“Hahaha, what a story, Mark.”
Bad Games (Revisited)
This is a revisit of a topic I already covered back in 2012.
Wow, remember back when people thought the end of the world was in THAT year?
Of course, I wrote this back when “Game Philosophy” as a name pretty much encompassed whatever I was interested in and thus that same blog covered movies and general writing under the same name, whereas nowadays I put them in separate sections of Game Philosophy, Movie Philosophy and Writing Philosophy.
Seven and a half years is quite some time, though, so have my opinions on the topic changed?
The Original Blog
In the original blog I generally argued that to work in the industry you’re going to have to kind of sacrifice your fun in the media itself. Mostly because flaws become more and more visible the longer you work on the same thing.
I still play games myself, but my definition of “fun” kind of changed from before I delved into this particular rabbit hole. It’s difficult to turn off the analytical part of my brain and I instead have “fun” when I look through the systems and learn the thought processes of the creators themselves, rather than having fun because I reached the Goal Ring with an S Rank.
Thus I argued that it’s actually more useful for people who enter the game industry to look at BAD games rather than GOOD games.
Because in a GOOD game every building block of the game is tightly designed and is generally nicely balanced, which doesn’t give you a lot of ideas to actually innovate.
In a BAD game everything is a mess, but it gives you the opportunity to look more deeply into WHY the building blocks don’t match, or WHY they don’t synergize and WHY they aren’t nicely balanced. Thus a problem-solving type of person would be able to figure out how to do it right, and end up truly innovating.
What do I think now?
Honestly I still agree with what I’ve originally written, though with some added nuances to it.
Don’t get me wrong, even back then I knew that it’s ALSO important to take references from GOOD games as well, otherwise you’re going to be stuck only having BAD games as a point of reference. You might end up becoming somewhat blind to the innovations of the genre that way.
But it’s important to look more in-depth at bad games rather than just throwing them out as if it has no value whatsoever. Chances are that ALL games end up having SOMETHING going for them.
Alone in the Dark (2008) was considered a terrible game because of how glitchy and unpolished it was, but also because it had something of an identity crisis of what the game was actually about.
But because people establish the game is completely terrible, they fall into some type of rabbit hole where they point to EVERYTHING about it being bad, saying stuff like the DVD-style “Previously On” segments being bad as well.
Then in 2010 we got Alan Wake. A game that sells itself on the Stephen King-esque atmosphere and story.
And guess what, it ALSO had those “Previously On” segments as part of the game!
But because this is a GOOD game, SUDDENLY this is considered revolutionary despite previously being decried as pointless filler in Alone in the Dark (2008).
The point is that people assign some type of “bad” label on a game and then take it as some kind of invitation to rip it apart, pointing towards ALL it’s aspects as if they’re bad. And as the saying goes; “if all you have is a hammer, everything looks like a nail.”
The opposite has a tendency to happen when people assign the “good” label on a game. Stuff they PREVIOUSLY decried in the “bad” game make a return in the “good” game and they just conveniently forget that they used to call those exact same stuff “bad” previously.
Basically, look at the building blocks of a game as it is, rather than blindly persecute or praise it just because the complete package happens to fit your preconceived notion of what’s good or bad.
Also, just as a hint to internet critics out there, just because something “could be improved” doesn’t necessarily mean what it is CURRENTLY is automatically BAD.
The latest Resident Evil 2 Remake COULD be improved since they missed out on some stuff from the original Resident Evil 2… doesn’t mean the Resident Evil 2 Remake is suddenly considered a bad game.
Clearly I did not SAY all of this in the original blog, though. I figured that’s not what the topic was about and wanted to focus on the BAD games. Then again, these WERE things I had in mind as I wrote the original blog and I decided that these nuances are important enough to formally cover in THIS blog.
But then there’s a bit of an elephant in the room when it comes to this topic, isn’t it?
“Bad” is subjective
When I think of a game being “bad”, I think it’s a broken mess that’s glitchy and conceptually flawed in one way or another.
If the story is terrible, I’m usually able to forgive that if the gameplay itself is pretty good. It’s why despite having a lot of problems with the narrative of games like Splinter Cell Blacklist, I’ll still say that the game is good.
But that’s not EVERYONE’s definition of a “bad” game. Some people will give up on the game because the story is terrible, even if the gameplay is revolutionary. Other people think a game is bad because it features a cliché they hate, regardless of how well it serves the game itself. Then there are people who automatically hate something just because it’s part of a franchise they hate, again regardless of the quality of the individual game itself.
Heck, there are people out there who decry entire genres of games as “bad” just because they don’t interest them in particular.
I’m not a big fan of Sports Games, but I’m not going to call Super Mario Strikers a bad game just because it’s part of a genre that I don’t like.
So, what, am I saying those people are wrong?
Not necessarily, I’m saying that “bad” is a very loose definition to give a game.
There’s many games out there that people like to call “bad” of which I know a lot of OTHER people absolutely LOVE.
Some people label Dear Esther as a “bad” game because it’s a “walking simulator”. Yet there are people everywhere who love the atmosphere and storytelling BECAUSE it’s a “walking simulator”.
You could argue that something is “objectively” bad, but whether something is “objectively” bad is inconsistent as well.
Is a game “objectively bad” because it’s glitchy? Well, then Skyrim would be considered a “bad” game despite having won 200 Game of the Year Awards.
Is a game “objectively bad” because the story is terrible? Chuck all those Super Mario games into the dumpster then.
Is a game “objectively bad” because the graphics don’t look good? I’m STILL playing Thief: The Dark Project to this day and the graphics look like THIS:
The internet created something of a culture where people WANT to find something “bad” just so they’d get some kind of feeling of superiority.
Eventually there comes a point where it becomes a game of one-upmanship, where something popular suddenly gets piles of people jumping onto it claiming that they’ve found an even MORE terrible flaw with this game and thus they’re SO much more clever than the OTHER people out there who TOTALLY missed this!
Now, this is not to say that the job of a game critic is useless, nor am I saying that you shouldn’t look at games with a critical eye anymore.
We NEED people to look at games with a more critical eye because otherwise games as a whole will stagnate in quality.
You might be satisfied with a game that has the standard “rescue the princess” story, but it HAS to be acknowledged that stories CAN be better.
You might not mind that every so often your character will glitch through the floor and fall into nothingness, but that IS a genuine problem for a programmer to fix.
But “objective” quality can only go so far. Eventually a critic will HAVE to dive into subjective territory because everyone’s tastes are different.
Conversely, though, DON’T just click away from some youtube video just because someone is criticizing a game you like. Listen to WHY your opinions seem to differ, hear out the other point of view… that is unless you’re certain that you’re getting NOTHING out of it because it’s someone hating it without actual arguments, then you’re well within your right to click away of course.
But if they’re actually genuine in their opinions, LISTEN. You don’t HAVE to agree, your opinions don’t even need to change, just be OPEN to the idea that your own point of view might NOT be the only valid one.
If you happen to be an avid follower of an internet critic, don’t just limit yourself to just ONE review and be done with it. Listen to MULTIPLE reviews, compare and contrast. You don’t want your opinions to be simple echoes of someone who’s internet famous, have your own dang opinions.
The definition of a “bad” game is easy to misuse. Games as a medium have the capability to evoke many types of emotions in us, and sometimes it feels natural to point at the game itself being at fault for a “flaw” rather than the player themselves.
A “flaw” could easily have been a feature. And THAT’s what you should take out of “bad” games. Inside a lot of bad games that people ignore nowadays might actually be some feature that has yet to be truly capitalized upon.
By comparison it’s usually the “good” games that end up getting it’s features copy and pasted everywhere because it comes from a “good” game.
I may not like the combat system of Batman Arkham Asylum personally, but it’s clear that the amount of games trying to rip the system off are missing the point of it.
All they heard was people saying “I love this combat system” and just copy pasted it without truly understanding what made it work in the first place.
What it all comes down to is that whether a game is good or bad, at the very least UNDERSTAND the things you plan on referencing before you either blindly copy or avoid it for your own project.
Every game is a source of information. An arbitrary label of “good” or “bad” won’t change that.