Shadow of the Colossus
Only a Game

Death To All Fanatics!

ShoutThe world is a fascinating place, full of wonders and diversity. I never cease to find ways to enjoy my time here, and the fact that one day I will be dead and at peaceful rest only serves to enhance my love of the  time I've been given to explore this strange and marvellous planet.

Although I try to make my peace with everything as best I can, it's difficult to do so with  fantatics, those so deeply ensconced in their own belief systems (whether scientific, religious or otherwise) that they suffer cognitive  dissonance almost constantly, and must engage in curiously aggressive and hostile behaviours  to alleviate this internal pressure.

Nowhere is this more apparent than in the murky depth of the gaming internet, where there are a seemingly endless supply of people who are so utterly convinced that their nervous  system is better tuned to the universe than anyone else's that anyone who expresses a contrary viewpoint must be wrong.

Perhaps I am being unfair. Perhaps the violent exchanges of flame wars in forums and the like are really harmless agonistic sparring between people who enjoy argument fervantly, and  enjoy the chance to test their verbal mettle against others. I'm certainly not against  people having the freedom to do what they choose; I have no issue with consensual activities  of any kinds, from prostitution, recreational chemicals to politics - do what thou wilt,  just remember that you must also take responsibility for whatever it is you choose to do. If  these arguments really are consensual, then they have my blessing - although leave me out of  it, please.

What frustrates me, however, is the nagging sense that there is some underlying intelligence  behind all this bellicose posturing. And it makes me wonder just how much distributed mental  bandwidth is being sqaundered on petty bickering that could be being put to work helping us  make better games.

As a professional game designer, I simply can't get enough information about what people enjoy about games, what annoys them, and especially how they go about playing the  games they choose to play. This stuff is gold dust, and I'm eternally grateful for blogs like Tea Leaves and their ilk that do a great job of expressing opinions about the play of  various different games. That the opinions are sometimes ascerbically worded is neither here  nor there - we all have to blow of steam from time to time - the point is, they are  coherently expressed opinions by players about the games they have played.

But unfortunately, most discussion about games on the internet is not of such a high standard. In fact, the vast majority of it seems to fit the following script:

[Game name] is the worst [game genre] ever! It doesn't even [do something that  another game I enjoyed did]. No-one should play [game name] and anyone who likes [game name] is an idiot. I can't believe there are so many idiots who like [game name!]

Or:

That's total [expletive]! How could you make such a stupid mistake  as [liking/not liking] [game name]! You're an idiot! I can't believe how stupid you are!

So predictable are these formats that all communications of this kind are effectively free from information. Apart from allowing for an eruption of emotion from the person responsible for  writing it, they seem completely without value.

Perhaps I am optimistic, to dream of a gaming community that uses their manifold talents and  skills to share information and viewpoints; to discuss the finer points of games and game design; to debate with each other about different possible approaches and their merits and costs; to talk about what they'd like to see, or like to see more of; in essence, to support  game development with their talents and insights instead of fighting valueless verbal wars,  full of sound and fury but signifying nothing.

We will all die one day. Our time is short, and we should enjoy every minute of life that is  given to us - a gift from the great unknown. We are especially blessed, those of us that live in countries where the denizens have adequate shelter, plenty of food and a decent life expectancy - where we  are so surrounded by manifest blessings that we not only have many entertaining games to  play, but the time to enjoy them, and to enjoy talking about them.

Let no-one sqaunder so precious a gift.

Comments

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Yeah, that guy was a dick.

I'm waiting for the day when someone flies a plane into Microsoft headquarters.

Yeah, I've come to think from living with these hardcore folks (for games and self-contradiction like you said) that it's really an issue of self-esteem. A lot of the bad behaviors we see in-game and out-of-game on things like forums (which are fulfilling their own ludic space) are due to the negativity people feel over their own activity. That is, people come to resent themselves after awhile for all the time and missed opportunities they spend on a title. They transfer that to the provider and title, unable to cope with it in themselves.

As people invest their time, they invest themselves in the title. And they likewise feel some ownership over it. Even if it's only to care for themselves. It may be irrational, but I think a lot of gamers adopt an abusive relationship with a provider and a title in order to supplement something else in their lives. Working and ranting about the game fills a need. IMO only. Great blog BTW. Thanks.

Patrick:
I actually was planning to write this before the random flamer; that just kind of tipped the balance. I *assume* he was offended at the idea that I tried to dispassionately assess Shadow of the Colossus in a critique, but we'll never know, and I guess it doesn't matter. It's not like I don't like the game! :)

Adam:
Great comment! Even as just a roughly sketched idea, it's easy to see how something like this could happen. It makes me wonder if any psychologists have written papers on this sort of behaviour - where would be the right place to look, I wonder?

I am disappointed.

Disappointed on several levels, but let's start with the easy stuff first.

The assumption that a single dismissive response from the creator of a weblog would cause me to disappear, never to return, is itself incoherent, as I'd indicated I've been reading you for some time (it may be as much as a year but could be as short as eight months; I've switched feed readers a number of times). Why would I, after reading for so long, hitch up the wagons and run out of town based on a single slung arrow?

Like I tried to indicate in the post, but apparently didn't quite get across, and your prejudicial assumptions about who I am didn't help, it is the very case that I HAVE been reading you for so long that this new cancerous intent to apply an arbitrary abstraction system onto games (and then retroactively apply them to everything as if that's making a difference in the improvement of your own good works) causes such a heated reaction in me. It's like seeing someone go on a low-carb diet and from that point on, all their posts work in an angle about lack or excess of carbohydrates. After even a short time, the gut reaction is "What HAPPENED to you?"

In your case, I hadn't read you for a couple months (I do in fact do other stuff and shame on you for implying otherwise, even a little) and so this new tack in your blog hit me like a full-on wave. Having grabbed hold of this new abstraction of videogames, you're wasting precious time in your life trying to retroactively apply it to old games, recent games, whatever. Sure, it's your life to waste, but you're the one leaving the comment field open and here I am.

Joel Spolsky's "Architecture Astronauts" essay:

http://www.joelonsoftware.com/printerFriendly/articles/fog0000000018.html

...provides a better-arranged statement of what shocks me about your falling into this rat-hole of abstraction. You walk the halls of perfectly fine works, both made and unmade, tick off an arbitrary schema list, and then declare victory or failure based on that.

Maybe, just maybe, I could see you trying to apply this theory to not-yet-published games (with the collusion of publishers) and then see if there are successes or failures based on what your scale indicates. Otherwise, what point is all these endless lists but wasted energy?

I get the distinct impression that you think I am defending Shadow of the Colossus. I have never played Shadow of the Colossus. I've seen some screenshots. I heard it's good, I think it won some awards recently or something. I am, again, disappointed that you assumed I was some errant tyke searching google for all mentions of the game and then attacking, with no context, everyone who spoke a less-than-shining word against my favorite game.

Like I said, if I'd likely watched this creep of your weblog from excellent gaming experience discussion into the statistical limbo you've wandered into, I probably would have said something less harsh. But now that you're up to the point where the vast percentage of your excellently-written weblog is contained within this matter, I jumped in with both guns ablaze. Your gut response to dismiss me as an aberration, a mindless synchophant of Studio Ico, is poor and, as mentioned above, disappointing.

Murmur among your friends about the stranger talking at your table, but it's your table you offered to share, and the stranger wonders what's up with the endless low carb meals.

Jason:

Firstly, I want to reiterate that this post was in the works before your comment, and also that your comment was rather hostile and impolite (your opening words were "Good lord, what crap"), which just made it easier to pick this post over others I was considering for the round table.

I'm sorry you feel this way, but I just don't see it the way you do. We're not using the play specifications to "judge games", per se, only to explore how people play games. I personally can't marry up your description of what is wrong with this to what we are doing at all.

Okay, so you're disappointed that we mistook you for an "errant tyke" (great phrase!) - but your comment was written in a manner which suggested this! I apologise if you feel mistreated, but it was you who wrote the words that resulted in this misconception; we're all partly responsible as communication always involves two parties.

I really do not understand where you got the idea that we are "judging" games by this criteria. That's not what I see, and I hope it's not what others see. This is about looking at how people play different games, and the play therein. In the Shadow of the Colossus piece, there is little or no connection to the play spec and the criticisms I've chosen to voice.

The other thing I'm using the play specs for is to look at the interface design in terms of its elegance and simplicity. This, like so much of what we do here, is subjective. But I don't see anything wrong with it. It's influencing the design work that I'm doing at the moment.

Okay, so you're bored of the play specs and personally don't find any value in them - well perhaps a message like the following would have been more appropriate:

"I'm sorry, I don't find these play specifications very interesting. I hope now the symposium is over you'll move on to talk about other things, thank you."

The bottom line is, I expect guests at my blog to behave politely and your behaviour was distinctly otherwise. I value the opinions of all my guests, but I do ask that they express their opinions civilly.

If you decide to hang on here, then I hope we can put this incident behind us with no ill will, and I hope that some of my future content will interest you.

I'm an ordinary human being, and life can be hard going from time to time. I don't need to be recieving personal attacks - whether or not they were intended as such - in my blogging time. This is supposed to be fun!

Please accept my apology for creating the impression that this post was directed at you personally. But you must also accept that the reason it seems this way was of because of how you choose to word your comment.

I hope you'll choose to accept this olive branch so that we can put this behind us and move on.

There is no greater tool to validate and extend your own position, no greater way to hone your writing craft, no more surefire way of directing attention to that which you create, than to find someone who hates you. Boy howdy, I'd almost pay money for a dedicatedly vituperative flamer to find my blog. (Click my name to check it out!) The flamer is the "other", who defines the limits, who the community rallies against, who casts light on your own position through the absence of brightness of their own. I've been a member of online communities with raging incoherent trolls, and of communities where we all agreed and got along, and no question, the argumentative one is a more demanding, more stimulating, and more social one. Hands down.

Jason - Would you say that literary analysis, the study of music (classical and new works), and critical analysis of film are all as much a waste of energy and time as this endeavour? Perhaps, as Chris suggests, you don't understand the direction that this critical look at games is coming from.

It is my understanding that Chris is trying to develop a way to look at games and reveal their underlying mechanics. We, as game designers and play engineers, are trying to understand what makes a game tick. How we play (as defined by the play spec, as well as other tools) is a crucial aspect of this.

It can be likened to understanding the mechanics of music. Not only the notes, but how they can be combined. Composing melodies, counterpoint harmonies, traditional music or new, belies an understanding of how the music works. Moreover, it indicated a knowledge of how people listen to music. Some people understand by intuition, some by analysis. Both are valid approaches.

Games, as a similar narrative art form (http://blog.pjsattic.com/corvus/2006/06/lets-call-the-whole-thing-off/), can be deconstructed to gain understanding in the same way. As a young art, the language to analyse the existing media is still being developed. Some will learn from it, some will create new ways to play without ever reading a play spec. Personally, I find it is making me look at the mechanics of games in a new way. I hope to gain a greater understanding of these so I can create systems that are transparent to the user, revealing the stories I want to tell without confusion of mechanics. I can only do that by learning from what has come before.

I recommend the forums at www.quartertothree.com -- you need to get personal approval to join (from Tom Chick, well-known PC game reviewer and admin of the site). This blog should qualify you. Definitely some of the best gaming discussion I've ever found on the net.

I had been thinking about a couple of things lately, and when I saw what the topic was for Round Table, I felt that what I wanted to say fit pretty well. I don't know if Round Table is looking for stuff from anybody that submits, or if I needed my own blog site first, but I figured I would just post my own little piece here (also, I have no idea how to post this for Round Table since I'm not very internet savvy) Anywhoo, this is nothing revolutionary, but let me know what you think.

The Golden Age of Gaming

As a little kid I remember staying up late to watch my older brother play The Legend of Zelda. My bedtime was 7 pm back then (I was only five years old), but on nights when my whole family huddled around the TV to watch my brother play, I was allowed to stay up until the gaming was done for the evening; sometimes as late as 9 pm!!! It was a wonderful experience, and a classic game.

One night I’ll never forget was when my brother reached the final dungeon, and when he finally faced Ganon. Link must have died twenty times over that night, but my younger brother, my mom, my dad, and I all watched intensely, and we all rejoiced when Ganon fell under Link’s silver arrow, leaving a pile of ashes. That instant, my dad called a Nintendo hotline number and ordered the brand spanking new Zelda II: The Adventure of Link, released less than a year after the original.

You could imagine how excited we were when Zelda II finally arrived in the mail. That night we decided to wait until after dinner before we put the game in so we could all sit together and watch my brother once again lead Link through the land of Hyrule. No one talked at dinner; we were all busy stuffing food down our throats as fast as possible so we could get this nuisance of a meal over with and get to the game.

Finally we all gathered around the TV. I bounced up and down with excitement while my parents sat up straight, tense with anticipation. My brother ceremoniously inserted the cartridge and started up the Nintendo. The title screen was glorious; a rocky plateau with a long, gleaming sword standing majestic, like the wondrous Excalibur. The music was epic in all of it keyboarded glory. The title slowly materialized and in big, bold fonts pronounced ‘LINK HAS RETURNED!!!’ The game began.

That night none of us spoke as we went to bed. There was no “goodnight,” no “brush your teeth before you go to bed,” no “I love you.” It may have been my imagination, but I think the only sound I heard that night was faint sobbing coming from my brother’s room.

Ok, so that may have been a little bit of an exaggerated and long-winded intro, but descriptions of the joyous memories of the first Zelda game, the long hours of waiting and anticipation, and then finally the stomach churning disappointment of Zelda II could fill a novel. Thankfully, Nintendo decided to take its time with the third installment of the series, as it took nearly five years before A Link to the Past was released. Of course everyone knows how incredible it was, and how well worth the wait it was.

At the same time Link’s Awakening was in the works, and it turned out to be another fine entry. It took another six years before Ocarina of Time was released, and it was hailed as one of the best games ever made. Now… off of the top of your head… can you list off all eight of the Zelda games that have been released or announced in the eight years since then? I think you know what I’m getting at here.

The Zelda series has lost much of the wonder, joy, excitement, and passion that it once inspired in so many gamers. With a new, nondescript entry coming out every year, it’s hard to remember which game had what dungeon, which one had that awesome boss battle, or even which games you still need to play. I’ll admit, I haven’t even played all of the games in the series; I gave up after Nintendo released Oracle of Ages and Oracle of Seasons at the same time for a handheld system I didn’t have, and never planned on buying. It also doesn’t help that the last few entries I had played, while above par games over all, never came close to being as incredible as the earlier games. Windwaker’s ideas were novel, but the dungeon design was bland, Majora’s Mask had the same problem, and its visual style and game play were uneven at best!

I love the Zelda games. I have many fond memories of Hyrule and I can’t wait to play Twilight Princess when it comes out. But I have this feeling that I just can’t shake; a kind of disillusionment with Nintendo’s prize pony. The magic seems to be gone and now all I can see is the business behind it. It’s like I’ve gone to Disney World one too many times, and now it’s become nothing more than high priced food, cheap souvenirs, and fake facades. It’s troubling enough that this is happening to Zelda, but it’s very upsetting to see the same thing with Mario, Sonic, Castlevania, and many other classic game series. I mean, who else was completely unaware that Super Princess Peach was released four months ago?

The gaming industry is booming, and we know that this time it is here to stay. But like the surviving forms of entertainment before it, videogames have reached a transition period. Three decades have passed since the beginning of videogames, the same amount of time that the golden age of comic books lasted, and the same amount of time that the golden age of cinema lasted. And just like those media, videogames too have hit their slump. The industry will churn on; it will continue to evolve as new technologies develop and new cultures arise. The money will continue to roll in, and gamers will continue to eat up everything that comes their way. But for now the love, the beauty, and the art are gone.

If the history of comics and film are to have any say about this, then it appears that it will be a couple of decades before we see the next ground breaking piece of interactive entertainment. Until then, the market will saturate and some gamers will lose interest, the newness will disappear, and the creativity will be lacking. That’s ok; it’s the natural progression of entertainment and art. I have accepted that the next Zelda game will be fun, but not a classic. I have accepted that Mario may never return to his previous glory. That’s ok, because twenty years from now, we will be wowed by something so wonderful that we can’t even begin to imagine it today. The art and beauty of videogames will most definitely return, but at this moment, the golden age of the videogame is dead.

Chris, re. any research -- can't say definitively. Wouldn't just be normal transference. Recommend you check with someone on early adult or childhood development. And BTW, the more time you spend defending yourself the more encouragement you give a critic, rational or not. FWIW, I bought a PS2 just for Shadows of the Colossus (and Katamari, Ico, and a few others) and while beautiful, I find the game unplayable from its controls. Thanks.

Don - I hope you've seen that Corvus has added you to the round table: http://blog.pjsattic.com/corvus/2006/06/the-golden-age-of-gaming-guest-post/
You are now an Honourary Blogger! :)

Thanks for the comments everyone; sorry I don't have time to do them all justice. Normal blogging should resume tomorrow.

Jeez, Chris, I think I see where Jason is coming from, here. You should be spending your time doing something deep and meaningful, like obsessively collecting mid-1980s ASCII text files written by 13 year olds about how to masturbate and build a Blue Box at the same time.

Jason: your point seems to be "Chris, I'm bored by what you have chosen to spend your time doing." That you, of all people, would try to start a discussion on such a fundamentally broken axis is, let's be frank, really really funny. I bet people speak to you in similar terms about your project all the time, and I bet you do to them what Chris should do to you in this situation: dismiss you as someone who is acting like an asshole.

Now, your little ex-post facto explanation in this post is very interesting and all, but the core problem here is that your original post wasn't half as clever or relevant -- or, for that matter, coherent -- as you seem to think it was. Perhaps you should go back and read it again and read what you actually said, rather than what you seem to think you said. It doesn't reflect very well on you.

(This post doesn't reflect very well on me, either, but then I know I'm acting like an asshole, and I'm not writing little mini-essays explaining that, no, really, there's some deeper philosophical underpinning to my assholism.)

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