The Nature of Refinement
A lot of what is written in media reviews and articles, and especially so in those stemming from the game community, are articles that are built on the basis of criticism. Since most of the people who take time to write about games are also people who are passionate about games, we often tend to let our passion guide our criticism. This is kind of like using a sledge-hammer to cut a diamond. We all have likely been guilty of it from time to time, but that is no reason not to be conscious of it.
Refinement, the process by which things are made better, purer, and more desirable is by its nature a destructive process. It doesn’t really matter whether you are talking about refining a process, chemicals, raw materials, or the way we think; the only way to refine something is to cut away the impurities.
When you refine something, however, you have to be sure that you are doing it in such a way as to leave what remains better than it was before, and that is the target this article is aimed at. In short, this is not an article about games themselves, but about those of us that review them, play them, design them, and discuss them and our approaches to doing so.
Recent Media Trends
Recently, in the media we have seen some pretty damaging trends from the critics and reporters. Designers and games alike being lambasted for their every word, deed, or decision. To name just a few:
Those are just small samples of a very large, very long list of recent articles, reviews, and critiques. I picked these in particular to prove a point. In the first, we not only lost a brilliant developer but a potentially brilliant game because of harsh criticisms and negative feedback.
In the second, a corporate giant changed their policies to please the vocal minority, but at the cost of other features that were potentially very big steps in the right direction for the future of gaming.
In the third, we have developers talking trash about each other, tearing the industry down from within. In the last, we witnessed an internet spectacle where the person performing the critique systematically bashed practically every video game every made and the game community lashed back out at her in child like temper tantrums.
Words have power
Folks, we can do better than this. We can BE better than this. Yes, refinement is a destructive process, and always will be, but when you are refining something you have to be extraordinarily careful that you do not destroy the product in the process.
Wii U suffered from a lack of third party developers to make games. In one case, the developer, based on reviews, decided not to make a game for Wii U without ever having seen or used the console personally. Strangely enough, after even more cries for his game to be released on Wii U, and actually picking up and testing the product, he decided it could in fact work.
How many Wii U console owners have been affected by careless reporting, leading to developers assuming a lack of interest? How many future owners of XBox One consoles will be negatively affected by the media outcry over the always online? (No, I don’t agree with it either, but that does not mean that I can not see the potential benefits of it and give it an unbiased review.)
We are living in a world that is more connected than ever, where the line between our private and professional lines is blurred to the point of non-existence for many. Critiques against a product or about design decisions often devolve into personal attacks, with lives being ruined in the process. Phil Phish and Anita Sarkeesian are just two examples of where something that should have stayed professional turned into a personal slugfest.
We can critique a product without turning it into a personal assault against the developers. We can even critique the critics without it devolving into mud-slinging, name calling and threats. We can narrow our criticisms to cut away the bad without damaging the good that lies underneath. Words have power. Write responsibly.