>On Hyperbole

>This is the first paragraph from Adam Sessler’s review of Uncharted 2.

I’m not 100% certain when it happened. I think it’s when I had Nathan Drake atop a building in a war-torn Nepalese city, cornered and being fired upon by a helicopter, engaged in a fist fight with the screen slowly draining of color, snapping my enemy’s neck and quickly rolling into cover to reload my grenade launcher only to turn and fire upon the chopper one last time as I watched it crash and explode. I think this is when I realized that Uncharted 2: Among Thieves was the best single-player game I have ever played. [emphasis added]

Uncharted 2 has been getting great / fantastic / multi-orgasmic reviews pretty much across the board, and I don’t doubt that the reviews are genuine and sincere in their appreciation for a job well done. I personally have been foaming at the mouth for it ever since the E3 reveal trailer, and when I get my grubby little paws on it next week I’m never going to let it go. But as someone who uses hyperbole on a regular basis to describe even the most mundane events of his day, I’m a little suspicious when someone as high-profile as G4’s Adam Sessler says something like “this was the best single-player game I have ever played,” especially since it comes during the same paragraph that implies that he was still in the middle of playing it for the first time. (He himself defended his statement in this little follow-up video, which more or less lets him say the exact same thing.)

Again, I’m not necessarily doubting the sincerity of his statement. He may full well truly believe that Uncharted 2 is the best single-player game he’s ever played, and it may well in fact be true. But I think that saying something as completely audacious as that, without providing any sort of context (i.e., what other games has he played to compare it to) or self-reflection (i.e., will he still feel this way in a week/month/year) is maybe a little disingenuous.

It reminded me a bit of the post-release discussions of Metal Gear Solid 4; I recall one podcast/roundtable thing where people talked about the story and the gameplay and everything and one guy in particular said that everything about MGS4, straight up and down, was perfect. As soon as he said that, I immediately treated everything else he said as a lie, because willful ignorance in the face of stone cold facts just means you’re an idiot who loves something because you have to. I no longer trust your objectivity, which means your subjective opinions are irrelevant. And let me be clear – I ended up really liking MGS4, and nobody was more surprised about that than me. Hell, I even said it was one of the best games I’d ever played.

The difference, of course, is that I didn’t say it was the best. I was still in the middle of the post-conclusion adrenaline rush, and I had not yet regained equilibrium. At the end of the year, I said it was the best PS3 game I’d played in 2008, but consider what else came out:

  • Braid
  • Little Big Planet
  • Fallout 3
  • Rock Band 2
  • Left 4 Dead

Oh, and Grant Theft Auto 4, which was my 2008 GOTY by a landslide. I loved the hell out of GTA4. I tried playing it the other day, in fact, to get ready for the new DLC that’s coming out. I’d gotten stuck in a mission in the previous bit of DLC, and I wanted to try and get past it. And suddenly, my memories of how amazing it is came into direct conflict with my experience of playing it again with fresh eyes. For all of GTA4’s incredible strengths, it could sometimes get a little stupid or silly or needlessly difficult, and so it got frustrating, and I took it back out of the 360’s tray.

It’s easy for me to say that Batman: Arkham Asylum is the best single-player experience I’ve had this year. I knew that when I was playing it, and as of today it still holds true. This is because 2009 has been a pretty shitty year for games, and aside from Resident Evil 5 or The Beatles: Rock Band there hasn’t been much else that would make it into that discussion. That’s context.

When I think about the greatest games I’ve ever played, even now, I have a hard time picking one that stands out from all the rest. My criteria has changed; my TV has changed; my available time has changed. In fact, when I think about my favorite things, across all mediums, there’s really only one time that I was ever able to say “this is absolutely the best thing I’ve ever [——]”, and I wasn’t even able to say that until I’d finished it, and that’s because when I was reading Infinite Jest, during my junior year of college, when my own life was in a bit of upheaval in all sorts of directions, partly because of close friendships gone astray, partly because of girls that I cared deeply about and kept making mistakes with, partly because of non-stop pot smoking, and partly because I was contemplating giving up the acting life (and thus negating my 6-figure tuition that my parents had scraped together) in order to try and become a rock star, which I seriously entertained as a legitimate possibility – and but so in the midst of all this I started reading the book and ended up staying in my dorm room and not moving or talking and just lived with that book for an entire week, cover to cover, from the opening sentence to the very last 6pt-font-ed footnote; the sum total of all of that was a life-altering experience, and I could feel it happening as I was reading it. I had changed after reading that book.

Which is to say – when you care about something, when you spend money you don’t have in order to experience it in all its forms, and you obsess about it and you maybe start a blog in order to better organize your thoughts about it, and you end up getting a job in a field where you get paid to talk about the stuff you care so deeply about, and the job is high-profile enough that people you don’t know and will never know hear the things you say and read the things you write and take you at your word because you are now an authority, and then you experience something as part of the daily course of your job and then immediately call it the best experience you’ve ever had, without any sort of visible period of gestation and self-reflection, without providing any sort of context, and especially in this post-Gerstmann-gate era where you never quite know if there’s under-the-table payola being bandied about, you’d better fucking mean it.

One response

  1. >Enjoyable read.Forgive me for going off on a tangent here, but this is looming large in my mind right now, and in a way your piece reminded me of it. Speaking of hyperbole, did you see the altogether different kind of exaggeration in a recent ign.com/ABC News piece arguing that Metroid Prime is the (wait for it!) CITIZEN KANE of video games?! This Destructoid destruction of that argument is a must-read, IMO. http://www.destructoid.com/why-comparing-metroid-prime-to-citizen-kane-is-ludicrous-151465.phtmlHere is an actual sentence from the original argument, which I think achieves a kind of zen-like beauty in its sheer absurdity:"In the same way that Citizen Kane harnessed every technical component in film to express its post-mortem reassembly of an irrepressible and heartbroken man, Metroid Prime uses all of its technology to recreate the experience of a woman abandoned on an alien world inhabited by the ghosts of its prelapsarian inhabitants."When people go on ABC News of all places and make patently ridiculous arguments like this one, it makes me want to scream, "Dude, YOU'RE NOT HELPING!"

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