Insomnia | Commentary

Does Anyone Hate Anything Anymore?

By Alex Kierkegaard / April 14, 2008

I found Matt's latest commentary (Does Anyone Like Anything Anymore?, April 6) quite illuminating. We both more or less keep an eye on the same sites/blogs/forums (i.e., from time to time, all of them), but whilst all he seems to see is people bitching and moaning about how crappy games these days are, all I seem to see is people frothing and gushing about how awesome games these days are. Which of us is right, and which is wrong?

Before I answer this question (and no, the answer is not as clear cut as, "Duh, me of course"), let me just give some examples of what I mean by "people frothing and gushing about how awesome games these days are". Matt gave plenty of examples to support his view of the situation, so I should do likewise before we go any further.

The first example I will bring forth is No More Heroes, a game for which the lowest score on Metacritic is still nearly twice what I ended up giving it. In fact, and this is no exaggeration, I might as well be the only person on Planet Earth who thought the game was overall "bad" -- in contrast, the lowest score on Metacritic is 60/100, still a healthy distance above the average, and there are multiple-page "discussions" in every single videogame forum out there praising to the heavens this cheap, shallow, simplistic heap of trash (by comparison, Square's terrible early-PS2 brawler The Bouncer had more complex and rewarding mechanics than NMH, not to mention it didn't force you to spend half the gametime going back and forth around a ghost town, or playing some unbearably godawful mini-games just so it could set you up for the next animu clip).

And yet, apart from my review, and the subsequent lollerific forum thread on this very site, you would be hard pressed to find another dissenting voice across the vast expanse of the internet -- from corporate journalist whores to the legions of functionally illiterate blogoroids and forumroids, they all lapped that shit up as if it was going out of style (PROTIP: It isn't).

No More Heroes is merely the most flagrant recent example, but shit like that happens all the time. I couldn't even begin to list all the sub-mediocre crap which the internet unequivocally ends up loving every other day: from Geometry Wars: Retro Evolved, which pretty much inaugurated the modern trend of low-budget, indie, "arcade" hipsterism, to such overhyped, overproduced and underdesigned pap as Prey or Resistance: Fall of Man, Final Fantasy XII: Revenant Wings or Lost Odyssey (the latter of which still got 78/100 on Metacritic, despite being perhaps the worst videogame of the last two decades) -- I think it's safe to say I have as many examples to prove my point as Matt has to prove his, if not more.

And yet, as any astute reader of our work will have realized, we are not really, at heart, disagreeing. Me and Matt are both viewing the same situation, but we are only seemingly interpreting it differently (which fact, incidentally, ends up telling you more about us than about the situation). Because Matt's main complaint was that the people trashing the latest games were doing so on arbitrary, untenable grounds, which is when all is said and done also my own main complaint. At the end of the day I am pouring scorn on the rest of the internet not because they enjoyed No More Heroes, but because their reasons for doing so were some pretentiously "funny" animu clips, or the fact that they got such a big kick out of shaking the controller around like monkeys, in other words that that they were unwilling -- nay, that they were unable -- to see past the pointless novelty, and realize that the underlying game design had about as much conceptual complexity as an FMV game from 1996.

What it comes down to in the end is the quality of criticism available, and that is what, when all is said and done, is really bothering both me and Matt. What the people who write game reviews and the people who read them need to realize is that -- just as there are wrong reasons for condemning something (which was Matt's point), there are wrong reasons for praising something (which is my point). In the end, the condemnation or praise are not important. The reasons are.

A concrete example is in order here: IGN's recent review of Ikaruga, on the event of the game's release on XBLA in North America, which in the words of a friend of mine who is an expert on shooting games can be summarized as: "It's hard, you have to do good to do good, there's patterns in it, general opinion is that it's good so who am I to disagree. 9/10" This so-called "review" is basically a regurgitation of the game's Wikipedia entry with a score attached at the end reflecting established "opinion", written by someone who has no idea how the game even works -- that is to say by someone who cannot even play the game.

And yet that review still had all the monkeys at jumping up and down, whooping and hollering and passing around free bananas. "A shoot man game gets 9/10 from a major gaming website! Whoop-de-doo!" -- Until the next operatic shooting masterpiece rolls around that's not made by Treasure, and IGN and everyone else goes back to the standard "WTF, this game is over in twenty minutes. 6/10" reviews.

And when I tried to talk some sense into them -- these people who, being members of a highly specialized forum devoted to a single gaming genre, really should know better than to be fooled by a mere number -- by stating that I would rather read a review by an expert trashing the game and giving it 0/10 because he hated its mechanics, rather than a 9/10 review by someone who hardly even acknowledges their existence (let alone attempting to pass judgement on them), all but three or four people had no clue what I was talking about.

This is what I mean by 'reasons'. Our hypothetical expert would be trashing the game for the right reasons, while the IGN simpleton is praising it for the wrong ones. It is the reasons that's what criticism has always been about.

And yet what does the modern videogame internet even know about reasons? You have the corporate cretins on the one side, who, even if they could come up with proper reasons, wouldn't be allowed to voice them; the fanboy shmucks on the other, who can't even be bothered to look up the word "criticism" in the dictionary, let alone recognize the value of actual criticism when they happen to come across it (see, for example, the comments here and here); and finally the "New Games Artfags" on the other side, who are so dense that they can't even tell apart the video clips that play between pauses in the game from the game. In the end, whether people are "liking" or "hating" modern games is irrelevant. People have always liked and hated stuff, and always for stupid, nonsensical reasons. It's criticism that's at stake here.