I Really Like 'God of War,' But Reserve The Right to Change My Mind


#1

I really liked the new God of War. It has problems—pacing is a mess in the second half, the absence of Kratos’ wife underscores the game’s broader avoidance of a series with a history of violent misogyny—but in broad strokes, I really liked it. It spoke to me as a new father, and as someone who, like Kratos, looks back at their older self in embarrassment, cherishing the growth that comes from getting older. (I have not killed any Greek gods, but it’s all relative.)

That said, I reserve the right to change my mind; it is not my settled opinion on this cultural artifact. My personal reading of God of War informed the 2,000-something word review published on Waypoint, but it reflects a fixed moment in time, when I played through a very long game largely in isolation, left only to my own thoughts, impressions, and reactions. I then wrote a lot of words very quickly.

I’m confident in my opinions, but not arrogant enough to think they’re unmoveable, which is why I’m eager to read what others think in the pending wave of new criticism about the game. Which brings me to my next point: BioShock Infinite. Stay with me.

Though I haven’t played it since 2013, I still think about BioShock Infinite a lot.

After finishing BioShock Infinite, I was over the moon. Columbia wasn’t Rapture, but it was a sprawling, ambitious science fiction story that checkmarked all the boxes Patrick Klepek looks for. Combat was a wash, and the multiple lighthouses a boring trope, but it pitched itself and felt like a capital s Serious video game. This was a story that had something to say about race, politics, and the messy ways conflict and power corrupt even those with the best intentions. If you wanted video games to be seen as art, we needed more BioShock Infinites, and as someone who was, at the time, trying to transition to more serious criticism, this fit.

When the game came out, everything supported my initial reading. Reviews dropped, and everyone liked the game. Not only was it good, it seemed important.

Then, others weighed in. Specifically, people outside the establishment game reviewing cognoscenti, a small group of individuals who tend to review the “big” games, and thus set the tone for how a game is perceived and talked about. (I’m part of this, and have been for a long time.) As critics like Waypoint’s Austin Walker (“I Can See My House From Here: Bioshock Infinite, Nostalgia, and The Uncanny”), Anjin Anhut (“Infinite Privilege”), Gary Alexander (“Columbia: Problematic Racism Theme Park”), Leigh Alexander ( BioShock Infinite: Now Is The Best Time”), and others published essays, my calculus changed. I’d taken so much of BioShock Infinite’s at face value, and mistook a game projecting as serious to mean it was also “right.”

Isolation is not how I come to terms with understanding—well, anything. Politics, video games, movies, music, whatever. I’m anxious to read as many opinions as possible beyond the scope of my own lived experience. There’s a reason I listen to podcasts at 1.5X or 1.8X speed. Otherwise, there’s no way to keep up; there’s so much good stuff out there, and we live in a time when it’s possible to easily find viewpoints highly divergent from your own. This is especially important when you’re in positions of power, influence, and taste-setting. Your only excuse for staying in a bubble is because you’re choosing to elevate emotional comfort.

Every time, someone says something that makes me go think, puts into words a feeling I couldn’t articulate, or argues in a way that forces a re-examination of conclusions. The opinions of others help me better form my own. It’s a process built on my reaction, and the result is a delightful mixture. What’s important is the fluidity, keeping one’s mind open to the possibility of not only challenging a personal reaction, but willing to admit you could be wrong.

I don’t know what I don’t know until I finally do.

Which is all to say that I still very much like parts of BioShock Infinite, but having processed the viewpoints of others, my feelings on the game are far more conflicted now. I don’t think that’s a particularly controversial take, but complicated in the context of reviewing, where people are being asked to provide a definitive “take” that’s really more of an impression.

We all bring a hierarchy of values to how we understand and interpret a work, and every person’s hierarchy is different. My guess is that hierarchy is awfully similar amongst game reviewers, despite recent encouraging pushes for diversity in games writing, which means a break in uniform opinion, often itself indicative of a problem, is construed as a “backlash.” (This often leads to a backlash to the backlash, when the original group reasserts position.) Is it a “backlash” when the consensus probably shouldn’t have existed in the first place?

I don’t know that I could consciously verbalize my own hierarchy of values, but there are certain critics I follow because I can understand theirs, and they help me fill in the blanks. I consider their voices vital to filling out my reaction.

If you talk to a bunch of reviewers, my guess is most have a policy of not talking to other people about how they feel about a game (or reading another critic’s review) before they’re done with their own. It’s the notion of being “tainted” or “biased” when you’re trying to settle on your own thoughts, and it’s driven so much of my own critical thinking because it’s what I was taught, observed, and practiced during my (too) many years doing this professionally. But it's also a practice that hasn't evolved much, even as the way we talk about games has.

What if that’s bullshit? Or, at least, what if we gave reviews less weight? Not because some aren’t true or well-argued—again, I liked God of War and my review reflects that—but reviews are nothing more than an opinion from a moment in time. It’s an introduction, not a conclusion, with reviews acting as the first wave of (usually mild and gameplay-focused) examination.

In reviewing God of War, I knew I was hopelessly biased to a game about trying to be a good father. As a new parent who grew up with a dad who loved them but rarely found ways to express it—and let me be clear, he was a good person who in no way reflected the toxic masculinity of Kratos—I’m predisposed to the game’s emotional beats. It’s the same way after my father passed, I can barely keep it together during a sentimental commercial for Kleenex. Certain topics are going to grab me, they’ll blind me to others, and the joy of reading other reactions is using them to help me better understand a work holistically.

Everyone has blind spots, but it takes conviction and patience to find your own.

As reviews went live, for example, people started wondering if the game reckoned with its deeply sexualized and angry history with women. My review touched on that point, but largely focused on what the game did want to grapple with: violence. It made me think back to BioShock Infinite: Had I made the same mistake, blindly accepting a game on the grounds of what it wanted to talk about, not realizing what it didn’t say was the more important point?

Maybe? That’s something I’ll need to take stock of, do more research, and grow as a critic. I said what I wanted to say about God of War in my review, from the very specific perspective of a person trying to understand what it means to be a father, but that's only one way to view God of War. It is not truth, it's a truth.

That’s what I’m excited to do in the weeks and months ahead, as people process the game. So far, I still like God of War, but who knows? I don’t think it’s a contradiction to have written a positive, if critical, review for God of War, and to land somewhere else at a different time. If we’re granting Kratos is allowed to change, I’m allowed to change my mind on Kratos, too.

(If you’re looking for some examples of the critically-divergent criticism I was speaking about, read Julie Muncy’s review at Wired and Garrett Martin’s essay at Paste.)

Follow Patrick on Twitter. If you have a tip or a story idea, drop him an email: patrick.klepek@vice.com.

Have thoughts? Swing by Waypoints forums to share them!


This is a companion discussion topic for the original entry at https://waypoint.vice.com/en_us/article/a3ybje/i-really-like-god-of-war-but-reserve-the-right-to-change-my-mind

#2

Between this article and Alec Meer over at RPS writing two follow-ups to his BATTLETECH review, it’s refreshing to see folks being like “yeah we change our mind because we’re human” out in public these days


#3

This is largely how I feel about the game as well. Very well put. I don’t what else to say here and I feel like I am trying to end a voice mail and I’m just going to hang up now byeeeeee


#4

I think the flip side of reserving your right to change your opinion on a piece of media is that your previous feelings don’t become invalidated by doing so. I too loved Bioshock Infinite when it first came out. The game just looked so different from other shooter campaigns and I had such positive feelings from the previous games that it carried me through to a very enjoyable experience. Despite now digging into the game’s problematic aspects (not to mention its very repetitive shooter gameplay), I still appreciate my initial playthrough of it.

I feel similarly about Infinity War right now. My heart is telling me that it is one of my greatest movie-going experiences ever, but logically I know the movie is full of flaws and plot holes just waiting to dampen my enjoyment in the months and years to come. But no amount of criticism will change the wonderful experience I just had. So yeah, we’re all human, and sometimes it takes time for us to fully digest a work. No reason to be ashamed of it.


#5

It’s kinda absurd that Patrick seemingly feels he needs to repeatedly apologize for liking this popular and well regarded game.


#6

I got really irritated reading this.

And then I heard Patrick on The Short Game podcast and he immediately mentioned God of War’s “toxic masculinity” right at the onset. That was one of the first things he said about it.

His review doesn’t even touch on it. It takes a little bit about women, a lot about being a dad, and how good the game is.

So, yes, Patrick has a right to read other reviews and be influenced by them. And it’s good to read the thoughts of other people. But if “toxic masculinity” didn’t make its way into his original review, why is he now drawing a hard line there? Why do we need to put an asterisk next to everything allowing us to change something just in case it might bring a different viewpoint down the line?

I played Bioshock Infinite back in the day and liked it. It told an interesting story in a unique narrative. And the gameplay was fun. I hadn’t stayed up to date on the backlash that came after the initial rush of reviews.

One of the last lines in the article:

So far, I still like God of War, but who knows?

Well, regardless of what anyone pulls out of the narrative or via an easter egg ala hot coffee or anything else…why would anything aside from your own experience change the fact that you “still like” it? Confusing.


#7

I don’t want it to sound like I’m swooping in here and sniping Patrick. That’s not the case. I like you Patrick and respect you!

I just think that a game, or a novel, or a movie, or a poem, can mean one thing to someone and one thing to someone else. And if someone reviews something, they’re writing about what that experience meant to them. And a critic might pull something out of a game that affects them personally.

I feel like I’m rambling. And I am. So I’m SORRY GANG! But I just wanted to add my two cents because this was an interesting article that had me thinking about the ‘legacy’ of some games.


#8

its 2018. you shouldnt need to be constantly reminded of your blind spots. especially if you consider yourself progressive. also bioshock infinite’s racist false dichotomy was always bad, that was immediately apparent upon playing it.


#9

Last reply!

I used “toxic masculinity” as my example in my original post because I literally just heard it on the podcast. I don’t want to turn this into a discussion about how male-dominated the industry is and how tonedeaf we, as a gaming community, can be to issues which also include the portrayal of women. I’m SUPER GLAD that we’ve finally gotten to a point where we can have this type of discussion, and I really feel like it’s people like Patrick that give us this avenue to do so.

(I’m not sure I’m using the “reply” function correctly…)


#10

Patrick liked God of War the same way he liked Bioshock Infinite when he played them. In Bioshock Infinite, he didn’t have the ability to read it on the level other critics did when they criticized its politics on race. This time, Patrick knows that he doesn’t have the perspective to properly examine toxic masculinity but he knows it’s there, it’s always been in the legacy of God of War already. The new game has to, on some level, grapple with that, whether the developers did on purpose or not.

It’s not about adding an asterisk to a game you like, it’s about knowing what you don’t know and taking in a wider view of the games as cultural artifacts. You can still like things that, upon a broader perspective, have bad politics. The combat is still good, the graphics still look nice, the lore it’s drawing from is still interesting. But it’s important to examine it on a deeper level that critics are used to. I think Patrick’s framing as “changing his opinion” on the game is clumsy wording, it’s about having a more nuanced understanding of games as an art form and what they say and reflect about our society. It’s not about throwing the baby out with the bathwater and disavowing a game when someone writes a call out post, it’s about just being smarter and reflecting that new knowledge from the new perspective back into the world.


#11

I hear that, and thanks for the reply!

Patrick LITERALLY JUST explained his review process in The Short Game podcast around the 24-minute mark that aligned quite nicely with what you said (and it made more sense than this article, IMO).

I would agree, it IS clumsy wording, as is the headline “I Really Like ‘God of War,’ But Reserve The Right to Change My Mind.” Maybe the word to use is respect? Or appreciate? I’m not sure. Because if one changes their mind, do they “Not Like” it any more? I don’t know!


#12

I agree. Its irrelevant whether you think god of war is good of bad (i think its great but w/e) but basically hes undermining his entire critique with a “I could be wrong tho.”

Its hard for this not to look like someone just trying to hedge his bets.

Its ok Patrick if you and Austin disagree, either say you stick by your words (and why) or that you take back the review (and why) but this mealy mouthed approach doesn’t work.


#13

I think this brings up an interesting point and a point that Patrick brought up on Waypoint Radio “The God of War Minit” that he hates writing reviews due to acknowledging that he has his own blind spots and therefore might not know what text or subtext he missed or overlooked in a game.

I can definitely relate to that feeling, and it’s a bummer reviews have for such a long time dominated the industry as a “this the final thoughts and critical analysis of a game” when really I think it should be as described by Patrick and others here: “Here are my thoughts (more or less) immediately after finishing the game.”

I think to a certain extent a “review” should be done exclusively with the opinion of the initial reviewer, but that yes, certainly that review is not the end all be all for that reviewer’s opinion of the game and they should continue to expand and challenge their initial opinion as time goes on.


#14

But this looks at critique as if it falls into “This is good/bad” and those are the only two takeaways?

Patrick isn’t saying “I liked it but maybe I was wrong to like it because other people I respect didn’t like it and I must agree with them.”

He’s saying “My initial takeaway is I really liked this game, talking with other people shows me some areas I didn’t acknowledge or maybe even know about due to my worldview and particular blindspots. So IF I learn something about a game that affects me in such a way that it changes the perspective I have on it, then that would then affect my overall opinion of that game going forward.”

The latter of which is a nuance that is sorely lacking in review media and especially in the games industry.


#15

I hearted your reply to JohnnyLawz because it’s much more succinct than Patrick’s original article, and I think very valid.

And it’s hard to put that thought into a headline :smiley:


#16

Then write something later on why your opinion changed. I do not think preemptively undermining your own criticism is the right approach and, fairly or unfairly, does come off like hes nervous “people I respect didn’t like it.”

Rather than defend his criticism hes bending over backwards to say that it might not be worth anything.


#17

I can see what you’re saying for sure. From that perspective it definitely seems a little like hedging, so I understand your takeaway.

I think the reason I see it differently is that we don’t often even acknowledge that you can go back and re-examine something, so I kind of see Patrick’s article as like “Hey if 2 years from now I’m on a podcast talking about the problems with this game don’t quote this review at me as evidence for why I’m a hypocrite.” It’s more about acknowledging the change of opinions after gaining more information, and this game is just being used as a focal point example of that concept.

I think I’ve been thinking about this concept more recently myself - looking back on old games, shows, movies I used to like and realizing that maybe they weren’t that great for a variety of different reasons, mostly due to how my perspective has changed. So maybe that’s why I read into it more the second way.


#18

It’s important to note that the alternative to being open to changing your mind isn’t necessarily “this is what I think, and I’m sticking to it.” Flawed humans like us have malleable memories, and if we’re unwilling to acknowledge that we changed our mind, we can sometimes end up deciding that our new opinion was where we always stood. That’s why I’ve been taking notes lately on the media I consume: even if I don’t publish it anywhere, I want to have a record of my thoughts.


#19

You’re looking at Patrick’s review as a product review when it’s fundamentally not that. He wrote about the things that he liked and he did not like about God of War. He knows that he has fundamental blind spots towards toxic masculinity as a cis dude. He’s excited to learn from other people’s perspectives and, I think, is writing articles like this to encourage his readers to have that same interest. That doesn’t retroactively make God of War bad actually, it’s about understanding games on a deeper level and a broader sociological perspective.


#20

Exactly. And I think this gets back to the idea that has been so pervasive for decades in games that is only starting to change in recent years which is that “product review” and “critical analysis” were considered the same thing, while most of what was really going on was just the former.

I think that’s why Patrick wanted to bring this up in the first place because a lot of people seem to think that once you make your statement on a thing, that is now your opinion forever and you can’t take it back.