Monday, February 16, 2009

Why is game purchasing such a gamble?

Prompted by DM Osbon's comment I went and re-read The Artful Gamers article and I fear I completely misunderstood it the first time. When TAG said in italics “Game journalism can be just as exciting and enlightening as playing games themselves!” I thought he was poking light hearted fun at criticism that thinks it is art.

If he seriously believes that then I have to fundamentally disagree. In fact I think this “criticism as an art form” movement is a big part of the reason why we are currently so badly served by game reviews.

Criticism can never be more important than the thing itself. Criticism is a tool to aid the buying process, nothing more nothing less. Once the purchasing decision has been made the critic becomes irrelevant. The game and the playing of it are everything.

Anyway - my comments about the difficulty of choosing a decent game still hold so here is the ORIGINAL POST:

Thanks to Rock Paper Shotgun for pointing me to a great article at "The Artful Gamer" about the failings of new game journalism. I have to admit that much of TAG's piece goes above my head but it did get me thinking about the difficulty of deciding whether or not a game is worth buying.

Think about all the useful information you get in a bookshop, right at the point of sale, to help you make an informed buying decision. It is not just the publisher's cherry picked review quotes (although these can help). It is also the classification of titles by genre and author. It is the helpful review information provided in booklets and posters around the shop. It is the lists of best selling books, prizewinning books and books recommended by book clubs. It is the informed and helpful staff who take the trouble to highlight particular books and make their own recommendations.

Contrast that situation with the complete lack of helpful information available in your local game shop. At best you will get a list of "best selling games" which is next to useless in the absence of any more information. The internet is awash with games reviews but in this era of games "journalism as art" it has become extremely difficult to distinguish opinionated self promotion from legitimate critique. The aggregation sites can be helpful but these must be interpreted carefully and the headline scores taken with a pinch of salt. Aggregate score favour populist games and aren't much help at finding niche or specialist titles.

I am particularly aware of this lack at the moment because one of my daughters got a Wii for Christmas and I have struggled to find any games that she enjoys playing on it. She is a thoughtful and contemplative child. She appreciates story and immersion. She dislikes games involving manual dexterity. The best selling Wii titles are clearly designed for someone other than her but I cannot believe that there aren't some decent games out there that she would appreciate. Unfortunately I haven't been able to thread my way through the maze of reviews to find them.


Anonymous said...

Purchasing games has always been a bit of a gamble. I've bought plenty in the past that haven't been worth the plastic if the CD.

Reviews help, but even the big review sites seem to be nowhere near as honest these days. Gamespot scandals notwithstanding.

Perhaps it's bloggers conceit, but I tend to think the blogs offer the best hope for getting honest reviews these days. You have to read a lot of blogs of course, and learn to read between the lines, but if a bunch of bloggers are saying the same things about a game you're probably getting some good intel.

Finding a suitable game in the first place, that's another matter. Why don't you try some Wi print magazines and get some demo disks?

Green Armadillo said...

I own a Wii and haven't really used it in months because I haven't been able to find the kind of deep games you're talking about. Ironically, my PS2 is probably still the more used system for offline RPG's (though i don't really play those much anymore either) and the occasional game of DDR. It's like all the devs heard they could make $$$$$$ by coding a game where people pretend to play tennis and they lost all interest in doing anything deeper.

mbp said...

Hi Stropp I find blogs useful for PC game reviews because I follow a number of them and I know whose opinions are likely to coincide with my own. When it comes to the Wii though my information channels are pretty useless.

Hi Green Armadillo. Is it really as bad as that? The Wii is far and away the best selling games console of this generation. Surely some one has mad a game for it that isn't a glorified variation of Wii Sports?

Thallian said...

Take a look at World of Goo.. Actually there's prolly quite a few games she'd like. Try Fire Emblem and Final Fantasy Crystal Chronicles, My Life as a King. It and world of goo are on the Wiiware part of the system so you download it. Toki Tori is another good game if she likes puzzles. It is also downloadable

Anonymous said...

I'd agree, World of Goo maybe a good choice.

RE: The Artful Gamer link - hmmm not sure if the argument is a little overblown. I don't pretend to be a 'fountain of knowledge', no one person can be the 'final word'. Might have to re-read it again to make full sense of where it's trying to lead me.

mbp said...

Ooooh .. thanks for all the juicy recommendations Thallian. I will explore your suggestions.

Hi DM I have to admit that a lot of the Artful gamers article went over my head. My own point still holds but re-reading TAG I now wonder if I completely misunderstood him. When said that "Game journalism can be just as exciting and enlightening as playing games themselves!" I thought he was poking fun at the "criticism as an art form" brigade. On second reading I think he may actually believe that.

Melf_Himself said...

Goo is a great one on the Wii because you can play 2 player with her, and dexterity requirements are minimal.

You can also download old-school Nintendo games from the online store - you might think about some of the old Zelda games, as they didn't take much skill to control.

Anonymous said...

How about Chocobo's Dungeon, if your daughter enjoys RPGs. It's a "rogue-like" but a bit more friendly than the typical rogue-like since you don't lose your levels if you die in a dungeon.

The storyline involves some evil entity stealing the personalities of everyone in a town. You have to enter their minds (essentially) and unlock their memories so they can find themselves again.

It got a 76 at metacritic :) but I found it to be pretty fun, and its very kid-friendly.

mbp said...

Thank you Melf and Pete. Chocobo sounds like one to try. I have always thought that she would like rpgs but a lot of rpgs focus on combat rather than story and that kind of puts her off.

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