff in film schools.But just how you will rarely see film critics discuss framing and angles when addressing the general audience,you should rarely see such discussions in your regular magazine critiques of video games.

  16. Scourge says:

    [b]Everything is permitted..[/b]

    Nothing is sacred.

    Clearly, Shamus is an Assassin.

    Less Le’ parkour and more… le writing? I dunno. My witty remarks are not as good as they used to be.

  17. Wide And Nerdy says:

    I think gamma sliders should be off-limits from criticism. I’m so sick of the obvious bias in the gaming press surrounding them.

  18. Kristoffer says:

    I think the right answer is probably not to engage when you think a critic is nitpicking or focuses on things you don’t care about. I came over from the Escapist a long time ago after reading some interesting column or another, and I like it here, even if I don’t post a lot in the comments. It’s nice and calm and you talk about stuff that the other video game writers/entertainers/personalities/journalists I follow don’t talk about. When Spoiler Warning start repeating too many complaints, or someone talks about how some game element broke their immersion(or talk about some old PC game I have no frame of reference to) I can just take a break. Sometimes, I just don’t think those discussions are interesting.

  19. Reach says:

    I hope you had a better experience with SoM than your articles let on, but I’m really, really glad you wrote them, and that you criticized the game as boldly and unabashedly as you did. The story really is atrocious and the combat system is somewhere between bad and passable. I enjoyed SoM, but I enjoyed very specific aspects of it, and I think it’s important that devs gets as clear an idea as possible what worked and what didn’t. I want another game like SoM, but not just like it. Too often I think a game gets swept up in praise and people forget that some aspects are rubbish and that’s how you get tripe like CoD Ghosts and Assassin’s Creed 3. I can understand people defending the story or gameplay, but suggesting that a legitimate criticism be dismissed because of something unrelated is counter-productive.

    edit: I will say that the title of your article really makes your stance on the story seem far more aggressive than it is in retrospect. Didn’t personally mind either, but it really is a shame that a decision made by an editor can have such a negative impact on the discussion.

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