A reader commented on my Canabalt review the other day. He intended his statement as a compliment, but it was actually a grievous diss. I’m writing this to prevent any future misunderstandings.
You don’t know the end-all goal of any game unless you created it yourself or unless you’ve read interviews from developers who weren’t lying. Maybe the goal for Bebe’s Kids was to simply earn 10k monies for rent, and maybe some wily designer wants to cause emotional distress and create controversy with a historically accurate magic bullet simulator. Some goals and ambitions make for interesting discussion, but when we evaluate the actual game, we should study its worth as a game — more on that some other time.
Now, about enjoyment, a.k.a. “fun”.
Hmaal believes that if the user feels enjoyment, then it isn’t a bad game. Moreover, he believes it isn’t a bad game in any respect. The silliness of that statement should be apparent, so I’ll just talk about whether being “fun” makes something “a good game”.
I have to admit that I did enjoy Canabalt . . . for about three minutes, before I saw through its gimmick. I’m ashamed it took me that long! Canabalt is not fun. I’ll be damned if I admit a videogame is good just because other people enjoy it. Every crappy game ever made (except for SNES Pit Fighter) could be somewhat “good” by that standard.
Of course, no one really believes that everything is good — whether bright or dim, humans are judgmental and occasionally enjoy laughing at bad things. As soon as someone points out the silliness of their words, people who play the “game-X gives users enjoyment and is therefore good” card will immediately play the “game-X gives me enjoyment, so it’s a good game to me” card instead. They’ve begun to own their bias, which is a promising first step . . . but still not enough.
Watching the bright, action-packed cutscenes in Wolf Team’s Anet Futatabi is fun. The playable sequences are disastrously bad, but overall I enjoyed Anet Futatabi’s cutscenes so much that I played the game over and over. It’s still a crappy game — it just happens to have nice cutscenes. And Apocalypse Now is such a bad game that people instead call it a film.
Extreme? Hardly. When someone says a game, film, book, or activity is “fun”, they are saying they enjoyed the experience. There are hundreds of things that make up an experience, and the product’s quality is only one of them. We cannot reliably conclude that someone thinks “fun” equates to “good quality” unless they explicitly say it’s fun because of its good quality. And if someone says that, they should be able to provide design-related reasons. Until someone has questioned themselves and established reasons to validate their feelings, it’s useless to even mention gut feelings in the context of criticism.
So in short: if I spend time on a videogame, it had damn well better be fun, but being fun doesn’t make something a good videogame.
Now, back to Hmaal and how he massively dissed me.
My one-Hokuto-star review of Canabalt is a sincere, reasoned expression of truth from an expert. Praising someone’s unique perspective, while casually dismissing their argument, is a sneaky way to call someone crazy.
Perhaps I am crazy. Like a fox!