Anger Management #1: Genre Loyalty

Hello there, and welcome to Anger Management. This is the section of I:D where I rail out against the things that really rile me up. Some of these things really bother me, others are just minor irritations. They come in all sorts of forms: from tropes to aspects of fandom. You can be sure they’ll relate to the general topics of discussion within this site, but beyond that, the only guaranteed shared factor is that they get right up my nose.

So what have we got today? Well, as it’s the first thing I’m choosing to cover, you might expect this to be one of my biggest peeves of all: but you’d be wrong. Truth is, I’m still not sure about the direction this feature is going to take, so I want to iron out the creases before getting to the really good* stuff. Nope, this week I’ll be looking at something that just irks me a little. Genre loyalty.
But not just any old genre loyalty. Big fan of a genre? Maybe you’re a Film Noir buff, read up on all the arguments about what exactly noir is, proud of your collection of proto-, pseudo- and post-noir titles? I can appreciate your passion. Hardcore simmer, built yourself up a lifelike replica of an F-15’s cockpit to enhance your gaming experience? Well, that’s a little extreme, but kind’ve impressive – you have my blessing. No, my problem isn’t with the people who love a genre so much that they immerse themselves in it. My problem is with those who make the mistake of assuming that the only valid opinion on a genre is that of the insider, the full-on genre-fan.

 

This image not only impresses and scares me, it also makes me slightly jealous. And I don't even like driving games!

This image not only impresses and scares me, it also makes me slightly jealous. And I don't even like driving games!

 

My current catalyst for this irritation may seem an odd one:

Ed Zitron, for Eurogamer, reviewed MMORPG Darkfall, and by all accounts gave it a roasting, awarding it 2/10.

Shortly thereafter, developers of said game, Aventurine, claimed that Zitron logged less than 3 hours in game, and most of that in the character creator, rendering his judgement of the game somewhat premature. Zitron denied this, claiming he played for 9 hours.

It has to be said, that to this observer Zitron appears to be in the wrong: if the claim that his experience of the game was of little more than the character creation suite, then his article should have reflected that. Even if he did, as he claims, play for 9 hours, and not just experience the joy of building characters, then his review failed to account even for this, making as it did statements about the game beyond the first 10 hours of play. No matter what, Zitron was deceptive in his review of the game, and this is an issue which needs to be addressed: by him, and by Eurogamer.**

Fight!

Fight!

However, this is not what I want to talk about.

No, what I want to talk about is something which cropped up following the event – on a forum I frequent, I saw a train of thought appear which I have seen before, one which I absolutely cannot accept.

In discussion of the review, a few points kept cropping up, regarding the time-frame required to review a game thoroughly. Some thought three hours was a reasonable amount of time to review a game: if a game is unremittingly bad for that period of time, they argued, then it was fair to condemn it on those grounds. Most, however agreed that three hours seemed slight, particularly if that time really was spent with the character creator. The nine-hour figure was more accepted – again, some argued that nine hours was plenty of time if those hours were nothing but a slog. However, some argued that even nine hours was not enough: that as a long-form game, for a proper critique of the game much more time would be required: time to get to the endgame, at least. This argument ran alongside another, questioning the possibility of writing a ‘conclusive’ review of an MMORPG in the same way as for other titles: other games, after all, tend to have an ending to work to, and can be valued entirely according to their mechanics. With MMO’s, community counts for at least as much as the core gameplay.

Deserving its grade? Perhaps, but also deserving a reviewer more open about where he was coming from.

Deserving its grade? Perhaps, but also deserving a reviewer more open about where he was coming from.

The latter argument was a fair one – it is probably fair to say that writing a ‘conclusive’ review of a constantly evolving, never ending MMO is impossible. Indeed, that’s probably why Eurogamer have, in the past, gone back to MMO’s as time has passed, to assess how tweaks to the gameplay and the everchanging playerbase has changed the experience. No, it was the former arguments that saw the appearance of the insidious train of thought I so-dislike. It’s a line of thought that goes something like this:

Every genre has its own quirks. If these quirks are common enough, then they become accepted by fans of the genre. Once they have been accepted by fans of the genre, they cannot be criticised because fans of the genre expect the quirk to be there.

There’s a problem with this argument. The problem being that it is, in fact, a steaming pile of horse excrement.

It is certainly possible to utterly miss the point of a genre, and so write an unsuitable review: last year’s review for IGN of Football Manager 2009 (the only remaining evidence on the site being this step down) sticks in the memory as one utterly failing to understand the appeal of football management sims. Even in this case, it would at least work as a cautionary review for those not enamoured with spreadsheets-as-gameplay.

 

"unless you really enjoy clicking on menu buttons, you’ll find your interaction with this game extremely disappointing"

"unless you really enjoy clicking on menu buttons, you’ll find your interaction with this game extremely disappointing"†

 

 

But reviews which criticise flaws endemic to a genre are not ‘missing the point’. They are, in fact, important: the worst thing a genre can do is stagnate, with developers repeating the same mistakes over and over again, refusing to change due the flaws being ‘normal’. Case in point: an infamous review of Doom for Edge magazine, which I’ve mentioned before in this blog, where the reviewer mused “if only you could talk to these creatures, then perhaps you could try and make friends with them, form alliances… Now, that would be interesting”.††

Doom is, of course, a landmark title – following up the success of Wolfenstein 3D, it represented an incredible step up for graphics, and helped turn the fledgling first-person shooter genre into a juggernaut.  The review (concluded by awarding Doom a positive but reserved 7/10) is widely touted as an example of a reviewer completely missing the point of the game.

And yet.

Like Duke Nukem 3D, only less funny and with more ninjas.

Like Duke Nukem 3D, only less funny and with more ninjas.

It was exactly this sort of thinking which saw the FPS stagnate – the years following Doom saw the genre become overpopulated, even as it failed to evolve beyond graphical sheen. A few standout moments like Duke Nukem 3D‘s insertion of character, and Quake‘s move to full 3D and multiplayer-oriented releases, couldn’t hide the mountains of clones that made up the majority of FPS releases. It wouldn’t be until Half-Life came along, bringing with it artful use of direction, that the genre really began to get sophisticated, and it wasn’t until Deus Ex that Edge’s desire for an FPS where you could talk to the creatures, where alliances could be forged. And what a game it was. A true landmark of the genre, that few titles have followed in its steps is a travesty.

Nevertheless, it proves the point: no matter how integral an issue may seem to a genre, it doesn’t have to be the only way to do things, and considering outside criticism is the best way to expand a genre’s appeal and playerbase. Just because MMORPG’s traditionally have a slow, unwelcoming build-up does not mean that this is the way things should be done, or that reviewers should not pick up on it. In fact, in this specific case, doing so ignores the leaps and bounds MMORPG’s like World of Warcraft managed in making the introduction to the universe a pleasant one.

Reviewing a game from and for core fans of the genre is a sensible, legitimate way of reviewing: assuming that said core fans will expect and accept certain issues and so glossing over them is also perfectly understandable. However, it is not, and should not be the only way, and anyone who suggests otherwise really is talking out of their arse. The healthiest system of criticism allows for a wide variety of perspectives, helping cater for the widest variety of potential readers, and in best-case scenarios helping to develop a genre. All that should be demanded is that the critic is open about their particular perspective.

 

Best.

Best.

 

Well, I don’t know about you, but I feel a lot better now. Good to work that out of the system. Anger: Managed.

 

*annoying.

**Eurogamer have so far stood by Zitron’s review, but have asked Kieron Gillen to give the game a second opinion – something the developers do not think is enough. Personally, I think bringing Gillen in is a very good move, though I can understand the anger over them not distancing themselves from the original review.

 

†05/12/2008 – Avi Burk, IGN; ‘Worldwide Soccer Manager 2009 Review’ (since removed).

††April 1994 – Edge Magazine; ‘Doom’.

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