The Perils of Critical Thinking

This is an excerpt from a comment left on the G+ reposting of last week’s first impressions of Destiny.  (Speaking of which, updated impressions are forthcoming, but I wanted to get this out of the way first.)

Maybe I’m a shitty gamer but it seems like a lot of gamers these days have unrealistic expectations. I game under the following premise does the game make me want to game more if yes then win if no then fail. I realize people think that critical reviews have a place in pop culture. For me they take away from the simple joy that music, movies, and gaming give me.

I’ve read any number of variations on this theme over the last dozen years or so, almost always written as comments to an overhyped AAA game that got a lower-than-expected review.  The commenter wants to justify their enjoyment of a poorly-received game, and so anyone attempting to explain why that game is bad is taking away from the fun.

In the wake of GamerGate, it takes on a slightly different meaning, however – if you dare to explain why you don’t like something, you are not only wrong but you’re corrupt, you are biased, you have an agenda and you’re shoving it down people’s throats, you are part of the problem.  A game is either good or bad, and understanding why is not relevant.  You see this a lot on Twitter these days, that game journalists aren’t objective enough and therefore can’t ever be trusted.

There is a twisted anti-logic to people who get up-in-arms over negative remarks in game reviews.  Let’s remember that the general consumer public – i.e., the people who aren’t pirating ahead of a game’s release date but are instead buying new, unsealed copies – are forming opinions based on preview coverage.  This preview coverage – and any hands-on experience at events like PAX or E3 – is why any of us ever hear about the games we play.

Point being – this general consumer public hasn’t even played the game yet when the reviews finally come out, but they’re freaking out because it’s not getting the scores they expected it to receive.  (I refer, yet again, to the 20,000 comments that followed Gamespot’s 9/10 review of GTA V, because it dared to say that the game – which, again, received a 9/10 (which, in hindsight, is probably pretty generous) –  is “politically muddled and profoundly misogynistic”.  Please note that the review was posted on September 16, 2013, and the game wasn’t released until September 17, 2013.)

One can only presume that the reasoning behind this hysteria is as follows:  critics for big sites examine and point out the ways in which a game is problematic -> less people buy the game as a result -> the franchise dies and there are no more games made ever again.  Alternately, if a game like Gone Home also gets a 9/10, and critics sing its praises about having, for example, strongly written female protagonists, then those are the only games that are ever going to get made.

(Let’s conveniently ignore that GTA V famously made one capital-b Billion dollars in 3 days, and that Gone Home… didn’t.)

Destiny was the most pre-ordered game of all time and that was solely because of manufactured hype.  And I freely admit that I succumbed to the hype, too!  I bought the Digital Guardian edition of Destiny months ago, long before the reviews came out!  And I’m not even that big a Bungie/Halo fan, either!  But what I’d seen and heard of Destiny made it sound like a sure-fire, can’t-miss, awesome game – the best parts of Mass Effect, Borderlands and Halo all rolled into one.

And so when the game finally came out, I went into it with the best of intentions.  I’d spent $70, after all, and all I was expecting was that the reality would live up to the hype.  I was told of the game’s incredible ambition, and I was ready to surrender to its glory.

But the game has problems that are impossible for me to ignore.  Nor am I the only person saying so.  Now, I haven’t finished it, of course; I’m still only at level 14, only two missions into Venus, and so when my other post goes up I’ll explain that I’m starting to understand and appreciate its rhythm a bit more, and that there is a fun game buried beneath the game’s horrendously inept narrative.  But even if the shooting mechanics are solid, I still maintain that what I wanted – or, rather, what I was told I would be getting – is not at all what I have received.

My pointing this out should not affect your opinion, whether you agree with me or not.  I’m not trying to convert you; I’m trying to explain where the game is falling short for me.  Doing so helps me better understand what it is I do like; it helps me better appreciate the thing I’m experiencing.  As I grow older, and as my perspective of the world changes, I find that my tastes change and evolve.  I don’t necessarily like the same music that I did when I was 12, and some of the films I adored when I was younger don’t necessarily hold up now.  That doesn’t negate my earlier feelings; it just means I’m not that same person any more.

But you’d better believe that when I was 12 and obsessed over the stuff I was obsessed with, I’d listen and analyze and tear that stuff apart to understand why I liked it so much.  Yes, there is a simple joy to be had in not constantly thinking about a game or an album or a film; but there is also a different, complex (and arguably more rewarding) joy in deconstructing the stuff you like and discovering what it is that pleases you.  You not only better understand the thing itself, but you learn things about yourself as well.

Look – you can start your own blog if you want and explain why Destiny is the greatest game ever made.  Indeed, I’d much prefer you explain why you think so, rather than just saying I’m wrong.

One response

  1. Insightful article! And for those people who are looking for a site that specialises in objective game reviews, well… there’s actually been a site catering to your needs for two years now: objectivegamereviews.com

    You’re welcome! Perhaps now we can all get along and move on with our lives. 🙂

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