Monday, 22 October 2012

Critical Miss

Sooo an article from one of the GameCity Prize judges was released earlier this week, and I notice a lot of people in the community kind of took offense to it. To some extent myself included. At first glance the author just brushes off what games we might say require the most attention, and her lack of experience makes her ignorant and her opinions irrelevant.

 This of course, isn't really the case though, when considering in context what the article is actually about.

 Lucy Kellaway, author of the article in question, opens the article by stating she'd never played a game in her life before now. And in the context of being a judge for the GameCity Prize, that's fine. It's not about what is the best game, it's about getting a cultural conversation going about games. Thus her merits (as far as I can tell from just the article is that she's a good writer and somebody who can form a reasonable opinion about stuff she knows sod all about) are enough to get her on the panel. Her ignorance is kind of the point if we want to get more people into games. Most gaming awards are just a load of wanking around over super popular mainstream garbage anyway.

So what did she say that was so offensive?

Well, not that much. Her experiences of the games are pretty much to be expected from somebody who's only experiences of gaming is people doing it instead of something more constructive. She plays Super Mario 3D land and can't get the hang of jumping over things. Platforming is hard for beginners! Moving and jumping, I hate to say it, is not actually that straightforward for somebody who hasn't even held a gamepad before. And her son finds it understandably frustrating. I once tried to teach my grandad to play Bomberman 2. Impossible!

 She plays Fez (and makes a great joke about that brilliant asshole Phil Fish) and finds it pretty and enjoyable but ultimately shallow. Which she's damn right about from her perspective- Fez is deliberately multilayered. If you want, you can just go over the surface things and play through a visually and audibly beautiful world of shifting dimensions, gaining everything you need to finish the game quite easily. The real depth is what appeals to more serious gamers, such as all the secret codes and really complex puzzles requiring you to decipher secret messages. That's not for her. That's for us. It's perfectly acceptable to just skim the surface of Fez and find nothing more, because it is designed so you can do that. Her opinions are 100% accurate as a non-gamer.

Next up is probably what most people would have been annoyed by, as she reduces Mass effect 3 to 'a big scifi blockbuster about people in spacesuits killing each other.' Of course, the Mass Effect series, whilst having a lot of shooty killy action bits, is really an RPG with a big cover based shooter hat on it, making the statement seem somewhat ignorant. However, to somebody with no knowledge of the series, this is a pretty likely and understandable interpretation. For a start it's the final game in the series, and she won't have any useful context of the characters or the story so far. Also (I haven't played the game myself, but Mass Effect 2 was probably the best mainstream game I played last year) I imagine the final game will have a disproportionate amount of action because it's the climax of the series and presumably they've made combat work even better, whereas it's much harder to refine your writing and narrative elements with each sequel. Finally, you have to take into account she can't actually play the game. For a non gamer using dual stick controls is like asking a dog to cook you a full english. It's HARD to learn. I remember when I first learnt dual stick controls (Red Faction, ooh yeah). It wasn't easy. I could tell it would be better this way, but it was still an obstacle. Not being able to even play the game due to our native control scheme is hardly going to help her along. In all likelihood all she did see was guys in space suits killing each other. Just observing this wholesale slaughter is unlikely to be at all enlightening either.

I know little about Catherine other than it's some sort of survival horror puzzle game about a man cheating on his girlfriend or something. I think her description of the game was probably quite apt. And the comment on the game being stressful- probably true too. I've stopped really playing intense games for the most part myself as I need to wind down enough before sleeping when I'm done with work, and I've been doing this shit all my life. 

I also haven't played Proteus or Journey, but the first one honestly sounds like it would be boring after 10 minutes (chilled exploration with zero depth) and Journey looks reasonably simple and fun (which I assume is easy to get into as somebody who has sod all grounding in the medium.)

As for Johann Sebastian Joust, a game that nobody can actually play but yet hopes to win an award about it's relevancy to the medium can just go fuck itself. You'd be better off playing this with an ice-cream in hand and the last cone standing wins (and can eat all that creamy whippy goodness)

Did anybody complaining about her even read her conclusions? She's practically converted to the cause. As someone initially distrustful of games (they have stolen away her son and husband and in her eyes been an non productive time waster) she admits they can be pretty and fun and even beautiful. Do you know how hard it can be to show that to people? And she's saying it all right here, as an outsider perspective in a mainstream publication that has fuck all to do with games.

This is really good. She is saying good things.

 I can't really say I speak for anybody or really identify well with any sub culture, but games is the closest one I have. And if I may say so, we as a group need to be less fucking precious about our medium. Let people criticise it. Think about it yourself. Maybe we can all learn something.
 It's bad enough people still think games are for kids, without their key defenders acting like they are children themselves.