Wednesday, February 04, 2009

Request hour: It begins

Yesterday, I solicited questions to answer in future posts, and, uh, you guys weren't messing around. I was expecting more along the lines of "What's your favorite game ever," but there's some heavy-duty stuff in here. Let's plow right ahead with it. I'll answer in the order they were posted, and try to get as many as I can into each post. (By the way, feel free to keep adding new questions in comments to the original post.)

Krystian Majewski had two questions. I'll split them up.
What is the meaning of Braid?

(I knew this was a bad idea.)

My reading on it isn't necessarily that "it was all a dream," but rather that the game is a metaphor for Tim's anguish and regret. I never really did get the whole "atomic bomb" interpretation. I thought it was about a girl. Either way, my take is that the game takes place in a fantasy world, in which time is malleable and the usual standards of cause and effect don't apply. I saw it as a fairly straightforward lament -- wouldn't it be nice we could do the things in this game in real life, too? But we can't. It's impossible. And if you spend too much time thinking about it, you'll only end up depressed.

What is the difference between games and literature?

A reader has less control of a work of literature than a player has of a game. The author has more control of a work of literature than a developer does of a game. A book is a finished product. A game, to varying degrees, is a framework. You can't read the words in a book out of order, but a game that has no room for player choice is usually not going to be a good one. Even a linear platformer -- say, Super Mario Bros. -- can be played successfully in any number of ways, while a book can only be read from front to back.

You could make the argument that a reader does bring his own frame of reference to a book, and you'd be right, but it's an order of magnitude less than what a player brings to a game. Reading a book doesn't make you a co-author, but playing a game does, in a very real sense, make you a co-creator. The act of playing dictates what a game is, much moreso than the act of reading dictates what a book is.

Nels Anderson goes for the money:

It's been a year-ish since your Gamer Taxonomy opus. I'd like to hear a follow-up, discussing observations made about its applicability and if you feel the taxonomy is still accurate.

Nothing I've seen or heard has made me doubt the accuracy of the types I described, but I have become even more convinced of its incompleteness. One thing I missed completely was the distinction between content creators and content consumers -- something PC gamers have known about for years, but which really came into focus for console players with the release of LittleBigPlanet. Marek Bronstring wrote a good essay at GameSetWatch about "The Four Types of Player/Creators," which covers some of this ground.

There were a lot of good comments on the original piece that pointed out some further areas for exploration, such as the difference between gamers who pursue developer-defined goals and those who pursue player-defined ones. There are also gamers who want new, innovative experiences, and those wedded to the old paradigms. One commenter even suggested a further distinction between tourists: "those who tour for the cool vignettes and highlights, and those who tour for the narrative interaction." So, clearly, there's a lot of unexplored territory here.

As for how applicable it is, I couldn't say. I haven't even applied these ideas to most of the game reviews I've written in the past year. But something about it did strike a chord, so if nothing else I hope it spurred people to explore the real reasons they enjoy playing games. Is that really worth much? I'm not sure. I hope so.

Also, on a side note, I realized that although the "Skill Player vs. Tourist" thing seemed to resonate with a lot of people, the sections about financial considerations didn't gain much traction. Not sure why that was.

Anonymous asked:

Are games becoming like cinema in the sense that we have "quality" games adored by the serious critics and "mass" games selling millions units? Is that a good thing? Will we have some the Cannes and the Oscars of games fighting between them?

My sense is that the opposite is true -- that critical favorites and commercial successes are one and the same. Looking at Metacritic's top games of 2008, you see that, with few exceptions, the top-rated games were also the tentpole, "event" games. Braid and World of Goo might be good candidates for the "critical darling" honor, but if anything, they outperformed most independent games precisely because of critical adulation. (I don't know what the hell that MaBoShi thing is for the Wii, btw. That could be the real sleeper on there.) Compare this to the world of movies, where for every Slumdog Millionaire that comes along, a bunch of critics are shouting to an unreceptive readership about the greatness of Happy-Go-Lucky.

I think it is good if there is a vibrant outsider or independent scene. There's always been one on PCs, and it's nice to see some of the console makers extending that opportunity to their users, too. Although I've got to admit that my personal tastes always seem to run to the slickly produced shoot-'em-ups.

Thanks for the questions! I'll post more tomorrow.


Danilo Vujevic said...

Umm, Krystian Majewski had those first two questions not me.

Mitch Krpata said...

That's weird, because I thought I copied and pasted the names directly from the original post. Obviously this is a case of my blatant xenophobia and Amero-centrism rearing its ugly head.

Please accept my apologies.

Gary A. Lucero said...

Mitch, I only agree with your assertion that "My sense is that the opposite is true -- that critical favorites and commercial successes are one and the same" if you are strictly speaking of high score = good sales.

When I think of the successes of games like Call of Duty, Prince of Persia, and many others, what I see are games that might be darlings of the sales charts but lack soul. I know that COD is a huge success, for example, and that for multiplayer fans its golden, but as a single player- only gamer, it really misses the mark for me.

We may finally be seeing the consolidation of media and gaming, where corporate America controls the minds of reviewers so they echo what sales will reveal anyway, but is this a surprise to anyone?

This is the reason I prefer reviews that expository, because I can't trust a 1 - 10, five star, or letter rating scale. 1up, for instance, loves to write two paragraphs and throw a letter on it, but I want more out of a review. I can't expect the publisher or developer to tell me about the game, and so I want reviewers to do it for me.

Demos can help, and renting is an option, but in the end I find myself buying and selling games to really know if it's for me or not.


Daniel Purvis said...

For the record, I didn't get all the hype surrounding Slumdog Millionaire.

I enjoyed it but it didn't blow my mind. Some older folk leaving the cinema, however, were in awe.

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