You're Doing It Wrong

We spend a lot of time, appropriately, talking about the content we are provided from the multitude of authors within the video game space, measuring their relative merits and endlessly critiquing the shortcomings. This is, of course, as things should be, but there’s a stigma and even open hostility to turning the laser beam focus of criticism onto ourselves as receivers of content.

Let me show you. Pick the game you most recently played that you did not like, and imagine I’ve just said to you, “Well, maybe you played the game wrong.”

Did you feel that kick in your gut? That flood of whatever chemicals it is in your brain that triggers a defensive emotional response? It is a powerful toxin. I’ve felt it plenty of times, and allowed myself to be swallowed into a cathartic rictus of self-righteous indigence. Rarely are adverbs and adjectives more my friend than when someone has seemingly recklessly blamed me as a culprit in what I perceive as a bad game.

But, is it so wrong to ask this question? Is there no culpability in the way a game player chooses to experience a given game? In cases where I’ve initially rejected a game, only to come back later, approach it in a different way and discover that there was actually excellence where I’d first seen failure, who is responsible for my initial negative experience?

I have to admit, the more I think on the matter the more I see that there is an art to playing games, and how I choose to receive my content can play a major role in my enjoyment of the experience.

I did not care for The Witcher when I first played it. Naturally, it would be hard to argue that the reason I didn’t like the game all that much was because it was somehow objectively bad. For all the things you may or may not be able to say about The Witcher series, that it was just not a good game seems like a losing strategy. At this point I have two options, either I can assume there is no such thing as a “good” or “bad” game — which actually is an interesting enough angle perhaps worth exploring at a later date — or that somehow the way I received the game is impacting my experience.

It’s easiest to just say, “Well, I guess it’s not my style.” I don’t care at all for shellfish, for example, because I do not like things that are obviously disgusting. However, it seems that others find those “foods” to be delicacies and even a special treat to be savored, so it’s very hard for me to be faced with a plate full of shrimp or lobster tails and make the argument that the problem is with the cook. To be honest, I don’t even know how to frame a discussion about what actually defines poorly prepared shrimp, because from my seat it’s all just a bad idea to begin with.

As I have belabored to death, this is how I feel about a lot of Eastern-influenced games. Not just JRPGs, but basically everything from the Capcom and Atlus oeuvres. I can’t begin to comment on what’s good and what’s bad from that entire hemisphere, because I have no language for understanding the most basic building blocks that lay the foundation for these games.

Not so with The Witcher, though. This is a different beast altogether, which is why I was surprised not to enjoy it when so many other people did. But the more I talked to people who loved it, the more I realized that what they loved weren’t even the parts I was thinking about. I was complaining about difficulty, combat systems and a lack of direction, and they were talking about all the things I didn’t like as though they were exactly the positives of the game.

The thing is, when I went back later — looking at the game through the lens as they had described it — I had a different experience. I realized that I’d been trying to absorb this game as though it were a race to a conclusion, as though it were about achieving some kind of end state, when the whole point was experiencing a complex and challenging journey. I realized that, to be frank, I’d been playing the game all wrong.

Frankly, I think the best recent example of this was with Dragon Age II, which is a game I thought was absolutely phenomenal. Not flawless or without room for criticism, certainly, but both subjectively — and, I think, objectively — the positives of the game vastly outweighed the negatives. For some people, it was their shellfish, a repulsive thing for which they had no common ground. That said, I think a lot of people played the game all wrong, and as a result unintentionally sabotaged their own experiences.

It’s a dangerous statement, I realize, because ostensibly I’m saying that the reason a number of people — maybe you — didn’t like this game is not because it failed, but because they failed at the playing of it.

I suppose it doesn’t matter in the end. The results are the same both ways: Person X liked game Y, while person Z did not. There are no worlds at stake, no grand effect hanging in the balance. But, actually, I think if we can accept within ourselves that we have at least some ownership over the result of our experience, then we are better prepared to get more out of games. It’s hard, particularly in a medium where interactivity is the cornerstone, to cede power to an author to dictate the terms of how you are supposed to receive content, but in many cases by doing so, I think we may be better served in the long run.

Comments

ClockworkHouse wrote:

There are really two schools of thought at play here. One says that it's a designer's job to create a system and then reward players for using it correctly and punish them for using it incorrectly so that players receive a certain desired experience. Then there's the school of thought that says that it's a designer's job to create a flexible system that allows players to solve problems in their own way and that it's less desirable to shepherd people toward a single, correct way of playing.

Isn't the obvious answer that they're both valid, and there's plenty of room for games that cater to both crowds?

Demyx wrote:
Isn't the obvious answer that they're both valid, and there's plenty of room for games that cater to both crowds?

That's certainly a reasonable solution, but what room is there for reason in the great Team Persona vs. Bethesda smackdown?

ClockworkHouse wrote:
Demyx wrote:
Isn't the obvious answer that they're both valid, and there's plenty of room for games that cater to both crowds?

That's certainly a reasonable solution, but what room is there for reason in the great Team Persona vs. Bethesda smackdown?

Oh my god, we have to pick sides? Farewell, Clockwork, when we see each other next it will be on the battlefield...

Fus Ro Dah versus Per So Na. FIGHT!

ClockworkHouse wrote:
Fus Ro Dah versus Per So Na. FIGHT!

ClockworkHouse wrote:
Fus Ro Dah versus Per So Na. FIGHT!

Well, TES has Dragons. Persona's got some BSDM angels and a phallic demon in a cart.

I think we know how that fight will play out.

shoptroll wrote:
ClockworkHouse wrote:
Fus Ro Dah versus Per So Na. FIGHT!

Well, TES has Dragons. Persona's got some BSDM angels and a phallic demon in a cart.

I think we know how that fight will play out.


Dude. The Persona kids take a gun to their head for every single attack. TES characters take an arrow to their knee and complain about it for the rest of their lives.

I used to act tribal about stereotyped regional genre differences, but then I took an arrow to the Nier.

Edit: Forget my joke, Min nailed it. Somebody sig that.

Minarchist wrote:
Dude. The Persona kids take a gun to their head for every single attack. TES characters take an arrow to their knee and complain about it for the rest of their lives.

Hahaha. Good point

Most of the games that we're discussing here have very real, very significant flaws. The arguments for each seem to come down to, "if you enjoy this facet of the game enough, the flaws don't seem that bad." This is a very different issue than that somebody isn't playing the game properly.

Gravey wrote:
I used to act tribal about stereotyped regional genre differences, but then I took an arrow to the Nier.

Edit: Forget my joke, Min nailed it. Somebody sig that. :D

Done and done.

It's beautiful. :')

kazooka wrote:
Most of the games that we're discussing here have very real, very significant flaws. The arguments for each seem to come down to, "if you enjoy this facet of the game enough, the flaws don't seem that bad." This is a very different issue than that somebody isn't playing the game properly.

Except what you're calling a "very real, very significant flaw" I may call a feature and that may be my favorite part of the game.

kazooka wrote:
Most of the games that we're discussing here have very real, very significant flaws. The arguments for each seem to come down to, "if you enjoy this facet of the game enough, the flaws don't seem that bad." This is a very different issue than that somebody isn't playing the game properly.

It's more like the things that seem like flaws could be intentional features that are meant to make the game better. See: strangederby's input.

It's not a flaw that SMG doesn't have an aiming reticle or guns. Those are design features.

momgamer wrote:
kazooka wrote:
Most of the games that we're discussing here have very real, very significant flaws. The arguments for each seem to come down to, "if you enjoy this facet of the game enough, the flaws don't seem that bad." This is a very different issue than that somebody isn't playing the game properly.

Except what you're calling a "very real, very significant flaw" I may call a feature and that may be my favorite part of the game. ;)

In a lot of ways I'm just echoing juv3nal's point. But something like the recycled environments in DA2--nobody liked that. You either ignored it because you liked the game, or it was just one more thing that rankled you about the experience.

You know, I kinda don't have time to go into this. (And the only time I ever take time to go into these things is when I should be doing something else.) Put it this way: "You're doing it wrong" is more often used to cover up real mistakes and problems with the experience that to train people to look at things more positively.

kazooka:

Substantiate.

The most common thing I hear is that asking for an involved story from the Super Mario series is a case of "You're doing it wrong." I'm inclined to agree with that. You don't play a platformer for the story - never have.

Here's another example of that.

Muramasa was, IMO, widely reviewed as an RPG played on the Musou setting, even though Vanillaware itself released a public statement that it was designed and meant to be played on the Shura (hard) setting. It was even referred to as "a JRPG" on this site. It's really a technical 2D brawler with RPG elements.

This is nearly identical to playing DMC as an RPG and criticizing it for having scant RPG elements and a poorly done story, or expecting Amalur to be like Skyrim.

A knife doesn't come with instructions on how to hold it, but when a customer comes in complaining that his "Hammer" keeps cutting his fingers because of the sharp handle, I feel more than justified in telling him that he's doing it wrong.

MrDeVil909 wrote:
Quintin_Stone wrote:
krev82 wrote:
If a game allows the player to embark on the "wrong" path or playing methodology is that not a symptom of game design rather than player mindset?

No. It's too much to expect any game to be all things to all people.

Right, and it's a positive thing for a developer to allow a player to play the game their way, even if it's not the 'best' way.

There has to be some player input, or else it's a movie.

Minarchist wrote:
garion333 wrote:
So you're going to give The World Ends With You another shot? ;)

My first thought too. :)

Insert random "Oh Snap!" picture here.

What if, as was my case, playing the game the right way means you don't enjoy playing the game?

strangederby wrote:
What if, as was my case, playing the game the right way means you don't enjoy playing the game?

Then it could simply not be your style.

Not everyone is going to like every game, y'know. It's like how I love Hockey but I'd rather watch Golf than watch Baseball. Not everyone is going to agree with my reasoning why, but that's because everyone is different in some way.

Back when I was the kind of jerk who "studied film" -- literally, as in paying good money to watch movies, and read/write about them in a classroom -- I found myself at odds with my friends and roommates when talking about what I did with my Saturdays. There is, at some level of engagement with cinema, a distinction between movies you viscerally like, and movies that you intellectually appreciate.

I realize how insufferable that sounds, but bear with me.

The simplest approach to any artistic/entertainment media, of which movies are probably gaming's closest analogue, is to evaluate experience on the basis of entertainment. That doesn't imply that looking for a Good Time Movie is an inherently empty experience, but rather that there's not much thought or effort required to sit down and enjoy 2 hours of, say, Star Trek. Things blow up. The good guys face a Conflict, usually a bad guy. They get beat up, then they learn something new or develop somehow as characters, and then they return and kick the bad guy's butt while tossing around magnificent one-liners. Pretty much everybody like this; it reaffirms our sense of justice, it tells a (structurally familiar) tale of good vs. evil, it hits on the Hero's Journey plotline in enough detail to hum along without requiring our engagement. Enjoyment at this level comes from the plot, the acting, the sound and visual effects, and so forth.

As you move from "I want a fun movie" into "I want a challenging movie", you start to engage with film that doesn't aim for wide appeal. It presumes that its audience has sufficient familiarity with formal structure to recognize homages, meta-motifs, and nose-thumbing mockery. In a sense, it's built on a language of cinema that one acquires through exposure to lots of movies; appreciation and enjoyment comes from unraveling the (formal) structure of the film, and not just from absorbing the surface-level plot and character action. At their best, films that are consciously trying to do more than simply tell a story will be grounded in a time and context, and the director will presume that at least some of his or her viewership will "get it", and that spelling it out explicitly would detract from that mutual head-nod of recognition.

That's where I think interesting video games need to go. As a medium that's still defined by massive budgets and expensive asset creation, gaming has spent the last 15-20 years locked into rewarding raw entertainment factor -- big, expensive blockbusters like Battlefield 3, Call of Duty, even Skyrim are successes and failures in terms of how pretty they are, how much fun can be squeezed from their plots, and how many units they move. There is absolutely nothing wrong with this; I'm not against these games, nor am I arguing that only the mouth-breathing masses play them. What I am arguing, however, is that our critical toolkit needs to include more criteria than graphic fidelity, hours of content, and "fun" if we want to start to see change and evolution in the games that we can play, rather than rehashes and formulaic sequels. There is a symbiosis, in both film and gaming, between titles that focus on playing with convention and those that profit from it.

I am fairly optimistic about the Kickstarter and indie "movements": they allow game developers who might not be able to secure traditional publisher-backed funding for games with niche appeal to execute projects and explore non-mainstream ideas in relatively safe ways. My hope is that over time, as with movies, this will create and nurture a culture that understands the space in which these types of games exist, and can interact with them in a more sophisticated way -- including "playing them correctly", and not dismissing them because they don't immediately start poking the player's dopamine receptors.

ccesarano wrote:
strangederby wrote:
What if, as was my case, playing the game the right way means you don't enjoy playing the game?

Then it could simply not be your style.

Not everyone is going to like every game, y'know. It's like how I love Hockey but I'd rather watch Golf than watch Baseball. Not everyone is going to agree with my reasoning why, but that's because everyone is different in some way.

Broadly speaking that works. I don't like sports games. So of course if I tried playing an American football game like it was an rpg I would be playing it wrong. It gets more complicated when we get into genre though. A lot of games are currently being sold as RPG's when in actual fact........(oh go on then) in my opinion they are actualy action adventure games with some RPGness thrown in. For the most part I'm going to start playing these games as if they were an RPG rather than an action game.

This didn't happen with Mass Effect 2 by the way. I went in fully expecting nothing more or less than an exciting, great looking adventure space opera with guns and enjoyed every second.

strangederby:

That actually has to do with how RPG tropes and mechanics have infiltrated and invaded virtually every game type in the medium today, and how pointless it has therefore become as a game descriptor.

For instance, you could say that Skyrim is an RPG, but it's not an RPG in the sense that you are taken through a role of a character in the series and experience the world through that character's perspective. It's more of a sandbox environment where you can experience a tourist game in a virtual world through a custom-designed avatar. Both Baldur's Gate and Oblivion count as RPGs, but to me they're at different parts of a spectrum where Oblivion is on the one end, and Final Fantasies lie on the other.

So the real question here is, "What are you specifically looking for in an RPG, and does this particular RPG aim to satisfy that sort of gameplay mechanic?" Note that you could just put "game" in there and reiterate the point of the article; that's how pointless of a descriptor "RPG" has become.

TheHipGamer wrote:
Back when I was the kind of jerk who "studied film" -- literally, as in paying good money to watch movies, and read/write about them in a classroom -- I found myself at odds with my friends and roommates when talking about what I did with my Saturdays. There is, at some level of engagement with cinema, a distinction between movies you viscerally like, and movies that you intellectually appreciate.

I realize how insufferable that sounds, but bear with me.

The simplest approach to any artistic/entertainment media, of which movies are probably gaming's closest analogue, is to evaluate experience on the basis of entertainment. That doesn't imply that looking for a Good Time Movie is an inherently empty experience, but rather that there's not much thought or effort required to sit down and enjoy 2 hours of, say, Star Trek. Things blow up. The good guys face a Conflict, usually a bad guy. They get beat up, then they learn something new or develop somehow as characters, and then they return and kick the bad guy's butt while tossing around magnificent one-liners. Pretty much everybody like this; it reaffirms our sense of justice, it tells a (structurally familiar) tale of good vs. evil, it hits on the Hero's Journey plotline in enough detail to hum along without requiring our engagement. Enjoyment at this level comes from the plot, the acting, the sound and visual effects, and so forth.

As you move from "I want a fun movie" into "I want a challenging movie", you start to engage with film that doesn't aim for wide appeal. It presumes that its audience has sufficient familiarity with formal structure to recognize homages, meta-motifs, and nose-thumbing mockery. In a sense, it's built on a language of cinema that one acquires through exposure to lots of movies; appreciation and enjoyment comes from unraveling the (formal) structure of the film, and not just from absorbing the surface-level plot and character action. At their best, films that are consciously trying to do more than simply tell a story will be grounded in a time and context, and the director will presume that at least some of his or her viewership will "get it", and that spelling it out explicitly would detract from that mutual head-nod of recognition.

I think sometimes you can blend in between. For example, I didn't find the story or other basic visceral components of the film Limitless to be all that amazing, but the director did a really good job with it. So due to the intellectual "language of cinema" bits that I've grown to appreciate more thanks to my own Film Arts class in College, the movie was better than average (though it still wasn't zomg amarzing).

Basically, take those intellectual elements to a basic or simple story, and suddenly you have style and something is elevated.

That's where I think interesting video games need to go. As a medium that's still defined by massive budgets and expensive asset creation, gaming has spent the last 15-20 years locked into rewarding raw entertainment factor -- big, expensive blockbusters like Battlefield 3, Call of Duty, even Skyrim are successes and failures in terms of how pretty they are, how much fun can be squeezed from their plots, and how many units they move. There is absolutely nothing wrong with this; I'm not against these games, nor am I arguing that only the mouth-breathing masses play them. What I am arguing, however, is that our critical toolkit needs to include more criteria than graphic fidelity, hours of content, and "fun" if we want to start to see change and evolution in the games that we can play, rather than rehashes and formulaic sequels. There is a symbiosis, in both film and gaming, between titles that focus on playing with convention and those that profit from it.

This is probably a "preaching to the choir" thing in this community. I hate most modern game reviews because they read like the "writer" is just checking a bunch of items off a list. More so, that list includes things like "Graphics" and "Sound", which aren't always worth mentioning (Hell, at this point graphics are almost never worth mentioning), yet they bring it up anyway. Why? Well, they had to score it, so a mention it gets!

I can't stand mainstream reviews, but they succeed because that's all people know, and then people wanting to write about games use that as a template to start off of. It's horrible and horrific.

strangederby wrote:
ccesarano wrote:
strangederby wrote:
What if, as was my case, playing the game the right way means you don't enjoy playing the game?

Then it could simply not be your style.

Not everyone is going to like every game, y'know. It's like how I love Hockey but I'd rather watch Golf than watch Baseball. Not everyone is going to agree with my reasoning why, but that's because everyone is different in some way.

Broadly speaking that works. I don't like sports games. So of course if I tried playing an American football game like it was an rpg I would be playing it wrong. It gets more complicated when we get into genre though. A lot of games are currently being sold as RPG's when in actual fact........(oh go on then) in my opinion they are actualy action adventure games with some RPGness thrown in. For the most part I'm going to start playing these games as if they were an RPG rather than an action game.

This didn't happen with Mass Effect 2 by the way. I went in fully expecting nothing more or less than an exciting, great looking adventure space opera with guns and enjoyed every second.

I think this more goes into something that James Portnow, writer for Extra Credits, has been on lately. The idea that we define a game based on its most shallow mechanics rather than how it actually plays.

For example, Vanquish and Gears of War are both third-person cover-based shooters, but they don't play the same. Yet they'll still be categorized similarly for simply being third-person cover-based shooters. In truth, the sort of gameplay you get out of Vanquish is a lot more fast-paced, high-octane content that has more in common with Bullet Hell shooters than Gears of War.

RPG's are perhaps the worst genre to define under one style, especially the JRPG sub-genre. This was actually part of a recent three part series, so I think I'll just link that and let you check it out yourself.

strangederby wrote:

Broadly speaking that works. I don't like sports games. So of course if I tried playing an American football game like it was an rpg I would be playing it wrong. It gets more complicated when we get into genre though. A lot of games are currently being sold as RPG's when in actual fact........(oh go on then) in my opinion they are actualy action adventure games with some RPGness thrown in. For the most part I'm going to start playing these games as if they were an RPG rather than an action game.

Most sports games are RPGs now or at least have a huge portion of their game that is an RPG mode. Tiger Woods has went with earning xp points and leveling up your golfer for probably 5 years now. That's the main mode for that game, earning your tour card through semi-pro events and making it to the PGA, all while improving your golfer.

NBA 2k series started the My Player mode 3 years ago, where you create a fledgling rookie, try to get drafted or picked up for summer league and work your way into either the D-League or the NBA. Same deal with xp for completing objectives in each game, and leveling up various skills between each game.

Road to Glory started 2 years ago and is the same thing in the NCAA Football franchise. You start as a high school player, play through the state playoffs, and get recruited by colleges.

I think both MLB games and NHL games have something similar as well the last 2-3 years. I don't generally play those series. *yawn*

All too often, people expect an aesthetic experience to conform to their preconceived ideas. Those are the folks who argue that there's no such thing as reading a book/watching a movie/playing a game 'wrong', that it's all just taste.

But the truth is, shellfish is good. It's a thing people like, therefore it's a thing you can like too. It's amazing how adaptable our tastes are. But I guarantee you: if a lot of people like it, then there's something to it. And your first taste rarely gives you the kind of pleasure your 100th taste will.

Sometimes the issue is just that we don't want to learn new things. That's fine too.

HockeyJohnston wrote:
But the truth is, shellfish is good. It's a thing people like, therefore it's a thing you can like too. It's amazing how adaptable our tastes are. But I guarantee you: if a lot of people like it, then there's something to it. And your first taste rarely gives you the kind of pleasure your 100th taste will.

That's something I can get behind. People need to move out of their comfort zones more and try new things.

HockeyJohnston wrote:
But the truth is, shellfish is good.

Sorry, brother. My wife's cooking up mussels for this evening, and we served lobster at our wedding; that doesn't mean that you're wrong if you dislike certain tastes. Whether we're talking aesthetic or appetite, there is room for subjectivity.

My argument -- perhaps in too many words above -- is that we don't need to settle on preference to have a meaningful discussion about engagement with video games. Trying to say that there is an objective way to enjoy games, though? Not something I can get behind.

TheHipGamer wrote:
HockeyJohnston wrote:
But the truth is, shellfish is good.

Sorry, brother. My wife's cooking up mussels for this evening, and we served lobster at our wedding; that doesn't mean that you're wrong if you dislike certain tastes. Whether we're talking aesthetic or appetite, there is room for subjectivity.

My argument -- perhaps in too many words above -- is that we don't need to settle on preference to have a meaningful discussion about engagement with video games. Trying to say that there is an objective way to enjoy games, though? Not something I can get behind.

There's a considerable amount of objectivity in things that are normally bogged down in "But it's all subjective!" protestations.

For instance, I do not think you will contradict me when I say that there's limited enjoyment to be had out of playing LA Noire if you think that the way to play it is to stare away from the TV, to a wall to watch paint dry, while a partner uses the controller to molest you. I think we can say that if you didn't enjoy that experience, it's probably not because the game was bad.

LarryC wrote:
TheHipGamer wrote:
HockeyJohnston wrote:
But the truth is, shellfish is good.

Sorry, brother. My wife's cooking up mussels for this evening, and we served lobster at our wedding; that doesn't mean that you're wrong if you dislike certain tastes. Whether we're talking aesthetic or appetite, there is room for subjectivity.

My argument -- perhaps in too many words above -- is that we don't need to settle on preference to have a meaningful discussion about engagement with video games. Trying to say that there is an objective way to enjoy games, though? Not something I can get behind.

There's a considerable amount of objectivity in things that are normally bogged down in "But it's all subjective!" protestations.

For instance, I do not think you will contradict me when I say that there's limited enjoyment to be had out of playing LA Noire if you think that the way to play it is to stare away from the TV, to a wall to watch paint dry, while a partner uses the controller to molest you. I think we can say that if you didn't enjoy that experience, it's probably not because the game was bad.

Your example has nothing to do with playing LA Noire. Are you sincerely suggesting that an absurd example is indicative of the subjectivity/objectivity of the experience we're discussing?

My argument is that preference is entirely subjective. However, as much as I like you all, I don't really care what you do or don't personally "enjoy", on a "I'm having fun!" level -- at least, not beyond being happy to share in or argue about feeling the same way. However, if we start to have a discussion about games that is meatier, and starts to bring in things like formal structure, contextualism, and specific techniques that elicit responses? That's a good time, and one I'd like to have with you.