Do you even like video games?

3 01 2012

(EDIT: Jan 17, 2012. If you came here from Massively’s article, here’s my response to both this article and that one.)

/needlessSoapBoxOn

I don’t mean to pick on Melmoth here (lest I myself be killed by a smile in a way that looks very much like an accident) however I have seen this very mentality posed by most of the blogs I follow of late, and so I’d like to address it now. Here’s the pitch:

“As much as I admire the conversation system, I do still find it a little ponderous in a world where you’re essentially being asked to kill ten womprats most of the time.”

This follows a pattern. The pattern is frequent across the blogs I read. The pattern is, roughly, this:

“As much as I like or loathe [this aspect of SWTOR], it still doesn’t make up for the fact that it’s just [a pretty wrapper on the same game].”

Now, I’ve gone on and on about genre and how the entire concept seems to completely escape MMO bloggers and players…but really, I think I’ve been wrong. This concept does not escape the players. They are very much aware of what genre means and that MMOs should all be expected to be similar (within their sandbox or theme park pastures) but they chose to completely disregard it. This isn’t restricted to TOR either; it’s universal. The question that has been digging at me in recent weeks is Why?

At first glance I suspect it’s for the reasons Elder Gamer lays out here. In short, punditry is cyclic, easy, and we don’t learn from it.

“The problems are that 1) MMO punditry is basically saying the same things over and over, but, 2) nobody really knows the secret to making super amazing awesome games.”

He goes on to comment on how WoW – by all common understanding – should’ve died just out of the gates due to the massive instability issues it experienced. But it didn’t die, it got better. So now we say “Of course it did.” Hindsight bias, 1; Reality, 0.

The way I see it, the issue is not that games are lacking in innovation or that they’re plain not good. Skyrim, the Fallout series, Mass Effect, Arkham Asylum…I’m sure you could list out games that you had a great time with. Sometimes it doesn’t matter how imperfect the controls are or how stupid the AI is. Sometimes a game is just fun. If you’re not willing to forgive MMO mobs for pathing issues, Evade bugging, and respawning until the end of time, then why are you playing? If you’re going to play Skyrim, say “I really enjoyed this, but…” then what are you doing? Why are you playing? I’m just going to come out and say it.

BLOGGERS:

IT IS STARTING TO COME ACROSS THAT YOU DO NOT LIKE VIDEO GAMES.

I’m serious. Every day I read about a dozen posts saying things like:

  • I really enjoy TOR, but it’s not perfect.
  • I really love Skyrim, but it’s flawed.
  • I like TOR, but I don’t like TOR.
  • It’s just WoW with Star Wars painted on it.
  • Skyrim is too simple.
  • Skyrim’s UI is almost unbearable.
  • I hope it dies so everybody will see that EVE is a superior game.

I’m not saying your feelings are invalid, but they are (at least, I hope) grossly misleading. Of course it’s not perfect. Of course it’s a theme park MMO and shares a lot in common with its genre. Sure, if you really enjoy EVE, you may find that a theme park MMO is not the game for you.

Is it the case that you actually like the game(s) but you feel that you have nothing to blog about if you’re not coming down on it with a big ass hammer? Well, speaking as a guy who’s all about hammers, may I encourage you to set yours down. Because, and I mean this sincerely: the MMO Blog-o-world is becoming a rather depressing place.

I read these blogs and I wonder if anybody actually likes TOR, which is funny, because I am loving it. Not only is the Jedi Sage the most fun healer class I’ve yet used (and after my ill-fated love affair with the Archmage in WAR, the really cool Chloromancer from Rift, and healing with everything but the Shaman in WoW) but all of the trimmings are just fantastic. The environments are spot on and fun, customize-able gear is all I ever asked of WoW and NEVER GOT, the little space dog-fighting mini-game is a blast, and Qyzen Fess is a truly remarkable character. The story is engaging, the Force is my ally, and my Jedi looks the way I want him too. I have four light sabers that I can plug my current set of mods into, depending on what hilt I want my avatar to wield in combat. TOR gave me this out of the box.

Of course it’s not perfect. It’s new and part of a genre that has been forever molded by Blizzard’s ludicrous success. I’ll never forgive the guy that thought a 40-man raid was a good idea, nor the guy that said “Let the players sort it out” when a boss that took forty players to kill drops only two things. Screw the guy that decided the upgrades for my paladin would change her from an epic steel-armored hero to a weirdo covered in leaves and tree bark. Seriously. I hope he knows what a big jerk he is. But you know what? I enjoyed my time in WoW, right up until I didn’t anymore. And, in that very human way, I naturally look back on WoW with disdain as it helps me to cement my decision not to play anymore. And here I am, slamming it in this blog, falling for the same trap that I’m trying to light up for us all.

When we were all writing for WAR leading up to its launch, spirits were  high, people were hopeful, and the blog-o-sphere was a fun and happy place. Of late it is a remarkably different place. Everybody is very careful about saying “I like it” and heavily, heavily hedging that statement with BUT HERE’S A WHOLE BUNCH OF STUFF THAT SUCKS ABOUT IT.

And that stuff is often trivial. It’s stuff that every single game is guilty of. Sure, TOR’s auction house interface is clunky and annoying. Yes, the space-combat-on-rails is not as cool as the old X-Wing vs Tie Fighter games that it is meant to be reminiscent of. I am aware that the melee combat with a light saber is MMO-esque and not the active and complicated sword play of the Jedi Knight series. Those are all different games that each had their own problems and short-comings.

All games have short-comings.

All of them.

Pointing them out serves little purpose; we all see them and nobody knows how to fix them. It’s basically a mud-slinging campaign and, just like in politics, it’s devoid of merit.

You are all better than this. I know it. I remember.

/needlessSoapBoxOff

This changes nothing, of course. SW:TOR is big news and people are all waiting to be the first ones to say “I told you so” when it doesn’t succeed. Of course, whether it does succeed or not, in five years time everybody will be saying “Of course it succeeded/failed; it’s Star Wars.”

Think about it.

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11 responses

3 01 2012
Syp

AMEN!

4 01 2012
Melmoth

If it helps, just think of me as the dark side: bringing balance to the Fanboy Force.

I find there’s very little humour to be found in the things that work, thus I’ve chosen to satirise those things that don’t work, mainly in an attempt to bring a little counterpoint to an industry that oftentimes takes itself way too seriously, and has far too many people willing to blindly accept its output. I like to question things, but I also like to try to make people smile, and humour is much more easily found in the weird, the abnormal, and the broken, than in the expected, the correct, and the everyday.

Consider: pointing out the flaws in a game does not automatically lead to the conclusion that the game is poor, or that the critic hates the game. Consider also: what you suggest is that people write nothing but gushing praise (or at best gloss over the failings) for these games. Is that really any better?

Don’t worry, you’re not the first blogger to tell me to stop complaining, and anyway, I rather enjoy the irony of bloggers taking the time to complain about my complaining.

Just thought I’d try to provide a little insight into why I’ve always posted in that manner.

4 01 2012
thade

So, I should’ve prefaced that (massive) article of mine with a disclaimer…but it was already big and I didn’t want to derail it, so here is said disclaimer. :)

Melmoth, your blog is – in a way – the exception to the rule. I do read your stuff with the full understanding that its intention is satire (and it’s often a good laugh, to your credit). However, in a sea of “negative attitude blogs” I think readers may still get negative messages even from the humor stuff.

My desire isn’t to see more gushing praise, but really just to see less gushing derision. Farming through blogs for info on games has become too much like farming through forums and review sites; one positive review is worth twenty negative reviews, because negative reviews are more popular in a weird way: they seem to be “writer’s favorites”. It’s like the “annoyance theater” style, which I loathe. Supportive comedy > greedy comedy, no matter how funny the latter manages to be.

I hesitate to say “being negative is easier” because I honestly don’t feel it is. It’s a weird choice. One that’s made, I think, because writers at times believe that drama is required to make their articles more interesting, and they exacerbate this mistake by choosing punditry and harsh criticism as vectors for drama. Bloggers, from my perspective, are especially guilty of this of late, so I wrote a sort of ironic article, calling them out for it in the very style I have targeted.

That’s not to say I’m not guilty myself; the amount of smack I talk about WoW would have the most die-hard EVE aficionado taken aback. But it is a topic I think we all should consider, so when I started berating myself for it, I shared with the whole class.

The feeling I want to foster is a love for the hobby; not for players to “love to loathe it”.

5 01 2012
13 01 2012
Too Long; Didn’t Listen episode 10 — Dying of the Plague

[...] Source: Thade’s Hammer [...]

13 01 2012
Goopa

“I hesitate to say “being negative is easier” because I honestly don’t feel it is.”

It is not that being negative is easier, it is that you do not need the same level of personal investment in the opinion. To support something and say “I like it for X” requires a personal dedication to that statement, and means (in bloggerland) a public declaration for which you will be judged (fairly or not). We all know that those that are the most vocal online in the gaming world are generally the most negative. But that is a post for another time.

14 01 2012
Mikkel I.

Hi thade,

“Those who can, do. Those who can’t, critique.”
MMO-blogs are written on a backdrop of a gaming-community which thinks and speaks in absolutes. Before the game launches, it is the next revolution in MMOs, after launch it fails because it ceases being the new-and-shiny, and it doesn’t achieve a subscriber base in the millions. Either position is adopted with little critical reasoning, or sense of history.
It is not surprising that MMO-blogs adapt the same (lack of) sense of proportions, to some extent.

The problem is confounded by a (semi)professional MMO-gaming press, which doesn’t produce a lot of original content, but rather rehash press-releases, fan-site news and “What do you think?”-columns, as well as a closed industry which knows and uses the fact that gamers are so gullible. Neither provide a playing-field for debate and innovative thinking among gamers.
In that context, cynicism is a mindset which comes to mind easily, for people who have been part of the excitement inflation-deflation news-cycle of playing MMOs for a while.

I don’t think the cure for cynicism and snark is to go with the positive spin, for the sake of tone, because critical commentary is sorely needed in the MMO-community. Rather, the cure is being original and constructive in what is put out. By all means, let’s call SWTOR out for the derivative mainstream MMO it is, but at the same time let’s list the area where it copies, as well as where it adds. Put some arguments, and a bit of actual data on the table, whichever side of the debate you happen to be on. I think that is all the change of tone that is needed.

/Mikkel I.

17 01 2012
The Soapbox: On MMO negativity « MMO City

[...] week I was given a link to an op-ed piece at Thade's place, and in lieu of posting a comment there, I figured I'd do it on the Soapbox and hopefully generate [...]

17 01 2012
I am possibly being misinterpreted. « thade's Hammer

[...] have been a few responses to my recent thread on whether the blogging community actually enjoys video games. I already responded to the one generated on MMO Reporter. Today I’d like to respond to this [...]

18 01 2012
Gurv

Did it ever occurred to you that SWTOR itself could be the cause of all this negativity?
Because the game hasn’t only one flaw, it has MANY.
And really, this is the point : the game has way too many flaws.
I guess it was released around 6 months too early.
But hey Christmas sales are more important than the delivery of a quality product :(

18 01 2012
thade

Sorry, what? A lot of flaws?

It’s the got requisite number of bugs for a new MMO and it’s launch was almost as stable as Trion’s with Rift which is to say nigh flawless, sans server crashes, and only a bit of weirdness. Server queues lasted, what, two days? Three? They’re non-existent for me now and I’m on a very high population server.

The game’s riddled with spit and polish. I am thoroughly enjoying my class – both it’s ability tree (as a healer) and its story (as a full-on Paragon good guy) – so I really don’t have many complaints. My only real complaint is that there’s SO MUCH FREAKIN CONTENT that I can’t possibly see it all before the expansion. Each class on both sides has its own story, and each of those stories has at least one major fork in it (based upon your light-side/dark-side choices and your advanced class choice). I just can’t reasonably cover all of that ground, but I very much want to.

The product is quality. The Penny Arcade guys love it, if my word’s not good enough. Are you playing? What is it that you can’t stand?

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