Evaluating Games After Time and Distance...or Not?

This topic has popped up a couple of times on Waypoint Radio and thought I would ask it here. How do personally feel we should evaluate games? Or, maybe this is a different conversation, but what is more productive? Of course it is worth talking about games as they come to you, whether you come to them day-and-date or years later, but is the opinion more or less valid than your thoughts on a game after some separation. Or are these not competing ideas and exist on different spectrums

  • Immediately
  • After a period of time
  • Both are separate but valid forms evaluation/criticism

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I’m taking the cowardly centrist’s way out, along with Patrick.

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My answer for the poll was both but there are moments where I’ve felt the need for immediacy or a some time to step away and think about how I feel about a game was more important than the other.

A recent example, I played through all three Zero Escape games this year and was planning on writing a full blown spoiler-filled write up about them on my blog. I felt that immediacy was key here because they’re all puzzle games and their narratives have dramatic shifts and reveals that recontextualize how you view some parts of the game or even whole entire aspects of the other entries in the series.

They are absolutely the kind of game you can only play for the first time once because once you know what goes down in them you cannot return to the ignorance you once held about them. (This is technically true about every piece of media but I hope you understand what I’m getting at there.)

I wanted to document my fresh, raw and immediate reactions to… everything about those three games because I knew I wouldn’t be able to capture them the more time I spent aware from the games. The details of the game and my emotional reactions would erode away and I’d never be able to get them back.

Which is what ended up happening because I never got around to writing them down and I’m really bummed about it! I even made a working puzzle in the style of those in the games that you would have had to solve to access the post…

On the other side of things, I think there’s plenty of value to stepping away from trying to figure out how you feel about games immediately. I’ve had plenty of instances where I would be down on, completely turned off or otherwise unsure or hesitant about where I landed on a game only to come back to it and then walk away from it absolutely loving it. Or with the assured confidence that, no, I really just don’t like this or that about Game X.

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Oh, looks like I’m the first vote for “immediately.” Let me explain myself then. I find that judging a game immediately is the approach most honest to myself. It gives me the freshest access to how a game hit in the moment. Delayed criticism necessarily relies on faded memory, and often surface-level aspects of a game are the easiest to retain.

There’s also a perspective that I find interesting but don’t fully agree with, that time spent thinking about a game is part of playing it.

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Both have value but I’m not going to vote for any middle option

Time puts your experience into context and lets you stew on what stuck with you from a game. I prefer reading essays coming out months or years after the game to the review or thought pieces released simultaneously.

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I know Tony Blair and Nancy Pelosi have given it a bad name but sometimes centrism is a good choice!

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Wow look at all us centrists in disguise. Woke gamers rise up?

In all seriousness, the emotional side of me likes to evaluate things immediately. The academic side likes to look at things at a distance (and, ideally, a second playthrough), though some of my favorite things I’ve written on games came in the moment right after I finished something. There are benefits to both, and I think the best scenario comes about when someone understands how to use both mindsets effectively.

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Centrism ftw. (Never quote me on this.)

There’s probably a way to break down which parts of a game, which types of games even, are better fresh than measured with some space. Immersion and game feel versus the emotional impact and impression a game leaves on you. But how you feel a week after playing a game is no less valid than how you feel a year after playing a game, and both have their place.

Bit of a Ship of Theseus thing, too, with most modern games. Between DLC and patches, some games have changed enough over time that my feelings on them changed as well.

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They are both valid but the option I prefer is obviously somewhat more valid

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Despite having revealed myself as a filthy centrist, I do kind of prefer distance over immediacy. Have that distance, and also the time for social trends to reveal themselves is helpful to contextualise a game in a way that’s impossible in the moment. I wouldn’t play a game once and then write something about it 5 years later without a second playthrough, but having that gap can be illuminating.

Yeah, I think they’re both important, but how I feel about something after some amount of distance is usually the indicator that ends up mattering more to me. Though in general there’s rarely a sea change in my opinion on something over time, it’s more a matter of gaining clarity and thoughts that were still hazy at the time solidifying into something more coherent. Like the original experience is still the basis of everything, but distance allows me to turn a work over in my head and understand why I reacted to it the way I did much more clearly.

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My mood on a game changes by the day and whatever I had for breakfast (or that totally bullshit way I died in Apex). Criticism is always subject to time and place, and discourse is always in flux. I propose less of a discrete critical appraisal and more of a continuous function using the omelette formula*.

*Om = n(eggs)*m(cheese)/(coffee^2)

I think they’re both important too, but I put a lot more weight on my long term evaluation. Frankly, games are for the most part forgettable. Don’t get me wrong, that’s not a bad thing! I choose to use my free time on them because they’re relaxing and cathartic, and there’s value there. Generally, after a few months I have mostly forgotten my time with a game. Earlier this year I played Condemned: Criminal Origins, and it was good! I’ve only thought about it maybe twice since finishing it though.

I know I really love (or hate) a game when I have distinct, emotional memories tied to them. I can close my eyes and feel the rush of exploring Phrendrana Drifts with the iconic soundtrack pulsing in the background. To this day, I still get that uneasy feeling in the pit of my stomach every time I think about James putt this arm in that hole in Silent Hill 2. I can weave detailed stories of dozens of assassinations I somehow pulled off in Hitman 2. I’m not saying being memorable automatically makes something better, but my thoughts and feelings on a game can be much deeper and more complex if I can still bring them to the front of my mind months, years and even decades later.

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Usually the games that sit on my mind the most are the wordy iso-RPGs in the vein of classic Black Isle and thusly inspired works. I enjoy the tactical aspect (even if I save scum), and some of them have some moments of genuinely excellent writing on personal or socio-political conflict. These are quite deserving of time and distance when evaluating.

On the other hand, Pistol Whip is probably the most immediate game I’ve ever enjoyed, and my evaluation of it is summed up by “FUCK! YES! NOW!”

So, like, it depends I guess?

So, this might not be the intended angle, but I’m also thinking about playing a game on release as opposed to well after. Right now, I’m kind of feeling stuck between a rock and a hard place here.

Generally, I end up playing games after their initial release. I try to buy stuff on sale, and often put off playing things. So I frequently will play things after the discourse has happened. It’s not that I want to be a part of the discourse, but rather that I can’t ignore it. Most prominent example for me are games like Outer Wilds, a game I would have loved if I had approached it without any knowledge, but all the praise I heard for it in our community put it up against impossibly high expectations. It made me wish I hadn’t heard about it at all.

Front of mind, also, though, is Blasphemous, a game I played right after it came out. Right now, thanks to Patrick Klepek’s recent praise, people are very high on this game. And I remember talking to people who had discovered it this year and were delighted by it. But I was someone who was waiting for it to launch, and I found myself very frustrated by specific elements of that game (specifically, I think the combat is incredibly boring, but I’ve written about it on this forum already). It also had a lot of issues with the main character falling through the ground at launch. I still adore that game’s world and art and writing, but I have a lot of baggage with it. I think for a lot of people, they felt like they were discovering a hidden gem from last year, which is great, but I unfortunately didn’t get that!

So the result right now is that I’m a bit envious of people who are able to come into things early, but also envious of people who are able to discover things late. I think the answer, of course, is simple: never play a video game ever again. :slight_smile: :slight_smile: :slight_smile:

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