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Consoleation Opinion: Serious Business

Perhaps I’ve been out of the game review business for too long, or perhaps my life has been so busy that my gaming priorities have been altered… but I can’t help but to look with some disdain at all of the fawning over Limbo. While reviewers are falling over themselves trying to find the right words to convey how amazing a game this (apparently) is and how we all owe it to ourselves to play it, I downloaded the demo and was impressed for about two minutes.

Two.

Sure, Limbo does some interesting things. It’s all black and white, and is visually jarring. Yes, the controls are simple enough: Jump and Action buttons are all a player needs. Reviewers that I highly respect gush about the game’s design, but I wonder sometimes whether they’re masochists because walking blindly into bear traps or having absolutely no clue what to do with a crate in open water because the designers either forgot to or decided not to include any kind of meaningful documentation of hint system to at least walk you through once. No tutorial. Nothing. Can’t figure it out? Sucks to be you.

I’ll admit that my level of patience is no longer what it once was while engaged in gaming, but that’s because I no longer have almost limitless time to spend looking up hints online or asking someone on Twitter how to get through something. Accessibility in game design is not something that developers should have just forgotten about. This isn’t the first time to game design has been flawed enough to drive away casual players; Ninja Gaiden (XBOX) andDevil May Cry 3 (PS2) are two other examples of games where poor game design turns off a fair percentage of players early on. I understand that Limbois supposed to be a three-hour excursion, so the scale of difficulty increase should probably mirror that… but the crate puzzle was enough to make me throw my hands up and say to myself that I was done with this artistic experiment… despite what my friends and writing colleagues may profess.

I sometimes believe that reviewers get so caught up in this never-ending argument over video games being or not being art that when an “artsy” game like Limbo hits, it’s up to them to carry the torch and support it… because it’s art, and that means that interlopers like Roger Ebert get proven wrong right here. Sure, Limbo may be art, but is it fun? Honestly? I don’t think so. Of course, as some people mentioned to me, perhaps all games aren’t meant to be fun. Indeed, even Merriam-Webster defines a game as an “activity engaged in for diversion or amusement.” Personally, if a game isn’t fun to play, I can’t justify spending money on it. It’s like the Demon’s Souls conundrum; I hear that the game is great, but it’s frustratingly difficult– and I can’t see why I would want to spend $30 to be pissed off. Playing games means different things to different people, and I can understand that. Some are tired of the “same old thing” and are looking for something that breaks the mold and is memorable. Some people are tired of the first-persal shooter and sports game dominance that we’ve seen over the last few years. I get that. What I don’t get is how video games are now held to this ridiculous standard where fun is no longer an important trait. In reviewers’ eyes, games now have to be different and difficult to play in order to be any good.

The comparison between Limbo and Deathspank is a good example of this.Limbo is dark, moody, frustrating, and tense… it’s allegedly awesome to just about everyone but me. Conversely, Deathspank is fun (although it is shallow at times) and makes me laugh… but reviewers hate it. It reminds me of why I learned to despise film critics early on in life. The movies that they like are 180 degrees different from most films that I would pay to go see and they pan just about everything that I enjoy. It’s almost as if it’s a crime to go to a movie and laugh at nonsense humor. It all has to have meaning. Why? Life is difficult enough; if I’m going to spend money to sit in a dark room with complete strangers to watch a film for 90-120 minutes, I don’t want to sit there and be all serious. I could be depressed or frustrated enough by being at work, reading a newspaper, or calculating my finances. It’s the same thing with video games for me, as it’s always been. I want to get away from life and be the hero or superstar. I alleviate my life’s frustration by assaulting or shooting pixels or polygons that have no feeling or care. Every so often– usually when playing RPGs of some sort– I can try to take in a deep and traumatic story… but usually the gameplay balances that with some kind of fun interface.

I guess video games, at some point of another, became serious business… and I apparently missed the memo. Having said that, I’m not changing my ways or my thoughts on the matter. I couldn’t care any less about whether video games are or aren’t forms of art. I don’t care what Roger Ebert thinks, because I’ve never agreed with a thing that he’s said and he has absolutely zero influence in this industry. I am perfectly fine with the existence of games like Limbo andFlower as they extend the diversity of titles that are available for everyone to pick and choose from as their individual tastes dictate… but I remain unconvinced that these “artsy” titles have advanced the medium. Reviewers may laud these titles as the saving grace of video games, but if they’re not fun to play, I’m not wasting my money or my time with them anymore.

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  1. Audrey
    July 22, 2010 at 4:22 AM

    Pete I agree 100% a game should be fun if your going to spend 30-60$ on it. I’ve realised that in my gaming experince because I’ve spent that a few days ago and absoulty hated the game I spent 5 hours trying to play the game and understand it and give it a chance but it was just a waist of time.

  2. Andy
    July 23, 2010 at 3:11 PM

    That’s a great point regarding film critics. I too have learned to pretty much avoid movie reviews from professional reviewers, since most of the time my opinion is exactly the opposite of theirs. I just don’t look for the same things in movies that they do.

    I haven’t played Limbo yet, but I have downloaded the trial. I’m not big on the whole “crazy hard puzzle” game play (I wasn’t a big fan of Braid, either), so I’m not going into this with very high expectations. If nothing else, my wallet will thank me if there is one less game to buy in the near future. ;)

  3. Mike
    July 26, 2010 at 12:50 PM

    People seem to enjoy Demon’s Souls specifically BECAUSE it’s challenging. I for one do find old arcade games to be fun for this reason, even though non-special edition DMC3 was ludicrously difficult even by my standards.

    Then again, I can’t understand why so many play MMOs like it was a second job. I enjoy them casually, but I scoff at the idea of a quest that eats 5 hours, and you can’t pause or leave.

    As for Limbo, I think it’s a poor design wrapped in a pretty shell, with that shell being the “reason” why the design is so poorly explained or guided. What I find problematic is that the second I bring up “It’s nice but it’s too costly with the restrictions of DLC” everyone jumps down my throat and we start with the “I’m not encouraging art” and whatnot. I doubt the Limbo guys are paid more than if it was charged 10 especially if it’s being promoted under the “Summer Series” XBL likes to do.

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