Dysfunctional Serial Monogamy

Dysfunctional Serial Monogamy

By pandering to gamers' obsessively forward-thinking approach to their hobby, the media and industry both encourage an enthusiast culture that, for the most part, suffers from an inability to thoughtfully examine the games its consumes.

Permalink

Interesting point. By and large my view of published game reviews has been in commercial terms, and not in terms of academic criticism... it literally never occured to me to expect literary or artistic reviews of games in the press.

I will hide behind one fig-leaf, though, in that there is a lot of thematic and textual analysis going on within the game communities themselves. Alas, these are usually specific to individual titles and thus there's not much cross-pollination, but still it is going on even if it's hard to see among the slapfights and flamewars.

It'd be nice if an online venue, say The Escapist for instance, fostered such interdisciplinary analyses? *grin*

-- Steve

I think alot of Yahtzee's succes stemmes from the need of reviews that do more then just scratch the surface. We need more psuedo-intellectual games writers overall, not just people detailing and rating a list of features.

I must admit ive always viewed games reviews as a guide to whether a game is worth buying or not. Academic debate on things like a games cultural significance etc I prefer in the more open arena that are discussion forums, where I can not only read an idea but debate with it.

I stand by the point that The Escapist's own Yahtzee Croshaw may very well be the "Lester Bangs of Gaming" the industry's been looking for: the presentation, the character, the schizophrenic tone, the creative aspect, the tone and the clear, open bias towards certain genres...

The industry is improving. The 'enthusiast press' may have to adapt, or could find itself being supplanted by magazines (both online and dead tree) that encompass games post-release, in more ways than just strategy guides.

Movie and book reviewers don't shy away from talking about stuff like the underlying themes of a movie or book, how it relates to current events, its place in the greater canon of film or literature, etc.

But then, nobody reads movie reviews or book reviews.

Razzle Bathbone:
Movie and book reviewers don't shy away from talking about stuff like the underlying themes of a movie or book, how it relates to current events, its place in the greater canon of film or literature, etc.

But then, nobody reads movie reviews or book reviews.

Well, to be honest, nobody reads game reviews either. Yes, there is a group of gamers that reads reviews, but larger group relies on metacritic score. Larger group still doesn't even look for reviews when buying games, we can call them casual gamers (and parents). Lots of mediocre to awful movie tie-ins (and other not very good games) get sold, which indicates that their buyers simply don't care about reviews and scores.

Eh, I wouldn't praise Yahtzee so much. The guy is certainly funny, but you can only build so much on reviews that are intended to nitpick every flaw.

I'd like to see reviews written by people with a real understanding of game design, though unfortunately those folks tend to end up being game designers themselves. I find myself to enjoy a wide variety of games, and even if there are games I personally don't get into myself (such as strategy games), I can appreciate a lot of the design elements behind them (Total War). We need that sort of distinction in our review system, as there are way too many reviews being written by gamers that don't suppress their fanboyisms, or their hatred for certain genres, etc.

You basically don't want someone that can simply write well, you want someone whose mind is analytical and yet broad, too, so that they can enjoy and fairly score a wide variety of tastes.

Excellent article. I think you represent a growing wave of discontent with the enthusiast press. The problem is that the enthusiast press speaks to a young demographic because that was their original audience - my 14 year old self was their audience, and I loved their coverage and reviews at the time.

Now I'm 26 and the enthusiast press offers me nothing from an editorial standpoint. But that will change. Forget the Lester Bangs references, his cultural significance really pales in comparison to a magazine the Cahiers du Cinema. Those guys - Bazin, Godard, Truffaut - were hardcore cinephiles, and through their criticism pushed cinema to new heights and eventually went off and founded the French New Wave.

Yahtzee is an important figure in the sense that he is now recognized as a singularly important editorial force. Critics are important early on in a medium's birth because they push artists and the public to accept new trends. For instance, modern art and Clement Greenberg are practically inseparable from each other.

Videogames are on the precipice of that leap forward in critical significance that occurred in both cinema and modern art in the fifties and sixties. There is an audience that will now be receptive to it, it's just a matter of time before a serious critic emerges and takes it to the next level.

Top game developers are getting it for the most part. GTA4, Condemned, Mass Effect, Bioshock, Persona 3. . . they all got it. A good story will sell your game. These are all in the conversation as far as the better games of last year.

Reviewers are still using the perception that games are played and as such the mechanics of how we play is the major component in how fun the game is. I think Haze is a good example of this. I've yet to hear if the game's story is worth anything, but I've heard all sorts of crap about the combat drug and how combat works.

Still, as long as the Developers get it I am fine with the situation.

Jhereg42:
Top game developers are getting it for the most part. GTA4, Condemned, Mass Effect, Bioshock, Persona 3. . . they all got it. A good story will sell your game. These are all in the conversation as far as the better games of last year.

Reviewers are still using the perception that games are played and as such the mechanics of how we play is the major component in how fun the game is. I think Haze is a good example of this. I've yet to hear if the game's story is worth anything, but I've heard all sorts of crap about the combat drug and how combat works.

Still, as long as the Developers get it I am fine with the situation.

There is no doubt that story will help sell a game, but how good a game is, is not determined by how many copies it sells, is it?

I loved Bioshock but the reason wasnīt the story in itself. It was the way it was incorporated into the gameplay. It was never intrusive, but always there. No boring cutscenes and the gameplay in itself would have made a really good game too.

Your saying story is more important than gameplay? Are you sure movies arenīt more your thing.

DrTray:

Your saying story is more important than gameplay? Are you sure movies arenīt more your thing.

The only reason I liked Bioshock was the plot. If the story is good enough then having the game design be subservient to that shouldn't be such an issue.

How is gameplay supposed to even be a selling point in video games? What else is Haze but Doom with combat drugs? Maybe I'm just getting old, but I don't get why people harp on game design & play so much. I've seen it all. Most of the games coming out are the same ideas and principles with new quirks or spiffier graphics from stuff I played in the 90's. So that kind of, "Plots aren't that important" logic is exactly what this article is venting at. They could be important, but everyone gets stuck in this non-critical thinking mode where we just assume this is the way it should be no matter what.

Video games don't need a Lester Bangs, they need an Andy Warhol.

Good article, thanks! I very much agree. Currently I'm being blown away by Crysis on my new PC. It looks incredible. I just got to the snowy parts and I keep getting killed because I'm too distracted by the pretty scenery to actually play properly!

But as you said, in the back of my mind - even while playing this amazing and brand spanking new game - I keep thinking... the sequel to Crysis is going to be amazing.....

Haha, once again, good article. Very true.

L.B. Jeffries:

DrTray:

Your saying story is more important than gameplay? Are you sure movies arenīt more your thing.

The only reason I liked Bioshock was the plot. If the story is good enough then having the game design be subservient to that shouldn't be such an issue.

How is gameplay supposed to even be a selling point in video games? What else is Haze but Doom with combat drugs? Maybe I'm just getting old, but I don't get why people harp on game design & play so much. I've seen it all. Most of the games coming out are the same ideas and principles with new quirks or spiffier graphics from stuff I played in the 90's. So that kind of, "Plots aren't that important" logic is exactly what this article is venting at. They could be important, but everyone gets stuck in this non-critical thinking mode where we just assume this is the way it should be no matter what.

Video games don't need a Lester Bangs, they need an Andy Warhol.

I didn't mean to say that story isn't emportant in games. I'm just saying I enjoy good gameplay and i don't want to sit through endless cutscenes before I get to move my character around. Devil May Cry 4 is a good example off this. Why do I have to watch all that fighting in stead of actually playing it? That's why Bioshock works so well. Great emersive story and it's incorporated nicely into the gameplay.

I've actually changed over the years too. I used to love games that where full of cutscenes and static storytelling separated from gameplay but I've come to feel that when story and gameplay become disjointed the game can seem rather pointless.

Remember that a good game doesn't tell you the story, it encourages you to find it and to a certain degree, make it. (I don't mean 'make it' as in multiple endings and fork-structured stories, but more like in what emergent gameplay ads to the story.)

I enjoy good stories in games when they are told well, and game designers have a lot to learn in that field. They should see Bioshock as a good example.

If the story is good enough then having the game design be subservient to that shouldn't be such an issue.

That ignores the purpose of why games exist in the first place. To be played, not watched, read or listened to.

Don't get me wrong, I'm all for great stories in games as well, and I feel it needs to be explored a lot more and a lot better than it currently is. At the same time, though, I don't believe that gameplay should EVER play second fiddle to the story. I'm playing a video game specifically so I can get an interactive experience that is fun and is not provided by other mediums. If the gameplay is bland or outright bad, yet the story is good, I won't be thinking "why, because I enjoy the story I also enjoy the game". Instead I'll be thinking "why didn't they just write a book or make a movie/tv show?".

With video games, if you can't make a fun interactive experience, then you are failing to make a fun video game. The beauty of games is you're able to experience what you see and read about in other forms of entertainment instead of just watch it or read about it. Of course, this is also why I would love to see better stories as well, because a better story can involve you further. But if the gameplay is poor, well really, you are just wasting a lot of time playing non-story elements, aren't you?

What else is Haze but Doom with combat drugs? Maybe I'm just getting old, but I don't get why people harp on game design & play so much. I've seen it all. Most of the games coming out are the same ideas and principles with new quirks or spiffier graphics from stuff I played in the 90's

Blah blah blah "nothing new under the sun" blah blah.

Somehow literature has survived for hundreds of years with this formula and yet games can't survive two decades? Come on.

ccesarano:

With video games, if you can't make a fun interactive experience, then you are failing to make a fun video game. The beauty of games is you're able to experience what you see and read about in other forms of entertainment instead of just watch it or read about it. Of course, this is also why I would love to see better stories as well, because a better story can involve you further. But if the gameplay is poor, well really, you are just wasting a lot of time playing non-story elements, aren't you?

As long as we're selectively quoting each other...

The story in a video game is, essentially, whatever the game forces you to do. It forces you to be in a certain setting, talk to certain people, beat certain missions, whatever. That means cutting out decisions for the player. That means that invariably, even in a game like 'Mass Effect', you don't get to control everything or play all the time. So in order for the plot to get better...the player has to have less decisions or god forbid, do something that isn't fun or engaging 24/7. You might have to listen to dialog (even if you're picking the responses) and maybe watch cutscenes (even if you caused them). Character development can be a bit tricky when you're constantly shooting or jumping during it.

Now I agree player input is the foundation of a game's identity, I just don't agree that game design needs to always be the central focus. If a game walks up and announces that it's a story game, fine. The fact that I can play a video game for 6 hours and only watch a movie for 2 is reason enough to make story-games. They're more engaging and exciting than watching a movie.

ccesarano:

Blah blah blah "nothing new under the sun" blah blah.

Somehow literature has survived for hundreds of years with this formula and yet games can't survive two decades? Come on.

Come on yourself, are you actually trying to tell me that in hundreds of years literature has not changed? The Enlightenment, The Renaissance, Modernism, Post-Modernism. Shakespeare, James Joyce, Kurt Vonnegut.

The formula has changed massively for literature, there is no reason to not expect the same of video games.

I'm reminded very much of the movie 'scene.' Everybody remember how excited folks were about Iron Man? And now it's out, and more or less gone; any 'review' you see of it now is almost completely irrelevant and likely to be ignored, because the game is out.

But, on the other hand, the argument could be made that movies get 'serious' reviews, things that look into the core and meaning and symbolism and this and that and the other thing of movies. That's true, but what big names have done in-depth reviews of movies like Superman Returns, or X-Men 3? I think there are (at least) two different kinds of movies--those that are meant to be taken 'seriously' and those that are more, shall we say, joy-fests.

Are there games that are meant to be taken 'seriously?' Sure, I think. Killer7 would be likely to fit in that category, perhaps also Beyond Good and Evil, and a significant number of the CRPGs as well. They can be analyzed more thoroughly, and have a more limited set of things that can happen in the games, and are a little less of the flailing around style of fun-having, in my opinion. Perhaps there are others; perhaps there's another category that exists abreast these two.

 

Reply to Thread

Log in or Register to Comment
Have an account? Login below:
With Facebook:Login With Facebook
or
Username:  
Password:  
  
Not registered? To sign up for an account with The Escapist:
Register With Facebook
Register With Facebook
or
Register for a free account here