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The Worst of All Good Things October 19, 2008

Filed under: Metagaming — haounomiko @ 8:45 pm

Occasionally, when I blog about games such as Hotel Dusk or MillionHeir that I find to be not particularly great, I find myself thinking, This game isn’t so bad. After all, I did want to finish it. And yet when it doesn’t win a place in my heart, my primary focus is on my frustrations and its flaws, perhaps because the gaming experience is inherently designed to make an enemy of the player. Getting stuck, getting frustrated, wandering around lost looking in all the wrong places: these are all part of gaming, and something would be missing without them. But players learn to think of these parts of the game as obstacles that get in their way, rather than as a cherished part of gameplay– it’s part of the attitude of tackling an enemy, and tearing the obstacles down is part of the triumph of success.

Sometimes I enjoy a game that is mediocre for the heck of it, for the satisfaction of finishing it and exploring all of it, even if it isn’t the greatest hit since Super Mario Bros 3. But often there isn’t much to say in its favour because the good part was very simply that it was a playable game, whereas there are plenty of things to criticise because games inherently throw negative things at players so that there’s something to overcome.

Perhaps I should give the games I play a rating, or at least a “recommended/not recommended” status. The trouble with that is that it’s usually far more complex. Recommended for who? Rated with what baseline? I’ve tried to stick to descriptions, but that still leaves me feeling that I’ve only conveyed part of the picture. Gaming is a holistic experience that’s very hard to break down. In the end, I think gamers just have to see for themselves.


5 Responses to “The Worst of All Good Things”

  1. Ayulsa Says:

    Hmm, it’s an interesting question: what “recommends” a game? I suppose my personal baseline would be “is the experience I got out of it, minus the negative emotions I felt from it that I consider to have been unwanted (as opposed to ones that may have been part of the artistic experience, unintentionally or otherwise), worth the price of the game plus the time expended on it”, or more concisely, whether (experience – negativity) > cost + time.

    The problem is, of course, that experience and negativity aren’t numerical values, and “whether the time spent was worth it” is an emotional matrix based on how inspired/bored you felt, how much you gained versus how much you felt it was a waste, not an absolute. So it’s really difficult to describe, as you say.

    I suppose you can rate, at the least, whether *you* felt the game was worth the time and money you spent. But that also depends on the price you actually paid for it (used or not?), your skill level, and so forth. There’s also whether you would rather someone use the time to play something else, assuming they don’t have infinite time in which to play games. It’s complicated.

    Another metric is “compared to a game I would consider ‘average’ or ‘the baseline of goodness for this genre’ or ‘something that has redefined the genre such that anything falling below this is not worth playing’, this game is better/worse”. But I think an inferior piece of media can still be a good piece of media, so.

    Now I’m thinking about games I’ve played that I would have considered “not worth playing at the price”. Not too many. I don’t think I got much out of, say, Bubsy 2 that changed my life, or B.O.B. And Buster Busts Loose was a fabulous platformer, but was it worth $100 (yes, it sold for that in those days)? When I start looking at it like that, I’m not sure it’s a useful metric either. I don’t feel the loss of that $100 now (especially since it, uh, wasn’t mine), but can I say the game is *worth* that? No. But it’s a good game, if not exceptional.

    Now is Super Mario Bros. 3 worth $100? Yes. It’s probably worth $1000. It’s incomparable, as is, say, Zelda 3, FF4, FF6, etc. What price such experiences, indelible from the mind and forming of the bones of one’s mental skeleton into strange and arcane, wondrous and hopeful shapes? How do we measure worth anyway compared to the ineffable? And I could philosophise on….

  2. haounomiko Says:

    The difficulty in rating something “worth it/not worth it” is that I can only recommend how I myself reacted to it. Perhaps my experience was great but the game is seriously flawed and most people don’t like it– a few “guilty pleasure” games like that come to mind. Or perhaps a game would be good for people who like what I like, but not so great for those who don’t, even if they share many of my tastes in gaming (I’m put in mind of some things I like that I think you would hate, such as Myst).

    Furthermore, about the price, that can only be rated with regards to my own income. For a wealthy adult, $1000 for SMB3 might be “worth it”, but for a ten-year-old who might get every bit as much out of that game as the adult, that same price might be impossible and out of the question to pay no matter how badly they want it. On the other hand, the ten-year-old might hesitate to drop $60 (the standard price for new video games when I was growing up, before these newfangled “disc” things became the new black) on a game that could change their life, because it might take them a whole year to save up that much money, whereas an adult might recoup that in a morning of work. And that’s not even counting the vast difference in income among different adults and different households. We are all one community of gamers, but our circumstances are diverse. Even if we all agreed that a game was an irreplacable beloved classic, “worth the price” can’t be applied to anyone who doesn’t share my exact financial situation.

    I also agree that an inferior game can still be a good piece of media; I stayed up late trying to finish MillionHeir even though I didn’t think it made the cut as a console game. That, I suppose, is the heart of this post– a low-quality game is still a game; that is, it’s a unit of enjoyable entertainment no matter how you slice it. Few games are so awful that we actually have an unpleasant time playing them. When we call something a “bad game”, we mean that we’re not having an outstanding time.

  3. Ayulsa Says:

    That, I suppose, is the heart of this post– a low-quality game is still a game; that is, it’s a unit of enjoyable entertainment no matter how you slice it. Few games are so awful that we actually have an unpleasant time playing them. When we call something a “bad game”, we mean that we’re not having an outstanding time.

    *nods.* And perhaps instead of attempting to provide review-like scores or opinions on games, you could… link to this entry and its comments at the bottom of every review? Or maybe make a link to it on the sidebar that says “my recommendation policy” or such? Or write some of what we’ve said here up into a revised version of the original post?

  4. haounomiko Says:

    I’ve linked to it as a “notable post” on my sidebar now.

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