...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.