Gaming & The Myth of Objectivity
Updated: Apr 21
In his debut article, Jon discusses the Myth of Objectivity: The geek’s first, last, and often only line of defense.
As a participant in hobbies like this, there’s a tendency for people to have their opinions backed up by facts, numbers, data, etc. This kind of deductive reasoning can be used as evidence to prove . . . whatever the person wants to prove. It can be engaging, yes, but in the long run it’s immeasurably frustrating. By acting as if there is a definitive answer to the types of schoolyard questions, like if Sonic can outrun Mario in a footrace, it seems to only distract from the childlike innocence and wonder of playing with toys. I understand it can be fun to figure out how a talking robot can transform into a gun that’s operated by another talking robot. But much like dissecting a frog, finding out how it works can take the life out of it.
I remember being a kid and having other kids explain how the graphics in Donkey Kong Country made the Sonic the Hedgehog games worse. Or how the Super Nintendo having higher resolution graphics and a different sound chip somehow makes the Sega Genesis an objectively inferior console – “objective” being the operative word. Nerds can’t simply be passionate about a specific topic, character, or franchise. They need to have data, hard numbers to validate their feelings. They take a casual hobby, and turn it into a battlefield, armed with archival knowledge and unyielding devotion their pixelated, plastic, or celluloid Gods. It’s why you’ll still see posts on message boards comparing benchmarks of GPUs to determine if the PC port is empirically the best way to play games that came out 15 years ago. It isn’t enough to just like something, there has to be a review score, sales numbers, or some fiscal year market growth to add credibility to their hobby. I remember when Killzone: Shadow Fall was released, and a year later a lawsuit was filed against Sony and Guerilla Games because the game’s multiplayer mode didn’t run in the advertised 1080p resolution. Instances like that are when the flights of childhood imagination transform into insufferable squabbling, and it bleeds into the real world with real world consequences.
"There is no best game ever, only best games ever."
It’s this line of thinking that leads to the Bit Wars, and determining how publishers dole out bonuses to their developers based on the Metacritic average. Metrics are only one piece of the puzzle. It’s inherently reductive, as opposed to deductive. It’s a disservice to take such a creative art form and boil it down to frame rates and units sold. And yet it’s why John Riccitiello announced that Dead Space 3 needed to sell 6 million units, and had companies like Square Enix dump their entire western division along with their IPs.
To be fair, enhancing console performance is pretty much the M.O. of current day Microsoft and Sony. As it stands, the PS5 and Xbox Series X and S seem to have set the lowest bar in what to expect from a new console generation. Higher rates better, higher resolutions, shorter load times, it’s technical and has its place in marketing, but as a user experience, I wonder if we’re stepping too far outside the reason we played games in the first place. It’s why I still mess with Nintendo, personally; Mario throws his hat in this one, and he becomes a tree? Sign me up.
One of my favorite games of all time is GunGrave on the PS2. On release, the game got mediocre-to-low reviews, and people wrote it off as a cheap, archaic third person shooter. What I noticed when I played was an avant-guard soundtrack, a game dripping with style, and an aesthetic that I can only describe as future noir. I fell in love with it, and still love the franchise to this day. If I would have followed a review score or judged it on its frequent load times and slow down, I would have been robbed of an artistically eye-opening, and just fun, explosive experience. Who knows what kind of games I might have written off doing exactly that.
U.S. Box art for Gungrave for PlayStation 2, developed by Red Entertainment and published by Sega of America, released on Sept. 16, 2002.
As somebody who identifies as a geek, I make it a point to keep myself grounded. I am in tune with my emotions, as well as my analytical mind in order to fully experience the games I play and find the fun I hope to have. It’s why even on the Games with Jon & James podcast - especially our list episodes - I refuse to provide solid numbers for any top 10 or top 25 lists. There is no best game ever, only best games ever. It’s important to remember that and touch the virtual grass once in a while. Pretending that there is an objectively best game? That’s a myth. Thanks for nothing, Arthur Conan Doyle.
About the author:
Jon Anderson is a gamer, illustrator, graphic designer, video and sound editor, broadcaster, photographer, videographer, voice actor, and even a 2D artist for a brief time in the gaming industry. He's brought his eclectic skillset to the Games with Jon & James Podcast!