Objectivity is a harsh master. By its very nature, it allows us to remove the one element of our writings that makes us human: our emotions. It robs us of the thing that makes us who we are, but ultimately allows us to speak to the masses in an unbiased and informative way. Since I’ve been working for Twinfinite, I’ve learned tons about objectivity and fairness in writing, but the biggest lesson I’ve learned is that, objectively, I have terrible taste.
I’ve been having several conversations about this concept lately, both on our site’s podcast (around the 24:48 mark) and in personal chats with Dojo Retro’s head honcho, Natalie Newman. The funny thing is: the discussions have been polar opposites of each other.
In our podcast, I try to discuss my feelings about Duke Nukem Forever — an objectively terrible game, but also one of the most interesting games to ever be released. While it is a truly abject failure in many respects, Duke Nukem Forever does some surprisingly unique things and shows us a pacing that we just don’t get anymore. Cribbing from the great franchises that released during its development like Half-Life 2 and Halo, but still trying to maintain its “classic” influences like Quake II (whose engine the game originally ran on before moving to Unreal Engine), the game is a mish-mash of the modern with the old-school. It shows us both what we’re missing in modern first-person shooter design and what we’ve thankfully iterated out. By taking, well, forever to come out, it underwent several drastic changes from start to finish. Changes that are readily apparent by the game’s own design. Witnessing the history of the game unfold before your eyes in playable form is an experience that, while not the intention of the game itself, managed to be one of the most intriguing I’ve ever played through. Simply put, if Duke Nukem Forever had actually managed to be a good game, it would have lost most of the reasons I liked it in the first place.
Inversely, Natalie’s favorite game is Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past — an objectively great game, but also one that I can’t enjoy in the slightest. Most of this has to do with my diametric opposition to “dark worlds” in exploration-based games. I will be among the first people to tell you that A Link to the Past is a well-designed and innovative game, especially for its time, but it won’t be winning a place on my favorite games list. Far from it. In fact, when I play it, I can’t help but feel that exploring the same world twice is nothing more than an easy way to waste twice as much of my time. The very same could be said about Metroid Prime 2: Echoes. This is a personal issue and I’m aware of that, but that doesn’t make my opinions invalid. I can find the stellar design and the classic gameplay elements hiding beyond the veil of light and dark, but that doesn’t mean that I can enjoy the games.
These examples are definitely not the only ones. Right off the top of my head I can think of Braid, Fez, Journey, Skyrim, and Fallout 3, all of which I would call objectively great games that I cannot find joy in playing. I’ll say it here, both because it’s relevant and deserves to be said: I loved the Bionic Commando reboot and WET.
The real question is: how do we handle knowing this in our writing? I know for a fact now that I have dreadful taste, but that doesn’t mean I’m incapable of seeing the objective. Sure, my trepidations about A Link to the Past and celebratory attitude towards Duke Nukem Forever aren’t validated by most of my peers, but do they not serve some purpose to someone?
Balancing objectivity and subjectivity is a slippery slope. Statements of objective “fact” can be useful to a larger total number of people, but assertions of pure subjectivity can mean significantly more to a smaller group of the similar-minded. It’s one of the many reasons that podcasts and video streaming have changed the way I learn about games. It brings about a more personal touch than a group of words on a web page.
We all need to embrace our subjective tastes a bit more. I want to hear more assertions of “The Saboteur wasn’t great, but I sure did love it!” There’s nothing wrong with that. Inside that statement is something that makes you who you are. If you’re going to be passionate about games, be passionate about the things you love about them.
Many other gamers like myself suffer from loving flawed video games. Most of us are all too able to see that our favorite games are not the “best” games. We just don’t care. We can overlook flaws others can’t and vice-versa.
It’s also important to note that what may be a major flaw to one person can be someone else’s favorite aspect. Dead Rising is a pretty great example of this. Several of my friends have told me that the time mechanic ruins the entire franchise for them, but for me, it’s the most important element in the series.
The crux of my argument is simple. Just because a game has a below average MetaCritic score doesn’t mean it’s a bad game. Quite a few of my favorite games are in that boat. Don’t be dissuaded by middling reviews, especially if the game in question looks interesting to you. If there’s one thing I’ve learned from my mindless obsession with owning and playing nearly everything, it’s that even the worst failures usually have something worth seeing.