(Originally written on October 31st of 2014.)
In my last bit of writing, I talked about valuing your time and respecting others’ appreciation of their time. I mentioned my status as an outlier in that way, with my free time being so consistently abundant that in both August and September of this year, a week transpired where I played the game that had captivated me at the time, on average, ten hours a day.
Tales of Xillia 2 was my August binge, after having looked forward to it since January (when I played Tales of Xillia) as my first ever full-price purchase of a $60 title. Nier was my binge in September courtesy of my dad, and as a final stop on the whirlwind tour of Yoko Taro games, I was shocked at how plainly enjoyable it was compared to either Drakengard entry I’d played. It started as a chore, and grew to be a joy, and 70 hours later, my file faded in Ending D.
After considering how I use my time, though, it became apparent rather quickly that even with my vast amount of free time compared to most people, I still have vague standards. Those standards get a lot harder to nail down when I step outside my comfort zone of RPGs, but even there, it’s difficult to express precisely what keeps me playing a game.
I know my habit of carrying on with games thanks to something akin to inertia; I’ll keep rolling through the game unless the experience starts hitting snags. Said habit is a bit immature, and embarrassing to admit, but it really takes some effort to return to a game with a section I don’t want to deal with. The sense of dread weighs heavily on me, even when it’s something I’ve conquered before, like the infamous water hall segment of Resident Evil 4, which has stopped my progress in the HD version of the game I purchased on Steam.
And even if there’s not a hard wall of challenge like some games will present, the friction of the challenges required by the game still requires a bit more energy to overcome than I’m used to. Whether those challenges are my own shortcomings, clashes with the design of the game, or some mixture of the two, I, as a player, only have so much patience, and that patience can only take me so far in a single session.
For example, I find it a challenge to play and beat first-/third-person shooters. Not, generally, because of the difficulty of the gauntlet itself, but because the degree of focus I have to exert while playing them is different from what my favored genre generally asks of me. I played Bioshock Infinite in three equally lengthy sessions that added up to roughly 11 hours, to the best of my recollection. These sessions had minor breaks but were otherwise basically solid gameplay, with very little else to distract me. I never hit a wall, but after two or three hours of dealing with the game’s mechanics, I had become tired of that ordeal, to say nothing of the story, and had to stop for the day.
Welcome to The Machine
Let me say this: games are machines at their core. They aim for different functions to produce different experiences, they’re composed in similar but unique ways, they aspire to varied lengths, and they require fuel in the form of attention from the player, with specifications matched to the game.
RPGs, which I’m fond of, are a slow burn, made to spread their experience over the course of dozens of hours, and are rather lax about how much you focus on them. The fuel, the player’s attention, doesn’t need to be concentrated very much. In fact, it’s often a complaint that the genre is too much cutscene; it’s better to have a large volume of low-potency fuel since there’s a quota of volume/time to be met, or rather, an upper limit of how effective a given unit of time can be in its result.
Shooters, however, are aiming for a more potent burst, marking a need for fuel to match, and thus more focused play. But since I have a surfeit of RPG-tuned fuel, it takes more overall to see all of what the machine can do, and usually empties my tanks a couple of times. There’s very little upper limit on the efficiency of fuel usage with proper skill on the part of the player, though, so veterans of the genre or series have an easier time seeing everything. This applies to a lot of action games, too. Devil May Cry, for instance, is quite a hard thing to get into as an action amateur, and even playing something I’m confident I can handle, like Metal Gear Rising: Revengeance or Bayonetta, I have to take the game in bursts.
Every single player, every source of fuel for these machines that cannot function completely without them, will have different stocks of fuel, in different volumes of varied potency, and use them differently even in similar starting arrays. This is the argument that defenders of Let’s Plays would and often do use to place importance on the input of the player in LPs when faced by criticism or ad-swiping by the creators; no two playthroughs are the same, and potential customers probably won’t be deterred from buying the game. In fact, it may inspire them to pick up a copy themselves and try their own hand at it! I have been inspired to pick up at least four games I would not otherwise have touched thanks to LPs.
So why is subjectivity (in reviews and such) such a negative buzzword recently, and objectivity a supposed goal for members of enthusiast press?
Reading Comprehension is Hard
That’s about it.
Okay, But Really…
Objective and subjective are two sides of the same process, and that process is thought. (That’s obviously a new concept to some game-players, but let’s assume it’s not.)
Objective can only describe an object of one’s thoughts, while subjective inherently describes the one thinking, the subject. With that distinction made, it quickly becomes clear that reviews, which are, at the very least, filtered through the lens of the player’s history, processed by the player, and spoken in terms to convey their feelings as accurately as possible, cannot be anything but subjective.
I’m fond of the idea that media is pervaded by phantoms, an idea that was planted some time ago by a writer I’ve since forgotten. This is how it goes, as relevant to the point: when you approach a game, you hold an idea of what you want from the game, and the preconception you hold mingles with the actual content of the game to form a phantom game that you carry with you. That’s basically your opinion of the game.
So, in my eyes, subjectively, subjectivity is wholly unavoidable in reviews, a medium meant entirely for conveying the player/subject’s thoughts on a game/object.
I think objective game reviews can exist, but… Maybe only if you parse the word “reviews” as re-views. If you’re clamoring for objective views on a game, the only place you’ll find those are the game itself! Direct interaction is the only way to get information untainted by those pesky subjects and thoughts by people who don’t like what you like.
…I do think reviews are weirdly busted, but not in the “these reviews are Too Subjective” way a lot of GGators are freaking out over, what with the call to denounce Polygon for their lower-than-usual score on Bayonetta 2, a game that, let’s be clear, had not yet released to the public.
(Yeah, sorry, this post ended up talking about GamerGate, but it’s been so virulently stupid over the last two months that it was inevitable.)
Optimally, I’d like more varied voices in reviewer positions. I want to be able to find people who share opinions with me on what works in different genres and stories so I can know if a new game they’re reviewing would work for me, if the advertising and fan-hype hasn’t settled my mind on the matter. I want that to be the sort of option everyone else has, too, no matter what socio-political stripe they attribute themselves as, and no matter their genre. Then we could have discussions about the value of games and their ideas.
As is, a metaphorical ochre jelly that is attempting to consume and destroy writers who disagree with the status quo is not helpful. Games exist to be played, their mechanics and ideas to be consumed, processed, considered, then discussed. Stifling that isn’t helpful in the slightest. There is nothing apolitical about punishing progressive critical thought of games, and if you want to be conservative capitalists, just say that instead of hiding behind supposed apolitical notions.