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"Not my kind of game" or something about critical acclaim


I started noticing something about two or three years ago, when «clearly not for everyone» games started to get noticed along with many other independent games. Every time a game like Dear Esther, or some Tale of Tales’ project, or Gone Home, or any other game, which people also like to describe as «not a game» or even some silliness like «walking simulator» (that applies to QWOP much more than to Dear Esther), got released and had a lot of praise, thousands of voices everywhere shouted that the game is actually bad and shouldn’t exist in the first place. Now, games I’ve listed are a pretty easy target, which is exactly why I used them for the example, but what I wanted to discuss is a deeper problem. The fact, that lots of people seem to be drawn to playing any critically acclaimed game, expecting to love it.

«Well, if the game is critically acclaimed, it means it’s good, right?» Well, not nece— Let’s say yes, because it is true for the majority of cases. It means, that the game is good. Good at what it set out to do and what it did. Which doesn’t mean, it set out to do something you will like. Let’s take a different example, of an older and more settled genre — Starcraft 2. Metacritic shows, that at the moment, I’m writing this, Wings of Liberty (the first campaign of SC2) has the metascore of 93 and user score of 8.1. Will you love this critically acclaimed game? «If I like RTS games,» — you will probably answer. But you may not. Looking at some of the reactions for any game with high score and huge recognition you might find voices hating the game, because it’s not what they wanted it to be. And I’m wondering why this happens…

Easiest thing to do would be to just write it off as something, the industry, with «wide appeal» goals drove itself into. And it’s partially true, but it’s not the cause of the problem. Or, sorry, not the full cause of the problem. It’s something that feeds of the main problem, which is not a problem in the first place. Do you remember how when you were kids you wanted everything? Preferably cool and shiny and colorful and awesome looking. Later, you did learn what you like and what you don’t like, developed taste for different things. But even today, even if you’re not a kid anymore, if you would become interested in something new for you, something that has many different varieties and nuances and all the small things and differences, you won’t be able to just know things from the start, now would you? You wouldn’t know if you’d like banana flavored ice cream, unless you know what it might taste like by tasting similar ice cream and bananas, and even then you might not know how the mix of the two will work. And how different brands of ice cream might mix that flavour — maybe some will make it more sweet, maybe some will add a more creamy feeling to it. And with music — you never know if you’ll like, say, Falkenbach or Summoning, even if you know what Black metal is. And you probably won’t go into watching Lars von Trier’s Nymphomaniac expecting giant mechs and explosions, even if it has the similar reception as Pacific Rim.

And gaming, in its wide variety, is new for many people today. Gaming became almost as common thing, as other kinds art and entertainment. It’s everywhere and everyone is interested. And people want to try it, to learn what they like. And that’s where that other part of the problem comes into. While trying to «appeal for everyone», industry started to lose the nuances, the differences between genres. In trying to make every game «enjoyable for everyone» industry taught people, who are getting into games, that they can take any game with high enough score, and they will get it and love it. Long gone the notion, that RPGs are played for exciting stories and deep mechanics, the notion that FPS games are for those, who want almost non-stop action for those with quick reactions and good aim. And you know what? I’m all for variety, I’m all for blurring the lines, for creating more genres and subgenres. I’m all for making the start of the game easy to understand (while notnecessarily easy). And this happened and it’s cool. But what also happened is that nobody is given the chance to develop a «taste» in games. To learn, what you «get» and what you «don’t get». To fall in love with some niche. Tomb Raider, instead of being a 3D Prince of Persia, which lasts for 20 hours and focuses on exploration, jumping puzzles and inventory puzzles, is now a third person cover based shooter with RPG elements and multiplayer. Resident Evil, instead of being a survival horror (a name it invented), which can be completed in one and a half tense hours, and focusing on inventory management, exploration, light puzzles and managing resources, is a (guess what?) third person cover based shooter with RPG elements and multiplayer.

And we have a situation, where braver bigger developers and publishers are trying to still do something unlike the usual formula, smaller indie developers doing the same. And succeeding — Dark Souls is often called one of the best games ever, games like Gone Home, The Stanley Parable and Dear Esther get high praise. Because they resonate with some people. Not all the people, they’re not even aiming at doing that. No, just some people, who wanted that game. Yet, people, taught by the industry to love everything that gets praised, are playing those games just because of the score or general idea of what the game is and are unhappy. They disagree with the reviewers. «The reviewers lied. How can it be a good game, if I don’t like it? I was promised online coop in Dark Souls, why can’t I just connect with friends and talk over the voice chat? You can’t. So this game is bad. It has to be fixed. And reviewers are wrong!» Well, you get the idea.

It’s a silly thing, if you think about it. «Back in my days» (when kids didn’t get on my lawn), I missed lots of critically acclaimed games. Not because of money or platform issues, even though those were always true as well, but simply because I knew, that game is «not my kind of game» and no matter how amazing it is, I just won’t enjoy it. And I won’t like it. And it’s perfectly fine. Because, it’s not a game made for me (Drr drr). And niche games, games that can be enjoyed by select few, are also fine, as long as the players and developers are fine with it themselves, as long as it is something they set out to do. Also as long as they’re not called Daikatana and can be only enjoyed by John Romero, but that goes without saying. So, let’s all play and develop different games, develop taste and preferences and enjoy it, okay?
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About Klardenone of us since 2:37 PM on 08.09.2009