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.
[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
OMG WAY TO COMPLETELY IGNORE THE 1980s NARRATOLOGY VS. LUDOLOGY DEBATE AND AD;FA;DLKFJADF
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.
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