Disagreeing with Critpoints and Kazerad

Idea from Dec. 7. Write-up on 1/9. Queued since then.

In the course of my research for my CMS.616 speedrunning paper, I was trying to find evidence that the game “Dustforce” was indeed designed with speedrunners in mind, a fact that I had heard many times, but had never seen a primary quote on. Although I eventually just emailed the developers directly, I found the blog, Critpoints, written by Chris Wagar. I’m writing this post because I’ve never met a person whose literary views I so violently disagreed with, and I find it extremely amusing, hilarious, and fascinating. Definitely understand how people get into literary feuds now.

The post that I found from him was this critique of Matthew Matosis, a videogame critic on Youtube that Nathan recommended me. Have some choice quotes from Mr. Wagar:

[Matosis is] not reviewing from the perspective that the thing he’s reviewing is a game. This is why his videos are exclusively focused on single player games (‘cept for DotA 2). He reviews them like they’re the new media equivalent of films/books/etc. Thankfully he’s not as dumb as Errant Signal and others like him and doesn’t review them literally like they’re literature or film.

….Now hold on there, my good man… Reviewing things like a literary “new media equivalent” and reviewing things as a game are not mutually exclusive things. My entire media studies training and like the whole thing that each media discipline is extremely protective about “my cultural object of study is a special snowflake and not like anything else” is screaming right now.

He accuses Matosis of taking a developer-focused approach, which is fine except that he repeatedly attributes “right” and “wrong” to the conclusions that this leads to, which is…. less fine.

[Matosis] cares that the feature is there more than any particular aspect of it, which is why he says that the castle is worthy of praise, but fails to mention any aspect of the castle. He has a very results oriented focus rather than a process oriented focus in his reviews. I don’t think this is a good way to review media products, especially games. To really evaluate whether the product is good, I believe you need to analyze the composition of each element of the product, not merely the superficial presence or arrangement of the elements. He later goes on to mention some ways that the hub allows levels to be manipulated, more content that there are these elements or that they seem particularly clever than what they offer the game.

Digression: note the interesting use of the word “product” which ties into the whole thing about “game as object for purchase” rather than “game as cultural object”. As CMS.300 pointed out game reviews almost always talk about whether this game is worthy of purchase – a capitalist endeavor – compared to say, Pauline Kael’s critique of The Godfather – an artistic endeavor.

But what elements are necessary to analyze according to Critpoints?

it seems unlikely [Matosis] would be able to make fine criticisms of the small details that shape entire games, like how crouch techs, slow walking speed, 1 frame links, focus attacks, and invincible backdashes shaped the way SF4 played

…Are these actually what “shape entire games”? It’s apparently what separates the true gamers from the filthy casuals.

But what do I know? I’m apparently a pretentious game analyzer.

Why are their people that are over analyzing games like Tetris and Mario? And what I mean by this is that these “gamers” see every game as a political, social and/or philosophical commentary on the human condition


As Nathan chatted me:

i wonder what this guy’s goal when playing a game is
it seems like he derives a lot of fun from understanding the mechanics of the game
and he doesn’t really see how story can have an impact at all
it’s hilarious how he seems to idolize sirlin because sirlin is a chump who is also not really respected among designers
and is also hyper-focused on these competitive, cut-throat perfectly balanced experiences

In some ways, this ties pretty clearly into Scully-Blaker’s analysis of speedrunners caring more about the explicit rules of “what does the code allow / not allow me to do” vs. the implicit rules of “what is intended by the programmer when they were designing the video games”. Yet, I think that most speedrunners have a lot more respect for the implicit rules than Critpoints does. Taking quotes from here:

I believe [story] is mostly irrelevant, or a matter of user experience. One person once proposed an interesting reason why so many games have stories, it’s to make clear to the player what the objective is, and give them context for what is going on in the game.

He also makes arguments against putting story into game for pretty capitalistic reasons, which I think continues to be interesting.

If I make a game it would certainly have a story, it’s part of selling a game to people.

What’s the problem with stories and settings?

[T]here’s inevitably a trade-off. No game has infinite budget. And as the story gets more detailed, either the gameplay becomes contradictory to it, or the gameplay is reined in to prevent contradictions, or vice versa. It makes me want to literally make a game and stick scenes from citizen kane in as cutscenes, no other cutscenes, just scenes of citizen kane and loudly proclaim, “This is the story!” It could be a metroidvania, it could be a first person shooter, rhythm game, action puzzle game, it doesn’t matter what type of game it is as long as it doesn’t bloody fit at all and it’s good to make up for being a dumb art piece with a message.

And probably my favorite quote, in which I learn that performing textual analysis means that you don’t value the medium you are analyzing.

They’re not only interested in stories, but you seem exclusively interested in strategic elements of games. Games can communicate other things appart from deep strategy, and different from stories too, things that are systems-oriented and exclusive to games, just not in the sense of strategy.  [….]

[This] is why I say no one really values games. […] The fact that someone would ATTEMPT to convey the despair of war rather than only tells me they don’t give a fuck about games, they give a fuck about powerful messages like the despair of war. The despair of war isn’t what games are, from the inside, none of it looks like war except in the most superficial and abstract sense. You have a bar that depletes and upon depletion sends you to a checkpoint or respawn, potentially spawning new enemies or setting the state back to a prior one. We call this health/ego/hitpoints/heart rate/mana/energy/stamina/manliness and all number of other ridiculous name. The program itself has no idea what this variable is. It just follows the orders it consists of. The program has no idea what movement is, the program has no idea what attacks or defense or strategy are. Board games don’t either. We just label a ton of things to make their function a bit more intuitive.

Neither the page nor the ink nor the alphabetical symbols knows about the despair of war, but I can hear the horses scream in”All Quiet on the Western Front” just like I can feel the pain of death from losing a character in Nethack.

For the most part, I’m really amused by this violent disagreement that I have, but I think that the worst part is that, at least to me, it is painfully obvious that one of the first criticisms that I would get in this hypothetical blog war is “she is a girl / not a hardcore gamer so her opinions are invalid, especially since I am talking about the higher idea of balance within game design”, which is like “ok sure, but there are more than one ways to analyze a work. also don’t you dare ‘no true scotsman’ me out of this”

To tell the truth, I’m very nervous about linking directly to his blog, because I think WordPress gives you notifications about trackbacks so we might actually get into a blog fight oops :V

While we’re wanking about video games, have this really well-written pro-GamerGate critique by Kazerad. Kazerad is the creator of one of my favorite webcomics, Prequel (don’t let the Homestuck format dissuade you – it’s very different) and really knows how to write (ex. here’s their writeup about how to stay empowered). They also wrote a lot about being pro-GamerGate, citing many key points of actual “issues in gaming journalism”. While I do agree that there’s a lot of issues (see: Jeff Gerstmann and the whole Kane and Lynch scandal with Gamespot), I think that you can’t ignore the really rampant misogyny going on within the campaign.

Much like Occupy Wall Street, GamerGate’s decision to engage in a nebulous manner without a clear goal in mind really hurt whatever potential impact that they were hoping to make. While you can argue that they “succeeded” in increasing dialogue, the blatant misogyny left in its wake, in my opinion, outweighs any potential gain.

My entire CMS career, I have heard personal stories from games researchers themselves being harassed, most notably DiGRA having their research attacked for having a “feminist agenda” behind it:

Most articles are clean. They may seem artsy, but that is because they cover ludological topics which seem vague due to their philosophical nature. Anyway; I have found ‘only’ 28 articles that are suspicious (by looking at the title, introduction and names involved, and if they seem to be pushing an agenda.) …

The sheer fact that for CMS.616, TL wanted us to publish our midterm papers under an anonymous identity is pretty clearly showing how GamerGate has made dialogue about video games more fraught with danger.

Alternatively, you could view GamerGate’s rise as a complaint against the increased role identity politics plays in today’s society, which makes the complaints against DiGRA more valid. However, this leads pretty directly into a whole messy conversation (*cough* 2016 election results *cough*) that I am just going to declare outside of the scope of this post. Me bringing up GamerGate already was probably a mistake – not going to do sunken cost fallacy and bring in politics as well :B

Nevertheless, I really do appreciate Kazerad’s post (really article series), because it remains the most well-written, coherent pro-GamerGate piece I’ve ever seen. Here’s a reply to Kazerad’s post that starts out well, but quickly degenerates into name calling :/

Stay opinionated, my friends


26 thoughts on “Disagreeing with Critpoints and Kazerad

  1. ‘…Are these actually what “shape entire games”?’
    I would agree so. Those mechanics/features really do affect how people play SF4, and why some people are turned off by the game.
    I’m genuinely curious about what features you think would shape an entire game, if not those.

    Keep in mind that when Chris is talking about games he means the rules and systems, not the product/work of art as a whole.


    • I think that by already framing games as “rules and systems” rather than “object as a whole”, you’re already limiting the scope of the argument quite a bit. If we’re starting off on this ludological foot where games are only defined by their mechanics, then yes, I do agree that the mechanics listed do shape the entire game. Timing and technically-difficult mechanics cause a huge difference in play, especially for fighting games, and it is definitely exciting and exhilarating to see those mechanics executed well. It also is interesting to see unintended mechanics be discovered in the form of glitches, which then later get incorporated for speedruns.

      However, it seems laughable to me that an entire game can be defined just solely by its rule systems. In my opinion, appreciating a game’s technical system is just one aspect of a complicated system – which includes the story, how information is presented to the player, and even the community of play around a game. All of these aspects are what “shape a game” for me.

      In my opinion, if you were to ask a casual player why they like / don’t like SF4, frame links are probably very far from their mind – I’d say questions like “how well can I follow the action in a professional game” or “how fair is the online matching?” or “what is the learning curve like?” would come up more. (disclaimer: I’m not super familiar with the community around SF4, so I’m extrapolating from my friends who are into Melee). We were all casual players at first, so I think this reading is still valid. Part of the reason why speedrunners decide to invest so much time into a game and tease out these hidden mechanics is because they enjoyed the initial media object in the first place. There’s something about the game initially that was fun enough to keep playing and exploring to become a “hardcore” player of the game.

      As another example, Nethack, on the surface, is a pretty technically and narratively boring game. Although you can come up with grander strategies like pudding farming in order to game the system, the actual rules and system of the game itself are very barebones – just move around in a grid and run into things to attack them. Likewise, narratively, the game just starts you off with “get the MacGuffin of Yendor!” and you have no other motivation to keep going. However, the appeal of the game comes from the player’s desire to explore, trying out new things and creating a narrative of new experiences that they can share with friends.

      I think the thing that bothers me most is Wagar’s insistence on very black and white definitions of “good” games or “right” ways to analyze games. I think my feelings (including the bit about stripping a game down to just its rules systems) are pretty well summarized by this article:

      > “No one group can define what is appropriate for the study of games. Game studies, like any organized pursuit of knowledge, is not a zero-sum team contest, but a multi-dimensional, open-ended puzzle that we all are engaged in cooperatively solving.”

      On a meta level, a really good read is Goodwin’s series: “The Academics are Coming”. I think he does a good job highlighting both his own personal grapples with viewing games from a purely mechanics perspective, if story actually adds anything to a game and how this conversation keeps coming up again and again.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. This whole article reminded me of a piece here:


    If you want a good laugh, Chris Wagar is in the comments section of that article. I think Chris quite intelligent and I thoroughly enjoy talking to him, but he is quite… rigid. Somewhat narrow minded, I’d say. He’d allege to the contrary, but he acts as though he has a monopoly on the truth of enjoyment and video games. I’d say we all have our moments of deeming ourselves the only sane people surrounded by blatant intellectual inferiors, but Chris is someone who always seems to do things in extremes.

    I’ve read many of his articles and I’m a fan of his work, but it is incredibly niche and somewhat fundamentally flawed. His main habits are pointing out things that are technically correct yet so laughably inconsequential that they would bother only him. It wouldn’t be so bad if it weren’t for the aforementioned monopoly.

    Oh, and he’s so quick to call names, yet so quick to apologize that it’s kind of cute to me. He doesn’t look half bad either. But he does have an off-putting fondness for childish rhetoric towards people he most likely doesn’t personally know all over analysing a video game the not Chris Wagar way.

    Chris Wagar is at his best when he reviews games. Not people. Sorry for the long post.


  3. Hey, I’m late to the party. Missed the wordpress pingback. I only caught this because I saw a referrer click.

    I’m not really intending to get into a fight or anything. I’m not gonna say your opinions are bad a priori because you’re a girl or because you’re not a hardcore gamer, or something else like that. You’re clearly intelligent and technically minded. We don’t see eye to eye here, there’s a difference of perspective. I’d be happy if we could try talking things out instead of going into bitter feud mode or anything.

    I’d like to state that the Matthew Matosis thing is not my best writing. It was stitched together from a rant, rewritten a few times, it’s kind of patchwork, and I didn’t totally have my argument together, so it ended up being kind of a directionless rant. I’ve gotten better at games writing since then, gotten more of my terminology together. Please allow me a tiny bit of slack there.

    “My entire media studies training and like the whole thing that each media discipline is extremely protective about “my cultural object of study is a special snowflake and not like anything else” is screaming right now.”
    That’s fair. Just I think that games express themselves on a different wavelength than more traditionally narrative media, similar to how it could be said that lyric-less music, or food, or architecture, express themselves in a different means than narrative media. I don’t think of games as completely their own special snowflake thing, but I think there is a lot to be said about the craft of games that is not currently being expressed. I say this as someone who comes from a background in animation. The type of insight I would like to see people offer into games is similar to that of Richard William’s Animator’s Survival Kit whereas I feel like a lot of the insight currently being offered is analogous to an overview of an animation’s plot, meaning, and themes. I feel like in the case of games, a massive part of what defines the value of a game is in the construction of the gameplay mechanics. I know there is a large contingent of people out there who highly value gameplay mechanics, but seemingly very few academics (I’d like to acknowledge outliers like Frank Lantz here). Even if you disagree with my personal values, I think there is at least a case that this is a subject of analysis or a viewpoint that should exist on some level.

    “note the interesting use of the word “product” which ties into the whole thing about “game as object for purchase” rather than “game as cultural object”. As CMS.300 pointed out game reviews almost always talk about whether this game is worthy of purchase – a capitalist endeavor – compared to say, Pauline Kael’s critique of The Godfather – an artistic endeavor.”
    Sorry, this one is a gaff on my part. I didn’t mean to imply games as an object for purchase there. I was just scrambling for a word that meant “sum of parts in a neat package”. I don’t review games as being worthy or not worthy of purchase. I don’t really think games criticism should be exclusively buyer’s guides and I usually dislike overt attempts to be a buyer’s guide. My review style of games is much more regarding them as an artistic endeavor than a capitalist one.

    “it seems unlikely [Matosis] would be able to make fine criticisms of the small details that shape entire games, like how crouch techs, slow walking speed, 1 frame links, focus attacks, and invincible backdashes shaped the way SF4 played
    …Are these actually what “shape entire games”? It’s apparently what separates the true gamers from the filthy casuals.”
    I mean, if you talk to fans of Street Fighter, especially during the era where SF4 was popular (a lot of people currently are upset with SFV and are yearning for a return to SF4, forgetting why they hated it), most of the complaints about SF4 were basically those things. They’re all tiny details of the system that had a massive influence on the way people played the game. People disliked how slow and defensive the game was, how long the rounds went on for, how tight the execution could be, such that pros couldn’t consistently execute many combos.

    There was a similar case with Super Smash Brothers Brawl. Many people hated the game for how slow and defensive it was, however explaining why it is that way is extremely difficult without a deep understanding of minutia in how the game was programmed. This dislike of the game manifested itself in many people continuing to play Super Smash Bros Melee, which is currently extremely popular, and the creation of the mod Project M, the most popular mod of a console game ever made, which edited a massive number of engine behaviors to more closely match that of Melee. People can’t outright describe what these differences are, but they can feel them when they play. They don’t know why the game incentivizes the strategies it does, but they feel it through playing the game.
    Here’s a list of all the changes Project M made (with the assembly code that implemented the changes removed):

    To provide another example there’s Mike Z’s (creator of SkullGirls) proposed change list for Street Fighter III: 3rd Strike.
    I think Mike Z does amazing patches for Skullgirls, generally targeting the one exact thing that needs changing that won’t have any consequences on the rest of the system. The thing I find is, if you read a review of a game like a fighting game, all the complaints or praise listed in it has little to nothing to do with what the fighting game community actually cares about for that game. If you asked a random player’s opinion about the game, then they’d likely tell you something totally different from any mainstream review, focusing on different aspects of the game entirely. In the case of Street Fighter V, it’s especially easy to see the disconnect.

    Here’s 3 SFV reviews

    And here’s a short video made before the game even came out, which was a much bigger deal and explained much more about the game:

    I think that a good reviewer should know about these types of things and be able to explain them to their audience in terms their audience understands. I admittedly did not do that in my matthew matosis article. I expressed myself kind of poorly overall.

    And unfortunately, the Matthew Matosis article isn’t the best for explaining what I actually look for in a game or analysis. If I rewrote it, I’d probably focus more on depth, which is my personal most highly-held criteria (as well as many other people’s, including Frank Lantz). Many people have varying definitions of depth, I believe my definition captures the intent of a lot of other definitions more elegantly.
    https://critpoints.wordpress.com/2015/03/21/thoughts-on-depth-and-a-basic-introduction/ (sorry, this one is kind of old too, it’s a repost from like 2014, I’ve revised some of my terminology since then)

    Wasn’t that the debate that never happened? https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xBN3R0m31bA
    Also I didn’t write that part. Parts in bold are questions people have asked to me.

    “he seems to idolize sirlin”
    lol. I mean, I have two articles dedicated to talking about how full of shit he is.

    I respect his balance articles, and he generally makes good games, even if he’s not the nicest person and he has some crazy views on some aspects of game design. I feel like I’m kind of out of the loop though, why isn’t he really respected among game designers? I thought he was mostly obscure personally.

    “And probably my favorite quote, in which I learn that performing textual analysis means that you don’t value the medium you are analyzing.”
    We have different viewpoints on this. What I view as being the medium is different from what you view as being the medium. You could say from my perspective it’s like performing a textual analysis of the menu at a restaurant (since food is another thing commonly regarded as artistic). Sure, you might find out more about how people experience being in that restaurant and ordering the food, but in my eyes the object of interest is still the food itself. I feel like the textual information is not the same type of information as the flavor of the food. I feel a similar sort of type mismatch for gameplay and narrative. Does this make sense?

    If I made games purely for myself, without interest in appealing to others, beyond those who share my views, I would not bother with stories. However to appeal to people on a broader level, stories are helpful. I’d like to refer to this GDC talk by Naughty Dog:
    The section of interest goes from page 45 to page 70 (page 70 has a wrap-up of the topic in a simple diagram).

    “Neither the page nor the ink nor the alphabetical symbols knows about the despair of war, but I can hear the horses scream in ”All Quiet on the Western Front” just like I can feel the pain of death from losing a character in Nethack.”
    I’m gonna go out on a limb here and say, you feel the pain of investing a large amount of time into a system that allows you to increase numbers that regularly determine the success or failure of various operations. You feel the pain of all that time, all those resources you collected, all those specific choices you made being wiped away.

    I know you have programming experience, more of it than I do honestly. You know that you can name an object whatever you want, but when you implement something like a data structure, it works the way it works, regardless of what it, or any of its components are named. Games produce effects on the human psyche because of the processes they model, not just what those processes are labeled as or visually represented by. I view these processes themselves as profoundly important to understanding the makeup of games, and I’m personally frustrated by a broader swath of academics that seems to disregard this, especially given I know many people out there see these things in a similar light.

    Again, I don’t care that you’re a girl, or any other type of scotsman. I’d like to see if we can bridge an understanding on this topic. I’m not talking in any language you can’t understand and you’re not talking in any language I can’t understand. I just frame the value of a game, and the definition of what a game is, a bit differently than you. I recognize the whole software package of sounds, pictures, words, and story is a bigger thing than just the game itself, however I value these things independently of one another. I am not without an appreciation for narrative meaning, but I like games a lot and my opinion on the story that is packaged with a game does not affect my opinion of the game. I don’t think these things are connected on a fundamental level the way the language of cinema or literature are connected to their respective narratives. It’s like judging a movie as a whole, and the soundtrack of the movie as their own things. Or like seeing an animated film from the perspective of both an animator, looking at how the poses are drawn across frames, and as a storyteller, looking at shot composition, scripting, and the overall plot and narrative arcs. I’ve experienced a massive number of amazing stories in my life, and I feel like the art of storytelling is very well explored overall. I feel like the art of gameplay in comparison has received much less attention (you’re welcome to point out counter-examples, I’m always searching for good articles).

    I’m not a total hoity toity hardcore gamer snob, though I’ll admit, my articles are frequently written in a provocative manner. I want to get my point across and you’re definitely not beneath me. If you want to, if you have time, I can show you how to play whatever fighting game you want (as long as it’s not tekken, virtua fighter, or dead or alive) and can show you firsthand how this stuff is put together and why someone might find it entertaining (though I suspect you have a decent understanding why already, given you wrote a paper on speedrunners).

    My terms and criteria are formatted in ways that aren’t exclusive to overtly complex “hardcore” games, but also extend themselves down to more simple games like Tetris and Mario which exhibit a different type of depth than a large number of permutations of explicit states, but rather more subtle permutations of spatial or temporal positioning in the game state.

    I want to figure out how to build more interesting optimization problems and either share or pass on that knowledge to others, as I find or develop it. Most of the commentary by reviewers, youtubers, and bloggers, has been inadequate in such descriptions from my perspective.

    Sound cool?


  4. (for context: I’m Lilly’s friend, briefly mentioned in the post.)

    Hey —

    I don’t think anything you said is wrong, but I do think that your comments only hold true for a particular, small set of people: those that really enjoy competition and complete mastery over the games that they play. The vast majority of people find value in all the elements of games and the ways these elements interact, and I think the reason reviewers focus on those things and mostly exclude intricate mechanics discussions is simply because most reviewers belong to that vast majority.

    As food for thought, Brawl and Melee were both directed by Sakurai, who very consciously steered Brawl away from cutthroat complexity despite purposely baking the same into Melee — and he’s not a stupid guy, he’s probably one of the best designers in the world, so it’s hard to argue that he didn’t have some reason behind it. It’s difficult to say “many people disliked Brawl”, because many people also liked it. That “many” people stuck to Melee also doesn’t mean much, because the fighting game community in general is so small and places an unusually high amount of value on competition and game mechanics with sky-high skill caps. My group of friends enjoyed the floatiness of Brawl (it was like you were flying!), the sheer spectacle, the vastly increased amount of content, and the decrease in mechanical skill required to play Smash well. For what it’s worth, Brawl also sold nearly twice as many copies as Melee, albeit this was mostly because the Wii was so popular. Is Melee a “better” game? Yeah, maybe, it’s a really nuanced question. But is Brawl an outstanding, generation-defining game that’s worthy of the praise it received? Absolutely.

    I exaggerated about Sirlin — my impression, like yours, is that he’s mostly unknown nowadays. I personally dislike him because he seems very condescending and elitist, and because all his games are just thinly-disguised variations of rock-paper-scissors, but I should have been more impartial. No question that his writing is thought-provoking.

    I’m not an academic and don’t have much background in the field, but I think there’s absolutely a trove of interesting research to be done on the way an acute focus on small mechanical elements affects the “feel” of the game. That seems like an exciting and underexplored direction.

    > I don’t think [gameplay and narrative] are connected on a fundamental level the way the language of cinema or literature are connected to their respective narratives.

    I really disagree with this. Even the example you provide isn’t great — while you *can* judge the movie and the soundtrack separately, with a truly great film the soundtrack will always be setting the tone and perhaps revealing hidden moods of the characters or foreshadowing plot elements. I will readily acknowledge that such a meaningful connection is rare in games, but some do it very well, and as the medium continues to grow and evolve I’m certain that people will continue finding more intricate ways to link the two.

    My favorite example is Undertale. The mechanical complexity of that game is limited, but the way it links its mechanics to its storytelling is unmatched. I grew to really like the characters in that game — even to the point of actually caring about them — not only because of the narrative around them, but because of the ways they affected my gameplay experience to help me succeed. For example, one of the characters at the very beginning of the game saved me from death, explained the world and its mechanics to me, and helped me through the tutorial. Then she took me to her house (providing respite from the monsters), prepared a room and turned down a bed for me, gave me pie, and read me a story. After being thrown into what seemed like a harsh and hostile world, how could I help but feel genuinely thankful towards her? (Not to mention the game’s savage and effective deconstruction of RPGs, which recolors the classic power fantasy of killing things and growing stronger as a soulless mass murdering spree and made me feel awful about myself.)

    My impression is that this kind of thing isn’t an uncommon occurrence at all for players of Undertale. Still, the game will affect different people in different ways. If you never put yourself in your character’s shoes, or if you can’t get over a feeling that all these events are pre-programmed, artificial, and not worth emotional investment, then you’re absolutely not wrong but you are also solidly in the minority. I think that your approach of considering the story and gameplay in isolation from one another will fail to really capture the reason that Undertale, and many other games, resonated with so many people. Such an approach seems consigned to always wondering “Why on Earth is this game so popular?”, when in reality there’s a very good reason for it. That’s all. Nothing more, nothing less.

    On Matthew Matosis: He obviously isn’t perfect. You mentioned that “it seems unlikely [Matosis] would be able to make fine criticisms of the small details that shape entire games”, and, other than the fact that we can still debate how important those “small details” are to most people, I’ll concede that that type of game isn’t his forte. I’m kind of surprised you didn’t mention his Dota 2 review (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=m2ouNlfLPjs) in which I actually felt he was quite out of his element — although his more recent review of Furi (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8gRh5nKmgBU) has a huge focus on mechanics, and I thought he did a outstanding job handling exactly those small details you mention.

    Matosis is by far my favorite reviewer, mainly because he’s very eloquent in explaining the effects that larger design choices have on player experience. He’ll say things like “The spin jump in Mario Galaxy lets players correct for a missed jump, making the game feel more forgiving”, and I’ll go “Hey, that’s true — the platforming difficulty was definitely a step down from before. I guess it might be because of the spin jump. I liked it at first, but now I wonder if it was a good inclusion in the game after all.” I found all of his reviews very thought-provoking because of countless moments like this. They were rarely earth-shattering, but the arguments were presented very articulately and logically, and helped me to see and critique facets of my favorite games that I hadn’t noticed before. I also found the things he brought up to generally be more worthy of discussion than things like frame links, but you may disagree. It’s also worth mentioning that Matosis covers every aspect of each game he reviews — story, art, interface, design choices, pacing, character movesets, large-scale gameplay patterns — so his reviews end up being really long compared to the rest of the field. Delving into something as intricate as frame data seems sort of inappropriate for what’s probably already a long review, and besides, it may not be his strong point anyway.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Hi Nathan, nice to meet you. Sorry I missed the pingback email again. I think there’s something about this site that prevents wordpress from sending me emails or something.

      I don’t think my comments hold exclusively true for a small group of people. There was a very very large survey conducted by Quantic fairly recently and they tended to find that people tend to cluster around 3 different areas of the spectrum, Action-Social, Mastery-Achievement, and Immersion-Creativity, as they labeled them. You can see the exact traits they placed under each of those clusters at 7:35 in this video:

      2 of these 3 sit pretty close to the things that I value. I think a lot of people value gameplay. I also think the general public and most critics don’t really know how to express that. I’ll be perfectly honest, I chose the intricate/obscure one frame link stuff for SF4 because it’s a technical game with advanced things for people to know about because I was trying to be a little hardcore elitist as well as list very discrete and concise pieces of information that would be relevant in an appraisal of the game and in people’s criticisms I feel that choice backfired a bit. I’m not trying to suggest that critics should list all this technical crap that’s irrelevant to most players and limit themselves exclusively to the ultra-hardcore audience. I think there’s a lot of better ways to describe gameplay that’s simple and lacks sophistication, but still has underlying complexity, but that’s harder to convey and takes way more words than “FADC”. That’s why in rewriting the Matosis article I decided to critique his Mario 64 review. I think that if reviewers, or us more dedicated critics on the side, raise the bar, then some of that understanding of games can permeate into the public consciousness. I think people have all these misgivings about games that they don’t know how to voice, and they know no alternative to the games they’re familiar with, so they put up with what they have. I think that it’s possible to write game reviews that express these things in simple terms people can understand. I think it’s possible to bridge the gap in understanding rather than spew technical terms nobody but the hardcore know about. I admit I didn’t do the best job of that, which is again why I backtracked and critiqued his mario 64 review.

      I’ve since gone on to write more review content of my own, which I think better expresses what I think a review should be like, and they aren’t fawning over advanced techniques, even if they do exist in the game. I’m not exclusively commenting on things valued by a small set of people that enjoy competition and complete mastery. I believe that the focus of my investigations have much broader implications on how to make games more enjoyable for everyone. https://critpoints.wordpress.com/2016/11/08/halo-combat-evolved-review/ Maybe mainstream outlets can’t offer this similarly detailed style of analysis, but I think that what they currently offer is not very useful for the purpose of recommending a game to someone (which is not the type of review I try to write either, but I think on the road to writing that style of review, more detail and more understanding is necessary). I don’t think it communicates enough of the information people actually want to know about a game to determine if it’s a worthy purchase for them or not. I made an argument for that in this article (which you’ll notice I reused part of above) and present examples of fans looking for something more than game reviews can provide for a game that isn’t dominated by absurdly hard and obscure techniques like fighting games are. I make comparisons between what I’d like to see out of game reviews versus what’s often written, and I think there’s an untapped market for this. Maybe not in the traditional outlets, but at least in the more critical sphere like youtubers and bloggers. https://critpoints.wordpress.com/2016/02/29/game-critics-are-not-authorities/ If nothing else, I hope you can agree with me that gameplay is something that can collectively do a lot better at reviewing. There’s a lot more critical ground we could be breaking with gameplay analysis, such as shown by critics like Mark Brown (doesn’t always do the best job, but he’s on the right track in my book). I think that most people value gameplay a lot more than you let on and I think the analysis of gameplay is underdeveloped categorically, which is why youtubers are suddenly being regarded as highly or more highly than traditional press outlets because they’re trying a bit harder to look at what makes gameplay good, even if they’re not terribly successful at it and are shaped by the reviewers that came before them. Culturally this style of analysis needs to exist because mechanical factors are a real and significant influence on people’s enjoyment of a game, even if they can’t totally voice what about them makes that the case, similar to how someone uneducated in the art of painting might not be able to explain the technical intricacies that make a painting beautiful, but can still identify beauty or a lack thereof.

      There’s a story that a friend likes to tell me about the first time he came over and played Brawl with me and my brother shortly after the game’s release. I was 15 at the time, I didn’t have all these opinions on what makes a good game or bad game. Basically, we start playing and I said in the most monotone voice ever, “Yes. We know. It’s slower.” I was hyped as all hell before Brawl’s release. I followed the blog every single day, frequently staying up to 3AM to catch it when it updated. I couldn’t voice why, but brawl wasn’t the game I wanted it to be. It was something I could only feel on a deeper level. I loved Melee and I didn’t understand why brawl wasn’t as good. It was slower, it was floatier, there was tripping, there was no wavedashing or any of the other advanced techniques which I couldn’t do, but which I knew existed. Today I have many more specific reasons that Brawl is terrible. http://pastebin.com/pJt3J0Wu I don’t think it was a generation-defining game in nearly the same way Melee was (best selling game on the gamecube, many fans clamouring for Melee HD, competitive scene that is larger than the rest of the FGC, brawl only sold 4 million more (12mil), 1.5 times what melee sold (8mil), not almost double). I think it’s arguable that Brawl was carried by hype and the good will built by Melee. I do think Melee is the better game by almost any point of comparison. Melee had a better Game Feel/kinaesthetic to it. Melee had even casual players feel like they were more in control over their character (and due to a lot of under the hood adjustments, they arguably were more in control). Melee had a lot more to learn about it on an optionally less random playing field. Yeah, it’s a nuanced question and I’ll have the argument with you if you want, because this is something close to my heart, but I don’t think that’s the direction of the overall conversation.

      Sirlin seems from the impressions I’ve gotten of him to not be a very nice person. I do however like his games, though I’d like to correct you that only Yomi is really a thinly veiled version of Rock Paper Scissors. I think his writing is a worthy resource, and I’ll take those ideas even if I don’t endorse him as a person.

      “but I think there’s absolutely a trove of interesting research to be done on the way an acute focus on small mechanical elements affects the “feel” of the game.”
      I don’t know what you mean by “feel” here, so it makes your statement a bit vague. Are you agreeing a little with me that mechanical elements need more exploration? Are you saying that “Game Feel” (term coined by Steve Swink who wrote a book on it) could use more investigation? Or are you saying that the mechanical elements which change the narrative tone or player emotional reception of a game could use more investigation?
      “That seems like an exciting and underexplored direction.”
      I mean, I think a lot of what I write about is an exciting an unexplored direction and I don’t see a lot of explorers on a similar track despite it being the focus of a huge amount of general discourse on messageboards and the like. Among the youtuber and blogger critics I see, there’s a lot more concern about the narrative and gameplay is practically absent in comparison. I’ve been reading people’s blogs extensively and crawling through all the links and finding content concerned with gameplay is really hard. We get so many people advocating for better integration of story and gameplay (which frankly I view as another type of advocacy for story), but almost nobody investigating what makes for better gameplay.

      I have actually reviewed undertale, I don’t know if you searched my blog before writing that. https://critpoints.wordpress.com/2015/11/05/undertale-overview/ It was actually a positive review. You’re right, my methodology won’t encapsulate why many people resonate with a lot of games, particularly games with very strong stories. I branch out sometimes into story related mater because I recognize that my methodology isn’t the whole answer to what drives sales or fandoms. It isn’t the whole reason people like games, people do appreciate more than just gameplay. To get the whole picture you need more than just me, but I consider such other factors outside my scope. However my methodology is still valid in-of itself. You don’t need all those other things to build a good game, and delivering better gameplay or knowing how to improve gameplay is always valuable, regardless of the other components in a game. I’m not wondering why on earth Undertale is popular, it’s really obvious to me what resonated about it with people, even if that’s outside the scope of my writing. I wonder why games like Call of Duty or as RDI mentioned, Batman Arkham Asylum and Bioshock Infinite are popular, games with no redeeming aspects. They don’t have good stories, they don’t have good gameplay. I don’t totally get why reviewers are so into these games except that they maybe feel an obligation to be into them or they’re really wrapped up in the fantasy of them in a way I can’t really explain.

      The thing I have to ask with Undertale though is, did you beat Genocide’s two exclusive bosses, Undyne the Undying and Sans? If you didn’t, then I don’t think you really got the full experience out of Undertale.

      So on Matosis, I don’t play Dota 2, so I didn’t have a lot to say about his dota 2 commentary. His Furi review came far after my original criticism, and even my rewrite. I did not watch his Furi review. I know you don’t keep up with my ask.fm stuff, so I’ll fill you in: I got tired of everyone asking me whatever MM was up to, because it was usually disappointing, and I asked people to stop sending me asks about him. He’s seen my criticisms of him before. He took it rather well. At the time I originally wrote it, I felt like he was the best game reviewer out there, but that the bar should be a lot higher than him. He acknowledged that he had room to improve, and generally took the criticisms nicely, which given that it was originally a rant on a chan board is pretty big of him honestly. So maybe he’s consciously tried to improve since I wrote this. Please forgive me, but I do not want to invest the effort necessary to judge. His videos are really long and I’m honestly tired of watching them. Here’s 3 later commentaries I’ve written on his videos, in chronological order.
      So at the end, I do acknowledge some improvement, and I don’t want to try beyond this.

      Since then other reviewers like Joseph Anderson and Mark Brown have popped up who tend to use a bit more evidence, tend to give slightly better and more mechanical arguments, even if they too have their own missteps. I agree with their methods more than their content.

      “I also found the things he brought up to generally be more worthy of discussion than things like frame links, but you may disagree.”
      For SF4 it’s important. Crouch Teching was even more important arguably. It would be like a review of DMC3 without mentioning jump canceling (which Matosis did mention in his review of DMC1, albeit it’s not as important in that game and I wouldn’t have minded if he didn’t mention it). I’m not advocating for reviews in the style of only covering the game from the most hardcore angle and whether it has all these crazy difficult obscure techniques or not. A lot of my work is concerned with building more easily understandable games that have a simple appearance but have more intricate underlying layers of depth. Something that fits the idiom, “easy to learn, hard to master.”

      For most games it’s not necessary to go into their framedata. For a traditional fighting game, it is because traditional fighting games are very heavily characterized by their framedata, like the way SF2 had huge hitstun and pushback, SF3 had middling pushback and too low hitstun to allow link combos, and SF4 and SFV both have really low pushback and just barely high enough hitstun to allow link combos (which lead to the controversy over 1 frame links in SF4, which is why SFV has a 2 frame input buffer to make everything universally easier in a way that’s nearly imperceptible but still very tangible). You could probably forgo most framedata stuff in a generalized discussion about Smash Bros, with the sole exception of recognizing how the shieldstun and recovery times of attacks are carefully calibrated so attacks are never positive on block, always negative, except in a few rare cases, like when you use projectiles, or peach’s hover cancel, which are things that require a setup that can be avoided or interrupted. This means there’s a huge departure in how people can be pressured in shield from pressure on block in traditional fighting games, the reason for this being that in smash bros, you can grab people in blockstun, unlike traditional fighting games, so if you ever get frame advantage on block, you can beat someone trying to shieldgrab you, where in other fighting games, they always have a way out because grabbing someone in blockstun (and usually hitstun) is forbidden. The one game where this isn’t true is the original Street Fighter 2 World Warrior, which meant that every blocked hit could be followed up by an unblockable throw, which is why they fixed it in championship edition and every fighting game has follow this rule ever since, except smash bros, which needs to design all of its moves to fit this rule or the game is broken.

      I think it’s important to know that type of stuff, because sometimes it answers why they built a ton of things the way they did. Sometimes it explains why things work the way they work (every pressure setup in smash bros is based on hitting with a low recovery setup move, then trapping them with a fast startup punish move, so if they try to act between the two, they get caught, in other fighting games, it’s based on hitting them with positive on block moves until they’re pushed too far away to be pressured anymore, and you can also mix them up with grabs instead of attacking since you’re on frame advantage and have the impunity to act first).

      And again, this isn’t the type of knowledge or analysis I’m asking from every reviewer (though I think more people out there should be doing these types of analyses). However articles like this: https://www.destructoid.com/two-pros-are-edgy-about-slight-landing-lag-in-smash-bros-4-277991.phtml are completely shameful

      “They may be right. We’ll lave to wait and see before we find out how bad the landing lag is for the majority of characters, and how much it bothers the majority of players. Still, doesn’t the fact that these two amazing players are put off by a slight delay in how long it takes to get back into the action after landing make them sound… a little obsessive? Obsessed with being in control of their characters, impatient during even a split second before they can move again, and always hungry for more tension?”
      “Or maybe it was better to just say “impatient control freaks”?”

      Like, this guy doesn’t get why lower landing lag is actually important and makes up completely ridiculous reasons, when this is something that affects every single player in a much more real and common way than even the pressure example I gave above (it makes aerials safer, makes more combos possible, makes shielding less effective). And I could go into a longer discussion of this, which is related to what I said above, but I don’t want to belabor the point, which I’ve already done way too much.

      People who purport to be experts should have the knowledge of experts and we could all be doing a lot better job at analyzing gameplay, even ignoring the crazy advanced obscure techniques that .1% of the playerbase actually does (as I attempted to show with some of my own articles covering simpler gameplay).

      I think statements like, “The spin jump in Mario Galaxy lets players correct for a missed jump, making the game feel more forgiving”, isn’t a very good description of the spin jump’s effect on the game. Specifically the part about, “making the game feel more forgiving.” Just because there’s a spin jump or hover doesn’t necessarily make the game easier, the difficulty can be compesated in other ways, or the enemies or level design features could demand you to use the spin jump in tricky ways. It lacks an explanation of how the spin jump actually affects the platforming. My perspective tends to be depth, does the spin jump increase or decrease the depth of the game? Is there more depth because the total number of actions the player can take has risen, or is there less depth because there is more redundancy among the total state space? Is jumping + spin jump emphasized through the levels and draw out more thought from the player by requiring them to use both skillfully, or does it allow players to be less thoughtful by functioning as a safety net? Is this actually why the game is easier in your eyes, or is it perhaps something else? I don’t find these statements from MM to be thought provoking, I think they’re half-baked, not fully formed. They’re like the stub of an idea, but not enough to actually say anything. It’s like a deepity, something that sounds deep, but on further examination doesn’t really mean anything. I don’t have my thoughts challenged by matthew matosis, I hear a lot of what sounds like public opinion with a bit more detail. His reviews are thorough in the way many people describe skyrim, a mile wide, a foot deep. He’s barely saying anything about anything. His reviews are filled to the brim with fluff when he could be saying, “It works like this, this causes this, according to this evidence, it could have worked like this, with this and this consequences.”

      I wouldn’t call anyone my favorite reviewer, I only like select pieces of writing from other people and usually not reviews. I just think Matthew Matosis’s reviews completely dodge what makes these games actually good. I respect something as silly as Sequelitis more frankly (which I also wouldn’t put in the good game writing pile, but it’s closer to being in the right place). I’m not learning anything from someone like Matosis and I haven’t seen very much content in the videos I’ve seen (all the ones up to DMC) that teaches people things. I don’t think he’s raising the level of the discourse, I think he’s putting a bandaid on it.


  5. “Such an approach seems consigned to always wondering “Why on Earth is this game so popular?”, when in reality there’s a very good reason for it.”

    That’s my main point of contention with Wagar. He doesn’t wonder these things, he makes excuses. He said that the reason people like Arkham Asylum, a game he feels is too mechanically simple, is because of placebo telling them that because it’s popular and people tell them it’s fun, I must be having fun. Actually, my main point of contention with him is him assuming how his viewers react to media and why they do, like when he said that his viewers would only feel “self justified” by watching Mathew’s reviews rather than feeling learned. Matthew himself is guilty of this too, like when he made assumptions about the mindset of journalists during his Bioshock: Infinite video. I’m not defending the journalists, but I did not expect that from Matthew.

    Now excuse me while I go eat crow because A) Chris wrote those articles a long time ago, B) I’m hypocritically making assumptions about Chris’ mindset, C) I’m effectively talking about him behind his back while he’s already here, and D) He reacted to this article in a far more mature and understanding manner than I thought he would.

    …His fighting game proposition sounds pretty good. Maybe I should temper my Marth game. Haven’t played Melee in years.

    Liked by 2 people

    • With a game like Undertale, I know perfectly well why it’s popular. With a game like Arkham Asylum or Bioshock Infinite, which doesn’t have a good story or good gameplay, yeah, I’m scratching my head. Though I didn’t say it was just a placebo, I said it was probably because it connected with the fantasy of being batman, because it connected with a power fantasy. Push some buttons, game practically plays itself, it looks cool in the process, feel awesome about yourself.

      I say what I said about Arkham Asylum fans because I’ve spoken with them. I say what I’ve said because I’ve been in the position of defending a game I came to realize I didn’t actually like before (Mad World). I’ve been in that position a few times (Deus Ex). I’ve seen other people talk about this type of cognitive dissonance. http://sirlingames.squarespace.com/blog/2012/8/22/addiction-diablo-3-and-portal-2.html And when I’m not convinced of something, I admit what I don’t know and where I’m making guesses.

      In the actual article you’re criticizing, I didn’t say what I thought the players thought. I said who I thought it was aimed at, meaning I was guessing at the developer’s intentions, not the players’ motivations. Also the reasons I stated weren’t it being a placebo of the game’s popularity.

      I think they feel self-justified because I don’t think Matosis is teaching anyone anything more than a zen koan would. I think he’s a reflection of popular opinion for the core 5-6th gen gamer who is dissatisfied with AAA and grew up on primarily Nintendo games before westerners started to dominate the overall video game market, which is why he resonates with so many people my age, which is why he almost resonates for me, because we both come from a similar place.

      “He reacted to this article in a far more mature and understanding manner than I thought he would.”
      Bitch, I’m a mature and understanding adult. Deal with it.

      I recognize where I screw up. I take criticism to heart, even when it’s not totally fair criticism, as has happened before. If someone sees it fit to criticize me, then I’ve fucked up and need to learn how to deliver my message better.

      “…His fighting game proposition sounds pretty good. Maybe I should temper my Marth game. Haven’t played Melee in years.”
      I’m up for that. Though unless you live near the US East Coast, the lag might be terrible for smash bros. Other games work great though unless you’re in Australia/Japan. I have a discord room that makes setting this stuff up very easy.


      • Hello Chris. I have not been able to reply until now because of my limited internet access. That unfortunately means I won’t be joining you for Smash anytime soon, though I’d likely be creamed anyways.

        I’ve come to realize since that comment that I have a bad habit of rushing into a debate and going off memory. In your BAA article, didn’t you cite an experiment where people had fun with an activity because they were convinced it was an interesting one? Maybe I should have used a better word than “popularity.” In any case, maybe somehow some people genuinely do enjoy the story or gameplay of that game.

        Your claim of being a mature adult is an interesting one. I do not know how you act in real life, but infantile article titles, all caps rants, and calling people names over opinions of what amount to interactive plastic toys are grounds for a case against that. I don’t put much stock in the concept of “maturity” when applied to people rather than actions, so you’ll hear no argument from me.

        There are certain challenges in Super Mario Sunshine involving levels where Mario is sans FLUDD. I think the Galaxy games could have done something similar, because the spin jump generally was a safety net that made platforming too easy to me. I resonated with Matthew on that. Maybe his reviews rely on resonating with his viewers. I wouldn’t know, because I don’t feel “self justified” by watching his videos, our opinions on games like Majora’s Mask and Skyward Sword are very different for example, but I do see where he was coming from. I would like to see a more ludologically driven game community just to see how diverse people’s opinions would still be.

        Speaking of Sans, as an aside, I played all routes in Undertale. Those two bosses were not the most fun to me. Oh, I loved them and they were very fun to play, but I had more fun with Asriel, despite a far less consequential “fail safe”, and Mettaton, which was like a more traditional bullet hell kind of game.

        In fact, your topic on how fail states are subjective leads me to realize that implementing our own “fail states” can really change the nature of a game. For example, in my case, a fail state is seeing anything below 100% on an end game screen. Without regard for the implicit rules of a game, the quality can really fluctuate. Maybe you’d like 3D Zelda where you can’t get hit at all.

        I’m going off topic. You say Matthew praised your article on 4Chan? That’s very interesting. What was his username? Because I was an archived thread on 4Chan where your blogged was linked and someone with the username “Matthewmatosis” said this:

        “reviewing a game isn’t reviewing a game, even though it’s reviewing a game, but it’s not reviewing a game because it’s not reviewing a game like I would review a game, because there is clearly only one correct way to review a game.”

        The thread no longer exists on 4Chan, so it’s up to you whether or not to take my word for it. As for improvement on his videos, I indirectly told you about the developer for Downwell himself being satisfied with Matthew’s video of his game (as well as saying he’s a fan of his videos), so that counts for something.

        Maybe I’m an outlier, but I do legitimately find Matthew’s videos thought-provoking.


      • That’s a shame, but it’s about learning, not winning. Sorry if this sounds rude, but I don’t expect random internet strangers to be a significant challenge in smash bros or any other fighting game. I’m making the offer because I want to show them things about the game they might not have realized themselves, because I find it really rewarding when people learn more about how to play a game. When they see it like when Neo sees the code of the Matrix for the first time. I’ve faced players who are MUCH better than me (like mew2king or other top 100 players) and I’ve run into a wall repeatedly against them. (At Evo, I ended up playing friendlies with Reno in the Airport and getting frustrated that I couldn’t quite beat him despite coming close, friend had to tell/remind me that I was fighting a top 100 player). Like, there’s no shame in it, and I’ve been on both ends. On another level, I feel like playing games together helps bring people together, and I want to extend that hospitality to people.

        You know, you could always check if my BAA article has an experiment in it? I actually forgot I cited that. That particular article is a lot older than the rest of the blog and more pointed in tone. There’s a number of cases for these types of things, overjustification effect, misattribution of arousal, etc. I mean, maybe people do enjoy it, but maybe those are people who don’t have a better point of comparison, or who aren’t very cognizant of the fact that it’s 2 button DDR. Or maybe they love the viscerality of punching the shit out of people as batman? I mean, I just said I don’t really understand why someone would really like that game.

        “Your claim of being a mature adult is an interesting one.”
        I was being a little serious, a little sarcastic. I hoped that you would find me saying, “bitch” and “deal with it” would make it clear I was joking with you. I try to treat people with respect when dealing with them directly. Even in my articles I hope you’ll notice that I generally try to refrain from calling people names. Like throughout the Matosis article in question, I did not say anything negative about him as a person, because I don’t believe in ad hominem insults. I’ll call people’s actions dumb, their words dumb, but I’m usually not going to say they’re dumb. This might not be clear through my writing, but I don’t dislike anyone as a person because of things they’ve written. It’s just a disagreement over ideas. I argue fiercely with my closest friends. I believe strongly in treating people with respect, even if they don’t deserve it. I think that disagreements between people are only really solved when someone has reason to change their mind, and that’s not going to happen unless I’m willing to put my ego aside and accept whatever they have to say and present my own statements in a way that is not attacking them.

        Also, infantile article titles? I mean, saying Matosis and Extra Credits are “a shit” is definitely too far, I regret those two. I was referencing a meme and it probably didn’t come off that great. Still, do you really think most of my article titles are infantile? I try to be a bit funny or playful with them, because I figure it’s less intriguing to have every article just be titled as a statement of the main topics. Which titles do you think are infantile? I don’t do all caps rants. I include some all caps here and there, because I’m typing most of this stuff out in plaintext. I don’t have a lot of options in plaintext for emphasis. If you want to see all caps ranting, check this out: http://imgur.com/a/q6BUr#0

        I mean, I try the best I can, and there’s no tone of voice on the internet, so my intentions can come across differently depending on the reader. I like arguing, I like debate. I take this stuff seriously because I think there’s value in it, but I don’t take it personally. This isn’t life or death. We’re all people, and most of us are good people. I may go over the top on my blog, but I hope you understand that I have no malicious intent towards anyone. If you have problems with my behavior, you’re welcome to point out specific issues, and I’ll try to improve on them in the future. I want to be the best person I can be and treat everyone in a way they’ll be happy with.

        Okay, your opinion on mario sunshine is actually one I share, but I was cognizant of it before watching the Matosis video. I saw it shared with a lot of other people before his video came out. It seemed to me that consensus was that people liked the “secret” levels where Fludd was taken away more than the main levels and that Matosis was just voicing something most people already thought, reifying their existing beliefs. To add to this, he mentioned in that review how many people felt like Fludd should not have been in the game for basically that reason, but he felt like Fludd added an extra layer of depth. So maybe I’m ahead of the curve there and he did genuinely introduce a new idea to you, but I think there’s some evidence in the video itself that it was in the public consciousness of the time.

        More than the mario galaxy spin jump, Fludd did act as a huge safety net in Mario Sunshine. Fludd acted as a safety net that, in my opinion, felt very unsatisfying to control from a game feel perspective (which MM did not say). Adding a hover did increase the game’s depth, but in a way that people didn’t want to engage with and it decreased the relevant state size (or redundancy I guess) for regular jumping, which people actually did enjoy, because you no longer need to jump with precision, you could jump haphazardly and use fludd to correct. It meant most jumps were just as effective as any other jump and only what you did with fludd mattered (yeah, so I guess redundancy is the right one here, huh, usually new factors being introduced don’t cause a redundancy problem). I didn’t play Galaxy or Galaxy 2, so I can’t really comment on them. Okay, not completely true, I played a little galaxy 2, and I’ve seen footage, and I think it’s easier because the level designs are more constrained than sunshine or 64, though spin jump acting as an extra safety net doesn’t hurt.

        If you didn’t like Sans best, that’s fine. I was asking the question to Nathan mostly because I wanted to know if he played those routes at all.

        I don’t think I’d like a 3d zelda where you can’t get hit at all much better than current 3d zelda. There’s already a variant of that challenge called the 3 Heart Challenge, where you don’t pick up any heart containers across the game. While this does on a simple numbers level solve my issues with how few hearts in damage zelda enemies typically do, it does not solve the majority of my issues with the combat and puzzles.

        I said Matthew praised it on 8chan, which regrettably means the thread no longer exists. You might not be that familiar with chan conventions, but it’s possible to create something called a Tripcode, which is an encrypted hash that is displayed after your username. Everyone can see your tripcode, but nobody knows the words you used to make that tripcode, so it guarantees that you are who you say you are, similar to public and private key encryption.

        Matthew Matosis keeps his tripcodes to 4chan and 8chan posted here. The 8chan one links to example.com/?8 as a clue that it’s for 8chan. You’ll notice both have a double exclamation mark in front of them, indicating they’re secure tripcodes, which are doubly encrypted.

        If you see someone post with these after their username you know it’s him. I know it was him because it had his 8chan tripcode after it.

        Maybe I’m ahead of the curve, but a lot of his ideas seem old hat to me, or reflective of previously existing ideas I’ve seen floating around 4chan and the like. The sunshine example with Fludd was one where he acknowledged that people liked the non-fludd levels better and thought Fludd shouldn’t have been in the game. It feels like he’s addressing symptoms, treating every issue with a game like it’s its own self-contained thing, rather than trying to find root causes or interconnectedness with other game design faults. It doesn’t seem like his criticism of any individual game has bearing on any game outside that specific one. He brings up a new thing every time that has the appearance of being sensible, but doesn’t lead anywhere if you think in more detail about it. Everything is a special use case, nothing generalized.


      • My God, I made a lot of typos. “I was your blogged.” What a plot twist, you’ve been arguing against your own blog all along! No, it’s “I saw your blog.”

        I’m going to have to ask you and the site admin to forgive me for multiple posts. I just wanted to say, Chris, that being criticised does not automatically mean that there was a screw up on your part. I know it’s counter-intuitive for me to say this in this situation, but as Kamiya-san says: you be you. I don’t think you want to be a self-contradictory amalgamation of what everyone asks of you, do you? You can’t please everybody. I know it’s a stock axiom, and I’m not asking you to dismiss criticism, but it can’t always be because of a screw-up on your part, can it?


      • I’m always going to be me, but I want to be the best me I can be and to help people understand my nature and not come off as so rough. When I’m criticized, I see it as there being a reason I was criticized. Even if I’m not factually wrong (though I sometimes am), I take criticism as an opportunity to try to understand how I’ve behaved wrong.

        That’s why I’ve done less critique of other critics more recently. That Matthew Matosis article got reposted to 4chan to stir up a fuss, and I read everything everyone said about me and it was hard to take, but I decided it would be better to just criticize videos by other critics and not the whole critic.

        I asked two different friends what they thought of this post, and they told me to dismiss it, it wasn’t worth my time. Joseph Anderson was impressed that I bothered to reply in the way I did, told me he would have skipped over something like this.

        No one is immune from criticism, but I want to take criticism as an opportunity to learn or an opportunity to teach. That’s also a part of me. I value critique and criticism very highly, and I’d be no one to dish it if I couldn’t also take it.


      • I wasn’t agreeing with the 4Chan post, I just found it interesting that it came from a “Matthewmatosis.” I think this post is a much better attack against your work than anything that I’ve seen on 4Chan. Alao, 4Chan is not one person. They are a large community. All together, they make fun of anything and anybody.

        I have conflicting ideals about dismissing criticism. Since you care about what others think of you, you seem more inclined to listen and I deeply respect that. I’m just saying, someone may want you to express yourself in a certain way that contradicts how someone else would. Though, seeing as you have two split “playstyles”, you seem pretty accommodating as is. You’ll have to piss someone off, and some people are even more irrational than I am, heh.

        Interesting how your friends thought little of this post. Did they say why?


      • Didn’t think you were agreeing with it. Pretty sure I saw the same post.

        I listen when I think it’s apt to listen, I don’t when I don’t. If people on 4chan get mad at me, I’m not listening to their overt statements, I’m trying to understand what the root cause is. I know how to mediate myself between different people’s expectations of me and the path I actually want to lead.

        Yes this article is a much better criticism than most others I’ve seen.

        They didn’t say why.


      • This is absolutely late and somewhat nuts, but I didn’t see your March 9, 2017 at 3:42 pm comment until today.

        I did not say “most” of your article titles were infantile. Just want to clear that up. Also I loved the Sans fight, just said that I have my preferences.

        Also, maybe Matthew voices public consciousness because his opinions genuinely line up with them. I don’t personally care as I read and watch reviews for the processes, not the opinions. Even so, his opinion on Skyward Sword is a popular opinion, but not the popular opinion. The game received critical acclaim like crazy. To me, Matthew is not a buyer’s guide or anything of the sort, he seems more like a man who has an opinion on a game and wants to take to the internet to justify it. “I like this, so let me tell you why.” He even encourages that the players play the game first before watching his videos. Even afterwards, when he did his Dark Souls commentary, it wasn’t a review, but you treated it as it was. You, who emphasizes the importance of semantics and identity, ended your tirade with by asking him to tell you why a game that Matthew was counting on you playing before even watching the video was good. He wasn’t trying to sell anyone on anything. He was just screwing around. The video is well edited, but it was just him expressing his personal thoughts on different areas of Dark Souls and we wanted to hear it. It wasn’t some professional review. It was a commentary.

        Sorry for misinterpreting your jokes. It’s not easy to tell with you. Might be my fault.

        The 3D Zelda thing was a digression, but fun is still a funny thing. I played through TP on Hero Mode and with the Ganondorf amiibo and found it far more challenging than Dark Souls, which I admittedly did not find very difficult. Then again, I 100% Zelda games, but not Souls games. But even with your issues with the combat in mind, I binged the Zelda games and still had fun. More-so than with the Souls games. You could attribute that to me putting meaning where something’s meaningless, but meaning is subjective too. I can’t just conform to your definition of a game and expect my views and especially my fun values with games to change.

        This reminds me, you trying to get into the author’s head and determine for her what really saddened her about the loss of her character in Nethack has disturbing similarities with what many sociopaths I have seen try to convince other people of. “I cannot comprehend these emotions, therefore nobody can”. We know that these characters that we interact with and control are just characters in a video game, but we can’t be saddened by loss of progress AND because we became legitimately attached to them? I don’t care if that’s what you feel, but you can’t assume that for her. Far be it for me to call you a sociopath, I highly doubt it and I don’t know you personally, but good luck trying to convince people that their emotional investment in things like that is superficial, because that is not for you to decide.

        “I think people have all these misgivings about games that they don’t know how to voice, and they know no alternative to the games they’re familiar with, so they put up with what they have.”

        Is this your reason for why people praise games that you don’t see any reason why? Maybe people play games with different priorities. I don’t know. I can’t claim to know, because I’m not going to attempt to generalize the priorities and playstyles of every single person who plays a game. People with way too many different cerebral variables to quantify. I can give you my own experiences, though. With literally every single criticism that I have read in mind, I played through Ocarina of Time. I didn’t have any sinking feeling that this game was missing something, no need for deep combat, no sensation of longing to play something else. I play The Witcher 3. I play God of War. I play Dark Souls. I play Kingdom Hearts. I’m about to begin playing some Ys games. Aside from maybe Kingdom Hearts II, I don’t have any more fun in any of these games than in Ocarina of Time. Does that mean that their criticisms were all invalid? No, if fact, many were legitimate. The thing was was that they were non-issues to me. They were effectively nitpicks. Because I don’t play OOT for deep combat.

        Your apparent generalizations about the human experiences also seem related to your attempt to define games in a one size fits all definition. I know it cannot apply to me because I play different games for fundamentally different reasons, same with everyone I know. For better or for worse, the definition of a game is perpetually transforming. It’s being inclusive. And it’s working, because people tend to like these new games like Gone Home because the people who buy them generally seem to know what they’re getting into. Reviewing games like that all ludo-fundamentalist would be pointless. And good games by your definition are still coming out. Your whole idea about good games and good game judgement comes off to me as an advocacy for homogenization sometimes.

        Related to sociopathy, a specific ad hominem you committed was disparagingly asking somebody if they “were high” when they said that they felt a greater sense of death playing a video game than with any other medium. I think that’s attacking them directly. I’m not saying I’m offended by you, just disappointed sometimes. In fact, the two of us are kind of like you and Matthew. Used to be a big fan of your content before committing what I perceived as blunder after blunder disappointing me. Also, while you use all caps (“THEN HE SAYS HE CAN ONLY THINK OF TWO BOSSES THAT DON’T DO ANYTHING MECHANICALLY INTERESTING: BOREAL DANCER AND PONTIFF SULYVAHN
        ARE YOU SHITTING ME.” May not be long enough to be a rant, and I’ve already seen your example of what an all caps rant really is, and yes, you could be worse. I don’t think that the possibility of something being worse doesn’t invalidate it as a problem, however), it’s evident that you have access to bold, you use it to bold questions or statements provided to you by your readers. You also demonstrated access to underlined text and I assume by extension italics. I know that your message is more important than your tone, it is to me at least, I’m just saying, I’ve seen people on sites alternative to 4chan dismiss your content because you were being silly. You’re right, it’s not life or death, so be careful how you phrase things. Or don’t, I may read it anyway.

        Do you think difficulty is objective? You found Devil May Cry and Dark Souls to be “absolutely” harder than 3D Zelda in your BOTW video, and then you went to assume that the person you were speaking to in the comments section had an “innate stumbling block” with Zelda. So, you don’t believe in talent but you do believe in stumbling blocks? So, by that logic, shouldn’t talent really exist, but as a lack of stumbling blocks? I digress. Maybe. Innate stumbling blocks would render games difficulty subjective anyway, right? And people play different games with different goals, or at least I do. And then, there’s whether or not there is difficulty in acquiring knowledge rather than overcoming an event, like with the puzzles in Zelda, which I agree are easy, but I think there’s difficulty in finding all of the Heart Pieces without a guide. There’s fun in that, both on blind runs and repeat playthroughs. And can’t difficulty be determined by what people think of as a fail-state anyway, rendering them subjective? So I guess difficulty is determined by the ease of overcoming each individual obstacle presented to the player by the game, and the combined or consistent difficulty of all obstacles, but I can’t speak for everyone no matter how many numbers I use, especially not in games where the player character can be a disparity of different strengths at any point depending on the player’s actions. Yes, I find Dark Souls more difficult than most, but not all, Zeldas, but I’m not going to claim authority by my experiences, because I’m only one person.

        As for the game reviews, I’m not expecting anybody to be revolutionary or comparative, just to give their honest opinions and back them up. This is why I enjoy game reviews done by Matthew and yourself. I also like Joseph Anderson, who incidentally likes you both as well. I realize that the actual reviews are more important than the reviewers, but you’re all consistent enough to me to make that judgement. I don’t know what’s going on in mainstream game journalism because I rarely watch it. I like all your styles. But trying to paint your methods as objective qualitative assessments and trying to convince people of that is an exercise in futility, and you can blame whomever you wish for that, but it’s simply how it is. Video games have a ton of variables, and so do the humans interacting with them. I can only guess at why you hate subjectivism, but my theory, if you would forgive me trying to look into your head and assume your thoughts, is that you dislike how people use “it’s all subjective” as an excuse to take things simply as they experience it and not bothering to put any effort into fact based opinions. I understand that, but no matter how many facts one uses, qualitative analysis is subjective by nature, quality derived from objective phenomena will come in different magnitudes for each person, and commonalities don’t devalue outliers, at least not to me. People don’t come to McDonalds to eat healthy, at least, none that I have spoken to. They know what they’re getting into. Perhaps veganism would be the better choice by far, but some people’s priorities aren’t to live long, but short and (literally) sweet. That couple of sentences were a reference to an unfinished conversation that we had regarding people’s enjoyment with games (sorry about my failure to reply, I’m not logged into my social media accounts very often).

        And because of that, and I’m sorry for speaking about me and me only but I can’t claim to know or assume anybody else’s priorities, I generally don’t even watch reviews to convince me to change the way I look at things or to challenge my opinion. It never gets challenged. I always feel like I’m simply on a different wavelength. Take that however you will. I look at reviews to see the processes. To see the journeys, not the destinations. I highly doubt I’m the only one who sees things this way. But think of it this way: you play video games for the raw fun of it. Games need not have a story, and debates need not have any mind changing, but mind opening and enlightening is good. And even disregarding that, I can talk and argue for the raw fun of it, just for the sake of it. I enjoy seeing individual perspectives. But when they start assessing themselves as a superior one and decrying other perspectives because they’re not like their own when it comes to something as harmless as legitimately enjoying video games and game reviewers that don’t do anything shady (except for Matthew not uploading enough to justify his monthly Patreon income in my opinion, but even then I could be wrong) except for the fact that their ideas and styles coexist (not even supplant) your own and have some sort of danger of spreading some “dangerous” and “false” ideas of what makes games good when people legitimately enjoy them for those reasons, which by your own admission you lack understanding why and it may be something you lack (like possibly an intact amygdala, though I admit to overstepping my boundaries on that assumption) rather than them (which I don’t care what the case is because, yet again, the stuff you like still exists and isn’t being supplanted) can come across as somewhat narrow-minded. Of all the gamers I’ve read and watched and otherwise interacted with, you’re so close to being an Ubermensch. So close. You redefined the wheel, you made your own criteria, your methods are very refined. So why not let us do the same? Because we’d be wrong? If the worst that’s going to happen to people for enjoying Call of Duty or Batman Arkham Asylum is that they’re called wrong or that their tastes are shit, I think they’ll be fine.

        I’ll channel you again. You assure yourself that regardless of whatever blunders certain people may pull on the internet, they seem like nice people. Same to you. I don’t think you’re a sociopath. I think you’re highly intelligent. You seem like a nice person when you’re being casual. You have the humility to apologize even when things don’t necessarily seem to be your fault. Despite people having reason to believe that system analysis is boring in my opinion, I still enjoy your game reviews. I want to make it clear that I mean no disrespect towards you at all. And look at you. You’re becoming a popular guy. You put in the work. You’re extremely thorough.

        I feel more than a little hesitation criticizing you.

        But I don’t think you’re problems necessarily come from you being ahead of the curve. I think you received a steak when you were expecting salad, when all you requested was “food.” Both with games, and with reviews.

        That being said, I’m sorry if I fail to take you seriously when you assume what goes on inside Litchin’s head when she loses a character in Nethack.


      • Heyyy~ you’ve given longer replies on this very page. Yeah, but I am sorry about that. Got a bit carried away.


  6. Hey guys! Thanks for all of the detailed comments. I’ll start off by saying sorry for giving a nearly 6 month old reply; as can be seen by my high level of inactivity on the rest of this blog, I’ve been focusing on graduating / research / life and haven’t been able to post as much.

    I definitely owe y’all a reply though, even if you think that RDI’s was too long 😛 I’m on too many Discords already, but thanks for the invite!

    I also really appreciate you actually taking the time to reply to me, despite your friends’ advice (a la March 9th posts). Criticism is hard, but I don’t think I was too unfair or childish – please correct me if I’m wrong. I also want to improve as a writer!

    tl;dr’s are as follows. Longer write ups will be later. I didn’t bother to reply to most of your May 9th posts between you and RDI because it seemed more like a 2-person conversation and got really into technical details while I’m more interested in broad critical discussions.

    @RDI – in general, it’s really weird seeing your comments since they’re mostly a review of Chris as a critic / person and less about games (especially while he’s also commenting on the blog itself). I feel like I’ve stumbled on this weird niche celebrity space, complete with haters, haha. (although I guess I’m also a hater in this analogy)

    @Chris, Feb. 22, 2017, Paragraph 2 – Definitely happy that the discussion has been mostly civil on here! I also didn’t want to pick any fights re: terms, but given the rhethoric about video games online nowadays, it’s hard not to be defensive

    @Chris, March 7, 2017, Paragraph 3 – I also definitely wish that people would be better able to voice how they feel about games – much like they can critique the cinematography of a film. I applaud your goal in trying to get this language out to the mainstream, but I mainly disagree with shutting out narrative in expense of that goal.

    I’m also starting to realize that part of the misunderstandings between us in particular might be coming from my mostly academic + casual play background and your hardcore play + Youtube + fan forums background. My academic training definitely causes me to shrink from opinion words like “better”, “misstep”, etc. which are inherently subjective, and go more for descriptive / analyitcal language.


    • It was spur of the moment and stream of consciousness on my part that ended up escalating, and I apologize for that. I distinctly remember being incredibly tired when it all started. To clarify, I’m absolutely not a hater of Chris Wagar, if that’s what you meant. I always thought that this was always more about Chris than it was about games, however (“I’m writing this post because I’ve never met a person whose literary views I so violently disagreed with, and I find it extremely amusing, hilarious, and fascinating.”). This page was criticism on Chris’ methodology and I thought I’d add to it, however sloppily it came out. I once again apologize for contributing to making a mess of your comments section in the process, though.


    • I think the central line that divides our styles of critique is, I’m interested in games as a craft. I’m not approaching games from a media studies point of view that’s interested in neutrally describing games. I’m coming at games from the perspective of trying to figure out what is good/bad, and how to create or extend that. I come from this perspective because of my background in the arts. I went to college for Animation at the School of Visual Arts in Manhattan. A lot of the art books I read were things like Andrew Loomis, Richard Williams, Glen Vilppu. Animation has the 12 principles of animation which guide people in creating good animations. There are various principles to drawing that allow people to draw figures in perspective, accurately measure proportions, convey dimensionality, and so on. These act as the building blocks for creating everything else. Someone uploaded Richard Williams’ animator’s survival kit to youtube which is convenient.

      Game studies, like media studies, aims to be descriptive and non-judgmental, and I intend to be qualitative, because I believe that quality exists in art, that some art is better than others, and that we can identify trends in why that is the case and reproduce these things. “Better” and “Misstep” might be subjective, but if they are not applied in some way, then we are incapable of teaching people the craft.

      My brand of games critique is like the art critique I am familiar with from sites like ConceptArt.org, constructive criticism as opposed to neutral description/analysis.
      Though constructive criticism, you can see people able to improve their artwork. From an objective standpoint, when people begin figure drawing, they are incapable of replicating things they see in front of them, but through a process of critique, they’re more reliably able to replicate images in front of them, and they are able to more reliably reproduce the qualities of portraying dimensionality in their own drawings from imagination, even when stylized. Japanese anime style for example is highly abstracted from realism, but japanese art schools teach people realism which gives them the primer to be able to produce high quality anime artwork.

      I don’t see quality of artwork as being entirely subjective. I believe there are underlying patterns in art that makes it appealing to people generally. When someone presents artwork that is appealing, but contradicts the existing rules/model for what creates appealing artwork, this is an indication that there is a deeper rule that encompasses both the old work and new work; Like how Einstein disproved gravity, but only with a theory that itself encompassed the existing understanding of gravity.

      So when I say, “Better,” or, “Misstep,” I mean getting closer or further from a model that is capable of accurately describing what we deal with. It is ascribing a value to things, which introduces subjectivity, but without value, there is no point for me. I am pursuing certain outcomes that I see as more valuable than others, and I hope other people will agree with me on.

      I’m pursuing something academic, but a very different type of academic from media studies.

      Liked by 1 person

      • > I think the central line that divides our styles of critique is, I’m interested in games as a craft. I’m not approaching games from a media studies point of view that’s interested in neutrally describing games.

        I think you hit the nail on the head! (Disclaimer: I don’t know anything about art other than art history, my friends’ experience at art school and the constructive criticism I’ve seen on the Internet.)

        I definitely agree that there are certain fundamental basics that you need to master to be good at art. I think a lot about how Picasso was an award-winning classically trained artist before he started experimenting with cubism and other forms. Personally, I think that that formal basis led him to make a lot more interesting art than say, Joan Miro, who I am not super into. I also see a lot of rants online about how “kids these days” in animation don’t know how to do basic things well like a walking cycle.

        I think the main problem was that in your writing style, it seemed to telegraph “media theorist” rather than “art critic / teacher” which led me to have my reaction of engaging with your points on a neutral media studies level rather than on a craft level. For me personally, I don’t particularly care about principles of game design / making games as much as my friends do – I care more about the societal / cultural / media commentary implications of a work much more. As you say, this is defintely more of a neutral / objective perspective and ignores questions of “what makes this good on a technical level”.

        In short, totally agree with you about where the difference stems from and I’m really glad you brought this point up! (As a side note, I’m actually trying to learn how to draw on the side and I’ve previously bookmarked Loomis’ book as a guide to do so.)


  7. The longer replies:

    @Chris, Feb. 22, 2017 – Overall, I definitely agree that gameplay mechanics do shape the way that games are experienced, but I think I mainly disagree with you the extent to which they affect people’s gameplay experience. We can probably just leave it at that 🙂

    (My apologies also for not realizing that the bolded questions were actually what people sent to you because they feel extremely strawman, haha)

    Narratology vs. Ludology was definitely a debate that did happen in academic circles and actually was extremely heated. If you see the vitriol hurled at Janet Murray’s reading of Tetris as a metaphor for the American workplace in “Hamlet on the Holodeck” (ex. Markku Eskelinen’s “The Gaming Situation” (2001) – http://gamestudies.org/0101/eskelinen/) or Nick Montfort’s smarmy “Tetris Studies” label of ludology (2004 – https://grandtextauto.soe.ucsc.edu/2004/04/25/computer-games-at-ssnls-narrative-conference/), I don’t think you can claim it didn’t happen. I definitely agree with Errant Signal’s conclusion that it is a “false divide” but not his reasoning that leads him to that point.


    I guess I’m really confused that Errant Signal claims that this debate mainly happened in forums like NeoGAF or 4chan. When I think of this debate, I think of Espen Aarseth vs. Janet Murray and how Jesper Juul + Ian Bogost merged their ideas – and had never heard these terms discussed on casual fan circles. Maybe I’m just uncultured.

    I also disagree with Errant Signal’s assertion that “ludonarrative dissonance” is a concept that doesn’t make sense as well as his film analogies. This coincides pretty well with the concept of “cognitive dissonance” and also I’ve seen various film scenes that have an unexpected divergence between cinematographic editing choices and narrative structures – the contrast between the long languid violent scenes and the boring yet choppily edited scenes in Godard’s _Pierrot Le Fou_, for example (a more mainstream, but less fitting example would be A Clockwork Orange). The important thing to note is that they are not _in opposition_ with each other as Errant Signal seems to want to frame – it is that they are **creating a new effect**. Violent scenes don’t always have to be lots of cuts! A high angle shot does not always mean powerlessness! It’s how you use these editing techniques *in concert* with the narrative that create something new. Similarly, gameplay works *in concert* with the video game story to create the effect or immersion or whatever of playing a game.

    Thinking about this film metaphor, I’m curious what you would think of avant-garde films like Mothlight – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Yt3nDgnC7M8 (the removal of narrative to just look at the actual piece of film itself) or Blue – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yVX8DZ_CZXg (the removal of visual images ot solely have a narrative-ish?)


    The mishmash of academic criticism applied to games that Errant Signal refers to is definitely true. Game studies / play studies has been trying to fight for a voice in the academic world (aka. “why should I take your field seriously and give you funding”) that all “new media” has been fighting for. What this funding fight leads to is often a desire to establish this field as “new” or “different” from other forms of existing media which is why I think there is so much of a backlash between narratological readings – it seems to ignore what makes games different – while the narrativists view the ludologists of stripping away part of what makes the . However, people nowadays realize that the relationship between a narrative based reading and a ludological based one are not actually a true dichotomy – which is part of the reason we’re having this comment discussion here today! (Likewise, I think the scare quotes arround “narratology vs. ludology” that Errant Signal refers to is because of the realization of this false dichotomy, not because it’s “a debate that never happened”)

    In general, I think that all media is worth studying and I am mildly annoyed by people’s turf wars of “my field is so special and can’t be analyzed with techniques used from literature, etc.” or the pedantic discussion of definitions (“what is a game? what is a comic? what is a narrative?”). This is possibly because I’m 20-30 years removed from the initial “my field is legitimate” dicsussions and as a #millenial, video games have always been a part of my life. It’s also frustrating because this turf war attitude is still in place and makes it harder to take lessons from, say, film studies or literary criticism, and apply them to game studies.


    @Chris, March 7, 2017, Paragraph 3 (continuation) – In fact, part of academic discussions is about trying to create vocabulary for concepts that don’t exist yet – and if they are useful, they get adopted. For example, sound design in film actually wasn’t taken seriously for a while until they formed and created an academic vocabulary for it, which is now widely accepted and even has an Oscar for it. Color, on the other hand, is much less studied – the most you’ll hear is a “palette” of a film which is sort of problematic in its own way, as it applies a certain level of auteurship

    @Chris, March 7, 2017, Paragraph 8 – about why Batman: Arkham Asylum and Bioshock Infinite are so popular – I think one key factor you’re missing is that many people still view games as a product and heavy advertisement + franchise appeal is a large part of enjoyment / popularity 🙂


    • I honestly do not know the history of that debate. I took Errant Signal’s claims at face value.

      There was a picture shown in his video that described Narrativists and Ludologists. This I’m familiar with. It popped up on 4chan ages ago and probably did play a big role in polarizing people. And I know there are the more recent games studies vs formalism debates that happened only 3-4 years ago. A lot of arguments happened on places like 4chan and neogaf, though honestly not a lot of that spilled over into academic discourse as far as I’m aware. The formalists were people like Raph Koster, Tadhg Kelly, Ian Bogost, and Frank Lantz. There was a movement on 4chan briefly of people who called themselves, “Ludophiles,” standing in opposition to AAA games by championing older computer RPGs and complex strategy games primarily. The term ludologist or ludology is basically not spoken outside of academia. No results for searching it on 4chan, but I did find this thread when searching for just ludo: https://boards.fireden.net/v/thread/385105286/ (Warning, contains 4chan) and here’s the full search results: https://boards.fireden.net/v/search/text/ludo/ So this indicates that some of this stuff trickles down into the casual circles, albeit, with a really poor understanding behind it. Wow. Actually, apparently “Ludo” is being used as a weird pretentious slang term. I’m amazed I missed this development. It’s apparently a parallel to /tv/’s term Kino: https://www.reddit.com/r/OutOfTheLoop/comments/4ehbmu/what_does_the_4chan_board_tv_mean_with_the_word/ That’s funny to learn. A lot of story vs gameplay stuff did end up playing out on message boards and getting filtered into the general public consciousness.

      I agree that ludonarrative dissonance is real, I just disagree that it’s important. I view games as a field that encompasses video games, board games, gambling, word games, and sports. You could say I see games as the art of challenges. A game is a challenge or set thereof you succeed or fail at, and the structure of that challenge changes the experience of that challenge. Media studies tends to view media as a sum-of-parts holistic thing where the result is the meaning of the work, usually a narrative/story type of meaning. I think that games have their own standards for meaning/quality from other art, akin to lyricless music, cooking, or architecture. As I showed earlier, animation has its own set of standards for what comprises good animation. Music has composition theory. Visual art has color theory and its own composition theory (look up “bad tangents” for example). I’m not very familiar with the principles of architecture, but they exist as well. I’m trying to evaluate games from the perspective that they are their own craft. We have games like basketball, tennis, soccer, tetris, go, and so on that don’t have some narrative meaning to the structure of the games inherently, so I would think it’s obvious that games can be analyzed from this lens. I would think it’s obvious that games can stand alone on their own merits the way so many other artforms do, and would have their own standards for how to improve at the craft of designing them. A lot of games studies people seem to only be looking at entertainment software, and the way that entertainment software can combine games with other forms of media to create that type of narrative meaning. It’s like the fact that games are this thing that has extended back through millenia of human history and have been well regarded by people for these purposes like described in Raph Koster’s Theory of Fun, doesn’t exist in these people’s eyes. They seemingly are so obsessed with meaning and story that they don’t recognize the factors in say tetris vs candy crush, or street fighter vs marvel vs capcom, or Mario 3 vs Sonic 3, that make the games play the way they do.

      Like, I’m not claiming, “oh my field is so special.” I’m claiming, “We’ve done this before for so many other fields, why are we not doing this for games?” as someone who has come from a field (animation) that already has had this type of exploration done. Literature analysis techniques cannot be used to analyze the timing and spacing of drawings over time. Literature analysis techniques cannot be used to analyze the timing and length of notes in a song or the choice of instrument or other effects applied to the soundwaves. Literature analysis cannot be used to study the placement of walls within a house. Literature analysis cannot be used to examine the ingredients used in a dish and their method of preparation. Improvement within these art forms is specific to each art form, even if generalized patterns between art forms can be observed. I’m not claiming that games are their own special thing like no other before it, I’m claiming everything is. It’s possible to analyze the animation of a film without care for its narrative content. The quality of this animation is not something that is dependent on the quality of the narrative, or the quality of the film overall.

      I’m not involved in university academics, I’m a dude online with a blog who is only 24, so I missed the turf wars and I don’t really care about their result because it doesn’t impact me in any way. I’m saying, there are things to study here that are being neglected, of a similar nature to what has been studied in other art forms. I think there is an almost complete dichotomy between a narrative based reading and a ludological reading. I don’t think a ludological reading has any relationship whatsoever to the narrative and I think I have about as strong a case for that as claiming that there’s no relationship between the sheet music of a song and the lyrics. We have all these examples of great games with no story or actively bad stories, and all these examples of bad games with good stories, that I think the dichotomy should be fairly obvious. I care about these things because I want to see the development of better gameplay, which I think will result from being more cognizant of the elements that compose gameplay and how they can be manipulated beyond what most game designers are currently doing.

      I feel like focusing on the literature/film aspect of video games is like focusing on the presentation aspect of cooking. It’s nice, but it’s not important compared to the flavor of the food. I feel like narrative/cinematography is more important to the medium of film, and gameplay is more important to the medium of games, like note composition to music, and so on. I feel like for each of these mediums, there is a core aspect that shapes what people enjoy about those mediums more than all-else. To that end, I feel like borrowing analytical techniques from film or literature to analyze games is a waste of time. You can do it, but it’s ignoring the bulk of the actual medium. It’s myopic, focused on something that only applies to entertainment software, rather than games generally. The turf wars exist and continue to exist for a reason, because there are things that people want to be explored that are not currently being explored and game studies continues to insist on a holistic interpretation of games rather than an atomistic interpretation of individual aspects of entertainment software. It’s just another way of shutting out study of gameplay, except through the lens of what gameplay means narratively, rather than how to build compelling challenges, which is what people on my side of the fence actually want. Promoting a holistic view, where gameplay and narrative are part of an integrated whole is just another way of promoting a narrative-only view of looking at games. It still does not include study of what comprises interesting gameplay systems, interesting challenges and skill sets. It’s just looking at the narrative implications of gameplay.

      Other fields have not had a problem with building this type of knowledge set, and this type of formalist instruction is what we find in universities for these artistic fields, not just the media studies component. This type of formalist instruction does not seem to be the work of media studies however, it seems to be the pursuit of individual artists, and in the case of games, it feels a lot like media studies is doing a lot to quash the development of this type of knowledge by insisting that everyone partake of holistic, rather than atomistic, study of games.

      Sure, I can agree that making terms for concepts that don’t exist yet is important, as is introducing it to other people. I did make a glossary after all. However I’m also not saying that study of games should be limited to ultra-hardcore players who are immersed in genre-specific jargon.

      There’s a lot about color that is fairly well known. http://www.harding.edu/gclayton/color/topics/001_huevaluechroma.html

      I can see the popularity of batman, I don’t really get it for bioshock infinite. It had none of the characters or setting of the previous games, but maybe the name and vague resemblance was enough.


      • Some quick comments
        – As someone who did a bit of film studies, 4chan’s use of “kino” is hilarous to me, and it’s even more funny that it’s getting applied to “ludo”.
        – For most of the comments, we’re definitely running into the “art vs. media studies” approach problem
        * The question I proposed about “what do we know about color in film” is less about “how do we technically make color appear on the film” or “how do we sort color into HSV or RGB or hex, etc.” but a very academic one of like “let’s challenge the abstract idea of putting color into spectra / grids / palettes”. As an example, here’s one of the papers that we talked about in conjunction with the film “The Cook, The Thief, His Wife and Her Lover”. You’re really going to scoff at it, but it’s like a pretty clear indication of the differences between our two fields: https://books.google.com/books?id=EBmZrXKmARQC&lpg=PA9&ots=cRANboRJ7_&dq=Riley%2C%20%22The%20Palette%20and%20the%20Table%22&pg=PA1#v=onepage&q&f=false

        * The “oh my field is so special” point is definitely just one of media studies academic research, not an attack on you

        * I have not taken any game design classes at MIT (choosing to focus on this analytical side), but I would guess that they are actually doing the atomistic study of games that you are interested in? Take a look at this class and tell me what you think: https://ocw.mit.edu/courses/comparative-media-studies-writing/cms-611j-creating-video-games-fall-2014/this-course-at-mit/

        * I don’t think that it’s really that myopic to focus on these elements and is definitely not just focusing on games as commerical entertainment. I would actually argue that scholarly research is part of what helps us to challenge these preconceived notions. Ideas do trickle out of the ivory tower (albeit in a mangled form on 4chan), but by asking high level questions, I think a lot of good comes out of it. I also really push back on this quote ” They seemingly are so obsessed with meaning and story that they don’t recognize the factors in say tetris vs candy crush, or street fighter vs marvel vs capcom, or Mario 3 vs Sonic 3, that make the games play the way they do.” – This is definitely not the case and is basically just a retread of “narratology vs. ludology”. idk, I think on this point, we’re kinda arguing in circles so I’m content to agree to disagree.


  8. I’m glad we mostly figured it out. Being more conscious of that split will probably help me a lot in future discussions of this nature. I think this is kind of symptomatic of the recent game studies vs formalism debates that went on. I believe Tadhg Kelly published an article titled, “Can you teach game design?” lamenting how schools were forced to teach tools more than actual design, and trying to get into game design teaching became formalism which was frowned upon. I can’t find this article anymore, so it’s very possible he pulled it.

    If you’re interested in learning to draw, I wrote this pastebin with links to some resources. https://pastebin.com
    /HCx0SNTg I highly recommend Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain as an introduction to drawing in general. Also, this pastebin was written for My Little Pony fan animators. I briefly ran a course for them. the pixellovely link is dead, but you can google figure drawing and gesture drawing things online.

    I’m not certain if the curriculums are doing what I’m interested in. I suspect the NYU Game Center is, considering they have Frank Lantz at the helm, but from what I’ve heard, a lot of other game design courses. And I’ve read a number of the books they use as course material, and I don’t think they’re very substantial (though I still have 360 more books to go through). Looking at the page you linked, it’s hard to tell what they actually teach. This GDC talk was on a course about game balance that I feel is very much in line with what I’d like people to have broader public awareness of, but the talk itself remarks on how courses like this are scant, while “Serious Game” courses are very common. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tR-9oXiytsk

    Going over more narratology ludology stuff is definitely arguing in circles. I feel like methods of film analysis make a lot more sense relative to what I feel that medium is about. I’m a big fan of Every Frame a Painting. https://www.youtube.com/user/everyframeapainting I’m just not a fan of media studies or the meaning of a work or the interpretation of works in broad phase. I want to get into making games better from that chunky artistic technical perspective, and I’m kind of frustrated that few other people seem to be interested in that. I feel like there’s a lot that I’ve discovered that I haven’t seen other people remark on, and I think it’s a shame. There’s all these things that control so much about what we care about in games, and they’ve somehow fallen by the wayside in a way that they haven’t for every other artistic medium. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cWJp_H2zO2A&feature=youtu.be I think the fact that Assassin’s Creed used a paired animation system up to now and is only just now switching to hitboxes is symptomatic of something deeply troubling about our industry. All the things he describes as benefits of the switch are things that should be standardized, that developers/designers should always be thinking of.

    I read the words of people like this: https://storify.com/landonscribbles/ludocentrism-in-games and it agonizes me. The game studies community, not the academic end, but the public-access bloggers, seems really dedicated to blocking mechanical analysis and stigmatizing it. Browsing Critical-Distance is depressing. A lot of the analysis I see from people like Errant Signal and these bloggers is really post-modern in sensibility, where nothing has substance, only interpretations of meaning. Mechanics aren’t good or bad, they just create effects on the players and the players reify the mechanics they like, presupposing them as good or bad in correlation with their popularity. If you compare this: https://medium.com/@fengxii/how-to-tell-if-a-videogame-is-good-9efc319ab539 with my own essays, you can see we’ve come to very different answers. https://critpoints.wordpress.com/2017/01/23/how-do-i-determine-if-a-game-is-good-or-bad/ https://critpoints.wordpress.com/2016/10/03/my-standard-of-quality-for-games/ And honestly I completely don’t identify with this person’s answers, they’re actively depressing to me. I feel like they’ve missed the whole heart and soul of the work, and this is what I see in a lot of game studies writing. I’d be more okay with people like this existing if it didn’t seem like this is all there is. If there were more people analyzing video games like a “craft”, like the art criticism I’ve always been connected with, then it wouldn’t be so bad. Being almost alone sucks. And I know there’s a lot of people who identify with the way I see games, it just seems that none of them are critics.

    Still, good convo, I feel like we’re nearly at the end here and have said nearly everything there is to say.


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