Wave Foam – “NeoGAF Reply”

Apparently, someone liked my “Xenoblade” review so much they placed in in a NeoGAF forum [you can read it here]. Thank God someone still reads this wretched, god-forsaken blog! And thank you for your good taste user SomeDude.

I decided to reply here to some of the comments. I would gladly do it in their forum, but activation of my account still hasn’t been possible. This text was not written to be interpreted as a defensive counter-argument – I do not feel, in any way, offended or insulted by these remarks. Many have I heard before which speak the same ideas and of the same ideals, and many have I refuted… many times before. Rather, my objective in this article is to merely discuss such ideas for they seem useful as starting points for an in-depth analysis over the nature of my criticism and its relation to the videogame medium.

As a sidenote, I will be more than glad to have anyone who wishes to discuss such matters to comment below. Finally, this is an open article which I may extend or review in the future. Have fun.

BorkBork “I’m sorry if you like her opinions, but GOOD LORD that review was pretentious.”

Indeed it was. If by pretentious one understands I tried as hard as I could to write a piece of deep critical analysis. If you mean it is pretentious in the way it seeks to see videogames as pretentious – as in “pretentious art” – I will also agree that yes, I see games as a high art-form, one which can and should be discussed in as complicated ways as possible. If anything, what videogames lack is pretentiousness itself, as authors and critics are too sympathetic with players and readers, treating videogames as toys for little children, engaging in paternalistic conversation. I say videogames and criticism need to start speaking a new language, one which challenges your preconceptions with new ideas and modes of thinking, something which is hard because in the end, hardship enriches you. We need to stop pandering to readers as amorphous masses that only want to hear what they already know, only because that is the way to get higher sales and readership numbers. I would like for us to start communicating on a basis of eudemonic growth, fostering critical thinking in readers, even if that means not all will continue reading. We should strive for a medium where players’ erroneous notions on art and videogames are elevated and educated and not reinforced and perpetuated and where radical new forms of aesthetic value are praised for their progressive and unconventional and unpopular character. For far too long we have found the discardable and redundant and consensual as worthy only on account of the masses liking and enjoying such trifle things. Cultural fast-food judged superior to cuisine. Now is the time to push for the innovative and exciting and uncomfortable and bizarre and virtuous and complicated and forward-thinking and niche and highbrow. So if this is what you would call “pretention”, yes, I am pretentious.

Feep: “This is awful, awful writing. It’s like the author just reached for a thesaurus and went to town.”

I am perfectly aware that my English is far from perfect, though I would expect that to be understandable given it is not my native language. As to the thesaurus – I actually rarely use one, but if it sounds as if I have a wide vocabulary, the better!, it only means my language skills are a bit richer than I thought. Some of the more unorthodox terms may sound strange, but that is only because their use is rare in informal texts, not really because they are not appropriate to convey the notions which I am aiming at. Every choice of phrasing is filled with intent. If you dislike it, in form or content, there is nothing I can do other than acknowledge you probably dislike me and what I think, my writing being a mere reflex of such things. Some operational terms I employ are admittedly imperfect (for example, “naturalism”), for they simplify and reduce the complexity of what is being described, but these are unavoidable when the object of description is so vast and multi-dimensional. The only moderately adequate way of describing them I guess would be to create art as far-reaching as the original, and of that I am surely not capable.

Feep: “Does he/she even know what a ludomaniac is? It doesn’t make any sense in context.”

Well, I am saddened to say that is perhaps you who do not know what ludomaniac stands for. A ludomaniac is someone who is addicted to a game, playing it compulsively even as such brings about great harm to him/her. What else would you call someone who plays to clock hours and hours and hours and hours of endless grinding, quest solving, trophy collecting and customization, only to build up stats in virtual worlds, whilst getting nothing in return? Videogames like the ones I cite were built from the ground up to engage such people, to deceive and manipulate them with psychological hacks that are also used (surprise!) in marketing. Mechanisms such as experience and action points, gold coins, affinity bars, and all that are nothing but red herring skinner boxes, elements which were not idealized in some naive, genuine way of enriching an interactive experience, by expressing emotion or thought, but indeed were conceived as elaborate ways to deceive people into thinking they are being rewarded and fulfilled for their time. Newsflash: they aren’t. It’s just meaningless hedonism.

mclem: “In other words: How *DARE* they put a *GAME* in there!?!”

It’s not a question of there being a game, but more of a game about what. What is Xenoblade , as an interactive artifact, about? When it is a game of building relationships, helping strangers, understanding new cultures, exploring beautiful new worlds, I think it is a game about something worth knowing and feeling (though others have done it far, far better). When it is a game about tactical combat for hunting game and killing monsters, or a videogame about building stats, collecting trinkets or buying better armory, it is a pointless experience with little semantic depth or emotional breadth. Not only that, but it is, above all, completely redundant in videogame history. Do we really need another game about fighting and grinding? I say we don’t. Given this is the major focus of the game, it is a point of vehement criticism.

mclem: “I mock, but, to be fair, it seems to be a very accurate review – by someone who cares about story above all.“

It’s not about story. It’s about what the whole experience is about, what it expresses and conveys to us players. This is through a story and art and interaction gestalt. Naturally in my opinion, Xenoblade whilst not having a great narrative, is still much more competent in expressing something through it, than on the gameplay end. Which is why my review may sound “narrative-art-biased”, because it reflects the strengths of the author and its work. Games with minimalist narrative and aesthetic would receive a different treatment, as other examples in my blog attest to.

mclem: “I would argue that what it did to the gameplay is new, technically marvellous, and *by no means safe*.”

A game about killing monsters, leveling up, with overbearing HUD, thousands of gamification carrots to keep you addicted, complying to practically every genre trope known and even taking various successful elements from popular games of the past  – how is that not safe? How many times must we see the same things over and over again?

SecretMoblin: “And much of it reflects matters of personal taste”

Of course it is personal. Critique is always subjective and always reflects one point of view. You have yours. I’m fine with that. I question why should I express others opinions when they are probably much better at it than I am. We need to embrace diversity in criticism. The notion that a critic has to be objective is what in the end amounts to his complete redundancy, for he is forced to comply with people’s own perverted expectations. I am here to question those with a new outlook, not repeat what others already do, and never to give you what you already know. If you like game A, fine. But don’t ask me to agree with that. On the contrary, grow from knowing different opinions which though opposite may enrich your knowledge of the medium, and of the games in question.

SecretMoblin: “Also, it’s filled with questionable statements: “still sole 3D ‘Zelda’ masterpiece, Koizumi’s ‘Majora’s Mask’, “…exorbitant, opulent ambition in terms of set design (also a whim which Takahashi seems to revel in)”, “…inherited from such ludic antichrists as “Monster Hunter”, “World of Warcraft” or “Dragon Quest IX”, etc.”

Indeed, and such bold statements are meant to be just that: bold. They were meant to question status quo and show my unique point of view. Also, how Xenoblade interacts with videogame history, which games it refers to, what does it properly reinterpret of the past, which currents it abides with, etc. That is what I call criticism.

SecretMoblin: “Also, as much as I adore Ueda, not every post-Ico game that uses soft lighting is necessarily inspired by him.”

I think there are plenty of reasons to see Ueda in Xenoblade. Not in the sense of a “carbon-copy”, but in terms of influence. The presence of two gigantic colossi is usually a big tell-tell.

mclem: “Amusingly, I’m also a proponent of the ‘games as art’ idea – but unlike the blog’s author, I don’t believe the artistry is limited to the ‘traditional’ forms of artistry: the storytelling, the art style, the audio.”

I don’t believe that and I don’t see how one review could have lead you to jump to that hasty conclusion.

mclem: “I believe that there’s an artistry of game design, too; It’s quite possible to have a visually superb game that has no *soul* (By reputation, I’d say perhaps FF13, but I’m not qualified to talk about it directly). It’s also quite possible to have an utterly visually bland game that nevertheless has an inspired design (Tetris).”

Tetris is, to me, one of the finest pieces of videogames ever made. And it is so because it is unique and immensely expressive (perhaps one day I will write a piece on that). Which is more than I can say about a great deal of Xenoblade’s gameplay. And that’s my point.

SomeDude: “Yes, but even then most game reviewers still review games like they’re refrigerators (or like consumer report). She’s a breath of fresh air.”

Indeed they do. And all I’ve been saying and writing, which some might not like is precisely because I care about videogames as more than just consumption items.

Feep: “Also, yes they are, all the fucking time.”

Not in European critique, but I must admit the blame in forgetting that US reviewing is so different (and in my view, much worse, precisely because of mantras such as “must be fun”, “must have bang for buck”). Is that what art is? “Fun”? Something to be quantatized by the hour?  To be valued face its market price?

exhume: “What I’m finding ironic is that the review is assigning a numbered score to a game they’ve tried to criticise as art…”

Critics judge value. A number is just a more violent, provocative way of getting a point across, and it has been, for many years, a mainstay in all sorts of art criticism. Of course, the text is by far and large the most important part.

Gvaz: “Also that review: “Lost Odyssey is better””

Opinions. Have a problem with that?

Gvaz: “Also she gave FO:NV a 1/5, AC2 a 2/5, dead space a 2/5 calling it derivative LOLLL, and batman a 2/5. I simply can’t agree with her.”

And I still think the same of those 4 games. Is my view different from the mainstream? Difficult to understand given mainstream values? Yes, it is. Read the reviews and you’ll understand why.

Gvaz: “I’m not going to disagree on that. She also gave LO a 5/5 which I feel is good”

Today, I might not give it such a high mark to Lost Odyssey; my opinions do change with time and that review harks back quite some years. But I still think it is more interesting, on many levels, than Xenoblade (read my review for the why’s).

Remember, the value I attach to a game, symbolized in the numeral, is not a measure of how entertaining it is, how much “fun” it is, how long it lasts, how technologically adept it may be, how economically feasible it is to buy it, nor how probable it is for you to like it. My valuation attempts to describe my judgment of each work’s cultural value, its newness, uniqueness and coherence, its genuine personality, its expression, its capacity to speak to the human condition, to arouse subtle emotions and to provoke us with exciting questions. My valuation is an aesthetic judgment, pure and simple.

Gvaz: “I just feel her other reviews put into question about the validity of her complaints with this, as it tells more about what she expected/wanted out of xenoblade rather than what it delivers. It’s not really fair to judge a game based on that.”

How come? We all judge based on a number of ideals we have composed out of our own experiences and knowledge of the field. We all judge games based on what we feel a game should be like. Imagine if a game would be crappy on purpose. Should I give it high marks for sucking, only because its authors thought that sucking was good? Or would you judge it anyway for basically sucking? In the end, you and I just happen to have different conceptions of what a valuable game archetype is. And it’s healthy to have such different opinions, as it enriches medium discourse. Imagine if everyone liked the same games and wanted them all to be alike. Oh wait…

Well, that’s it. Hope you enjoy reading this and feel free to comment. Would love to hear everyone’s opinion on these issues. Big hug to the NeoGAF forum!

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  • Comments (9)
  1. “Opinions. Have a problem with that?”

    This part made me laugh.

    “We all judge games based on what we feel a game should be like.”

    A game should be judged on how well it achieves what it set out to achieve. We shouldn’t judge them on how well they stand up to our idealist viewpoints or personal preferences. The attitude that a game has to be the way I want games to be, or else it isn’t a game, is the reason why diversity and innovation in games is lacking.
    If you don’t believe me, read the comments in this(and the article if you like);
    http://www.gamasutra.com/view/feature/6446/persuasive_games_from_aberrance_.php

    • ruicraveirinha
    • October 16th, 2011

    Say “Gears of War”. Blezinski set out to make a dumb videogame game about killing and war being fun and bad-ass. We should praise it because he fulfilled that purpose?? Really?

    Of course, every game has to evaluated in context, but that is a much different thing than a paternalistic attitude of “oh you set out to do a shallow game so I won’t criticize you for being shallow” or “you set out to make game where grinding is good so the game won’t be criticized for grinding”. That’s just wrong: anything flies with that argument, it’s a pandora’s box of relativity once you think about it. Now, this doesn’t mean that we don’t need archetypes that fit different currents of the medium. I would never judge “Xenoblade” with the same criteria as “Tetris” or “From Dust”, and I think that’s perfectly clear from my review. Each work is a finished artifact coming from specific authors, using specific techniques, embodying specific aesthetic ideations, framing them in specific genres and conjured with specific influences in mind, and I have always, to the best of my knowledge, taken all these into consideration. But this does not mean I will ever minorate criteria just because authors and production companies have aspirations and vision I deem typical of a sixteen-year old. Yes they are successful in pursuing that conception, but then again, is that worthy of merit?

    Diversity is lacking in the medium because there is only ONE valued archetype, which audiences, critics and authors uphold. Only one single set of values which everyone holds as true for everything. And even worse, it is a culturally inept set of values, result of a society which has long forgotten what little historic memory it had for the word Art, and has too a compulsive focus on remembering another word called Money. Now, I’m a pluralist, I say we should crave for as many sets of values as possible (even the current one), coming from a wide range of worldviews and medium conceptualizations. We are all rich individuals, why should we speak the same words in the same voice? That is the issue. Not that there are archetypes, only that they are all the same. Videogame journalists and readers accept as much dissent as the soviet party. “Cahiers du cinéma” had as many critics as it had different understandings of film, the same being valid for any art magazine I know. Why should videogames be different?

    • Feep
    • October 19th, 2011

    Ludomania is an addiction to GAMBLING, not gaming. This is why is made no sense in context. See: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Problem_gambling

    • ruicraveirinha
    • October 19th, 2011

    Feep, first up, sorry for your comment being blocked for so long; for some reason, the wordpress spam filter counted it as spam.

    In regards to your observation, you surely understand that just because a word has a specific use does not mean it cannot be used in other ways. The definition you’re referring to, while correct and accurate and adequate for the contexts in which is usually used, is too strict. The ‘ludo-‘ in ‘ludomania’ comes from the latin ‘ludus’, which refers to a wide category of games and not just gambling games. So the word is perfectly usable for my intention. Even the condition it refers to can, in my opinion (though I am not a psychologist), be extended to other types of game, since the underlying pattern is the same – compulsively playing a game, incapable of stopping, while incurring in great harm. As such, an unhealthy addiction to games is a more interesting interpretation of what the word stands for and thus perfectly adequate to describe someone who is addicted, for example, to a MMO. Surely you do not contest I just came up with a completely new semantic use for the word? Words allow for leeway, they are not strict, objective, immutable, stale, abstract things. And writing should always strive be a play of meanings, by using words in conjunction to form new concepts, by using them in new contexts, by ever so slightly expanding their original sense. I hope you understand what I’m trying to get at.

    Cheers.

  2. @Ruicraveirinha

    “We should praise it because he fulfilled that purpose?? Really?”
    I meant we should rate it as good, not that we should praise it for being effective as dumb fun.

    Games that aim to be more than just dumb fun should be praised. If a game like that doesn’t fulfill its ambitions, then it isn’t a quality game, but it should still be praised as an attempt. An attempt that can spawn lessons for future reference. Unfortunately, most publishers neglect the value of failed attempts or even art for that matter.

    “…typical of a sixteen-year old.”
    Wow, you guessed my age. Haha

    • ruicraveirinha
    • October 20th, 2011

    If we say something is “good” we are praising mediocrity, lack of vision and stupidity. And that I refuse to do.

    Second, by doing so, you’re losing your character and honor to then defend those other “progressive” ventures as good. You cannot distinguish these two approaches if you do not criticize the first in as violent ways as possible.

    We need to have criteria, and criteria are not the stuff of “oh you only wanted to do crap, good for you, congrats!”. They involve a matrix of values which we measure in each work. And to me, those values are the values of art. Not the idea of self-fulfillment or capacity for technical or commercial success.

    Cheers Lance!

    • Mindmaker
    • October 27th, 2011

    If you want to stick out of the swamp of mainstream reviewers, you have to criticise when everyone else is praising and the other way round.
    Nothing to get mad about.

    And yes, I’m not getting into detail, because there are still so many good questions that haven’t been answered (and are probably avoided on purpose).

    • ruicraveirinha
    • October 27th, 2011

    Hi Mindmaker.

    “If you want to stick out of the swamp of mainstream reviewers, you have to criticise when everyone else is praising and the other way round.”

    I think it’s pretty clear that I do that.

    “And yes, I’m not getting into detail, because there are still so many good questions that haven’t been answered (and are probably avoided on purpose).”

    Good questions? Perhaps you would care to choose one or two? I don’t recall avoiding any good questions.

    Cheers and thanks for the reply Mindmaker.

    • Richard Feynman
    • June 8th, 2013

    When will European pseudo-intellectuals learn that pure reason is a fools errand? Critical theory is already rotting under a spoiled diaper in the dump useless knowledge.

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