Criticism v. Reviews
October 22, 2013 6:02 AM   Subscribe

Bioshock Infinite is the worst game of the year. An essay on the sad state of videogame criticism.
posted by Riton (114 comments total) 27 users marked this as a favorite
 
After reading this essay I agree that videogame criticism is in a sad state, but likely not for the reasons the author intended.
posted by Jairus at 6:18 AM on October 22, 2013 [3 favorites]


I really want to know what this guy thinks of Borderlands 2.
posted by R. Schlock at 6:18 AM on October 22, 2013 [1 favorite]


Really gratifying to read after powering through that slogfest of a shooter, disgracefully boring compared to bioshock 2, just to see the sights & story
posted by MangyCarface at 6:20 AM on October 22, 2013 [2 favorites]


I liked this article. He's over the top and disappears up his own ass, but when all is said and done, I feel very confident saying that, for me, I've missed nothing by not wanting to play Bioshock Infinite.
posted by Legomancer at 6:20 AM on October 22, 2013


This guy gave Dear Esther a 4 out of 10, Bastion a 5? I don't think we're playing the same games.
posted by jbickers at 6:21 AM on October 22, 2013 [4 favorites]


He must move in different circles than I do if he didn't see any diversity of opinion in reviews. Yes, the major review outlets tend to rate everything either a 9 or a 10, and that's a problem, but there are plenty of other places to go for more thoughtful reviews. I saw most of the points he raised here raised elsewhere by other reviewers first.
posted by echo target at 6:22 AM on October 22, 2013


This guy gave Dear Esther a 4 out of 10, Bastion a 5

Wait, what? Never mind this guy. There's a difference between diversity of opinion and being flat-out wrong.
posted by echo target at 6:23 AM on October 22, 2013 [2 favorites]


The solution to universally laudatory reviews is not universally curmudgeonly reviews.

This is what he likes: mystery.
posted by anotherpanacea at 6:30 AM on October 22, 2013 [3 favorites]


> "Wait, what? Never mind this guy. There's a difference between diversity of opinion and being flat-out wrong."

... And hark, the soft sound of a point being missed.
posted by kyrademon at 6:32 AM on October 22, 2013 [24 favorites]


I'd give Bastion a 5. I liked what I played of it, but the game aspects were so. very. samey that I didn't bother playing more than about half of it, especially because it was foreshadowing its ending so heavily I didn't feel the need. It had features that I thought were very well done, but that hardly makes a 5 an objectively (hah, see section 11 of the article in the FPP) wrong rating.
posted by gauche at 6:33 AM on October 22, 2013 [5 favorites]


And what kryademon said.
posted by gauche at 6:34 AM on October 22, 2013


I dunno I think Conan O'Brien's Team Coco game reviews are pretty accurate with their ratings.
posted by xqwzts at 6:34 AM on October 22, 2013 [2 favorites]


Bastion was OK, anyone who didn't know what they were getting into with Bioshock Infinite (mediocre at best story segmented by same-old-same-old shooter mechanics like every other SP shooter since Half-Life) wasn't paying attention, and Dear Esther doesn't even look or sound like a game. I guess I would call it an interactive art installation.
posted by Steely-eyed Missile Man at 6:37 AM on October 22, 2013


He doesn't sound like the kind of person who enjoys playing video games. I can smell my own kind.

Indeed, he's right in inferring from BS2 that any extremist position is dangerous. And thus, this article is quite a useful demarcation.
posted by hanoixan at 6:39 AM on October 22, 2013


You have to wonder if some reviewers know any women.

Signs point to yes, definitely, but perhaps I am not a fair reviewer, having a mother and often talking to her and other women.


(Did the sideboob camera direct itself?)

To be entirely fair, based on the first two games, I am pretty sure the camera is operated by a malevolent ghost allowed by the designers to work its evil will freely. So it may have directed itself. Why the designers have not employed an exorcist is a different matter. On the other hand, I gave up on #3, so what do I know?
posted by GenjiandProust at 6:54 AM on October 22, 2013


This article was a mixed bag.

I haven't played the game, nor do I care to. To the extent that I know anything about Bioshock: Infinite, I don't have a problem with the socio-political aspects of the article. However, the comments about criticism itself are sloppy.

A game’s visuals cannot be separated into some separate category for evaluation.

Bioshock: Infinite may or may not be any good, but this is nonsense, as is the paragraph which contains it. Indeed, Thompson seems to find it useful to talk about how the polished visuals interact with the other, deficient aspects of the game, so as to create a paradoxically worse piece of work. In other words, he is, in fact, separating the game's visuals into a separate category for evaluation, so as to tie it back in with the game's other attributes, so as to more clearly talk about why he feels that the game is a failure. He might not think he is separating the visuals from the rest of the game, but he absolutely is.

If his point is really that we should not be recommending video games merely because the games look good, then that's more reasonable; but, if that was his point, then he needs a better editor.

...

The critique of the game's sexual and racial politics seems fine. There is plenty of room in the world for stories in which the rebels turn out to be just as vile as the former oppressors. However, an obvious remix of the American Civil War is, uh, not the way to make that work. I can't speak for the sideboob cam, but I'll take his word for it that it is a thing.

...

The review scale is one of the most embarrassing aspects of the videogame community. Where else is an 8 the acceptable level at which to criticize a failure as colossal as BioShock Infinite? The score that won’t cause too many waves, since anything in the 7’s is average at best, and below that: no man’s land. Where else do you see these numbers? School, that’s where. There is perhaps no clearer admission that videogames have not escaped their adolescence than grading them on a high school curve.

This part of the review is little more than a bunch of wheel-spinning. It's also self-contradictory. If ranking games out of 10 is adolescent, then why is he so insistent that they're ranking the game too highly, when he would have given it a 2/10? If anything, it sounds like he's not only reifying the numbers more than most people actually do, but that he's also adding more meaning to the numerical ranking than there actually is.

Look at his claim that the surfeit of games ranked 7/10 or higher creates a false impression that we have an embarrassment of riches. That's only true if you think that giving a game 7/10 or higher really Means Something™ other than "I enjoyed the experience of playing this game and recommend it to other people who presumably also enjoy video games." For most people, "I enjoyed playing this game" is literally equivalent to "this game is good".

And that's...fine.

If you were writing a historical survey of video games, where you were analyzing their historical importance, you would use a different metric.

If you are upset that sheltered white guys are overly willing to overlook problematic material just because the game looks good and they have fun playing it, then your issue is not with the ranking system, but rather with those white guys are who insufficiently bothered by that problematic material.

No, the real issue is that he disagrees with people who feel that the game experience was an 8/10, whatever that means. It's all well and good that he disagrees with them, and he may even be "right", but there's not much substance here.

I understand that one of his points is that it's weird to assign numerical rankings to subjective impressions, but this is not a new or deep thought. The vast majority of human beings comprehend that "I gave it a 7 out of 10" is an opinion, not an objective fact. Likewise, the vast majority of human beings comprehend that "most people gave this game a 7 out of 10" is a prevailing opinion, not an objective fact.

The high school metaphor is strained. We see numerical metrics in college, grad school, the workplace, and beyond. We also see star ratings in film reviews and criticism. It is often clunky to assign everything a number, but it makes sense with game reviews. Most people read game reviews to find out if a game will be worth their time and money. Even when a review is clearly written, it's helpful to also have a number, to provide a snapshot. (Additionally, on a website, the number also provide a means to search for games that score above a certain point.)

Funnily enough, the common habit of assigning separate numerical rankings to certain categories theoretically helps people like this author, who would be unimpressed with a visually polished game that did not feature a good story or imaginative gameplay.

...

Roger Ebert famously rolled his eyes at the star ratings required by his editors, but he knew that the editors required those star ratings, and so he made the best use of them that he could. He also knew how to give a technically polished movie a low rating, and a rougher movie a high rating. He ruthlessly docked movies for being offensive, just as he also sometimes praised problematic movies for having other good qualities, especially when they nonetheless offered an interesting point of view.

He was able to do this through his clear, crisp writing, which expressed fair and informed opinions, and which had a varied but consistent voice. He was self-aware about how artificial the star ratings were, and so he would often call attention to when he had to apply special math to these ratings. While he understood that the star ratings had value for the readers, he himself never took them too seriously.

Finally, there was only really one concrete rule about the star ratings: three stars meant a recommendation to see the movie in a theater. It meant nothing more than that. Movies were ranked relative to their peers. Edge cases were called out as edge cases.
posted by Sticherbeast at 7:22 AM on October 22, 2013 [8 favorites]


I haven't played Bioshock Infinite, but based on his opinion of some of the games I've played that he mentions, I really can't take his scores too seriously either.

That kind of plays to the point I want to make though. I want to know the history of a particular reviewer before I spend time reading their current review. A reviewer that routinely gives high marks to games I know are crap, is a reviewer I shouldn't bother following. The opposite is true of course as well. A reviewer who pans games I know are better than average is also not worth following. Ultimately, a reviewer I agree with is going to direct me to games I'm going to want to play. It'd be great if instead of a system where I get an "aggregate" score from all reviewers would instead let me score games and match me with professional reviewers with similar tastes.

Review score inflation is a huge problem though, so I guess something like that would be hard to implement. So I do at least agree with him on that point, but it's not like he's the first person to make note of it.
posted by inthe80s at 7:29 AM on October 22, 2013


This guy gave Dear Esther a 4 out of 10, Bastion a 5? I don't think we're playing the same games.

Bastion started out so well and ended REALLY well for me. 30% of the mid-content though? Completely unnecessary time sink. When they reset things halfway through, I wanted to break my keyboard to splinters in frustration.

Bioshock Infinite suffers from prolong-the-game syndrome, orphaned features (vigors), having its head up its own ass, and some fairly major plot holes. I think it could have flown solo, without the Bioshock tie-in and been a much better game. I wouldn't rate it as the worst (Aliens: Colonial Marines, Mech Warrior Online, FF:ARR for its initial clusterfuckings, etc) but its certainly not a great game.
posted by Slackermagee at 7:30 AM on October 22, 2013


I haven't played Infinite but I did brute-force my way through the original BioShock and some of the criticism here applies pretty exactly to that game as well: gameplay disconnected from the setting, stated themes shortchanged and used as window dressing (to the point where the creators seemed not to understand their own premises), meaningless interaction and even combat (the core element!), a wold which promises to feel distinctive but ends up being a corridor and occasional plaza shooter, and finally the general acclaim which game, high-budget and mediocre, ultimately received.

I mean seriously. You can't have a shooter you can mash through blindfolded, and you can't parody Randian ubermenschen by selling an ubermensch experience. (Or at least, Irrational couldn't pull it off.)

Perhaps Irrational upped their game so much in the meanwhile that those criticisms no longer apply, but I doubt it and I'm enjoying seeing my own frustrations with the original articulated against its sequel.

Still, I haven't played Infinite and I suppose I should.
posted by postcommunism at 7:32 AM on October 22, 2013 [1 favorite]


Also, I'm like the third person to say "I haven't played the game, but..." so, um, sorry about that.
posted by postcommunism at 7:33 AM on October 22, 2013


If ranking games out of 10 is adolescent,

That's not what he's arguing--he's arguing that claiming to rank games on a 1-10 scale, when people only see the numbers 7-10 for the vast majority of cases, is "adolescent" because it reminds him of high-school grading and the disappearance of the "D" and the "F". It's not the grading system so much as the inflation that bugs him. (I disagree with that, but I agree that the 7-10 grading system is problematic for entirely different reasons).
posted by flibbertigibbet at 7:36 AM on October 22, 2013 [1 favorite]


A much better critique of video game reviews.

...

I saw most of the points he raised here raised elsewhere by other reviewers first.

Yep, this.

...

> "Wait, what? Never mind this guy. There's a difference between diversity of opinion and being flat-out wrong."

... And hark, the soft sound of a point being missed.


Enh. I can't speak for those games, but it's natural to scoff at people for having seemingly off-base opinions. At the very least, if you can't rely on the critic's judgment, then it's perfectly natural to write them off. I feel pretty comfortable rolling my eyes at Armond White, even though I know that there are no truly objective opinions in film criticism.

...

Incidentally, Armond White happens to be very good at writing essays about how nobody is a real film critic anymore - except himself, of course. His ceaseless contrarianism and sanctimonious race-baiting helps cover up how his reviews are inconsistent and unilluminating.

Not that I don't have a blast reading his stuff, but it's not good criticism.
posted by Sticherbeast at 7:36 AM on October 22, 2013 [3 favorites]


Warren Spector, the designer who led the original Deus Ex project, has said on a number of occasions that he’d ideally like to make an RPG/immersive sim that took place entirely within one city block: “My ultimate dream is for someone to be foolish enough to give me the money to make what I call the One Block Role-Playing Game, where we simulate one building, one city block perfectly.” Recently he raised the idea when talking to The Guardian newspaper in the UK, when he said “I really want deep worlds that you can interact with. My ideal game would be one city block – some day I’m going to make that.”

It’s a fascinating idea: the notion that if an environment was detailed enough, with comparable interactions to a real city block, with all its people, mantelpieces, and cockroaches, then it could sustain an entire game at quite a high level. It’s also something that fires the imagination: what would the plot be? What other constraints would such a game place on the designers? Would there be a single bullet in a revolver in a drawer somewhere, which would signal the end of the game when it was fired?
Will we ever get to play "One City Block?"
posted by Iridic at 7:38 AM on October 22, 2013 [5 favorites]


Perhaps Irrational upped their game so much in the meanwhile that those criticisms no longer apply, but I doubt it

Your suspicion is correct. I've just started playing this based on all the positive reviews and it is pretty much as you describe the first one. My first thought was: "Oh, wait, this is just a first person shooter?" My second thought was: "Oh, wait, this is just a really bad first person shooter?"

Steely-eyed Missile Man is right that I should have been paying attention but I wasn't. I'm a casual gamer, it would be nice if reviews could help me out.
posted by ninebelow at 7:46 AM on October 22, 2013


Man, you just can't just toss Sonic the Hedgehog hate in there. Those are classics!
posted by zscore at 7:54 AM on October 22, 2013 [1 favorite]


For most people, "I enjoyed playing this game" is literally equivalent to "this game is good".

I think this is true of all criticism of art, not just games. This weekend we went to see "Gravity" in 3D, and it made me physically ill. It was a very, very good movie that I did not enjoy watching. Some games are like that as well. I can see why people loved "Limbo" so much, but I didn't enjoy playing it at all.

All of which is to say that I agree with Sticherbeast that clear writing about a thing is so much more valuable than a numerical ranking to a thing. I always admired Gene Siskel because at the end of one of his reviews, I could clearly tell whether I might like the movie - whether or not he did.
posted by jbickers at 7:55 AM on October 22, 2013 [2 favorites]


I think the author may have an atypical opinion of the purpose of video game reviews.

Most video games have a fairly steep cost for players in terms of time investment and/or money. Gamers read reviews primarily to answer the question "If I purchase this game, how likely is it that I will be happy to have played it?"

The author is imagining a different question, "How wrong am I to enjoy this game?"
posted by justkevin at 8:04 AM on October 22, 2013 [3 favorites]


Here is the best single criticism I've seen yet of Bioshock Infinite, bonus it came out around the same time as the game: Everything Bioshock Infinite Gets Wrong
posted by 2bucksplus at 8:07 AM on October 22, 2013 [4 favorites]


It makes me sad to think Bioshock started out as a spiritual successor to the System Shock games. System Shock 2 is still the gold standard for a deep, intelligent first-person shooter. With all their money, can't Irrational just hire the Looking Glass Studios guys to develop their gameplay mechanisms the next time around? I guess that would require them to actually care about the gameplay as more than just a shooty mcfuntimes afterthought between the (similarly shallow) exploration and story bits, though. And maybe modern gamers actually don't want something deep and sophisticated that you have to spend several hours to wrap your head around. All hail the casual, I guess (see also: the devolution of complex, strange systems from Morrowind to Skyrim.)

I bet a kickstarter for System Shock 3 would garner some serious excitement, anyway.
posted by naju at 8:12 AM on October 22, 2013


I see your "single best criticism" of Infinite, and raise you the Errant Signal review.
posted by Panjandrum at 8:14 AM on October 22, 2013 [1 favorite]


This writer's main point is just embarrassing. He seems really upset that a science-fiction story that's influenced by 19th-century American ideology mixes historical elements of American, Haitian, French, and Russian history. People who actually know how fiction works would regard that as a feature, not a bug, and would see it as childish to complain "This story starts with elements of 19th century Americana, but doesn't actually follow all the points of 19th century American history."

That's the problem with many arty video game critics; they don't know much about art.
posted by ThatFuzzyBastard at 8:17 AM on October 22, 2013 [6 favorites]


Subjective opinion lacks objectivity. Film at 11.
posted by blue_beetle at 8:26 AM on October 22, 2013


Most video games have a fairly steep cost for players in terms of time investment and/or money. Gamers read reviews primarily to answer the question "If I purchase this game, how likely is it that I will be happy to have played it?"

The author is imagining a different question, "How wrong am I to enjoy this game?"


That last line seems unfair. Video games are a multi billion dollar a year industry. They're bigger than movies, more popular than most sports. I feel like I've read about ninety-bajillion articles on the theme "can video games be art?" All of which answered "yes."

So why review them like a toy? As if the only legit criteria are is it fun, will it break easily, how long will I enjoy playing with it? There are books and movies which are difficult, which are devastating, which take you to tough places --- and which are still universally regarded as good, worthwhile. Some even excellent.

Of course, there are fun, fluffy, brainless movies too. But it seems to me like you can't have it both ways: either video games are an important genre of cultural expression, or the only criteria on which they can be judged is whether they're exhilarating to play, and you get a 50% on the test just for signing your name.
posted by Diablevert at 8:34 AM on October 22, 2013 [7 favorites]


> This writer's main point is just embarrassing. He seems really upset that a science-fiction story that's influenced by 19th-century American ideology mixes historical elements of American, Haitian, French, and Russian history.

I think that's actually an item under his main point, which point was that Infinite was a representatively bad game for the reasons he lists, and that the adulation it received was itself representative of a problem with how games are popularly appraised.

But even then, his point (this was #7 in the review) was that the game's ostensible theme, institutional and personal violence and its history/future, is bungled by the developer. He's not complaining that the sci-fi Americana gets mixed with Haitian, French and Russian history, he's complaining that what starts as "historical oppression in this sci-fi Americana bad, mkay" turns into "twist! oppressed just as bad as oppressors, kill them all."

Least that's what I read it as.
posted by postcommunism at 8:35 AM on October 22, 2013 [8 favorites]


I have played the game, and I enjoyed it immensely the first time through. It doesn't hold up during the second play-through, given that I was largely motivated to keep playing by the narrative. And I can agree with some of the criticisms, especially the tired trope of the oppressed being just as bad as the oppressor, and the strong woman character being reduced to a vending machine with boobies.

But honestly, if you want me to see you as a reasonable person, if you want me to understand your position at all, don't start by sounding like a cranky asshole. The worst game of the year? Worse than the clusterfuck that was Aliens: Colonial Marines? Worse than the Star Trek or Smurfs 2 tie-in rush jobs?

You have to pick your hyperbole, and if you want to make a nuanced argument about the game's flaws, then you can't base your criticism on the praise the game received elsewhere. Also, you immediately make me not want to read it, because I assume that you'd think I'm an idiot for liking it. And then I'm less inclined to look past my own opinion of the game and understand yours. Because you sound like a dick.

And I'm still very excited about "Burial at Sea."
posted by bibliowench at 8:42 AM on October 22, 2013 [8 favorites]


I haven't played Bioshock: Infinite, but I watched much of the plot play out on youtube. As someone who loves narrative: this is an interesting one. I don't think it fully explores the theme of oppression, but I do think it's interesting to make a story about regret in this way--it's mostly in the integration of race and historical issues that it fails. I wouldn't say they're window dressing; they're key. They're just bungled in their use, and seen from a fairly . . . well, white lens.

(Are there any video games that play out from a lens that isn't particularly dominant culturey?)

But it's still a much better narrative in a game than I've seen in years, aside from Gone Home. I won't play it, because I find video game violence (and being forced to enact video game violence) triggering, but I'm a fan of ambitious stories, and this one is, which is cool.
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 8:43 AM on October 22, 2013 [7 favorites]


I feel like I read a different piece from most of you.
posted by kyrademon at 8:46 AM on October 22, 2013 [6 favorites]


The piece was really scattershot, so it's possible. It probably should have been broken up into two different essays, one about Bioshock Infinite and the other about games journalism and review systems.
posted by naju at 8:49 AM on October 22, 2013 [1 favorite]


I feel like this is the most interesting criticism of the essay:
No, the Vox are just as cruel as the Founders because Irrational decided they would be. They wanted to show a city fall, not just the aftermath as in the original BioShock. They wanted a new set of enemies, a literal skin palette-swap, halfway through the game. They wanted to make a point about how any extreme position is dangerous. Even if that position is racial equality, fair wages, or medicine for your daughter dying in Shantytown. Infinite is a game that lets you peck a man to death with crows, but hey, let’s not get too worked up, too extreme, about suffering and social injustice.

Infinite creates a clear moral equivalence between Columbia’s oppressors and oppressed. Both Booker and Elizabeth voice versions of this ‘one no better than the other’ logic, in case you miss the point. Such false equivalencies are beloved by the lazy, the aloof, the cowardly. It’s as if the game almost realizes the absurdity of the scenario it has set up, since it doesn’t even happen in the universe you occupy the first half of the game. You have to cross over to a parallel reality to experience it. It’s like admitting: at least both sides are equivalent in some universe!
I wish the writer had unpacked this more, instead of just concluding that the game is worthless as art. Because I think the ways in which B:I aspires to be radical and fails are revealing and interesting about our culture. When we tell a story about oppression, why do we tell it through this lens--why are we placated/comforted/soothed by the idea that the oppressed are as awful as the oppressors? How would this game play out if Elizabeth were the point-of-view character, or a black man?

Again, I think this is an interesting narrative and story. I think the politics are occasionally terrible, but I also think what it tries for and achieves (and tries for and misses) makes it a fair bit better than "worst game of the year."
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 8:55 AM on October 22, 2013 [14 favorites]


Here is the best single criticism I've seen yet of Bioshock Infinite, bonus it came out around the same time as the game: Everything Bioshock Infinite Gets Wrong yt

Oh god I love Matt Lees (I see him most often on Shut Up and Sit Down, the boardgame review site), but missed this video. Thank you, it's wonderful.
posted by flibbertigibbet at 9:03 AM on October 22, 2013


Huh. I hadn't heard of Bastion until yesterday and have been waiting for it to (very slowly) download to my XBOX when I opened this. Just as a weird non-data-point.
posted by Navelgazer at 9:11 AM on October 22, 2013 [1 favorite]


This review actually is spot-on, from what I came away feeling "this is a 9 out of 10 game? Where's that game? I didn't play that game". It was a rail shooter with playschool mechanics just shy of click-to-win. At no time did I feel challenged, interested, or that I had gotten my $15 worth. And I had explicitly avoided all the spoilers, discussions, and etc just because people were saying the storyline was sooooo good you'll cry at the end. Which I didn't, because it was muddled and far too often during some important explanation it was "Booker, want some money? Catch" interrupting it.

The vigors were a waste; the only one that was useful was the fireball that you wound up using like a grenade. The possession was only good for robbing the autoshops.

The setting *was* impressive, but like this review says, only used as backdrop and historical setting. No chance to explore, find more stories, or spend more than the princely 9 hours I spent on the game, and that was with rooting through all the trashcans and opening all the locked doors and safes.

What is ultimately sad is that there was so much possibility - both with the setting and with Elizabeth's story - that were left on the table or swept to the floor.
posted by Old'n'Busted at 9:18 AM on October 22, 2013 [1 favorite]


I think what I especially liked in this essay, and in other essays about videogame reviews, is the lack of 'real' counterpoint to mainstream videogame criticism. Bioshock infinite has 94 on metacritic,

Out of 68 reviews, only 11 give it below 90, and none give it a score below 80.

Although it seems very clear that some people, in this thread, but also in real life (me, for example, tried to play it but got bored 50 minutes in) would absolutely not enjoy Bioshock Infinite at all. And that at least SOME reviewers, reflected in mainstream sites, should reflect that view.

For movies, there is a 'voice' to criticism: 'Empire' will probably not rate a decent blockbuster the same way 'the Dissolve' would, and that's fine. And I know that I can find a voice that 'fits' my tastes.

For videogames, this 'voice', who would review Bioshock Infinite negatively, who would heavily criticize some aspects of 'the Last of Us', who would laud 'Antichamber', etc... seems to be so in the margin that it is only reflected, not on any video game review websites or magazines, but as the fringe of the fringe, through dissenting articles that are sporadic and marginal.

TL; DR: there should be at least one website on metacritic which gives Bioshock Infinite less than an 80 score. It would be the one I choose to read.

I love videogames but right now it seems there isn't a smart, pertinent source of information which fits my (and, I'm sure, many others) voice.
posted by Riton at 9:23 AM on October 22, 2013 [11 favorites]


I thought this essay was really interesting and insightful, so much so that I read the entire thing aloud to my gentleman friend while he was doing the dishes. I expected there to be a diversity of opinion here in the thread -- that's one of the things I like about MeFi after all! -- but I'm surprised to be so drastically in the minority.

I'm also surprised to see so many variations on, "This dude gave a game I like a low score so he's an idiot and I don't have to listen to anything he says." One of the things he's advocating for in this essay is that we should accept that subjectivity is unavoidable and revel in a diversity of taste and opinion.
posted by Narrative Priorities at 9:25 AM on October 22, 2013 [3 favorites]


You have to pick your hyperbole, and if you want to make a nuanced argument about the game's flaws, then you can't base your criticism on the praise the game received elsewhere. Also, you immediately make me not want to read it, because I assume that you'd think I'm an idiot for liking it. And then I'm less inclined to look past my own opinion of the game and understand yours. Because you sound like a dick.


But that's so....childish. I mean, that's the kind of thing teenages say when you say you don't like One Direction. I mean, you're a grown ass person, it hurts your feelings to hear someone say they didn't like a thing you liked, and so you jam your fingers in your ears?

I mean look: phrasing it that way, I realise I'm being blunt, possibly poking a hornet's nest. There are things that are near and dear to my heart and it would probably bum me out to hear them criticized. But I think for the most part that would make a well-argued takedown of them more interesting to read, not less. I mean, if you linked me to an essay called "Misogyny, Fascism, and Frogs: Jim Henson's Dead and Should Be Forgotten" my immediate reaction would probably be that you had no soul but I'd definitely want to read it.
posted by Diablevert at 9:30 AM on October 22, 2013 [9 favorites]


I guess my feeling--as someone who writes criticism and reviews--is that it's a call for a beginning to discussion but actually doesn't get into the meat of that discussion, instead disproportionally focusing on the flaws with the reviewing community around video games. It's easy to give knee-jerk reactions to other critics ("all those assholes like this; here's why they're wrong") but far harder to craft a really interesting discussion that stands on its own and goes more than skin deep. I guess I agree with naju: "It probably should have been broken up into two different essays, one about Bioshock Infinite and the other about games journalism and review systems."
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 9:31 AM on October 22, 2013 [2 favorites]


there should be at least one website on metacritic which gives Bioshock Infinite less than an 80 score. It would be the one I choose to read.

This. It used to be that we had a ready-made account of this problem called agency- or regulatory-capture. Reviewers have one loyalty: to the big game companies that buy ads and supply advanced copies of things. They pay that loyalty back with high reviews for tentpoles.

Only an Ebert can save us: someone with a national voice who isn't beholden to anything but quality, yet still has a basic appreciation of what interests most consumers.
posted by anotherpanacea at 9:42 AM on October 22, 2013


When we tell a story about oppression, why do we tell it through this lens--why are we placated/comforted/soothed by the idea that the oppressed are as awful as the oppressors? How would this game play out if Elizabeth were the point-of-view character, or a black man?

I’ve thought about this subject a lot because I like playing narrative-driven games (such as they are).

The standard narrative for video game stories depend upon the social position of a powerful white man. Characters need to be in good physical condition to run, jump, and shoot. They have to be granted some power (plasmids, magic swords, augmentations, biotics) to give them an advantage over the common rabble. They need to logically fit into a job that usually has some martial training, where a female or a poc would stand out (police officer, soldier, space marine, warrior). They have to be able to move freely and often blend into the crowd without being noticed. We have to see their slaughter of other people as justified and not a threat to a desired order. They can kill with impunity. Their job is to be a savior, someone who people automatically turn to for help, and so everyone else is intrinsically inferior to them. Many of the items in Peggy McIntosh’s Invisible Backpack are essential to the progression of a video game story.

And they have to fit the perspective of the “average” gamer: white, male, middle class, straight. Anyone who falls into the other categories is probably used to playing the standard video game hero, but playing a black man, say, or a lesbian would require these gamers to assume an identity that is not the norm, and that operates under cultural assumptions that assume a diminished agency.

And the problem is compounded by this standard perspective, and the power it assumes, dictating the plot as well. Dragon Age and Mass Effect gave multiple character options: male and female players had almost identical storylines, could pursue romances with NPCs of both gender, and could customize their appearance to reflect other ethnicities, although the default was white. But these choices didn’t change the story to reflect female, gay, or poc experiences. The game just took the standard white-guy story and gave it another appearance.

Despite many people thinking that the voice actress for female Shepard in Mass Effect was superior to her male counterpart, 82% of ME3 players chose to play the male version, according to a Bioware survey. Yes, more and more women are playing video games, but we are in a cycle of game designers basing their characters and narratives on the “standard male player,” these games primarily appealing to the experience of “standard male player,” and then claiming that they (the designers) are only reflecting what the public wants.

But I think the problem goes further than representation. The standard story progression itself depends upon privilege. And until we find another model, one that AAA game makers feel is profitable to make, we're going to see the same stories again and again.

That being said, I play the hell out of these games.
posted by bibliowench at 9:48 AM on October 22, 2013 [20 favorites]


I enjoyed this review of BI reviews, but then I read all of Action Button's review and enjoyed it, too, so I may be a masochist for this sort of thing. I thought the most interesting bits in here were far after the numbers stuff and his initial "worst. game. ever." stuff, and I'd hope folks didn't stop reading or tune out at those.

And while I think a lot more needs said regarding game reviews on the topic of "objectivity", and how the myth of objectivity actually masks a strongly subjective and unproblematized worldview, I think Thompson buried that bit too far down for many other people to make it through and read Part 11.

Oh well! I disagree strongly strongly with some of his feelings towards other games, but I think he's hit many nails on their many heads with this review. And I reckon this sums up Elizabeth about as well as anything else I've seen: "[Elizabeth is] a companion cube in a corset [and] comes from the haircut school of character development." Ouch.
posted by barnacles at 9:51 AM on October 22, 2013


The Metacritic-centricness of this felt almost like question-begging to me, despite the fact that I substantially agree with him (and I'd third the idea that this really should have been two essays -- one for Bioshock, one for reviews in general). It is a problem that numeric scores tend to be on a 7-10 scale; it is a problem that numeric scores on Metacritic for some games are inflated; games reviews are often too uncritical.

And yet I couldn't help but be annoyed by claim that reviewers "all agree with each other," and that the problem is "all the reviews" rather than some reviews or the majority of review when mere paragraphs later he proceeds to note that "[a]fter the initial wave of laudatory reviews, posts began to appear questioning the combat, the violence, the depictions of Elizabeth and the Vox...and more appeared soon after," and that "[r]eviewers who score Infinite [an 8] see many of the same problems as [these] critics. Reading their reviews, you might think they’re describing an average-to-bad game."

Everybody agrees it's a great game, except for the reviewers that disagree, who agree with the critics who disagree. That certainly sounds like a range of opinion. He then dismisses the lower-scoring reviewers on the basis that despite noting the flaws of the game they still thought it was good and gave it an 8. In other words, he's dismissing the content of their reviews -- the words they use to talk about the game -- because of the number they assigned to the game.

That supports the idea that review numbers are flawed and incorrect, not that the reviews themselves are flawed and incorrect. It places undue weight on the numeric score as a sign of quality, both in judging these reviews and more importantly in terms of judging which reviews to judge. In other words, I think he's suffering from sampling bias: since he's starting from a position of 'let's look at scored reviews,' he necessarily ignores un-scored reviews (with only vague justification).

Ignoring un-scored reviews is problematic in a discussion of games journalism precisely because, as he himself notes, "[s]ome [people] see a solution to our reviewing woes in abandoning scores altogether." Indeed, some people do. Some of the most interesting games journalism happening these days is explicitly non-scored on in the belief any good review should say enough with words for the reader to understand it; that the score shouldn't be necessary. To absent reviews from the discussion of 'how was Bioshock Infinite viewed by critics' on the grounds of 'those reviews don't have numbers on them, and therefore weren't in Metacritic' shifts the topic from 'the problem with reviewing' to the problem with Metacritic.' And on that basis he makes some fair points -- it is absolutely absurd that there aren't any reviewers who gave it less than an 80. But conflating scores with reviews does both a disservice to reviewers (indeed, it acts as though many reviews don't exist) and commits the same error he accuses Metacritic of making -- that the numbers matter more than the words.
posted by cjelli at 9:55 AM on October 22, 2013 [3 favorites]


One of the most disappointing things about Bioshock Infinite to me wasn't metioned in his essay: the lack of choice. In the first two Bioshocks, you could choose whether to be good or evil, hero or villian; this one does not, no matter what you do, there's only the one ending. You're essentially on rails, following the plot and taking the prescripted path. I wanted to have been able to side with Vox, maybe gentle their rebellion a bit, or at least attempt to take Elizabeth to Paris. Instead nothing I do changes anything in the end. Bah.
posted by Blackanvil at 10:16 AM on October 22, 2013


I dig challenging gaming reviews to actually review the games they pretend to review. Think about how hard it is to find a good game that actually breaks new ground, either in a narrative or a game mechanic. More importantly, how frequently is the mechanic good enough that it doesn't become tiresome and tedious in its implementation?

Most reviews are all spun so positive to make sure that they get the NEXT game from the distributor that they fail to adequately review the game. Reviewers have the perverse incentive to not piss off their fans, but even more importantly - they need to not piss off the game distributor either, less that reviewer soon be reviewing Activision's Janitor Hero series for their next game cycle. More importantly, their goal is to get eyes on a page - and that means you have to tell the fans what they want to hear - that the game that they've preselected by reading a review is awesome. It is a self-defeating cycle if you are looking for true insight into a game.

It isn't enough that we review games - now we've all got to preview games... and that may mean the fluff piece showing your game-crush that you wrote during the game's pre-Alpha release now either needs to be justified or truly burned. No one ever burns their initial review.

So with this in mind, I seemingly only trust Zero Punctuation for their game reviews... and those are made just to heckle games, so you still have to wade through whether or not the reviewer is overly full of himself (which he is) more than the game actually sucks.
posted by Nanukthedog at 10:25 AM on October 22, 2013


Yesterday, I realized that for almost exactly the same price as a new console title, I could get Gone Home, Space Rangers HD, The Stanley Parable, and Papers, Please. And then I realized that I never had to play another first- or third-person shooter again if I didn't want to.

Reader, I was overcome with joy and nearly wept. I am simultaneously so sick of video games and so excited about video games. It's kind of a weird place to be.
posted by Errant at 10:36 AM on October 22, 2013 [14 favorites]


R. Schlock: "I really want to know what this guy thinks of Borderlands 2."

Depends. With or without the optional character DLC?
posted by Samizdata at 10:44 AM on October 22, 2013


My takeaway from all this? Don't invite him to a LAN party.

(I have played ALL the *Shock games to completion, and happily put my money down for Infinite. I did this BECAUSE I have played all the *Shock games, and I know I will enjoy the experience. So there's that. Also, I found The Stanley Parable a wonderful weird, Gilliamesque ecperience.)

I do, however, have a similar problem when I use IMDb. I find that I tend to drop 7's a lot on movies I rate, as I see a 5 as something like a D- letter grade and that doesn't strike me as right on a lot of movies I have seen. Nor, however, does a 10 seem right very much. Not that my ratings mean a hill of beans to anything, but I have to sit and think a long while about my ratings any more to avoid that particular plateau.
posted by Samizdata at 10:58 AM on October 22, 2013


Everybody agrees it's a great game, except for the reviewers that disagree, who agree with the critics who disagree. That certainly sounds like a range of opinion. He then dismisses the lower-scoring reviewers on the basis that despite noting the flaws of the game they still thought it was good and gave it an 8. In other words, he's dismissing the content of their reviews -- the words they use to talk about the game -- because of the number they assigned to the game.

Well, no. None of these 8/10 reviewers actually said anything that came close to how he (and I) felt about this game: beautiful, but unplayable and boring.
posted by Riton at 11:03 AM on October 22, 2013


This guy gave Dear Esther a 4 out of 10

I tried to play and enjoy Dear Esther, and between the quality of the voiceover and the difficulty maneuvering through initial portions of the world with a trackpad, I just couldn't get into it. At all. From that perspective, it felt very overhyped, and I'd agree with a 4 out of 10 rating. I'd be interested in hearing in MeMail (to avoid a derail) cogent reasons why I shouldn't have stopped after 30 minutes of trying to find my way around and listening to the guy yammer on.
posted by davejay at 11:37 AM on October 22, 2013


Well, no. None of these 8/10 reviewers actually said anything that came close to how he (and I) felt about this game: beautiful, but unplayable and boring.

That may or may not be true -- you would certainly know better than I would -- but that's not a claim I was addressing, because as the author himself states very early on it's not the complaint he's making: "The question is not: why do none of these reviews agree with me? It is: why do they all agree with each other? Where is the diversity of opinion?"

In other words, he's specifically not worried about whether about whether or not reviews agree or disagree with him; he's concerned about a perceived uniformity between other reviews. It does follow that if all other reviews agree with each other and one disagrees with him then, necessarily, no reviews agree with him, but I think he's incorrect in asserting that "all reviews agree with each other."

While it's true that there's a uniformity in scoring, the content of quite of a few of the 8/10 reviews on Metacritic do agree with him at least in part. Several call it some variation of 'boring.' They just happen to slap an 8 on the end of it and conclude that the beauty outweighs the boring-ness (a practice that I would agree is silly).

To cherry-pick some examples from the bottom-most three reviews on Metacritc currently:

Nowgamer: "Bioshock Infinite is...one of the most visually interesting games yet...but the combat will eventually begin to feel a little repetitive...Bioshock Infinite is at its best when its story unfolds...[e]verything else in between is just more of the same." Score: 80.

Videogamer: "Bioshock Infinite...is fascinating, and also boring...Your actual choices don't seem to affect proceedings that much...your enemies now wear red instead of brown, and that's about it...he combat itself also suffers from monotony via overuse...as the hours wear on the combat becomes more and more grating." Score: 80.

Gamefront: "BioShock Infinite is beautiful...[but is] hamstrung by its need to be a first-person shooter, which is arguably the worst way for it to portray what otherwise could be a deep and effective story. " Score: 80.

I wouldn't highlight any of those as great reviews, honestly (they're all kind of terrible in different ways, in my opinion) but at the same time they're more critical than the author gives them credit for, and raise some of the same concerns that he raises. Which is not, again, to say he's wrong that modern games reviewing isn't great -- it's not. It should be better, and Bioshock Infinite is an especially egregious case (for which I would blame some of the economic pressures noted by others -- reviewers dependent on ad revenue from the games they review are incentivized to give positive reviews). But the author overstates his case in claiming that there aren't a range of opinions concerning the game.
posted by cjelli at 11:51 AM on October 22, 2013


There's an awful lot of "I haven't played Infinite but..." in this thread. But we'll let that slide. In any case, Infinite is clearly game of the year.

The critique of the game's sexual and racial politics seems fine. There is plenty of room in the world for stories in which the rebels turn out to be just as vile as the former oppressors. However, an obvious remix of the American Civil War is, uh, not the way to make that work.

But there is an excellent and important reason for this happening which lots of people seem to have missed. Booker and Elizabeth keep jumping timelines, and every time they are making the situation worse by selecting a timeline which is more violent and destructive than the previous one. So the fact that the rebellion against the oppressors ends up in bloody anarchy is in some real sense the protagonists fault. It's part of what makes the story.
posted by Justinian at 12:10 PM on October 22, 2013 [7 favorites]


While he certainly comes across as... unpleasant, I find myself agreeing with him quite a bit. I thought Infinite was disappointing, pretty and candy coated maybe but still disappointing. I love Bioshock/Bioshock 2 and had high hopes for this one but he's absolutely right: it feels empty. Nothing but a set piece you move through. This is odd considering that there wasn't all that much more interaction and exploration with the environments in the first 2 games. Yet still they felt more immersive and engaging and I felt like I was exploring rather than just looking for the path to the next cut scene. In Infinite none of it meant anything. Maybe it's because the survival horror aspects were dialed back in comparison making the whole experience more grindy and less existential. Maybe the resulting heightened senses transformed the 1/2 environments into something much more engaging than Infinity managed to do.

Where I absolute disagree with him is his 7 point rating for The Last Of Us.
That game simply blew my mind. Even my wife loved it just watching me play. She doesn't care about video games and never watches me play. The Last Of Us though, she said, was like watching a movie. And that's what it felt like to me as well. Even though there wasn't all that much to do in terms of game play I felt utterly immersed and absorbed in the story and the characters. The closest experience I've ever had to what one might imagine an interactive movie to be. Gorgeous visuals, brilliant voice acting, great writing, good gameplay mechanics. I give 11 out 10 points.
posted by Hairy Lobster at 12:20 PM on October 22, 2013


From the article:

Tough criticism is an act of belief. It is sincere in its hopes for the future but clear-eyed about the present. Most videogames are disappointing, and disappointing in dependable ways. But it is possible to love individual games, to be ignited by them, and see a future worth pursuing.

See, this is his problem: He's absolutely wrong about what criticism is. Frankly, he's not a videogame reviewer. Not at heart. I mean seriously, that review? He is not a reviewer, he's a frustrated activist. He is agitating for videogames to be better (or at least what he perceives as better), to be more than what they are, and that's a fine and worthy pursuit, but you don't achieve that by being a critic, and you can't be a good critic by reviewing video games as-compared-to the starry-eyed ideal future of possible, wondrous video games that exist only in your mind.

"This game didn't break the paradigms of video gaming wide open, it didn't raise the social consciousness of gamers, and it didn't elevate the artform as a whole. Therefore: Worst game of the year, 2/10" is a bad review, no matter how true your complaints are. He's not wrong that "Does exactly what it says on the tin, looks pretty, 8/10" is also a shitty review (and is basically the industry standard) but if you're loudly damning that current state of video game reviewing, you should actually have some notion of what makes a good review a good review.
posted by mstokes650 at 12:33 PM on October 22, 2013 [7 favorites]


Ignoring un-scored reviews is problematic in a discussion of games journalism precisely because, as he himself notes, "[s]ome [people] see a solution to our reviewing woes in abandoning scores altogether."

Yes. There's something ridiculous in the combination of his plea for intelligent, independently-minded reviews and how much time he spends talking about the scores games are given, and making a point to tell us the "proper" scores for a whole bunch of games (Bastion, Dear Esther, etc.)
posted by straight at 1:07 PM on October 22, 2013 [1 favorite]


One of the most interesting parts of the review was his musings on the danger of shoe-horning games into categories, and at the same time treating the genres as clearly defined and more or less immutable. I agree that, in the case of AAA shooters, the genre seems afflicted with a deadly sameness. None of the current console shooters offers a substantial increase in fun compared with Unreal Tournament back in 2000 or whatever. So maybe a little more of a critical rethink of this game without tying it so strongly to a particularly blinkered conception of the genre would have made for a more entertaining game.

Full disclosure: Haven't played the game, did play Bioshock I and II, and very much enjoyed them.
posted by Mister_A at 1:26 PM on October 22, 2013


In any case, Infinite is clearly game of the year.

As long as "any case" means "only the case where it is currently opposite day", I guess.

You can pretend that the story is saying "okay, but the colored people are only bloodthirsty savages because Booker and his pet woman made them so WITH TIMELINES", but that's just stealing their agency and giving it to the white guy and it doesn't even help to make that story point any less disgusting. In the world of the game, in this timeline, these people made these choices and took these actions and revealed themselves to be every gross thing the Founders said they were. It's a cheap attempt to seem deep, to cry "but aren't we all the same, really?" in a show of what I'm sure the developers thought was intellect and impartiality. They thought this because they are stupid. You know what? A lot of people really are better than racist, xenophobic, ultra-nationalistic slavers!

I don't necessarily agree with TFA's assertion that it's the worst game of the year because lots of terrible games come out all the time and I bet we could find one that was worse, but it has without question the largest gulf between reviewers' claims of quality and the actual quality of the product of any game released this year. Even if you want to ignore the fact that the game's story is shallow, childish, and gross, the actual gameplay is still unimaginitive, tedious, unfun, and completely devoid of challenge. It's a lousy game in every field except for the graphics, which I must concede are very pretty.
posted by IAmUnaware at 1:29 PM on October 22, 2013 [6 favorites]


How can I invite this fellow to my next dinner party?
posted by mrnutty at 1:29 PM on October 22, 2013


I'ma go ahead and call this guy a hipster. (Jacen's Law: The more you protest popular things, seemingly just because they are popular, the more likely someone is going to label you a hipster) . He has some mostly good points about BI, and about game scores, but his utter lack of justification for the many scores he tosses out is unacceptable. He entirely fails to justify why Skyrim is bad. Or why any of the 20 ish games he listed deserve what he gave them. Or how he can lump Sonic (1991!) with Skyrim and Limbo just for using... mechanics that work, if are 'unispired'? What does he want, VR? So, I'm left with agreeing with opinions I've seen elsewhere stated more coherently and elegantly, without dude's tone that does, in fact, imply to me that if I loved Skyrim or Halo or Skyward Sword I'm just part of the problem and WHY CAN"T YOU SEE, SHEEPLE!
posted by Jacen at 1:34 PM on October 22, 2013 [3 favorites]


Anecdata: No one I know has gone back to play BI again after completing it. OTOH I know 3 people that are re-playing Dishonored (one of 'em on 3rd time through).
posted by Mister_A at 1:35 PM on October 22, 2013 [2 favorites]


Tough criticism is an act of belief. It is sincere in its hopes for the future but clear-eyed about the present. Most videogames are disappointing, and disappointing in dependable ways. But it is possible to love individual games, to be ignited by them, and see a future worth pursuing.

See, this is his problem: He's absolutely wrong about what criticism is. Frankly, he's not a videogame reviewer. Not at heart. I mean seriously, that review? He is not a reviewer, he's a frustrated activist. He is agitating for videogames to be better (or at least what he perceives as better), to be more than what they are, and that's a fine and worthy pursuit, but you don't achieve that by being a critic, and you can't be a good critic by reviewing video games as-compared-to the starry-eyed ideal future of possible, wondrous video games that exist only in your mind.


I dunno, if you swap out "game" for "movie" in the bit if him that you quoted, aren't you just describing Pauline Kael's career? There were a lot if movies that she thought were shit and she said they were shit, and some she went gaga for, and those tastes were extremely idiosyncratic --- she was famously fired for panning The Sound of Music --- but either way her passion and insight made her a compelling read, because she loved movies. It seems weird to me that you think wanting a game to be awesome, to fully explore the limits of its medium and exapand those boundaries, is somehow un-critic-like. Again I can't help but think of the "video games are art" thesis --- in what form of art criticism are critics not suposed want to have their minds blown by genius?
posted by Diablevert at 1:45 PM on October 22, 2013 [3 favorites]


While I agree with a lot of the criticisms here and in the review about the shallowness and cowardice involved in the treatment of oppression and slavery in the story, there is one point in favor of BI that I haven't read much discussion about. The game is an exploration and critique of propaganda as a whole. Whether that's nationalist conservative propaganda, or radical agit-prop. Propaganda in the game is as carefully rendered as the world it resides in, and functions to convince people, lie to people, cover up ugly truths. It's propaganda as a smoothing out of conflicting timelines and histories. That's the way that the sci-fi timeline aspect of the game merges with the oppressor/oppressed aspects. And it's a theme that functions largely independently from the conventional exposition and narrative. It gets clumsy from there and I don't think it really succeeded in what it set out to do, but I think it's one point that is overlooked often.
posted by naju at 1:45 PM on October 22, 2013 [3 favorites]


No one I know has gone back to play BI again after completing it.

I've re-played the ending a couple of times. I still don't really know what's going on, nor whether or not the game's creators honestly do.
posted by jbickers at 1:58 PM on October 22, 2013


Replayability is not an important factor in a FPS as far as I'm concerned. Different genres have different requirements. I mean, I've never replayed Half-Life 2 but that doesn't mean it wasn't an excellent game.

If a turn-based strategy game is not replayable that's a problem.
posted by Justinian at 2:05 PM on October 22, 2013


It's a lousy game in every field except for the graphics, which I must concede are very pretty.

Some people didn't like Gravity either. That's okay.
posted by Justinian at 2:06 PM on October 22, 2013 [1 favorite]


Anecdata: No one I know has gone back to play BI again after completing it. OTOH I know 3 people that are re-playing Dishonored (one of 'em on 3rd time through).

Well you do now (on Metafilter at least). Both times I loved the experience and came away thinking the game is a very flawed masterpiece. I agree with many of the criticisms in this thread -- but I thought it was a breathtaking, dazzling, compelling, and emotionally moving experience nonetheless. It worked its magic on me, what more can I say?

What I don't like about the linked article -- and where I feel it may shut down more dialogue than it perhaps intends to open -- is the tonal implication that I'm a bad (or stupid) person and should feel bad (or stupid) for having so thoroughly enjoyed the game.
posted by treepour at 2:51 PM on October 22, 2013


The most straightforward answer is that the original BioShock and System Shock 2 were shooters.

Only System Shock 2 was not a shooter, as it had extensive inventory/skills/leveling mechanics (back in 1999 before every genre started to use rpg mechanics); only one out of three classes could be played as a straight shooter and win; not to mention that the game can be completed without a single kill by using the stealth and hacking mechanics.

In any case, Infinite is clearly game of the year.


Fez (pc version) for me. Simple, charming, interesting, great music & visuals, fun.
posted by ersatz at 2:53 PM on October 22, 2013


In 10 years which do you think will be more remembered as an important and influential game, Infinite or Fez? That's one of the big criteria for Game of the Year to me.
posted by Justinian at 3:00 PM on October 22, 2013 [1 favorite]


aren't you just describing Pauline Kael's career? ...her passion and insight made her a compelling read, because she loved movies.

First off, I'm honestly not convinced that this guy loves videogames. He certainly despises videogamers (i.e., his audience) quite openly, which, though I've not read Pauline Kael exhaustively, is not a sense I've gotten from her, that she didn't respect her audience. But he also doesn't seem to like most of the mechanics of video games. To me he came across sort of like an art critic who openly admits he doesn't like oil-based paints, watercolors, landscapes, or portraits; while there's certainly room for art without those things, you still just wonder what someone like that is doing writing up a review of a painter's exhibition.

BUT, that's all kind of a minor point, more about why his review rubbed folks the wrong way than why it was actually wrong.

It seems weird to me that you think wanting a game to be awesome, to fully explore the limits of its medium and exapand those boundaries, is somehow un-critic-like. Again I can't help but think of the "video games are art" thesis --- in what form of art criticism are critics not suposed want to have their minds blown by genius?

Wanting a game to be awesome is fine, but it's more the province of the fan (or ideally, the creator!) than the critic. As a critic, you have to evaluate a work on its merits, and not against some imagined ideal. A good critic probably should and probably does dream of that work of art which will blow his or her mind, but it's that doesn't mean condemning every work of art that doesn't blow your mind as being awful. Being mindblowing is not required to be good; heck, sometimes things are mindblowing and still terrible.
posted by mstokes650 at 3:01 PM on October 22, 2013 [2 favorites]


I dunno, if you swap out "game" for "movie" in the bit if him that you quoted, aren't you just describing Pauline Kael's career?

There's Pauline Kael, and then there are the Paulettes. Pauline Kael made what she did look easy. Armond White proves that it was not.
posted by Sticherbeast at 3:05 PM on October 22, 2013 [1 favorite]


Most pointedly, Pauline Kael was all about recognizing both great art and great trash. Her praise was ecstatic; her takedowns on the other hand, tended to be more droll than anything else. She loved movies, which is why she hated them when they let her down.

Armond White, as an example of a Paulette gone wrong, seems to be more in love with his own mind and his own reputation as a contrarian. He's all too aware that people only really pay attention to him when he's condemning the Coen Brothers and showering Norbit with praise.
posted by Sticherbeast at 3:10 PM on October 22, 2013


This thread is giving me a stroke.

See, this is his problem: He's absolutely wrong about what criticism is. Frankly, he's not a videogame reviewer. Not at heart. I mean seriously, that review? He is not a reviewer, he's a frustrated activist. He is agitating for videogames to be better (or at least what he perceives as better), to be more than what they are, and that's a fine and worthy pursuit, but you don't achieve that by being a critic, and you can't be a good critic by reviewing video games as-compared-to the starry-eyed ideal future of possible, wondrous video games that exist only in your mind.

But this isn't true! Read the piece linked above, In Search of Mystery in Videogames. There are games that he likes, and I'm sure if he were writing a full-length piece about any one of the games he loved he would say plenty about why. He's not in Search of the Perfect Videogame (well, kinda), he just wants a game that really fills him with wonder, not a half-baked plot in a ~beautiful~ game world with questionable politics and a somewhat horrid reimagining of history that doesn't transcend the most milquetoast pontificating on the human condition. That's his argument. If you disagree, I'm sure you can make an argument as well.

I'ma go ahead and call this guy a hipster. ... without dude's tone that does, in fact, imply to me that if I loved Skyrim or Halo or Skyward Sword I'm just part of the problem and WHY CAN"T YOU SEE, SHEEPLE!

So he's supposed to hate the game, both for it's complacency and its politics, but not say anything bad about it? Just say, "it's not for me"? I mean, that's his exact problem with the discourse about video games-- that you can't have a perspective that says that some games are dumb. (Unless they're E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial.) Why can't you do that? Why can't you prefer an auteur feel in video game production and hate?

What I don't like about the linked article -- and where I feel it may shut down more dialogue than it perhaps intends to open -- is the tonal implication that I'm a bad (or stupid) person and should feel bad (or stupid) for having so thoroughly enjoyed the game.

He thinks the game is bad and stupid... I'm sure if he met you, he would not call you bad and stupid. But yes, people call things stupid all the time and other people who like them argue back and that is hopefully, when done well, a dialogue.

Wanting a game to be awesome is fine, but it's more the province of the fan (or ideally, the creator!) than the critic. As a critic, you have to evaluate a work on its merits, and not against some imagined ideal.


I think this is maybe not in the posted article (and only in the one on Mystery) but it's not really an imagined ideal-- there are games that he loves. And I am totally confused by the critic/fan dichotomy and find it to be the exact opposite of what I'd expect in criticism of art, and I don't get why this guy is an asshole for wanting games to be art when in the past they have in fact proven themselves to be just that!
posted by stoneandstar at 3:11 PM on October 22, 2013 [8 favorites]


I don't play games anymore to be honest, but when I did play them, his article on Mystery sums up exactly why they were such an incredible immersive experience for me. They awed me, disturbed me, left me wondering. Changed my ideas about being alive. That is the single thing I love about games and the only reason I still go back to them every once in awhile (instead of just being bored by games like GTA which I have played but which have a fundamentally different understanding of "immersive world" than I do. One that I would be inclined to criticize, though I don't really want to have that conversation here & now because I haven't played the latest one and don't want to.)

I like lighthearted fun, too-- I play Harvest Moon, The Sims, &c. I play some shitty games that are just for the hell of it. But that's not why I love games, and with prices the way they are that really would not hook me the way my beloved games have.
posted by stoneandstar at 3:15 PM on October 22, 2013 [4 favorites]


Also, everyone criticizing criticism in this thread is making me feel like a dumb, bad person... (no, they're not)
posted by stoneandstar at 3:17 PM on October 22, 2013


What I don't like about the linked article -- and where I feel it may shut down more dialogue than it perhaps intends to open -- is the tonal implication that I'm a bad (or stupid) person and should feel bad (or stupid) for having so thoroughly enjoyed the game.

No; the article's point is that some people like B:I, and some people don't (obviously some people disliked it strongly; I did). The people who don't like B:I at all, who actually can't play the game because they find it boring, are not represented at all in the reviewing community.

The point is that, in the same way that we agree to disagree in this thread, the reviewers should, too.
posted by Riton at 3:29 PM on October 22, 2013


The reason they're not represented much in the reviewing community is the same reason people who disliked Gravity aren't much represented in the film review community; the vast majority of both people and critics really liked them. Because they're both really good.

People who disliked PORTAL aren't very well represented in the video game reviewer community either.
posted by Justinian at 3:46 PM on October 22, 2013 [1 favorite]


There are games that he likes, and I'm sure if he were writing a full-length piece about any one of the games he loved he would say plenty about why. He's not in Search of the Perfect Videogame (well, kinda), he just wants a game that really fills him with wonder, not a half-baked plot in a ~beautiful~ game world with questionable politics and a somewhat horrid reimagining of history that doesn't transcend the most milquetoast pontificating on the human condition.

Exactly. One of the games that he gives a 7 to, Far Cry 2, is actually not that dissimilar from Bioshock: Infinite. It's a first-person shooter that deals with race and colonialism and is pretty dark. It even has the same inversion where the people you thought were supposed to be good turn out to be bad. It's not that he hates all games, or even all first-person shooters with vaguely political themes, he just did not enjoy Bioshock: Infinite for all the reasons he points out.

I liked the piece and thought about posting it when I saw it. I didn't agree with every single thing, but at least it gave me some things to think about, which is more than you can say about most video game reviews.
posted by Copronymus at 3:52 PM on October 22, 2013 [2 favorites]


He certainly despises videogamers (i.e., his audience) quite openly

See, that's not how he comes across to me at ALL.

There's definitely some hostility evidence by this article, but it's entirely directed at the self-declared "gamer majority" that has created an insanely hostile environment for anyone who deviates from what they've decided is the correct perspective on games and gaming culture. What he dispises, if anything, are the elements of the community that dogpile on reviewers who "under-rate" games and send rape threats to anyone who dares to talk about feminism. The behavior of that segment is pretty indefensible, it's a minority of assholes claiming to be the voice of the majority, it's an active erasure of the true diversity of gamers, and I can't blame anyone -- this particular author included -- for being a little ruthless in their dismissal of that perspective.

I can't speak for the author of the article, but if I despise that segment of the gaming community? That doesn't mean I despise GAMERS. And the fact that the two are so often equated is a huge part of the problem we're all struggling against.
posted by Narrative Priorities at 3:56 PM on October 22, 2013 [5 favorites]


Read the piece linked above, In Search of Mystery in Videogames. There are games that he likes, and I'm sure if he were writing a full-length piece about any one of the games he loved he would say plenty about why. He's not in Search of the Perfect Videogame (well, kinda), he just wants a game that really fills him with wonder, not a half-baked plot in a ~beautiful~ game world with questionable politics and a somewhat horrid reimagining of history that doesn't transcend the most milquetoast pontificating on the human condition.

That whole article about his search for mystery and wonder drove me nuts because basically I just wanted to take him aside and be like, "Look, guy, do you ever go outside? Because that thing you're looking for, that wonder and beauty, the sense of surrendering to the experience, you don't want a videogame, you want a VACATION to an actual PLACE in the REAL WORLD where you've never been before."

He sees a minecraft cave entrance on an island and contents himself with the faintest echoes of the feeling he could get from staring into a real cave. He's wondering about what's south of the starting screen in Legend of Zelda instead of wondering what's past this locked gate.

He practically says it himself, in his praise of Minecraft: Minecraft evokes world and mystery with its fullness and consistency. No false walls, all stuff between heaven and hard bottom. A profoundly material world, like ours, every single thing unearthed and shaped from raw landscape. Its unbounded scope impossible to domesticate.

I just...if that's the only thing you like about it, you know what's even more of a profoundly material world like ours, unbounded and impossible to domesticate? Our actual material world.

I don't want to sound like I'm totally blind to the differences. $60 for a videogame world may seem expensive but it's a damn sight cheaper than an actual trip to Venice or a caving expedition to Vietnam. There's a reason I've spent more hours climbing mountains in Skyrim than climbing the Alps, and it's not because I don't know climbing the Alps would be more awesome. But I also like the aspects of gaming that he doesn't - I like knowing every problem is solvable, that the world is masterable. I like unambiguous feedback and steady progression and being made to feel smart and cool. I like those things precisely because I don't necessarily get those things in the real world. If he truly doesn't like or want any of those things, then it's silly to spend time Searching For the Perfect Videogame when it already exists in that big space outside his house.
posted by mstokes650 at 4:10 PM on October 22, 2013 [1 favorite]


That whole article about his search for mystery and wonder drove me nuts because basically I just wanted to take him aside and be like, "Look, guy, do you ever go outside? Because that thing you're looking for, that wonder and beauty, the sense of surrendering to the experience, you don't want a videogame, you want a VACATION to an actual PLACE in the REAL WORLD where you've never been before."

He sees a minecraft cave entrance on an island and contents himself with the faintest echoes of the feeling he could get from staring into a real cave. He's wondering about what's south of the starting screen in Legend of Zelda instead of wondering what's past this locked gate.


That's just completely untrue in terms of what he's talking about. A vacation is a different thing. He wants a vacation into heroism, in the sense of a legend--something primal about our sense of belonging. In other articles, he talks about how videogames literalize desires; he talks about how fundamental motions (like Mario's jumping) define the experience of a game; how video games enable you to explore a fantasy world in a way that challenges your creativity and growth as a gamer and creates fluidity and possibility the way a good fantasy novel or a great film do.

These are not the things you find in a real spelunking experience. He's not saying he just likes... worlds. He likes the experiences that vast, mysterious worlds create in video games. The stewardship of desire in a world that allows more and different things than our world does. Pretty much every video gamer likes this, he just likes certain aspects more or less.

But I also like the aspects of gaming that he doesn't - I like knowing every problem is solvable, that the world is masterable. I like unambiguous feedback and steady progression and being made to feel smart and cool. I like those things precisely because I don't necessarily get those things in the real world. If he truly doesn't like or want any of those things, then it's silly to spend time Searching For the Perfect Videogame when it already exists in that big space outside his house.

Again, I don't think he's Searching for the Perfect Videogame-- he's searching for mystery, new logics and new worlds that are thrilling to explore. These already exist; he's excited for there to be more. I don't understand why there would be a reduction here to a dichotomy between masterability/"feeling smart and cool" and the real, unconquerable world, why there can't be something satisfyingly cerebral and involving in between. Something that challenges you to step up as the hero of your game and explore, conquer, learn about it, make mistakes and try again, experience real failure, &c. A hero's quest. Something really worth mulling over, that grabs you and involves you in a way only video games can. Is it bad for video games to be art? To be legendary?

I don't know if you're getting the rush of swordfighting a mob of challengers in waves of fluid, satisfying, honed combat with real stakes and real risk when you step outside into the "real world," but most people don't, and that's why they read (certain) books and watch movies and especially play video games.
posted by stoneandstar at 4:41 PM on October 22, 2013 [2 favorites]


I've been an avid gamer since the age of 6 (early days of monochrome screens) and play widely across the major genres (FPS, RTS, RPG, MOBA, MMO) and I have to agree with this guy - Bioshock Infinite was a pretty disappointing effort, and the shocking thing about it is that none of the major reviewers online called them out on it.

The absolute worst thing about it for me was the conceit of the game: they tried to create a compelling, realistic world, and then shove endless gunfight sequences down your throat. It's absolutely INCOMPATIBLE with the narrative that Booker DeWitt would gun down approximately 2000 people over the course of the game. Try to imagine a movie like Star Wars, or Hunger Games, or Harry Potter, where Luke Skywalker / Katniss / Harry Potter has to kill 2000 people over the course of the movies one by one with their lightsabres / bow / magic wand, and not only that, this killing occupies 80% of the screen time. I think most movie reviewers would mark those films down pretty heavily for that.

And so people might argue that ok fine it's not a story / narrative / world building game, it's a shooter. But it's a terrible shooter as well! As the author mentioned, the gunplay is awful.

So it's got bad story telling and bad shooter elements, so where does it succeed? And this game got the highest rating this year?
posted by xdvesper at 5:05 PM on October 22, 2013 [3 favorites]


That's just completely untrue in terms of what he's talking about. A vacation is a different thing. He wants a vacation into heroism, in the sense of a legend--something primal about our sense of belonging.

I don't know if you're getting the rush of swordfighting a mob of challengers in waves of fluid, satisfying, practiced combat when you step outside into the "real world," but most people don't, and that's why they read (certain) books and watch movies and especially play video games.


That might be true, but it really doesn't come across in either of the two articles of his I've read. (For me at least, there's some [significant] overlap between letting me swordfight a mob of challengers in fluid satisfying practiced combat, and letting me feel "cool and smart". Also my parole officer told me to stop doing it IRL, something about really really long respawn times?) Nor does it seem reflected in his tossed-out scores on several videogames I too have played. He gives Minecraft a 10 and I've never especially felt like I was vacationing into legend there; Skyrim OTOH gets a 4 and there I've slain an enormous dragon even as soldiers burned and died all around me and I was blinded by dragonfire (which, sure, it gets less legendary the 300th time, but that first time - even the first few - it was magic).

Perhaps he's just a man of shifting goalposts - in one article, searching for the mystery and wonder of the real world, in another searching for that transcendent, revolutionary paradigm-destroying game that does things he'd never imagined, and in another searching for a game to let him feel like part of a legend. I still feel like they're all perfectly reasonable things to look for in a game and perfectly unreasonable things to condemn a game for not doing.
posted by mstokes650 at 5:17 PM on October 22, 2013


Ugh, that is a buttload of words to basically say that major league game reviews are often terrible, Metacritic is a blight on the industry, and aggressive fan boys (and girls) are literally the worst.

I don't disagree with any of that, but I find this article to be way too long and way too self-important, particularly as he's not really saying anything new. I mean TotalBiscuit did a pretty fine takedown of Metacritic on his YouTube channel back in January. Fanpeople being ridiculous about reviews has already been a hot topic lately in the aftermath of Carolyn Petit's GTAV review.

And as for a true critical analysis of Bioshock.. heck, I am one of the wee-est of wee fish in the game media pond and even I spent a great deal of time back when the game came out talking about both the uncomfortable way the Vox were presented and whether the crappy cover shooter mechanics brought down the content. I didn't come up with those points of view myself (sadly) -- they were ideas already floating around the game community.

So yeah, I agree with a lot of what this guy has written but the way he's chosen to present it just sets my teeth on edge.

(Also, tangentally, I really liked Bioshock because Elizabeth was neat and the ending was sweet and sad.)
posted by jess at 5:23 PM on October 22, 2013 [1 favorite]


In 10 years which do you think will be more remembered as an important and influential game, Infinite or Fez? That's one of the big criteria for Game of the Year to me.

I wasn't hyped for Fez yet I couldn't put it down until completion (to be fair, despite the kinda rubbish ending) whereas all my enthusiasm for Infinite deflated when I saw it playing. None of us can predict the future, but between its long development cycle, its impact on XBLA, Indie Game: The Movie and being one of the best examples of a small team delivering a polished product, I'd say Fez is pretty influential already. Why would you say B: Infinite is important?
posted by ersatz at 5:47 PM on October 22, 2013


The atmospheric use of music and (to a lesser extent) visuals both to set the tone and further the story is unparalleled. Elizabeth's companion mechanic is the first that doesn't make you want to stab yourself in the face with a spork. I actually cared about Elizabeth unlike, say, Alyx who I wanted to die painfully in a fluke gravity gun accident. The narrative aims much higher than virtually any past shooter even if its reach sometimes exceeds its grasp. (Better to aim high imperfectly than the reverse, isn't it?) And, lastly, it packs an emotional punch that is, again, unrivaled in the FPS genre.
posted by Justinian at 5:59 PM on October 22, 2013


(For me at least, there's some [significant] overlap between letting me swordfight a mob of challengers in fluid satisfying practiced combat, and letting me feel "cool and smart".)

Yeah, of course. He just says he wants to actually earn it, and for movement to be an important part of the game mechanics, instead of something incidental. He wants gameplay to be good (this is obvious but often ignored in reviews of games like BI) and he wants it to be hard. He doesn't want it handed to the player, which is where you might feel cool and smart but not actually have a sense that you've worked for it or grown as a player, where it hasn't really wormed its way into you because you're on autopilot and just pressing buttons in sequence and playing to take a load off. (Nothing wrong with that but it certainly doesn't make anything "great" in these terms.) He wants things to actually matter--for victories to be real victories of the player that take time and some brooding.

Perhaps he's just a man of shifting goalposts - in one article, searching for the mystery and wonder of the real world, in another searching for that transcendent, revolutionary paradigm-destroying game that does things he'd never imagined, and in another searching for a game to let him feel like part of a legend.

I don't think those are shifting goalposts, though, I think that's just... taste. That's what criticism is about. I would much rather read this guy's game criticism than most other coverage I've read, and not because I agree with him 100% (because I don't) or because I need his x/10 rating to inform my purchases but because his perspective is interesting, he's taught me things in these two articles about my own tastes that I hadn't articulated before, and he cares deeply about the medium. Cool. That's the difference between criticism and reviewing IMO.

Mystery and wonder; a game outgrowing its genre and transcending/revolutionizing a paradigm in a new, unpredictable way; and feeling vital like a legend-- those all seem like pretty allied goalposts, actually, IMO. Minecraft may not be legendary in the sense of dragons and fire (which are pretty incidental to what we're actually talking about here, which is a sense of the player risking, failing, facing consequences and growing), but it has a sense of discovery and wonder that to me really illuminates the feeling of being a lone explorer, in games and in life. I'm not sure why not understanding or duplicating his perspective means he's being unfair. He's discussing video games because he wants to engage, I'm sure-- not because he wants to come up with a list of five basic criteria every game must fulfill and then dispense points accordingly. Some people really do just want to talk about what thrills them.

This was illuminating to me about his viewpoint on this issue:

"Reviewers speak about videogames genres as if they’re well-established categories. They are not. They are in constant flux, and any supposed convention is up for debate. In practice, genres are either marketing labels or convenient shorthand for writers who do not know how to describe their videogame experiences. They keep our expectations in check and our criticisms either in a comparative/historical mode or at the level of the nitpick. We do not ask why we’re here, what it’s all about. We narrow and focus on surfaces, features, the presumed genre facts, not our experiences of them. It’s not even that thinking in genre terms can’t ever be useful. It’s that in videogameland, we don’t know the difference between a genre and a rut."

I have to agree. I love the Zelda franchise but he's right that the games are in a rut, and we only compare them to each other, and thus they never transcend their essential mistakes and we never ask them to because they now define a certain genre we're loyal to. I wish to hell that universe would open up in a new and delightful way, because I love it, but it's been going downhill for awhile.

People here seem kind of mad that he wants to do close readings/close playings of video games, and if you really hate that you're entitled, but accusing him of not really liking video games or caring about them or making any sense is kind of weird when he's spent this type of careful thought and contemplation in writing about them. I agree that the piece above is not a linear argument but why would that be better in this context? It might be easier to "win" the argument that way with a list of rebuttals, but not as much fun to engage with, in my opinion.
posted by stoneandstar at 6:59 PM on October 22, 2013 [2 favorites]


(Is the video game community really trying to weed out its nerds, here? Oh, sweet video games, you know not what you do... )
posted by stoneandstar at 7:01 PM on October 22, 2013


Just to indulge in a little derail re Fez, it's exactly an example of mystery you don't see often in games. I'm not sure it's exactly the kind of mystery discussed in the previously-linked article on mystery (I haven't finished it yet -- Fez or the article on mystery), but it might be close.

Fez has all the usual sort of obvious "this is a puzzle" and "press B here" moments (which can be relaxing and meditative in their own right), but the rare kind of mystery is in this sort of overarching "world mystery" aspect the game has.

It drops you in this strange and unknown world for you to discover and explore. That's where most games would leave it, but Fez has this whole other layer of hidden secrets and clues left throughout the world without comment or focus for you to notice (or not) to tease you into trying to piece together some understanding of the nature of this mysterious world and its inhabitants.

But since it's a game, there's this nice built-in mechanism for communicating back to you how well you actually do understand. Feedback! You know when your theory is right when you hear that familiar secret discovered audio cue and the hidden door slowly opens, or the secret MacGuffin rises from the ground.

It's all sort of Myst like. Which I just realized now could be short for Mystery.
posted by Flaffigan at 8:06 PM on October 22, 2013 [3 favorites]


July 2, 1996, I sat in the front row with a bunch of other boys my age to watch Independence Day, and all of us came out of there thinking it was the coolest thing ever.

Right now, game criticism seems to be almost entirely from the sample size of the people in the front row of that theatre from that night.

It needs to grow up. Extra Credits, Gameological Society and some others are trying to get it there, but it's not there yet. And that's a shame.

Because while I love Braid, it needs the critic who calls out Braid for being a pretentious and short set of puzzles with a too-clever ending which expects us to think it's smarter than it is because of the Calvino excerpts tossed in there. I would disagree, but it would be something to talk about.
posted by Navelgazer at 10:17 PM on October 22, 2013 [2 favorites]


What a most tiresome conversation!

But I kid, I kid. Actually I think this is exactly the kind of discussion which the original article was trying to encourage (consciously or not). It's not really about BioShock, or game reviewing, or what Bastion's One True, Final And Ultimate Score is, or any of the other problems discussed. To me this article's purpose is primarily a call-to-action, a call-to-discuss, a call-to-speak. A wake-up call. It's about giving people a voice. It closes, "Now what was it like for you?"

I'd agree the article is scattered and could objectively benefit from an editor and divisions into various seperate articles. But I think that's mostly missing the point. It's more in the style of a cathartic rant than a pointed and polished, well-supported and reasonable argumentative essay. I don't think it was meant to be entirely reasonable, "as reasonableness hasn’t done the game community much good so far."

To me, the article discribes its own form here:
"A good reviewer does not fear emotion. He knows that emotion is not the enemy of game reviews but the key. Emotion clarifies. It cuts through all the noise endemic to gaming, and a good reviewer is dogged, even stubborn, about following his feelings to their ends. In this, he is not afraid to contradict himself, and he is often unreasonable (as reasonableness hasn’t done the game community much good so far). He values the polemical and the contrarian, and he knows that criticism doesn’t require a solution or any proof that he could do it better. He is, in all of this, self-aware. He knows how his own point of view positions him in larger debates, but he is not hamstrung by this awareness, unable to argue his perspective because of it."

Though the author is not really acting as a "reviewer" with this article, IMO. I think whoever said he was more of an activist is right on. The whole article is sort of reactionary, in a way I find refreshing[1]. I wouldn't argue any of his points are particularly novel, but they are expressed with emotion -- which the text itself encourages, "Emotion clarifies."

It's full of things many of us know: The sad and pathetic state of game reviews and the farce of the 7-10 scoring convention[2]. It's a smorgasbord of complaints and I-can't-take-it-anymores. And yes it has some half-thought out solutions and is self-contradictory at places ("he is not afraid to contradict himself") But the tone hits me like it's written by someone who is starting to have enough.

Some highlights:
"...often objectivity is a cover for a dominant subjectivity..."

"Many of the best reviewers I read have clearly been educated in the human world, and they bring to their evaluations an eye unsullied by the ingrained assumptions of videogameland."

"Where else but a AAA game studio can you find so many smart, talented, creative people working together to produce such puerile rubbish year after year?"

The article holds games to an outlier of a higher standard than most of the gaming community. It won't settle. It believes (on what basis doesn't seem important), that games can be better. That games should be better. Personally, I'm skeptical, but it's a viewpoint I admire.


[1] Consider this statement: "All progress is reactionary." True/False?

[2] See also Leigh Alexander's satirical take (turned into a catchy tune and discussed on the blue a few weeks ago) on the situation surrounding the Carolyn Petit review mentioned in the article.
posted by Flaffigan at 10:17 PM on October 22, 2013 [4 favorites]


It's full of things many of us know: The sad and pathetic state of game reviews and the farce of the 7-10 scoring convention[2]

One hilarious bit of Borderlands 2 has you kill a video game reviewer for Mr. Torgue because, and I quote, "YOU SAID IN YOUR REVIEW THAT SPACE MERCENARIES 4 SUCKED, BUT YOU GAVE IT A SCORE OF 6 OUT OF 10 WHICH IMPLIES IT IS ABOVE AVERAGE!"

Yes, Mr. Torgue only talks in all caps.
posted by Justinian at 10:31 PM on October 22, 2013 [2 favorites]


Funny how yet another American work of art comes to the conclusion that the oppressed are as bad as the oppressors. See also: THE LEGEND OF KORRA, CALL OF DUTY: BLACK OPS II, BATMAN: THE DARK KNIGHT (RISES) etc. etc.
posted by lucien_reeve at 6:33 AM on October 23, 2013 [4 favorites]


Ok, now I want a series of Torgue-esqe video game reviews, which rates games using A BADASS SCALE OF BADASSERY!!!
posted by bibliowench at 8:08 PM on October 23, 2013


Elizabeth's companion mechanic is the first that doesn't make you want to stab yourself in the face with a spork.

Clearly, not a universal opinion.

Ok, now I want a series of Torgue-esqe video game reviews, which rates games using A BADASS SCALE OF BADASSERY!!!

Close enough?
posted by Steely-eyed Missile Man at 6:57 AM on October 24, 2013


This discussion got me thinking: why don't we take matters into our own hands and get the most pretentious videogame snobs from mefi together to write a videogame review website, focused only on games that are worth reviewing?
posted by Riton at 8:16 AM on October 24, 2013 [4 favorites]


"Ok, now I want a series of Torgue-esqe video game reviews, which rates games using A BADASS SCALE OF BADASSERY!!!"

ACTION BUTTON reviews DIVEKICK
posted by mbrubeck at 9:15 AM on October 24, 2013


Riton, this pretentious lit crit snob would be totally up in that, if she starts playing games again in the near future.
posted by stoneandstar at 11:11 AM on October 24, 2013


stoneandstar & others: should we create a metatalk to discuss this ? A mefi project ?
posted by Riton at 11:30 AM on October 24, 2013 [1 favorite]


I'm interested. Get a metatalk going!
posted by naju at 12:33 PM on October 24, 2013 [1 favorite]


MeTa.
posted by ersatz at 9:19 AM on October 25, 2013


He gives Minecraft a 10 and I've never especially felt like I was vacationing into legend there; Skyrim OTOH gets a 4 and there I've slain an enormous dragon even as soldiers burned and died all around me and I was blinded by dragonfire (which, sure, it gets less legendary the 300th time, but that first time - even the first few - it was magic).

Consider the distinction between Madame Bovary, a beautiful novel about dreary people, and the Gothic books beloved of Madame Bovary, all of them dreary novels about beautiful people.
posted by Rustic Etruscan at 12:52 PM on October 25, 2013 [2 favorites]


There is something odd going down with potential serious impact on the videogame review industry.

Sessler has been tweeting he may have to leave the industry due to unexplained terrible problem.

This is how it shook out online.

"this seems really bad, like it is going to kill gaming"
"he's talking about multiplats will be 720p on xbone right? This is going to kill MS"
"confirmed, low chip yield means major xbone delays, this will really hurt MS"
"confirmed, xbone canceled, maybe Nintendo can sell some Wii Us now"
"confirmed, xbone dev units exploding killing people, Sony will win this generation"
"since when is /v/ a reliable source? he is just upset Sony won't let him turn off HDCP to capture footage"
"oh Sessler, always so dramatic"
posted by Ad hominem at 7:47 AM on October 27, 2013


Sounds like he's having a nervous breakdown or something, actually.
posted by Justinian at 11:03 AM on October 27, 2013


Well we have moved into Sessler backlash at this point.

I was kinda wondering what could be so bad it would effect the entire games industry, turns out The Sess was just having a bad day I guess.

The jumps that the internet made from Sessler tweeting "My job sometimes sucks" to "oh shit, Sony is going bankrupt" to "Fuck Sessler, he is so unprofessional, remember when he cried during that Bioshock Infinite review?He should be fired from Rev3" was like lightspeed.
posted by Ad hominem at 4:34 PM on October 27, 2013


We have reached Peak Sessler.
posted by Justinian at 7:19 PM on October 27, 2013


So, given the proclivities of the folks around here ... is this a good place to discuss "Beyond: Two Souls"? Just finished it last night, looking for the mefi conversation about it.
posted by jbickers at 6:16 AM on October 29, 2013


> is this a good place to discuss "Beyond: Two Souls"?

I guess not... but MeFightClub is back!
posted by mbrubeck at 12:06 PM on October 31, 2013


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