A growing disease among gamers... (RANT)

Discussion in 'Video Games and Technology' started by flamepanther, Jun 13, 2012.

  1. flamepanther

    flamepanther Interested, but not really

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    ...misuse of (bad) critical analysis.

    Before I get started, let me point out that I think it's great that there's a growing trend in gaming comunities to take a closer look at the mechanics and fundamentals of what makes a good game work or makes a bad game not work. It's a huge step in the right direction toward treating game design as a legitimate art form.

    But with the newfound tool of critical analysis comes a dark side. Let me recount a true story for you. One of my friends at work is a serious gamer. Actually, most of them are, but one in particular is a very experienced gamer in a wide variety of genres, as well as tournament level player of fighting games. He's also a huge Zelda fan. When Skyward Sword came out, he bought it on the first day. When he first started playing it, he exclaimed that it was the best game in the series. When he finished it, his opinion had not changed. Weeks later, it was still the best. I didn't rush out and buy the game as early as my friend did, so when he had just finished, I was still getting started. He wanted to know my opinion, and I said that so far I had to agree with him.

    Later on, he asked about my progress, and wanted to know if I still thought it was the best. I told him I still thought so, and he solemnly shook his head. "What? You finished it weeks ago and you still said it was the best ever." "I've had to reconsider that opinion. The old games were better. I'll send you a link to an interesting article in a bit, but read it with an open mind." He sent me here.

    Without careful consideration, Tevis Thompson seems to make a damn good case for his position. Something about it turned my stomach. Could it be that he was right in his analysis and I, like other fans, had been in denial? No, not really. Once I cleared my head, however, the problems in Thompson's analysis were immediately obvious, and his Achilles' heel is the very same original Zelda game formula to which he pleads for a return.

    One of the article's key (hur hur) complaints is that the items Link collects are simply a lock-and-key system to provide access to restricted areas so that the player can progress through the game. He's absolutely right, of course. The problem is that the items in the original Zelda game were also keys. The difference is that the keyholes were unmarked, so once you got the power bracelet you have the tedious task of trying it on every single stone block. It's pretty clear then why this had to change.

    Another assertion made in the article is that the main overworld shouldn't have areas sealed off by barriers imposed by story events or required items. The original Zelda didn't do that, after all, and we do want an expansive world to adventure around in to our hearts' content. But let me describe how my ten-year-old self played the original Zelda. The very first thing I did after getting the sword was explore the entire world map. Screw the dungeons, I wanted to see the world--all of it--and I did. If the monsters were too strong to fight in one area I simply dodged them. In one afternoon I had exhausted essentially all there was to see of Hyrule. All that remained for me to do was go through the dungeons in some approximation of the correct order, and then test the "keys" I earned on every damn tile of the map until I heard the little discovery jingle. The rest of the game kinda sucked compared to that first afternoon, and I had a hard time motivating myself to keep going back to it.

    Modern Zelda games are more closed off for exactly that reason. A huge motivation to keep playing this type of adventure game is to see what else is out there in the game world, so the game parcels that world out to make sure you're actually accomplishing goals before letting you reap the reward. That reward isn't the heart container, it isn't the new item, and it's not even the eventual ending of the story. The reward is having more world to go explore. Put it all up front and people will be tempted to eat their desert first and skip dinner.

    Let's not forget that no game should require the player to have a crazy dream in order to complete it. It's pretty difficult to square that with the articles claims about sensible game design.

    I have other counterpoints to the article, but I think the ones above are sufficient to show that there are significant holes in Thompson's analysis, and fundamental problems with his suggested solutions. I agree with him on some points, but as a whole I've got to dismiss it as a position that was not fully considered. But there's a bigger problem than the contents of the critique itself.

    Why the hell did my friend let it ruin his new favorite game?

    Seriously. I mean, it would be easy to dismiss the issue and tell me that my friend is an idiot, or that he's just too easily influenced. I disagree, but for all you know, that could be the case. The thing is, it doesn't matter. Thompson says early in the article that he's not an apologist, and he's right about that. He's something worse. He's an anti-apologist. And that really shouldn't be the point of critical analysis. The point of games, generally speaking, is to be a fun, enjoyable passtime. If someone enjoys a game, then it did its job. The game fails if the player didn't enjoy it. The role of critical analysis is then to explore why the game was or was not successful, not to change the opinion of other players. Now, I'm not going to assume that Thompson purposely set out to turn people's opinions against modern Zelda games, but it had that effect on at least one person--probably more. I think that highlights one of a few temptations people face when writing an analysis like this one. Even when that temptation is absent, or has been resisted, there will be a temptation among readers to share the criticism with other gamers specifically as a conversion tool, and this is why it is important for analysis and criticism to be honest and balanced.

    A similar temptation that may or may not be in play here is to merely rationalize one's like or dislike of the game, which will naturally lead people to not think about obvious problems with their analysis or counterpoints to their reasoning. In fact, it is especially easy to write a damning negative analysis of any game one dislikes, appearing to any less critical reader as though ypu dissect it point-by-point in a perfectly well-reasoned manner. This again is a gross misuse of criticism.

    The critical writer has a responsibility to remain logical, thorough, and fair. Unfortunately, many writers do not live up to this.

    I touched on this before, but readers also have a responsibility when it comes to others' critiques. You cannot trust the writer to be perfectly honest, especially when they show strong feelings about the subject. Esentially, you need to do your own critical analysis of others' critical analysis instead of just accepting it. If that's too much work, nobody will blame you. Just don't worry about game critics and play what you enjoy. This is where my friend failed.

    Gamers also have a responsibility to not abuse critiques written by others. Several times now, I've casually expressed positive or negative thoughts about a game only to have someone try to counter my personal experience of the game with an article. "Hey you like something? Let me point you to a long winded rant by someone who doesn't." Wow, thanks. These articles tend to be the worst of the bunch, too, and almost always negative. This is where a lot of people need to seriously grow the fuck up and remember that people like different things.


    TLDR version:

    I'm seeing a trend of articles disguised as savvy media analysis, when it's just a lot of inconsistent rationalization for entitled whining.



    EDIT: Just to make it clear, I'm speaking primarily about game critiques. Analytical dissections of a game (or games) as a work, to see what makes it tick. This is somewhat different from reviews, which specifically exist to provide an "expert opinion" on whether the game is good. Some of the same issues will obviously apply to both, however.
     
  2. Smasher

    Smasher HUNKY BEATS

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    Really, you have more of a well thought out argument than a rant.
    It's quite well said.

    I'm also sad to see the 'savvy media analysis' infect just general video game discussion; in this very forum and elsewhere.

    I do think, however, that your argument could have been placed in your other thread.
     
  3. flamepanther

    flamepanther Interested, but not really

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    This was the thread I originally wanted to do. The other was meant to be more of a satirical joke thread, but has somehow turned partly serious. I guess people don't share my sense of humor. If I posted this rant elsewhere, it would be in the Prime forum ;) 

    Thank you for the compliment.
     
  4. Smasher

    Smasher HUNKY BEATS

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    Honestly, It took me a while to dial in your sense of humor myself.

    And, yes, the Prime forum is permeated with exactly the same thing you describe with a liberal dose of entitlement as well.
     
  5. mx-01 archon

    mx-01 archon Well-Known Member

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    I really don't see it as being a gamer-exclusive problem.

    People seem too willing to align their opinions with the critics, with someone with "credentials", as if they're too insecure in their own opinions to stand up for themselves, so they take the easy route out and just differ to someone else. You see that sort of flip-flopping going on with movie or TV opinions as well.

    It's really just kinda sad.
     
  6. flamepanther

    flamepanther Interested, but not really

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    Yes, but the false sophistication and foppishly pseudo-intellectual angle is relatively new to some media--video games in particular. We just recently started to look at the craft somewhat academically and now we suddenly want to write articles "logically" proving that the things we dislike are objectively bad.

    But yeah, things like TVTropes are getting abused in exactly the same way.
     
  7. Cracka J

    Cracka J TURD PARTY DUMPSTERPIECE TFW2005 Supporter

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    this should have been your real tldr message. I've gamed by this law for a long long time now :lol 

    critics can give you a feel for what to expect in the game, but don't take their words as a final judgment. fighting game revisions for the longest time got shittastic reviews (I remember street fighter 3 third strike getting 6's when it released on console), but until enough people come around and say that something is actually good or it becomes trendy, then the critics get down on their knees for it. 3rd strike was actually re-reviewed years later, long after it had become a tournament staple, and re-released as part of an anniversary collection where it got rave reviews all over. that shit made me laugh cause I remembered the same reviewers shitting on it just years prior.

    but yeah, play what you like and like what you play. keep it simple and if someone doesn't like a game you enjoy, their loss. I don't need to convince anyone that the games I play are fun. they are fun for me and that's all that matters.
     
  8. mx-01 archon

    mx-01 archon Well-Known Member

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    Abused is right. The site outright states that that's not how tropes work, but that doesn't stop people from using it to prove how anything and everything is derivative and hackneyed, or however they want to portray something they don't like.

    Love the site in general, but hate the people who attempt to use it as an argument tool.

    It's a writer's resource, a trivia source, or sometimes, for those that just archive binge,a categorized trip down memory lane. It's not a guide for what not to do. If one were to use the site in that matter, he or she would quickly find himself unable to write anything. Tropes are not bad.
     
  9. flamepanther

    flamepanther Interested, but not really

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    I'm with you. It's been the preferred approach to professional reviews for decades, I think. But I think that the general environment changed a bit with the advent of amateur reviews, and got a lot worse when those amateur reviewers started taking a pseudo-academic tone. Professional reviewers at least tend to practice some kind of self-moderation, but the new breed of amateurs likes to one-sidedly sabotage someone's impression of a game and look smart doing it.
     
  10. mx-01 archon

    mx-01 archon Well-Known Member

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    It's easy to make yourself sound authoritative by talking down to your audience. Works on some people. To anybody more savvy and discerning, it just makes you look like a self-centered ass.
     
  11. flamepanther

    flamepanther Interested, but not really

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    The tone is one thing. Giving an appearance of methodical analysis is an alarmingly effective smokescreen, though, and makes a convenient excuse for "unintentionally" talking down to the audiene. Now make the review about a game people already have concerns about and won't be inclined to look more closely at or defend. Metroid: Other M, for example. Or use a much beloved game as your counterexample of how the game should have done things. Real easy for otherwise savvy gamers to jump on the hatewagon at that point.
     
  12. lars573

    lars573 Well-Known Member

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    It's not that limited. Nerd culture in general is one of entitled whining. We all engage in it at one point or another.
     
  13. Smashs

    Smashs Internet: Pure Truth Moderator TFW2005 Supporter

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    Man, I couldn't agree more with you. I knew a guy for about 5-6 years who acted the exact same way when it came to critic's reviews. On everything. Games, movies, books. He would really enjoy something, but when the interwebs didn't like it, neither did he.

    So sad.
     
  14. MetalRyde

    MetalRyde is an a-hole with a heart.

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    ive played and still played other M because i found it to be fun to play. FUN TO PLAY.

    the only thing i ever agreed with some reviews is that the story made samus look like a helpless little girl and not the strong woman we all know she can be.
     
  15. flamepanther

    flamepanther Interested, but not really

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    I initially hated the new formula on every single level, but I knew some of that was just me resisting change. By the end, I didn't want it to be over, and that's a hell of a tough turnaround to pull off. But yeah, people want to get on my case and tell me my experience was wrong and there's a breakdown analysis to prove it, Gag me.
    I think even that is an accidental result of inexperience with that kind of storytelling. She basically has that one emotional breakdown, which a lot of people don't seem to be aware has the classic signs of a panic attack caused by PTSD. The narrative in the game doesn't give all of the background for why Samus would have PTSD, either, but it was covered quite well several years earlier in the Japanese-exclusive official manga prequel for Zero Mission. In the game, all we know is that Ridley destroyed Samus' space colony when she was young. In actuality, he made her watch as he slaughtered everyone she ever knew (she was essentially a toddler at this point), then he showed up at her new home on Zebes and turned one of her trusted caretakers (Motherbrain) against her, then he claimed to have eaten her parents, then he killed most of her Chozo foster family and forced her to flee her home again. She personally saw him disintegrated in Metroid III, and now he's suddenly back and he's just murdered one of her only friends in front of her. That's not something you can take without flinching, no matter how tough you are. It might have been useful to let us know some of that before showing us the effect it all has.

    Executed well, the PTSD scene should have done for the narrative something like what Ripley's nightmare did for us at the beginning of Aliens. It should have given the audience an understanding that the heroine is all the more brave and tough because she can overcome that kind of fear, not because she doesn't feel anything.

    ...but the setup was inadequate and the acting was terrible, so we got what we got.
     
  16. Liege Prime

    Liege Prime Well-Known Member

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    I don't know if it's the same thing, but me and a couple coworkers all played through Mass Effect 3. We all heard, but avoided details, that people were unhappy with the ending. So, my coworkers beat it before me, and both said the same thing "the ending could have been better but it didn't ruin the game and wasn't as bad as people said." I beat it about a week later and felt the same way. When it was finally time I could talk with them about details, they both said they read articles describing why the end was bad and now both completely despise the ending.

    All I could do was argue that you have to go by the experience you had, but that didn't fly as they quoted many of the problems the articles they read stated.

    Oh well, my point is I don't let anything besides my own experience judge a game. Over time I can decide weather or not a game fits as one of my favorites, but overall if a game was a 9 out of 10 my first time through, it will always be a 9 out of 10.
     
  17. geerave

    geerave Well-Known Member

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    the average gamer is now around 40 i believe, unfortunately the average video game site is clogged with 13 year olds and the sites pander to their audience. even thought its only a handful dumb kids they are so loud they are somehow made legitimate and there opinions take off and have an effect on the general gaming public.
     
  18. flamepanther

    flamepanther Interested, but not really

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    No, that sounds exactly like what I'm talking about. It's baffling too. Logic almost never works on people over the internet, yet the one time it shouldn't, they listen.
     
  19. JazzIsBack

    JazzIsBack Well-Known Member

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    especially the transformers fandom :D 

    yes i really hate these people, there was this guy at work who complained about all the new games movies tv shows whatever. when asked why he didnt like it he would repeat word for word all the "analysis" of professionals.

    now for example my favorite game is without a doubt final fantasy 8, now even among most final fantasy gamers this game isnt well received. but yet ive been playing since it was released years ago i know most critics hate it but i will continue playing this and really think its much more enjoyable then the ballbreakingly popular final fantasy 7 that most people gush over. people should just enjoy it and not worry abput the "critics" opinion
     
  20. Liege Prime

    Liege Prime Well-Known Member

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    Actually I recall FF8 suffered from something similar. Back then most people read reviews from magazines. I worked at a game store at the time and I knew a lot of people playing it. The first couple weeks of people playing, I heard nothing but good stuff from everyone. Then Gamefan came out and reviewed it and gave it something like an 8, which is low for the followup to FF7, and they complained about a few things. Of course, the same people who loved it last week were saying the same issues Gamefan pointed out.

    The oddest thing about that is that EGM, Gamepro, and several other big magazines gave it pretty glowing reviews, but what did people listen to? They listen to the negative stuff the most.

    Also, there were a lot of older games that were generally liked, but thanks to the internet figuring out that negativity gets more views, a lot of those decent games are considered atrocities. Castlevania 2 was actually liked, a LOT, but since it required hints from Nintendo Power, current reveiwers crap on it, even though that was a relatively common thing for games back then. They were trying to be a little deeper then just "go right and kill a boss" so they experimented with a lot. Same with TMNT for the NES- everyone liked it with maybe the exception of the Dam level, but now it's thought of as pretty bad. There was also Castlevania 64, which actually got decent reveiw scores, but for some reason people look back on it as an abomination. I mean, it's no Symphony of the Night, but it was a respectable action game for the time.
     

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