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GameCritics.com Podcast Episode 25: Myths of Game Criticism – Part 2

Tim Spaeth's picture

We continue debunking The Myths of Game Criticism in the second half of our two-part series. Do we live in constant fear of Twitter putting us out of business? Are games so spectacular now that the average score really is 8 out of 10? Do publishers send strike teams to our homes and force us to change scores? We set the record straight. With Chi Kong Lui, Brad Gallaway, Mike Bracken, and Tim "Five Point Scale" Spaeth.

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For your reference, the eight myths we discuss are:

  1. Critics should be required to finish games before writing a review.
  2. The goal of a "proper" game review should be to inform the reader as to whether they should or should not buy a game.
  3. Those who write about games are not journalists, rather, should be considered "enthusiast press" or simply "games writer."
  4. There is no difference between a "review" and a "critique".
  5. The explosion of blogs, podcasts, and Twitter has rendered formal game reviews obsolete.
  6. Individual game critics and review sites are under constant, unrelenting pressure from publishers to change scores.
  7. Game scores are often purposefully tweaked to either generate controversy or avoid it.
  8. A reader should not need to be familiar with the author of a review in order to derive value from it.
  9. NINE? There's a ninth myth?! Listen and find out!!

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Multiplayer (from the first half)

"It's kind of a personal opinion of mine that any game that requires other living people to be fun is a game that's failed. You can have your multiplayer, and multiplayer can be a big part of it, but if it's not fun by yourself, there's problems there."
-Brad

Brad, do you mean that a game has a single-player mode that sucks while focusing on multiplayer (like Left 4 Dead) has failed? Or do you mean that a game with no single player whatsoever (like Team Fortress 2) has failed?

I'll give on the first explanation, since Left 4 Dead probably doesn't need a single player mode, but if you meant the second one I disagree 100% times infinity, plus 1.

Great podcast as always

Great podcast as always guys.

I do have an objection though to myth 9 (i think) where you talked about whether a fun game is also a good game.

Sometimes there's a game which is much more than the sum of it's technical parts. A game that for some reason, difficult to explain in a quantitative way, is a good game. And i am not talking only about multiplayer games.

I am afraid i cannot explain it in any other way. Personally i had this experience with Kane & Lynch. I think Tim might be having the same experience with Borderlands.

>>>Brad, do you mean that a

>>>Brad, do you mean that a game has a single-player mode that sucks while focusing on multiplayer (like Left 4 Dead) has failed? Or do you mean that a game with no single player whatsoever (like Team Fortress 2) has failed?

I posted a big, long response to this question somewhere on the boards, but basically i think we need to create a new genre: action platforms (terrible name) or something equivalent.

basically, if it's an empty-ish structure, a platform that needs live players to work and function (ala TF2 and others) then it needs to be in its own genre and judged as such. totally different criteria than the 'standard' game.

if it even remotely attempts to include single players or a story/campaign mode in the experience, then the game absolutely has to be fun and solid on its own merits without the intrinsic fun that multi brings.

The "It" Factor

Zolos wrote:

Sometimes there's a game which is much more than the sum of it's technical parts. A game that for some reason, difficult to explain in a quantitative way, is a good game. And i am not talking only about multiplayer games.

I am afraid i cannot explain it in any other way. Personally i had this experience with Kane & Lynch. I think Tim might be having the same experience with Borderlands.

Bracken described how we look at different "aesthetics" which isn't to say that its purely technical, but I agree some games have that "it" factor (or perhaps style) and I liked Kane & Lynch for that same reason. Some games also have what I've described before as "sweet spot" in the gameplay, which is a little more than just fun for fun's sake. To me, the sweet spot includes reward, satisfaction and some degree of addictiveness.

ckzatwork

Is it me or Tim has this really sexy voice?

Great series of podcasts! And I couldn't agree more with the predictable inflated scores being attributed all over the mainstream review sites. You really standout for the best reasons. Keep up the good work!

The whole "fun vs. good"

The whole "fun vs. good" thing kind of obfuscates the fact that no matter how "good" something is on some artistic level, no one is going to care if the game isn't enjoyable. To me it's sort of analogous to listening to a virtuoso musician play some impossibly difficult phrase that has no melodic structure — it might be a tour de force of superhuman skill, but it's boring to listen to. Video games are, like it or not and as with all the arts, a form of entertainment.

Mike D wrote: The whole

Mike D wrote:

The whole "fun vs. good" thing kind of obfuscates the fact that no matter how "good" something is on some artistic level, no one is going to care if the game isn't enjoyable. To me it's sort of analogous to listening to a virtuoso musician play some impossibly difficult phrase that has no melodic structure — it might be a tour de force of superhuman skill, but it's boring to listen to. Video games are, like it or not and as with all the arts, a form of entertainment.

As a listener of atonal/serialist/dodecaphonic/experimentalist music, I disagree with your perception of melodic structure. The difficult phrase you mention may lack what what is commonly referred as harmony, but will connect with the listener that has the knowledge to interpret what is being played and, consequently, will be"pleased" by it in the same way you are while listening to something from the romantic period. People do care about this. In fact, if it weren't for all those abstract post-modern composers, things like minimalism, rap and techno would not be around. Oh, and no, art is not entertainment.

ckzatwork is anonymous

The above posts were not supposed to be anonymous. :)

Defined genres are synonymous with generic boxes

Splitting a genre so cleanly between multiplayer action game and single player campaign seems daft, sure there are games like Warhawk and TF2 which are purely online experiences. You're never going to get people criticising those games because they're only online experiences, it's blatant, and they would be stupid, but I feel that pigeonholes things too much. If to be critically accepted you need to fall into this nicely made box, well that's just crap. That limits creativity and in my opinion is one of the problems with todays industry.

Anonymous wrote: As a

Anonymous wrote:

As a listener of atonal/serialist/dodecaphonic/experimentalist music, I disagree with your perception of melodic structure. The difficult phrase you mention may lack what what is commonly referred as harmony, but will connect with the listener that has the knowledge to interpret what is being played and, consequently, will be"pleased" by it in the same way you are while listening to something from the romantic period. People do care about this. In fact, if it weren't for all those abstract post-modern composers, things like minimalism, rap and techno would not be around. Oh, and no, art is not entertainment.

Funny you brought this up because I was going to cite Yoko Ono as someone who is considered a great artist among certain circles, but listening to her live as the warm-up act to a concert was painful to my ears!

Quote: As a listener of

Quote:

As a listener of atonal/serialist/dodecaphonic/experimentalist music, I disagree with your perception of melodic structure. The difficult phrase you mention may lack what what is commonly referred as harmony, but will connect with the listener that has the knowledge to interpret what is being played and, consequently, will be"pleased" by it in the same way you are while listening to something from the romantic period. People do care about this. In fact, if it weren't for all those abstract post-modern composers, things like minimalism, rap and techno would not be around. Oh, and no, art is not entertainment.

When I say "melodic structure", I don't mean some soothing, Mozart-esque sound. I'm a huge fan of dissonance and discordance. I absolutely love the sound of diminished and augmented intervals. But I'm not talking about a smartly melodic use of dissonance; I'm talking about an absence of structure, a sort of musical masturbation. Even if one could make the argument that it's "good" on some artistic level, I'm not really sure what the value would be, or who would care. Because unless you actually enjoyed listening to it — even if you thought the rewards were more sublime than obvious — you wouldn't.

And arts most definitely are entertainment. They are not necessary for our survival. That shouldn't be equivocated to some devaluation of their evocative capability.

Good vs fun

Obviously for AAA, "mainstream" titles, enjoyment is going to factor into how good a game is, because yes, they are generally meant for entertainment first and foremost. But the same is true for most other forms of mainstream entertainment as well.

I see this question as one generally for indie games and the like. Smaller games like those by Tale of Tales (The Path, Salome) aren't necessarily fun in the usual sense, but they are generally interesting, thought-provoking, and good art.

Although, on the flip side, there are plenty of games that are generally recognized as "bad" that some people still have lots of fun with (50 Cent: Blood on the Sand?), same as there are bad movies and bad books that people enjoy despite or because of their badness (Twilight! lol).

Subjects

Sounds like fun vs. good and the merits of multiplayer-centric games could take up whole podcasts themselves.

The definition of entertainment

The reaction you had, Chi Kong Lui, with the mighty Yoko Ono is fairly common among people. The normal listener tends to be less receptive regarding more adventurous music. Music is probably the only area where transgressive aesthetics are ostracized to a intolerable level by unprepared spectators. This is something that still puzzles me, because we have accepted that painting, poetry and film, for instance, can include vanguardist/experimental techniques to wrap the auteur's ideas. Maybe it's because music is more invasive than other art forms. You can't control sound. You can't shut it off.

We have different perceptions of what entertainment is, Mike D. When John Cage composed the arguably most important piece of music of the 20th century, 4'33 - consisted of silence -, I can't believe he wrote it with the intention of entertaining or that people were entertained when they first experience it. The same goes with seminal work from Wagner or Stravisnky, where critics and spectators would abandoned the room, insulting the composers. No one was getting entertained, but boundaries were being pushed. You define entertainment as the evocation of emotions. To me, they are different things. And that's why games should not be utterly fun. Are you being entertained while playing Façade or The Path? Are they fun?

ckzatwork is still anonymous

I swear that I'm inserting my nickname in the name box. :) My browser is going mad.

Well, then.

ckzatwork wrote:

Is it me or Tim has this really sexy voice?

Guys, if we could keep the discussion centered around ckzatwork's excellent analysis here, I'd appreciate it. :)

Moving on, some additional fun facts about Episode 25:

Deleted Scene: I edited out a lengthy discussion about 5-point vs. 10-point scales. I took the side of the 5-point scale, which I prefer, and was soundly beaten to death by Chi, Brad, and Mike, who offered many excellent reasons for maintaining a 10-point scale. I don't agree with any of them, but as longtime listeners know I'm functionally retarded and couldn't mount a decent defense. I deleted the entire segment under the guise of "Well, it was kind of a tangent" when in fact I was abusing my power as host and producer to avoid shame and embarrassment.

Which, by posting this, I have brought upon myself anyway.

Borderlands: Oh, this game! I hate it, I love it, I desperately want it to end and yet I can't get enough of it. It was the morning of recording that I started to come around on it, and I nearly proposed re-Quick Hitting it. Since people have asked, YES, I have since played multi-player, with strangers, and I hated it. While I appreciated the 15 achievement points for just allowing people into my game, I immediately wanted them gone the moment they arrived. Daddy doesn't need help when he can turn invisible and melt men's faces all by his lonesome.

Next Episode: Recording this Saturday is Episode 26. All signs point to a special guest, whom we'll announce once we lock him or her down.

ckzatwork wrote: The

ckzatwork wrote:

The reaction you had, Chi Kong Lui, with the mighty Yoko Ono is fairly common among people. The normal listener tends to be less receptive regarding more adventurous music. Music is probably the only area where transgressive aesthetics are ostracized to a intolerable level by unprepared spectators. This is something that still puzzles me, because we have accepted that painting, poetry and film, for instance, can include vanguardist/experimental techniques to wrap the auteur's ideas. Maybe it's because music is more invasive than other art forms. You can't control sound. You can't shut it off.

Of all mediums I think music is the most personal/accessible and the meanings to the songs are almost entirely derived from the listener. Seal doesn't put the lyrics in his CD notes because he thinks what the lyrics are aren't as important as what the listener thinks they are. As such, if something doesn't sound good, the listener is confident in their dislike for it. People can make the same complaints about abstract paintings, but it doesn't carry as much weight.

How do you rate "fun"?

So if we enjoy Triple A titles, that's considered "good", but if we enjoy "bad" titles, that's still considered "bad"?

So bad it's good

Quote:

So if we enjoy Triple A titles, that's considered "good", but if we enjoy "bad" titles, that's still considered "bad"?

This kind of reminds me of the "so bad it's good" argument for movies, but that doesn't really apply here. I can't recall ever enjoying a game I considered to be bad, and a game might be super-cheesy but it's still "good" if it pulls it off well. The best example I can think of for this is the newer Ninja Gaiden games.

Another great podcast

I see that alot of talk is going on about the fun versus good, which is subjective and difficult to quantify. So I'm not going to go there. Yes, I have friends who find some games extremely entertaining which I have no interest in at all. Like sports games (and sports in real life). And fishing (also in real life). B-O-R-I-N-G.

I would like to see some discussion over the distinction between a review and a critique, and to a lesser extent how one differentiates from a professional game reviewer and a blogger.

To me, the context of the word 'review' is less formal than 'critique'. I get the impression that a critique is more peer based while a review is made by an educated (or not so educated) end user. Anyone walking through the Louvre can give a review of the Mona Lisa, but to really critique it means to understand the intricacies on brush stroke and weight as well as color theory and a host of other subjects. And most people don't want to hear a critique. Who cares other than maybe inspiring artists?

I think the same can be said of any medium, including video games. I doubt anyone here can give a fair critique of games, just a well versed review of the finished product, a view with a different slant than most mainstream drooling fanboys/writers.

I also had a bit of an eye opener with this podcast in regards to how you guys view what it is that you do here. Before, I really wanted to argue the point that there is the facts of the game, and then the opinion of the game derived from playing the game. But it doesn't really matter because in the end you are just reporting your personal experience and you don't care if someone else will have a different experience. For some reason that idea wasn't part of my thought process. I would guess that you then want to discuss maybe what made you feel a particular way in the comments section of the review and not how something was misconstrued and your previous opinion should be nulled.

Even if I still don't get the complete picture, I at least feel I have a better understanding of where you are coming from. Unfortunately it makes me less inclined to discuss your views because most likely I will not be able to sway your opinion.

So I will end this note by saying good job and I look forward to the next podcast. My next note will be regarding my thoughts of prefessional reviewer and fanboy blogger. Being a web developer myself, I can related to what Chi had brought up.

Fun is meaningless

Richard Naik wrote:

This kind of reminds me of the "so bad it's good" argument for movies, but that doesn't really apply here. I can't recall ever enjoying a game I considered to be bad, and a game might be super-cheesy but it's still "good" if it pulls it off well. The best example I can think of for this is the newer Ninja Gaiden games.

The point I was trying to make is that while a lot of gamers cite "fun" as the most important criteria for judging a game, they are still making unconscious qualifications about what makes one game better than another (Triple A vs Bad Game), otherwise, all fun games would be rated equally. So fun is really a useless criteria when trying to explain what makes a game good.

Vince wrote: I would like

Vince wrote:

I would like to see some discussion over the distinction between a review and a critique, and to a lesser extent how one differentiates from a professional game reviewer and a blogger.

I don't know that we could give you a satisfactory answer. This sort of ties into the whole "games journalism" thing--there's no real indicator of who's a pro and who isn't. I've seen people making a legitimate living writing about games who have no business doing so, and people who're brilliant who only post on a blog or message board. So, earning a living is out.

I know bloggers who get free review copies of things, so we can't use that.

I mean, really, how do you make the distinction in a way that isn't arbitrary and based on semantics. Should we want to make the distinction in the first place? I think labeling people as "professionals" is almost counterproductive. I've run across bloggers who'd I'd trust more than a so called "profesional" at this point.

Quote:

To me, the context of the word 'review' is less formal than 'critique'. I get the impression that a critique is more peer based while a review is made by an educated (or not so educated) end user. Anyone walking through the Louvre can give a review of the Mona Lisa, but to really critique it means to understand the intricacies on brush stroke and weight as well as color theory and a host of other subjects. And most people don't want to hear a critique. Who cares other than maybe inspiring artists?

I agree and disagree. I think there's an audience for game critiques in the same way there's an audience for film critiques (and admittedly, both are smaller than the audience for "reviews" in their respective fields). Are most guys writing game commentary educated end users? Yes--but those writing critiques are end users as well. I'm not sure the "peer based" concept really applies outside of purely academic writing. The distinction for me, personally, is in the individual piece's content. Is it the standard check list of game review items designed to distill a 60 hour experience down to a single number that determines the worth of the experience? Then it's a review. Is it willing to look at the title with a more focused view or tackle abstract concepts and read into things beyond the quality of the graphics/controls/music? That's getting into critique territory.

The thing is, you can be a "game critic" and write reviews. Not every game (or every book, album, movie, etc.) lends itself to critical analysis.

Quote:

I think the same can be said of any medium, including video games. I doubt anyone here can give a fair critique of games, just a well versed review of the finished product, a view with a different slant than most mainstream drooling fanboys/writers.

I'd disagree. There have been a fair number of game critiques published on this site over the years. Not as many as we probably should have done, but we've had them.

Quote:

I also had a bit of an eye opener with this podcast in regards to how you guys view what it is that you do here. Before, I really wanted to argue the point that there is the facts of the game, and then the opinion of the game derived from playing the game. But it doesn't really matter because in the end you are just reporting your personal experience and you don't care if someone else will have a different experience.

It's not a matter of "caring" if someone else has a different experience or not--it's simply an acknowledgment that whatever I write about a game is inherently based on my own experience. I can't experience your experience. I can't approach any game in the same way someone else does because my life and values and issues are all uniquely my own. Criticism always boils down to the individual critic's personal response to the work being reviewed. I'm not sure what people would expect instead--that I try to view everything I write about through the eyes of the other six billion people on the planet?

Quote:

For some reason that idea wasn't part of my thought process. I would guess that you then want to discuss maybe what made you feel a particular way in the comments section of the review and not how something was misconstrued and your previous opinion should be nulled.

This is silly to me. Part of the problem with criticism in the internet age is this misguided idea that there's a right and wrong when it comes to expressing an opinion about something being reviewed, or that an opinion should be "nullified" through some sort of logic. I don't know how we've arrived at this place, but I wish we could move beyond it. Rarely you'll come across a review that is based on the reading of something entirely in the wrong way, but the other 99 times out of 100, I don't think that there's a "right" or "wrong" when it comes to whether something is good or not--and this idea that we should all duke it out to switch opinions is absurd.

Quote:

Even if I still don't get the complete picture, I at least feel I have a better understanding of where you are coming from. Unfortunately it makes me less inclined to discuss your views because most likely I will not be able to sway your opinion.

I don't even really know how to respond to this, Vince. I didn't know our dialogues had to have some sort of underlying agenda to them. My opinion is never etched in stone (well, it is on a few things. I'll never like country music, anime, nor will I ever agree that Wayne Gretzky was better than Mario Lemieux...) and is constantly being re-evaluated even on things I've already written about. Sometimes those changes come through conversations with others. I don't know--I always just assume I'm talking with people because they want to talk and not because they're secretly trying to convince me I'm wrong and sway me to their viewpoint.

Vince wrote: But it doesn't

Vince wrote:

But it doesn't really matter because in the end you are just reporting your personal experience and you don't care if someone else will have a different experience.

Not at all. I find other people's experiences particularly fascinating. Its one of the reasons I created the site. Sharing our individual experiences collectively expands our appreciation of art and its what I believe is the true purpose of criticism.

Please don't take my comments as combative

Sorry if I came off as harsh Mike. I certainly wasn't targeting anyone here specifically with certain comments. Sometimes it feels like though that a review can take a view point that others can take a another stance on and want to argue some finer points. And I'm not really even talking about me, just a general "I've seen this happen" kind of thing.

And I guess I didn't come across correctly, as your rebuttals were really in line with what I was trying to convey. I suppose I don't get to quit my day job to become a writer. Damn.

But I love you Mike ;) Don't ever change. I'm pleased you took the time to break my post apart and respond to the various points.

Vince wrote: Sorry if I

Vince wrote:

Sorry if I came off as harsh Mike. I certainly wasn't targeting anyone here specifically with certain comments. Sometimes it feels like though that a review can take a view point that others can take a another stance on and want to argue some finer points. And I'm not really even talking about me, just a general "I've seen this happen" kind of thing.

It's all right--I didn't take it as combative, but I was a little puzzled by some of the statements.

I think this is an interesting example of how, while we may have these opinions that we've reached, we're still capable of discussing differing viewpoints.

I don't want to get off on a rant here, but Brad said something in the past episode (and it's a point I've made at different times as well) that hits at the heart of some of these issues. I think any of us who write reviews or criticism is open to discussing differences of opinion and different viewpoints. The problem is, the average person who posts a dissenting opinion on a gaming message board does it in the most juvenile, asshole-ish way possible. When you read a post that disagrees with you and the author works in the old "you're just not good at games", "you're a fanboy", "you're biased against this genre/console/developer/whatever" it makes it almost pointless to even try to start a discourse from that point forward. Even some otherwise thoughtful respondents often seem incapable of avoiding sliding in some passive-aggressive cheap shots into their disagreeing opinions. This is not endemic solely of game sites--it happens on film sites too.

Contrary to popular belief, none of us are so desperate for attention that we covet being bashed, harrassed, insulted, or belittled for daring to go against the grain of the majority opinion. You definitely develop a thick skin in this business (or you don't last long), but I know guys who've been personally affected by some of the vitriol spewed at them.

I guess the point is this--if you want to discuss and debate games, we're all for it. However, doing it respectfully (and not in the sense that you need to "respect" me because I'm an author and in some sort of authoritative position, but respect me as a human being with feelings and valid opinions even when they don't mirror yours) is the key.

That's not aimed at anyone here (least of all you, who's always been exactly that in our various discussions), but just a general "this is why we sometimes don't put ourselves out there for discussion" thing.

Quote:

And I guess I didn't come across correctly, as your rebuttals were really in line with what I was trying to convey. I suppose I don't get to quit my day job to become a writer. Damn.

Haha! Be thankful--you don't want this gig. I tell people that all the time. As another tangent, you couldn't begin to guess how many people have come to me over the years and said "I want to do what you do". I've offered to help some of them get started--which usually entails me saying "go write some stuff, we'll go over it and see where you stand, and go from there". You know how many people have gone as far as even writing the stuff--the first step? Two. I've made this offer to hundreds of people. It's for the best, though.

Quote:

But I love you Mike ;) Don't ever change. I'm pleased you took the time to break my post apart and respond to the various points.

Heh, thanks. I try not to change, which seems to get me in trouble a lot.

I'd love to post here in the various comment sections more, but it's usually a matter of time. I like to chime in when I see something good, even when I don't necessarily agree with it.

Mike B.

Ep 25 Transcript Posted

The transcript was actually done much sooner. My apologies for not posting until now.

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