Mess Addiction

Video Games


This is more of an open question than a well-formed idea, so I’m hoping you all can help me out on this one.

A few weeks ago I read an article by Noel Murray over at the A.V. Club. His synopsis of indie rock band Pavement’s career is worth a read, but the opening paragraph is what that really struck me as insightful:

Here’s how it goes sometimes: A guy likes movies, initially because he’s attracted to story and spectacle, but after a while, he sees so many movies that he starts to get tired of the same kinds of structure and style repeated over and over. So novelty starts to take precedence over quality, and the cineaste starts grooving on such esoteric virtues as slowness and murkiness. Or consider the music buff, who often gets jaded quickly and starts tossing around words like “overproduced” and “middle-of-the-road” to describe songs they can’t abide, while championing acts that traffic in drone and distortion.

It made me wonder if the same principle applies to gaming enthusiasts. It’s fair to say that we champion games such as Killer7, Earthbound and God Hand because we’re desperate for a fresh, distinctive experience. We defend Silent Hill for having bad combat controls (it enhances the fear!) and are thrilled by Mega Man 9’s retro aesthetic. We often value creativity and ambition more than execution, quality and enjoyment (ex: S.T.A.L.K.E.R being a critical darling despite horrendous glitches and flaws.)

There’s been a lot of talk in the gaming press lately about the gap between the vocal minority present on blogs/forums and the average gamer. For instance, EA argued that, despite the online uproar, most people neither notice nor care about the DRM measures taken with Spore. Peter Molyneux specifically requested that potentially jaded reviewers include non-gamers in their appraisal of Fable 2. Furthermore, consider Leigh Alexander‘s experience:

Even when I go to GameStop, where you’d expect that most of the shoppers would be something “like us.” I end up chatting with other customers and am always disoriented — believe it or not, people shopping at GameStop usually haven’t heard of Kotaku. They haven’t heard that the game they’re in line to buy was delayed twice or is made by the wrong studio.

Then, when those people start to talk to me about what they’ve been playing lately, I’m always surprised to learn that they enjoyed, say, Kane and Lynch. They didn’t notice the problems reviewers did. They never heard of Gerstmann-Gate. They don’t know who he is, and they certainly don’t know who I am. They thought The Darkness was the best game they played last year. They like Geometry Wars but not Braid. They love Madden and don’t even know that “we” snub it.

In other words, they’re normal consumers, and their opinion is different than ours.

Are gaming enthusiasts out-of-touch with what the average gamer wants? Are we so blasé with games that we value novelty over quality? I’d love to hear your thoughts on the matter.

→ 19 CommentsTags: · 

19 Responses to “Mess Addiction”

  1. Ben Abraham Says:
    October 14th, 2008 at 5:41 am

    I haven’t really got an answer like Dan’s above, but I want to say that even I, definitely an enthusiast gamer, didn’t have a problem with Spore’s DRM on any level other than an ideological one. But just the fact that I know about it, speaks more about my ‘enthusiast status’, I suppose.

    It’s certainly an interesting idea to think about. Thanks for the post!

  2. catfishmaw Says:
    October 14th, 2008 at 4:40 am

    Quite possibly. I feel that games enthusiasts are almost completely out of touch with the average consumer, but then, the same can be said of the film industry: few critics worth listening to think that Die Hard 4.0 or Stepbrothers were good films, and yet the average consumer eats them up.

    I’m not sure that the problem is that critics overvalue novelty. Most of the video game critics I admire will concede that a game which retreads old ground, but executes it well, can be a good game. GTA IV has met with good press across the board (assuming that reactionary politics can be considered “off the board”), even from those sources which have traditionally appealed for less focus on violence in games, and this is a game in a franchise which has changed very little in the last seven years, over more than four seperate releases.

    I worry about inaccessibility, though. I recently got some of my flatmates to try Braid, and, in each case their response was either similar to that of Soulja Boy, or one of complete disinterest. Most of the people I tested the game on complained about its crap graphics, or the lack of violence. This is all very upsetting.

  3. Ptolemy Says:
    October 14th, 2008 at 7:54 am

    “Are gaming enthusiasts out-of-touch with what the average gamer wants?”

    Quite simply, I think the answer is yes. The reviewer consumes everything and has the time to compare everything. The consumer, to put it bluntly, generally has a life that interferes with that level of gaming exposure. (Don’t misread that as a snide “I have a life” comment, please, thats not how I meant it.)

  4. Daniel Purvis Says:
    October 14th, 2008 at 5:30 am

    Short answer: Yes and No.

    Longer answer that doesn’t explain anything: First, whose the “enthusiast” gamer? How many variations on “enthusiast” are there? Whose the “average” gamer? How many variations on the “average” gamer are there? How important is the interaction between both?

    I’d like to identify a variety of different “enthusiast” groups. First, you have people that read Kotaku and Joystiq religiously, might visit GameSpot and IGN and spend their time loudly voicing their opinion’s on forums and in comments threads. They’re heavily involved in games, like to pick-up on issues, like to have their say, may or may not be informed and may or may not be arrogant, motherless pieces of shit, or intelligent and thoughtful folks.

    Then, there are “other” enthusiasts, such as Leigh, “our” blogging crowd (you know who they are, they know who they are) who like to think about games at a deeper, more critical level, or are at least striving to find a discourse in which to discuss complex ideas that relate to games, how they’re developed, how they convey their message and what they mean, etc.

    That’s roughly three categories right there.

    Then, you have the “average” consumers.

    There are consumers who don’t write about games, don’t voice their opinions on public forums but still have discerning taste, visiting websites to garner as much knowledge as they can and never taking part. I’ve met them at University, at work, and at game stores. They still have a lot to say and think about games, buy games frequently, and care about how games are made, they just don’t talk about it.

    There are consumers who, as described above, are ignorant to the industry altogether, whose only connection with what’s available is via the marketing gurus, advertising campaigns, store clerks. They rely on other sources than the Internet to make informed choices.

    Not to mention parents who purchase for children.

    And of course, there are others.

    In a way, I believe that the Internet, where much of the “enthusiast” press has their connection, is rather incestuous. We feed off each other, bounce ideas around, have our strong little networks. We know the biz, know the players, know the games and we discuss them to no end.

    And, that’s important. What we’re doing is, to some degree, helping develop a strong discourse, a way of speaking about games, a way of understanding them on a different level. In addition, this discussion feeds back into the development of games. Developers have GCAP, Leipzig, other Developers Conferences where they discuss various topics in great depth, further ideas, enhance their common knowledge. I would assume in some cases, they also take on board our criticism (or at least criticism of those in more prominent positions).

    All these feeds into bettering the development of games as a whole.

    However, if you take our conversation away from our circles and people will be dumbstruck, won’t get the references, won’t know the discourse, won’t know Kotaku and probably won’t care. But that’s not important.

    The discussion that we participate in helps those who don’t go deeper into an understanding of games as the graphics improve, the sound improves, the gameplay improves, bugs are ironed, additional content is produced, as the industry matures. They don’t need to know but they’re still reaping the benefits.

    I think of our blogs, our community, our networks, and the other “enthusiasts” like I think of academia, it’s all rather self-absorbed (forgive me, Michael A), self-reflective. If you’re a University student trying to discuss complex theories, which you’ve spent time studying day in day out, piling on knowledge year after year, with someone who hasn’t studied at Uni before — heck, who hasn’t studied your same degree! (put humanities next to maths and watch the “WTF?” faces appear) — the conversation is going to be one of dead ends and confusion. Yet, despite the fact some people might think of extended study as a waste of time, it all eventually filters into something more important — at least once the student stops drinking.

    And, of course we’re going to favour new ideas. It’s what we need to drive the industry forward. Yes, people are going to continue building the same game over and over again, and guess what? It’ll sell! We might wonder how people can buy such trash but if they’re enjoying it, who the hell cares? It’s all feeding the industry so that others might drive advancements.

    That’s a brief synopsis of what I think. Might have to expand on it later, though, because I’ve got a lot to say.

  5. Denis Says:
    October 14th, 2008 at 10:24 am


    I can look back over my shoulder where my PC games lie (console ones are in the front room) and see a number of titles that were enjoyable, but for the most part meh. Do I regret their purchase? No.

    As the introduction of your post noted, every genre has this type of enthusiast, and this type of person both hinders and helps push forward the industry–we’re making demands that others may not, pointing out errors where others might not notice, and spreading the news to our friends and such who may game, but who couldn’t be bothered to follow the gaming news or blogs as frequently (if at all).

    Serendipitously, the Saul Williams song I am listening to at this very moment sums it up perfectly:
    Even if you think nothing of it, are you willing to let others think the world of it?

    So, I guess the question is whether we actually care about the games, or want to be like those music hipsters who throw back a PBR in too tight jeans, bedhead, and argue over who has the more obscure favorite band.

  6. David Says:
    October 14th, 2008 at 12:55 pm

    I’m trying to come up with the argument that Enthusiasts don’t exactly value novelty over quality, but I keep coming up with huge exceptions.

    Like jRPGs, for instance. Most of the ‘Enthusiasts’ I’ve heard talk about the FF12s and Lost Odysseys as enjoyable but lacking experiences. They’re just the same kind of formula with new bells and whistles.

    I imagine that a player has two stats, which increase as they play games. They account for the gamer’s experience in both novelty and quality. When they play a game, the variables increase in value to a new ceiling based on their experience with the game. Something like Braid would greatly increase the Novelty score. Halo 3 would probably increase the Quality score. Shadow of the Colossus would affect both of them, but would probably require a high Quality in order for the appetite to be there.

    As the stats increase, a gamer’s initial appreciation of a new game is resisted more and more. Imagine that if a new gamer were to play WoW for a week, then WAR for a week, before going back to WoW. I’d wager they would be frustrated and want to go back to the game with higher quality and more novel… everything. (Then again, I’m highly biased, so maybe that wasn’t a good example.)

    So perhaps Enthusiasts are simply gamers who have gotten to the point where their Quality stat is just too high for most games to really have a chance with. It’s much easier for them to find and appreciate a game that targets their Novelty meter. That’s not saying they can’t appreciate quality-based games, it’s just nothing particularly new to them.

    It just needs to be stated that there’s nothing wrong with people who play the games they do. Especially since it gives us Enthusiasts something to talk about.

  7. Nav Says:
    October 14th, 2008 at 12:25 pm

    Yeah, I think Dan makes some great points. There can be a difference between the hardcore gamer who plays COD4 for a couple of hours a day and the one who only is attracted to titles like Braid or Everyday Shooter. That’s not to say, of course, that you can’t like both, but that like all generalisations, they end up getting messy. But is there a rough distinction? I’d say so. As you pointed out, it exists everywhere – in film, in literature, in music etc. – and is borne out of what I think is a pretty sincere appreciation for the subtleties and complexities of a given form. An A-to-B story is great the first hundred times, but after a while, you want something to do something new.

    This distinction between an enthusiast crowd and a more general one has its upsides and downsides though, and is something I think about a lot. I sometimes feel the way I approach literature is useful and interesting because it isn’t ‘usual’ or ‘mainstream’, but at other times, it feels like a useless circle-jerk – of academics speaking in code to other academics. It stays up in the cloud, and all the potentially good points made about prejudice or artistic development get lost in a language and discourse that isn’t available to people who just don’t care enough or who don’t have the good fortune to be able to kick back and think about these things. Additionally, there’s an economic factor too – not everyone can spend a grand a year on gaming, yet for many enthusiasts, that’s just part of the territory.

    But I think your point was perhaps about how we defend innovation over quality, like how some indie rock folk love noisecore but hate a straight-ahead rock disc, no matter how good it may be. And I dunno’ about that. It happens, sure, but taken as part of a circulation of ideas, it seems like a good thing. I guess it just has to trickle down – or up, I guess – and whether or not that happens remains to be seen.

    There’s also the issue over whether mainstream/average means the same thing in gaming and other forms. Gears is certainly a mainstream game – it’s sold like 5 million copies – and, taken on purely narratalogical or symbolic terms, it’s kinda’ stupid. Big hulking man shoots at shit and lots of blood comes out, like any piece of Hollywood fluff. Playing it though, it didn’t ‘feel’ stupid. I felt like I developed a rhythm and some skill and the game mechanics seem designed to allow for that level of ‘expertise’, even though I’m definitely not a hardcore gamer. There are people who play Madden who are insanely good, displaying a level of mental facility that is really impressive and others who just play once a week because they like football and it reminds them of real football. So it seems there are divisions in titles themselves. LBP seems a good example of this, as it might be quite amorphous in terms of its appeal, catering both to those who play and those who ‘play, create, share’. Anyway, I think I’ve rambled and made no real point, but definitely something we need to think about more.

  8. Justin Keverne Says:
    October 14th, 2008 at 8:39 pm

    Despite arguably being an enthusiast I can often find myself feeling like the child from The Emperor’s New Clothes, standing at the back of the crowd shouting “But he’s naked.”

    An example would be Braid, which to me had some glaring issues in terms of basically letting the player know what the hell they should be doing. Or STALKER, which I am growing to really enjoy, but which suffers from such a badly designed interface that it has been a real strain forcing myself to keep playing until I got used to it.

    I wonder if sometimes enthusiasts feel a need to champion a game that is deemed to be “intelligent” or “novel” because they believe they should not because of any actually feelings they have about the game itself. Or vice verse, to dislike a game like Madden without even playing it simply because that’s “collected wisdom”. I find it very difficult to believe that any game is as universally good as the overwhelming majority of people have claimed of some recent industry darlings, such as Braid, or Metal Gear Solid 4, I think often the reality is much closer to what happened with Assassin’s Creed where there was a range of opinions from those who loved it to those who thought it was a tech demo. Or maybe I’m just jaded?

    Yet despite all of that I’m playing World of Goo and I can totally understand all the praise it is getting.

  9. Matthew Gallant Says:
    October 15th, 2008 at 1:53 am

    Thank you all for the thoughtful replies. I’d like to give each comment the consideration it deserves, but I’m afraid I’m neck-deep in midterms right now. I won’t be able to properly follow up on these until at least the weekend.

    Sorry for the delay.

  10. Jorge Albor Says:
    October 15th, 2008 at 2:07 am

    I’ve got to agree with Catfishmaw on this one. If we are disconnected from the “average gamer” that may be a good thing. We may praise games that a wider audience would not appreciate because of their novelty. This is likely just a way vocalize appreciation for ingenuity and innovation. Take something like Indigo Prophecy. This game had some major flaws and I don’t think its wrong to say most people would not enjoy this game. As a game enthusiast however, I can’t help but notice all the innovative storytelling ideas that I think I worthy of appreciation. I hope that by having some vocal individuals outside the “average” videogame consumer, the videogame industry will continue to feel some pressure to continue experimenting on and expanding good ideas. Even if people don’t know Kotaku, I’m sure just gaming websites have a lot of indirect influence on even casual game consumption.

  11. Brendon Dusel Says:
    October 15th, 2008 at 4:24 am

    I wouldn’t say the appeal of some of the games you mention is due entirely to novelty, enhanced or otherwise by a reckless disregard for polish.

    To the contrary, some of these critical darlings are enormously polished. The number of small touches in Earthbound and Braid (or even Viva Pinata, speaking of critical successes and commercial flops) proves that these games were not created by broad brush strokes or grainy filters, and certainly do not lack “execution, quality and enjoyment”.

    Neither is their aesthetic defined by their opposition to ‘mainstream’ games, as it is with counter-culture music. Certainly they are unique, but the music scene’s obsession with ‘rawness as authenticity’ is not the driving force behind indie or otherwise cultish games. These titles achieve their status by having enhanced character rather than amateur technique. Neither are they inaccessible, the mark of a truly bad game.

    However, they will continue to be minor players on a large field because their type of gaming is still a niche hobby, and ‘gamers’ (who immerse themselves in the community online) are a rare breed. Far more come into gaming for an analogue of some other experience than for the experience of gaming itself, whether they are replaying paintball in Halo or coaching their favorite teams in Madden. Those who’s gratification comes from the unique possibilities of the medium are, and always have been, a minority of enthusiasts, no more cynical about their preferences than ABBA fans are of theirs.

  12. Garrett Says:
    October 16th, 2008 at 1:02 pm

    Yeah, I think it’s pretty simple: most gamers don’t put nearly the amount of thought into their escapist hobby as the semi-professional / enthusiast blogger folk. They’re just looking for pure entertainment. If something is confusing or overly complicated, most gamers will move on in a heartbeat. Braid, Killer 7, Viva Pinata, etc., aren’t necessarily hard to understand, but in some way each one is more complex (be it narratively or in terms of gameplay) than even the most (or least?) well designed FPS, and thus have a higher barrier to entry.

  13. SnakeLinkSonic Says:
    October 16th, 2008 at 10:49 am

    I think Daniel Purvis made some excellent points.

    I certainly see the point you’re making, but I’m more of the mindset that appreciates exactly the opposite. I do think we need to pay more attention to novelty as of right now. The medium is far too young to demand a certain level of performance. That doesn’t mean we shouldn’t discuss things, lower our expectations, or even be less snooty asses than some of us are. Truthfully, we’re all playing a role in the shaping of the industry. I also think that you and I may have different takes on “enthusiast gamers” as well. Sure, people like us may be able to play “crappy” games and get away with some reasonable amount of value. However, in my experience, the majority of “enthusiast gamers” spend their time online feigningly perusing articles and distorting them to fit their own tastes.

    We have the beauty of the internet to create the beautiful illusion that the populous isn’t as small as it actually is. Things like the “console wars” still exist and make up what I’m willing to bet is the vast majority of grinding gamers. People like us have gone on to become the philosophers of it all. We’re not directly involved in the politics of the industry, the general masses, or even the gamer that spends hundreds on games each year. We worry about things that can be interpreted as the most complex and relevant issues; the extreme nuances of how they’re played, how they’re made, and where they’re going. Not just simply what’s good and what’s bad, or even why it’s good and why it’s bad. Our own lexicon/perception extends even beyond that. We’ve even started looking at how they’re reviewed and written about, as that’s becoming more and more of a troublesome issue in the current times. I’d certainly rather read about people like you and Leigh’s experience with say, Silent Hill: Homecoming than IGN’s bullet point list of flawed/not flawed mechanics. Those are specifically made for the “masses” of gamers caught between us and the person with no hold on the industry whatsoever. That’s the biggest chunk of gaming’s consumer base too.

    Like I stated above though, I think creativity should be even more nurtured than it is right now, because gamers and most critics are clutching to execution like a two year old and a pacifier. It’s not like we’ve seen the paragons in any genre as it is. Any category in gaming right now stands for significant improvement, and that’s disregarding the niches that compose them. I don’t like when people stomp on things because it maye not be some excellent example compared to something else in a similar category. I won’t pretend like I’m not guilty of such things either, it’s just simply what I like to hold as an ideal for myself. I think the next twenty years are going to be very interesting to watch as well, because the industry is going to have to grow in entirely new ways outside of normal boundaries being fortified right now (i.e. technology). Hell, the P.C. side of the industry is almost entirely restructuring itself at the moment to the point where the cliché saying is that it’s dead (when in fact it‘s far from it).

    I’d personally rather play an extremely flawed game from a small developer or even one person, rather than a huge team with the funds to pull off the next major blockbuster. Not so much as because I’m jaded, but because like Dan said, we’re all feeding the machine with our choices. Execution rates under novelty for me, so that’s how I buy and play my games these days. I don’t think I’m out of touch with the “average” gamer either, because I like seeing what they play and buy. If they enjoy what I acknowledge myself as a crappy game, then that much more power to them, sometimes I’ll even pay for it. I also know too many people with no grasp on the industry whatsoever, and it’s the most interesting to try and show them what games exist as now. You’d be surprised at how many people still just can’t seem to wrap their heads around a videogame not being a time wasting luxury for ten year olds.


  14. L.B. Jeffries Says:
    October 16th, 2008 at 1:43 pm

    Too many words for a relatively simple concept…Lester Bangs put it best. It isn’t novelty, our own enthusiasm, polish, advertising, or any of those things that make a music album (or game) great. It’s just passion from the artist. That’s all we’re attracted to, that passion expresses itself in all the ways people are debating. There is no set way for how one’s passion comes forth, but however it does, it is human nature for people to stop and admire it.

  15. Matthew Gallant Says:
    October 18th, 2008 at 3:53 pm

    @catfishmaw: You’ve highlighted a key distinction there. A critic/experienced gamer frames a new game within the context of every other game they’ve ever played, and only the differences stand out. For instance, critics judge Spore within the framework set up by Populous, Alpha Centauri, etc., The average consumer, on the other hand, judges Spore based purely on the experience of playing it.

    @Daniel Purvis: That’s a very positive outlook, I dig it :P I also appreciate your reply post. I too feel the pressure to be “in the know” sometimes. The one positive thing about it is that it pushes me to try games that I wouldn’t otherwise have considered.

    Also, I propose “enthusiast” gamer as replacement for “hardcore”, which has come to mean something completely different.

    @Ben: The Spore DRM is relatively benign at the moment, the problems will start popping up if you feel like re-installing the game 10 years down the road. Of course, only “enthusiast gamers” care about this sort of thing :P

    @Ptolemy: This is definitely true, and there are other dimensions to this as well. For instance, a 60 hour game is a major burden to a critic on a deadline who wants to move on to the next thing as quickly as possible.

    @Denis: Gaming hipsters? I shudder at the thought.

    @Nav: Those are some great examples, the whole idea definitely has more shades of grey than what I presented in my post.

    @David: That’s a really good metaphor. Way to put a video game idea in terms of video game stats ;)

    @Justin: There’s definitely a problem of inherited opinion within the video game criticism sphere, though it’s likely the same in all media. For what it’s worth, I’m still on the fence about World of Goo :P

    @Jorge: That’s an interesting question, I wonder how much trickle-down knowledge comes from enthusiast gaming blogs.

    @Brendon: I disagree, I think Earthbound and Braid were both very much defined in opposition to “mainstream” titles. Braid, for instance, presents a pastiche of the “the princess is in another castle” line from Super Mario. The reason the enemies in Earthbound seem strange is that they defy RPG genre conventions set by games such as Dragon Quest. The same goes for Killer7, No More Heroes, God Hand, etc.; they have subtitles that require a meta-knowledge of video games to fully appreciate.

    @SnakeSonicLink: That’s certainly a stalwart defence of our indie games, well done! I fully agree that the video game medium is far too young to be restricted by conventions and norms. When developers get out there and really push the boundaries of what video games can do, it has value even if the game is a flop.

    @Garrett: I’m not sure if it’s “barrier to entry” so much as “barrier to enjoyment.” Braid is certainly more pick-up-and-play than the average FPS, but it’s not as much fun unless you work to understand the mechanics.

    @L.B. Jeffries: That model makes sense for music, painting, sculpture, etc., but I’m not sure how it would apply to video games (or film for that matter.) Whose passion are we talking about? The character designer? The level mapper? The programmers? The testers? Each of these people had creative input in the process. I’m sure the developers of Sports Game 200X were passionate about what they did as well.

    In the mainstream video game business, innovation often seems like a happy accident that occurs when publishers are willing to take a risk. There’s too many passionate developers out there being pushed into making neutered generic titles because they’re a safer bet in terms of profit.

  16. SenatorPalpatine Says:
    October 20th, 2008 at 11:16 pm

    All these comments are very interesting, but particularly David’s and SnakeLinkSonic’s.

    To address the original question: yes. Gaming enthusiasts enjoy different games than the average gamer. Part of why is because our quality meter is more refined than the average gamer. The novelty meter though differs from gamer to gamer regardless of what kind of gamer he/she is. The enthusiast requires more quality on the quality meter to enjoy a game. Do we value novelty over quality though? It all comes down to what is fun to play. If a certain game has never before seen gameplay mechanics, but also has some important flaws, many enthusiasts will accept the flaws because they have fun playing the game. Other enthusiasts will hate the game because of it’s flaws. I’d go so far as to say that gaming enthusiasts are more likely to give innovative games a chance.

  17. John M Says:
    October 30th, 2008 at 4:09 pm

    This is actually a comment I posted on Brainy Gamer after Leigh Alexander and Mitch Krpata discussed Dead Space and Silent Hill: Homecoming on Michael Abbott’s podcast. It addresses the point of creativity vs. execution.

    I thought Leigh made a point that was overlooked. She said that a game, like Dead Space, comes out and has tight controls and tight graphics, and in the game world that happens so infrequently that people mistake it for innovation. That’s my interpretation of what she said. But I may be biased because this point was screaming out to me the entire conversation.

    I played Dead Space and it breathed new life into gaming for me. It took me a few minutes to understand why I was upset about the criticism of Dead Space in the podcast. I played it and I loved it, and I’m not a shooter fan. Like Mitch, I think Resident Evil 4 is the greatest game I’ve ever played.

    Here’s why Dead Space struck me as an amazing game and why I was upset – it plays well! I pick up the controller and I am Isaac Clarke. I am on board the USG Ishimura. If there is a story on this ship, I am ready to listen to it, because it is my story. How did they accomplish this underrated sense of immersion? Control.

    Controlling the character on the screen, I claim, is the bread and butter of gaming. More appropriately, it is the grammar of gaming. Without good control, you have a brilliant novel with no punctuation. It’s like watching Schindler’s List and seeing the boom mike on screen half the time. It’s like reading Hamlet without any periods or commas. It is basically a failure of the one aspect of your medium that defines it.

    If Silent Hill: Homecoming has terrible, sloppy controls, why isn’t it a movie? You’ve taken a great idea, and tethered the player to it in a body that is a constant distraction. It’s like trying to dance when your leg falls asleep. What’s the point?

    Case in point: Mass Effect. I played that game for one hour, I quit, and I never came back. The controls were bad. I love story. That’s why I play games. But I don’t care how good the story is, how much player choice there is, how many fancy dialogue trees you have, if I can’t get the camera to go where I want it to, I quit. If I don’t believe in the ground under my feet, and the object in my hands, then this is not my world and I’m not interested in it.

    I was really excited about Fallout 3, but since I’ve read the reviews I doubt I’ll buy it. Poor controls. I was ecstatic about Little Big Planet. Apparently the platforming is sloppy, and this makes the game extremely frustrating. It’s almost unbelievable. Super Mario Brothers came out 23 years ago on an 8-bit microprocessor. The PS3 is being daisy chained to do computations only super computers can do, and we can’t replicate Mario’s jumping on it?

    I don’t care to see more clones, but it seems like the reviewers I respect are all too eager to see innovation over quality. This seems common for anything involving technology. We want the next new thing, instead of the next thing that was crafted well.

    Posted by: John M |

  18. Matthew Gallant Says:
    November 1st, 2008 at 7:07 pm

    @SenatorPalpatine: I disagree that we’re all looking for a game that’s fun to play. “Fun” isn’t always a priority for enthusiast gamers. Is Silent Hill fun? Perhaps a little, but it’s mostly compelling and intense. Perhaps this is another important distinction.

    @John M: Tight controls are certainly vastly underappreciated when it comes to creating a sense of immersion. That being said, if you skip out on all games with sloppy controls you’ll miss some real gems.

  19. John M Says:
    November 2nd, 2008 at 8:12 pm

    @Matthew Gallant: You’re right. After I posted this I read a lot of awesome blogs, like this one, that I hadn’t been exposed to before. It’s changed my thinking, and I’m going back through some games I skipped. I figure if I take this hobby seriously, I need to put some work into it. Thanks.

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