I’ve noticed an unfortunate thread of commentary on my Youtube videos, and more generally in the gaming public. And I’m getting tired of it, because not only is it personally exhausting to read, it’s that sort of insidious, self-propagating way of thinking that taints almost all discussion about entire topics.
The world of game criticism is a very hostile and silly place right now, and we could do a lot better by understanding our own biases and thinking about them just a bit. In the hopes of doing so, here’s some examples of some rather strange comments I got, insisting I hate things I explicitly state I liked in the same breath.
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How Dare You Not Like Thing
In a video on AM2R while explaining how I liked the controls, I briefly complained about Super Metroid’s controls (aiming is a little strange, L/R don’t map sensibly to up/down, and the weapon selection is very clumsy with a full kit). I received a comment stating quite strongly “Well, Super Metroid is my favorite game”, as if I had said I disliked it. I state quite explicitly in the video that I loved Super Metroid, it just wasn’t absolutely perfect.
I played Robin, a lovely “empathy game” about Chronic Fatigue Syndrome, and mentioned the time scale is a bit exaggerated to simplify the expression (taking a shower consumes several hours on the clock). I got a rather upset comment from a sufferer of CFS complaining I didn’t take it seriously…despite spending most of the video explaining that CFS is a severe, real thing and I suffer with similar problems myself. This one was extra puzzling as it wasn’t even a criticism so much as me explaining the abstraction of the game.
Black And White
How is this possible? How could I make it so clear I enjoy something but still upset fans of the thing, as if I spent the whole video saying it was loser garbage for losing losers?
The problem seems to boil down to the following analyses:
A) Well, this thing is good, so I refuse to believe it has any bad points.
B) Well, this thing is bad, so I refuse to believe it has any good points.
Frequent examples of B are much-maligned games like Final Fantasy 8, Quest 64, or even series that are dismissed sheerly because of how they market themselves or how seriously they take themselves, such as Senran Kagura or Hyperdimension Neptunia (it’s amazing how many times I’ve had to explain that HDN is a parody series).
The fact of the matter is that basically all “good” things have bad points and an impressive number of “bad” things have good points. Very often different aspects of a game are entirely unrelated—you may hate Final Fantasy 8’s Draw system, but it’s high points (music, graphics, Laguna, sidequests, being the first well-translated and nearly bug-free Final Fantasy, characters that aren’t afraid to show flaws) are entirely unrelated and relatively unmarred by the game’s low points (slow summons, generally allowing players to use the draw system “wrong” resulting in very boring, slow fights if you insist on hoarding magic).
I could go on, but this game isn’t really about defending (nor attacking) specific games. The fact of the matter is, games (and most works) are complex things reduced by fandom to “perfect” and “awful”. Sometimes there’s a “mediocre” bucket tossed in there too, but let’s be real, most people consider that “awful”. As I’ve far too often read in IGN comment sections, there’s a lot of people who think something isn’t worth their time if it’s score falls below, say, an 8.5 (a number that’s always rising).
There is plenty of things to complain about in those “perfect” games, and quite often it is the most passionate fans who do the most complaining. I criticise my favorite games very often on Twitter, and I spend exceedingly little time criticising games I do not like. Why? Well, I know a lot more about the games I like, so I see more to criticize! I also want them to be better, so the next time I play them I enjoy them even more! Quite simple really.
There’s a dark side to this as well; since many feel “bad” things are universally bad, hatred and insults grow to a hyperbolic pace and an impressive effort is exerted to express one’s distaste for games they haven’t played, don’t want to play etc. Before it’s release for example, Senran Kagura was widely insulted, discredited and shamed…since it’s release on Steam, it’s become one of precious few games to attain the elusive “overwhelmingly positive” rating.
Fairly often I see stories of people who buy it (or were gifted it) as a joke, then find out they actually really love the game. I could write stories about why (oh wait I did, here’s a review!) but the fact of the matter is people saw something “bad” (sexuality, which…really isn’t bad, but that’s another matter) and they assumed the whole game was bad. After playing their minds changed (or at least they stopped complaining as much) because the game is not quite what one would expect, having quite a bit of craftsmanship in it.
If you want examples of this behavior, just say the name of a recently popular game on Twitter and mention a flaw. Someone will pop right into your mentions in no time to explain how stupid you are, you big, dumb, moron. (I once had someone create three Egg accounts on Twitter just because I said the new Fire Emblem looked a bit iffy graphically).
Really, what we all need to do is just…chill out. Calm down. That person saying Final Fantasy 7 had a bad translation is not invalidating the rest of the game (it did have a bad translation, just not the worst). That nutjob on Twitter who really loves a game you think is bad is not necessarily wrong, and you’re not going to solve a world crisis by sending them 50 tweets about how much of a stupid weiner butt they are.
Games are not homogeneously good or bad. They are complex works of art with flaws, fragments of brilliance, bits and pieces that can be interpreted differently and either enjoyed or disliked depending on personal taste, experience, or even the context in which they are played (play Dark Souls with a migraine and tell me it’s an enjoyable game!).
Fandom has an unfortunate tendency to “rally the troops” as it were; you see something you like and you want to puff it up, you see something you don’t and you want to tear it down. But it’s not healthy, and more importantly, by quashing constructive discussion about both “good” and “bad” games, we prevent those games from improving.
Criticism Makes Matter Games
There’s much to be gained from discussing a great game’s low points, that’s how we get better games. There’s also much to be gained from discussing the high points of a “poor” game—that’s also how we get better games! Imagine if no one bothered to improve Street Fighter 1, Final Fantasy 2, Mother 1, Metroid 1, Mega Man 1, the list goes on. A great deal of great, well-established series had beginnings that were either forgettable or have aged poorly.
Understanding those flaws in the early titles did not harm them, it brought out what was truly great in them, without the parts that drug them down. Development is always an iterative process, and game development is no different. By pretending things we like are flawless or that things we don’t like are unredeemable, we discredit the art of making games and more personally, we discourage the creation of better games we’d probably enjoy if we weren’t so busy insulting people on Twitter who disagree with us.