Comment: Jam and Game Reviews

Final Fantasy VII: A story of love, loss, and basketball. Cue "One Winged Angel".

Jam and Game Reviews (Psychology of Video Games)

Jelly or game review guidelines that require us to over analyze our decisions or check them off against a standardized list of factors (graphics, sound, etc.) can exacerbate this limitation and lead us to consider what should be irrelevant information when making our ratings. This corrupts the rating process and takes us farther from our “true” feelings or evaluations.

I am guilty of the behavior described in this post.  For years after having played games like Final Fantasy, I felt they were really great, but of course others weren’t all going to agree with me.  So in my own mind, justification is required, otherwise I need to accept that my preferences are meaningless and I had spent dozens of hours and $50 on nonsense.  (At this point it’s worth stopping to consider, well they’re video games, who cares?  For whatever reason, I did.)  The language surrounding Final Fantasy in particular emphasized story, characters, and other narrative aspects.  Not only in reviews, but in materials included with the games themselves.  You could find little surveys you would mail to Squaresoft indicating what you thought were the most important aspects of an RPG, and few of them actually had any bearing on the game itself.

The theory goes that we are often aware of our preferences for products (or art, or whatever), but when asked to explain WHY, we often feel obligated to include the most salient (that is, apparent) and plausible explanations. Even if we would have otherwise ignored them.

Saying that Final Fantasy was an exceedingly good game for it’s battle system was difficult even when it was at its most popular.  The easier explanation was that they are 60+ hour stories that achieve a level of immersion and emotional impact unlike that of literature or film.  That explanation hasn’t held up very well in the 10+ years since it’s release.

Why do they play them? Is it for the immature, sickly narratives? Is it for the dismembered “strategy” gameplay of the random encounter? Is it because they’re working up some immensely pornographic fan comic based around the female leads and the most tentacle-endowed sub-boss? Is it because the joyless grinding of larger and larger numbers to make bigger and bigger damage numbers appear above their enemies provides an utterly false sense of achievement, massaging the same part of the brain that drives a rat to press on a feeder bar for a snack treat? Ding ding ding!

I still think that Final Fantasy VII, among others, holds merit as a good game.  JRPGs may appeal to niche market (which could just as well be argued about any and all console games) but their popularity wasn’t unwarranted.  It was the reason for their popularity which was mis-attributed to aspects that are easier to relate to in other mediums.  And we’re still trying to define the language that makes up this interactive medium.  I still think Final Fantasy VII was pretty rad.

I also think that the Jam and Game Reviews post is right on the money concerning how formal reviews encourage us to focus on irrelevant details, and trying to force games into convenient templates.  That’s why limit the choices on my review scale to as many as I can count on one hand.

Note: I can’t remember where I originally saw the comic at the beginning of this post.  If you do, leave me a comment so I can properly give credit for this master work.


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