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#1 Edited by m2cks (598 posts) -

Hey there Giant Bomb community. I have pondered this question ever since more games made by independent developers seem to be getting stronger representation in today's "mainstream" media, such as Limbo or Fez being promoted through Microsoft's various events. With this newfound attention comes more recognition among the general gaming community as a whole, and as such there are more people voicing their opinions on these indie games. What I have noticed (and no doubt most of you as well) is that there seems to be a rift within the community over whether or not a game is too "pretentious" to be enjoyable. My question is this: what exactly makes a game too "pretentious", and what are some of the ways developers can use in order to avoid being labeled as such?

I understand that video games are trying to explore new methods of interactive storytelling, and thus seeking to have a deeper, more metaphorical meaning as opposed to the typical modern first-person shooter, but where is the line drawn between being "deep" and being "pretentious"? I would love to hear your thoughts and personal experiences on this, as it's something I have struggled with ever since giving Jonathan Blow's Braid a try (and subsequently loving it). Thanks!

#2 Edited by JZ (2120 posts) -

It's like when art people explain why a paper cup on it's side, has all this amazing meaning and is worth a million dollars. That's what indie games are.

#3 Edited by Hamst3r (4610 posts) -

In most situations, I'd say how pretentious someone perceives a game to be is directly related to how far up their own ass their head is and has nothing to do with the game itself.

EDIT: Unless you're talking about Molyneux's Curiosity. Then that actually IS pretentious.

#4 Posted by Winternet (8080 posts) -

90% of the times someone says something/someone is pretentious is because they lack understanding of what something/someone are trying to be.

The other 10% of the times, the something/someone is actually pretentious, because it/they lack understanding of what it/they are trying to be.

#5 Posted by Petiew (1365 posts) -

I think the "0/10 pretentious SHIT!" reaction is less about the games and more about the vocal group of fans that constantly champion it. When something becomes popular people are always going to have a negative reaction towards it. The games in question are usually short, cheap, have an odd artstyle and often lack typical features you'd come to expect from games but they attract a huge, or at least a very vocal, amount of praise.

#6 Edited by yoshimitz707 (2453 posts) -

@hamst3r: But duder, WHAT IS IN THE CUBE!? I think it's achieved exactly what it intended to do because I and a ton of people are super curious. And isn't that what art is? Something with the intention to elicit emotion?

#7 Posted by rebgav (1429 posts) -

@hamst3r said:

In most situations, I'd say how pretentious someone perceives a game to be is directly related to how far up their own ass their head is and has nothing to do with the game itself.

EDIT: Unless you're talking about Molyneux's Curiosity. Then that actually IS pretentious.

You can't really know that unless you know what's inside the box.

Also, you can't ever know what's inside the box, sorry! But trust me, it's like, totally profound. For realsies.

#8 Edited by Hamst3r (4610 posts) -

@yoshimitz707 said:

@hamst3r: But duder, WHAT IS IN THE CUBE!? I think it's achieved exactly what it intended to do because I and a ton of people are super curious. And isn't that what art is? Something with the intention to elicit emotion?

The pretense is that what's in the cube is life-changingly amazing. That's what makes it pretentious. The self-assertion that it's important, when it might be anything but, especially on the level of life-changing. :D

#9 Posted by Kidable (127 posts) -

As Tommy Refenes and Edmund McMillen commented on the Indie Game: The Movie commentary when they were discussing Braid (gonna paraphrase as it's been awhile since I heard it, but it's stuck with me):

"People called Braid pretentious. And to those people I think they don't know pretentious means. It's 'attempting to have more value than what is actually presented'. Braid DOES have value, what's the problem?"

So, what it really comes down to is to each person and what they value more out of games in general. If you LIKE really artsy games with not much depth, then you probably won't think certain indie games are 'pretentious'. At least not as much as other gamers.

#10 Posted by mlarrabee (3091 posts) -

Anything that causes someone to contemplate anything deeper than the thing's face value is art, I think. The problem is everyone expects everyone else to get the same thing out of the same things and looks down their noses at anyone who doesn't.

Limbo isn't pretentious, but the people who believe everyone should think it's art certainly are. Likewise, the people who say there's no way it could be considered art are just as pompous.

#11 Posted by JasonR86 (9738 posts) -

I imagine there's as much pretentiousness in the games industry as there is in any other industry.

#12 Edited by believer258 (12301 posts) -

typical modern first-person shooter

Why is it always shooters that are considered the low-brow genre of games? Why not all those goofy-looking platformers like Mario and Rayman? You're not going to tell me that platformers, in general, contain a deeper meaning beyond "dumb fun", are you? Sure, you can cite Limbo and Braid but I can cite Bioshock and Half-Life 2.

I'm not being a smart-ass (EDIT: maybe a little bit /EDIT), and I have a decent idea of the answer myself, but when "games as art" comes up in the same sentence as "shooters", then the shooter seems to be the one that always gets some snark.

Also, this pretty much sums it up in the best way possible:

@winternet said:

90% of the times someone says something/someone is pretentious is because they lack understanding of what something/someone are trying to be.

The other 10% of the times, the something/someone is actually pretentious, because it/they lack understanding of what it/they are trying to be.

#13 Posted by m2cks (598 posts) -

@believer258: I'm sorry- I was originally going to say Call of Duty, simply just to give an example of a game that's generally accepted to be on the shallow side in terms of storytelling, etc. (regardless of the quality of its gameplay). I changed it because I didn't want to call out any game specifically, out of fear of starting an off-topic argument (but I guess it might ignite an argument nonetheless). And of course I'd like to keep the discussion from going into the played-out debate of "games=art", and to just address the question at hand. Again, sorry about the confusion!

#14 Posted by ArbitraryWater (12240 posts) -
@hamst3r said:

EDIT: Unless you're talking about Molyneux's Curiosity. Then that actually IS pretentious.

You're just saying that because you haven't seen what is inside the cube. If you did, you'd understand the deeper meaning found in Fable's cheeky britishness.

#15 Posted by Video_Game_King (36271 posts) -

Why is it always shooters that are considered the low-brow genre of games? Why not all those goofy-looking platformers like Mario and Rayman?

Because it's 2013 and not 1993?

And to answer the question, I'd say Fez is pretentious because of all the arcane bullshit I've heard people have had to do to complete the game. (Note that I have not played the game, though, so there's a good chance this is misinformed.)

#16 Posted by DarkShaper (1349 posts) -

Most people that call a game pretentious have no idea what that means.

#17 Edited by TheDudeOfGaming (6078 posts) -

Not having a great interest in indie games I couldn't say. I will say that anything that has a subjective quality to it will make people experience the thing differently. For someone it might be eye opening, for others pretentious and some won't care about the thing in question. All valid reactions.

I don't really see how games could be pretentious but I do view most modern art that way. Maybe it's just because I don't understand it.

#18 Edited by PenguinDust (12664 posts) -

I don't know what's considered "pretentious" but I know it when I see it.

The point is, like a lot of things, it's going to come down to our own individual tolerances. I personally find a lot of indie games to be pretentious because they aspire to be something more than fun. I am archaic in my belief that fun comes first and all other intentions are secondary or even distracting. I don't come to a game to find some great insight, I come to blow shit up and drive real fast. That's not enough for a portion of the market these days and that's fine, but I'm not interested in games designed to express some value or viewpoint. There's enough of that in mass media as is. I'm probably shallow in this regard, but all I seek from games are escapist pleasure. Film, music and the visual arts can satisfy any lingering indulgence I might have to explore art. Besides no game will ever have the same impact for me as a Renoir or Rubens. It's the nature of the medium. I am certainly being pretentious in my own right, I know but how can you avoid it when we're talking about opinions? Don't our own hold the highest value?

If a designer wants to be pretentious in a video game, then don't let me catch you being pretentious. In other words, learn the art of subtlety.

#19 Posted by JasonR86 (9738 posts) -

@believer258 said:

Why is it always shooters that are considered the low-brow genre of games? Why not all those goofy-looking platformers like Mario and Rayman?

Because it's 2013 and not 1993?

And to answer the question, I'd say Fez is pretentious because of all the arcane bullshit I've heard people have had to do to complete the game. (Note that I have not played the game, though, so there's a good chance this is misinformed.)

You have to play the game with a notepad near you, scan your environment, explore, and think about things common to games, like controller vibration, in a different way. If that's pretentious then so be it.

#20 Edited by Pr1mus (3971 posts) -

I can't name one game that is actually pretentious. I could name developers that try to push their game has being deep and life changing and important to the advancement of mankind and then you play the game and it's a brown cover based shooter. But if you played the game itself without ever hearing a word of what the developers said about it you'd think to yourself "well that was a brown cover based shooter" and nothing more. The developer was pretentious and the game becomes tainted by what its creators are saying but that only applies if you heard what they have to say in the first place.

#21 Posted by Video_Game_King (36271 posts) -

@jasonr86 said:

@video_game_king said:

@believer258 said:

Why is it always shooters that are considered the low-brow genre of games? Why not all those goofy-looking platformers like Mario and Rayman?

Because it's 2013 and not 1993?

And to answer the question, I'd say Fez is pretentious because of all the arcane bullshit I've heard people have had to do to complete the game. (Note that I have not played the game, though, so there's a good chance this is misinformed.)

You have to play the game

I'm quite aware.

#22 Posted by believer258 (12301 posts) -

@m2cks said:

@believer258: I'm sorry- I was originally going to say Call of Duty, simply just to give an example of a game that's generally accepted to be on the shallow side in terms of storytelling, etc. (regardless of the quality of its gameplay). I changed it because I didn't want to call out any game specifically, out of fear of starting an off-topic argument (but I guess it might ignite an argument nonetheless). And of course I'd like to keep the discussion from going into the played-out debate of "games=art", and to just address the question at hand. Again, sorry about the confusion!

No need to apologize, it was just thinking aloud on my part.

@believer258 said:

Why is it always shooters that are considered the low-brow genre of games? Why not all those goofy-looking platformers like Mario and Rayman?

Because it's 2013 and not 1993?

I do hope there's a better reason than simple popularity for shooters to be the de facto (speaking of pretentiousness...) low-brow video game genre, though I fear it probably is.

#23 Edited by Video_Game_King (36271 posts) -
#24 Posted by InsiderGamer (81 posts) -

Very simply, IMO, pretentiousness is when a game pretends to be more than it is.

Some of the trailers I've seen for FF13/14/Versus strike me as pretentious. The nonsensical stream of archaic words on-screen (like someone just went straight for a thesaurus) makes it seem as if Square is trying to pad the game's premise.

#25 Edited by stryker1121 (1626 posts) -

The "P -word" gets thrown around a lot on forums for all types of media. It's a little unfair, i think, that a game/movie/book/album that's a little off the beaten path or strives to be a deeper experience gets labeled as pretentious. I see it all the time these days.

#26 Posted by JasonR86 (9738 posts) -

@video_game_king:

I'm not sure why you took out the rest of my response. That stuff I said is what makes Fez Fez. If that sounds pretentious then it's pretentious.

#27 Posted by Video_Game_King (36271 posts) -

Yes, you are.

(There's your answer: for a joke. Also, to be serious, I've heard stuff about having to draft ciphers to complete the game, so you can understand how daunting and intimidating in can be to an outsider.)

#28 Posted by JasonR86 (9738 posts) -

Yes, you are.

(There's your answer: for a joke. Also, to be serious, I've heard stuff about having to draft ciphers to complete the game, so you can understand how daunting and intimidating in can be to an outsider.)

It's not that bad.

#29 Posted by TheSouthernDandy (3937 posts) -

Pretentious is so incredibly overused, I feel like people throw that around without really knowing how to use it. If a game looks like it's got a serious tone at all it's pretentious. Not all the time but a lot. Some of the developers seem a little guilty of that though. The more I hear Jonathan Blow speak the less I like that guy.

#30 Posted by JasonR86 (9738 posts) -

Anyone else noticed that you can't call something pretentious without sounding like an idiot?

#31 Edited by Scroll (607 posts) -

I can't name a specific example but if the themes of the game get in the way of gameplay to the point that the game is less fun to play and I'd say that's when the developer have gone too far.

#32 Posted by mwng (964 posts) -

But pretentiousness in video games isn't a negative thing. Take the Persona 3 intro for example, they just threw latin and imagery at it until I couldn't not watch it every time I start the game...

#33 Edited by cloudymusic (1264 posts) -

Sidestepping the debate about the P-word entirely, Braid's writing always came across to me like it's trying far too hard to be obtuse, sometimes to the extent of near-incomprehensibility:

"Tim needed to be non-manipulable. He needed a hope of transcendence. He needed, sometimes, to be immune to the Princess's caring touch."

"But to be fully couched within the comfort of a friend is a mode of existence with severe implications. To please you perfectly, she must understand you perfectly. Thus you cannot defy her expectations or escape her reach. Her benevolence has circumscribed you, and your life's achievements will not reach beyond the map she has drawn."

Whether you want to call that "pretentious" or not, the game's writing and presentation in general felt so self-celebratory that it turned me off a little at the time. Luckily, the gameplay was good.

#34 Edited by planetfunksquad (584 posts) -

@video_game_king said:

And to answer the question, I'd say Fez is pretentious because of all the arcane bullshit I've heard people have had to do to complete the game. (Note that I have not played the game, though, so there's a good chance this is misinformed.)

pre·ten·tious

/priˈtenCHəs/

Adjective

Attempting to impress by affecting greater importance, talent, culture, etc., than is actually possessed.

Fez didn't wear any of that stuff on it's sleeve. It did not go out of its way to point out the elements that you have heard about. It was never billed as or talked up as this ridiculous puzzle game that it turned out to be. It did not attempt to impress with anything other than its pretty pixels and rotating world.

That would be the opposite of the definition of pretentious, no?

#35 Edited by AuthenticM (3812 posts) -

90% of the times someone says something/someone is pretentious is because they lack understanding of what something/someone are trying to be.

The other 10% of the times, the something/someone is actually pretentious, because it/they lack understanding of what it/they are trying to be.

aaaaand we're done here. The situation could not be summed up any better.

#36 Posted by mellotronrules (1295 posts) -

@winternet said:

90% of the times someone says something/someone is pretentious is because they lack understanding of what something/someone are trying to be.

The other 10% of the times, the something/someone is actually pretentious, because it/they lack understanding of what it/they are trying to be.

aaaaand we're done here. The situation could not be summed up any better.

totally agree. but i will say, however, given the choice between someone who promises grandiose, highfalutin concepts that ultimately fall short and a known quantity with absolutely zero innovative aspirations- i'd prefer the former. it's just a personal preference, but a head in the clouds is preferable to a couple of feet deep in the ground. that's the fun of artistic endeavours- to try and be more than you are.

#37 Posted by tourgen (4542 posts) -

I don't know. I guess I'm a little annoyed when they are telling me they have all of these deep, profound ideas that are really going to make me think. Then I turn back to their game and it's a 2D sprite platformer with Box2D slopped on top. With key-door combo puzzles. Ohhhh but with a really vague and intentionally obtuse story. Fucking brilliant dude.

Right, I'M THE PROBLEM. I'm not smart enough to grasp your shocking insights. You also invented sex and beer too, congrats, so damn amazing. Mother must be proud.

#38 Edited by McGhee (6075 posts) -

90% of the times someone says something/someone is pretentious is because they lack understanding of what something/someone are trying to be.

The other 10% of the times, the something/someone is actually pretentious, because it/they lack understanding of what it/they are trying to be.

Yes, yes, and yes.

#39 Posted by mrfluke (5389 posts) -

halo 4

#40 Posted by GERALTITUDE (3660 posts) -

The great thing about the internet is that it only wants to disagree. Here we have people fighting for the right of pretentious games.

#41 Edited by LackingSaint (1870 posts) -

I think pretentious as a descriptor is incredibly overused, and developers should be allowed to try and infuse deeper meaning into their games (even if the gameplay itself is somewhat simplistic). I don't like when that meaning is shovelled down my throat or interrupting the game, but when it's just part of the experience I don't mind at all.

#42 Edited by mtcantor (951 posts) -

I usually find a game is pretentious when the designer seems to think that the message is more important than the actual experience of playing the game. So, the game isn't fun to play, but you are supposed to overlook that because OMG its about alcoholism or something.

#43 Edited by Zekhariah (695 posts) -

I think there is to much novelty applied to pulling out the same old straw man or topic from elsewhere, and presenting it as novel solely on the basis of the presentation medium. And doing in a way that avoids any of the unique items that games can bring - so you would just be better off reading the source material elsewhere.

Movies seem to go this route to. Take some obvious and trite lesson and go through the motions in sloppily putting it to film. Then expect a standing ovation from a giant crowd of people amazed at how insightful you have been to regurgitate a safe, reasonable, and well understood item. While adding precisely nothing to the topic.

#44 Edited by Corvak (1174 posts) -

Games generally only become pretentious when their developers talk about them post-release, or more importantly, when they openly criticize the industry.

As an example, games like Braid become labelled as such because Johnathan Blow has a pretentious attitude regarding certain genres, and fancies himself an industry pundit.

Indies have wonderful originality, and gamers dont consider them to be sharks out to monetize everything, though the one lesson several of the bigger ones need to learn, is how to manage public relations.

This isnt specific to games - but customers want product or service providers to show humility - to make the customer feel powerful, as opposed to being made to feel they are not wanted because they dont share an opinion.

#45 Posted by WasabiCurry (425 posts) -

@kidable: I finished Braid a while back, but I didn't enjoy it at all...

=(

#46 Posted by TechHits (1391 posts) -

90% of the times someone says something/someone is pretentious is because they lack understanding of what something/someone are trying to be.

The other 10% of the times, the something/someone is actually pretentious, because it/they lack understanding of what it/they are trying to be.

would it be ironic to say that's really pretentious?

#47 Edited by ProfessorEss (7538 posts) -
@mtcantor said:

I usually find a game is pretentious when the designer seems to think that the message is more important than the actual experience of playing the game. So, the game isn't fun to play, but you are supposed to overlook that because OMG its about alcoholism or something.

I agree, though sometimes I think we're fooled into thinking the developer is pretentious because the press paints them that way. I could care less whether a developer or game is "pretentious" as long as it's fun. I don't like when things like gamebreaking bugs or poor gameplay are ignored or accepted because it's deep or has an amazing story or message.

A lot of people are pushing real hard to accelerate the "maturing of videogames" and I feel like "pretentiousness" is one of the tools being used. Unfortunately, I think too many of these people are too willing to leave the core of what videogames are behind for the sake of it.

It is an interesting conversation though as pretentiousness is a strange, almost subjective quality that is often mistakenly placed.

#48 Edited by TechHits (1391 posts) -

@techhits said:

@winternet said:

90% of the times someone says something/someone is pretentious is because they lack understanding of what something/someone are trying to be.

The other 10% of the times, the something/someone is actually pretentious, because it/they lack understanding of what it/they are trying to be.

would it be ironic to say that's really pretentious?

and I'm not just saying that to be jerk. I'm having a Schrodinger's cat moment here.

#49 Posted by BBQBram (2315 posts) -

Pretentious is just a straw man for people who are adverse to subtext or allegory. Sure a creative endeavor can go up it's own ass, but the word pretentious has lost all impact years ago. Unless of course Jonathon Blow were to follow you around, mocking your life choices and your inability to comprehend why The Witness is better than your favourite game. In that case fire at will.

#50 Posted by Lysergica33 (551 posts) -

If something is pretentious, it means it's trying to appear smarter than it actually is. A lot of games out there these days are just legitimately smart, thus making the whole "OGM ITS TEH PRETENTIOUS" thing pretty moot.
Games like Limbo and Journey are good examples of this. I saw "the p-word" being thrown at both of these games when it really isn't appropriate for either of these titles. Especially Journey, where parallels can be drawn to all kinds of things, from Joseph Campbell's "Hero's Journey" to Buddhist enlightenment and subsequent rebirth/reincarnation...
Even something like Proteus doesn't seem particularly deserving of being labelled as pretentious, since it doesn't seem to be trying to be anything more than what it actually is, there's no real subtext or meaning aside from HEY HERE'S A NICE ISLAND GO FOR A WALK HAVE FUN(!!!)

To be honest, the indie scene seems like the last place this word should be used.. The AAA scene is far guiltier of pretense, at least in my eyes. Tomb Raider is a fantastic example of this. While I think the game is excellent, and had massive amounts of fun playing it, the first hour or so is fucking cringey. The attempts to paint Lara as a realistic, vulnerable, emotional person fall flat on their face when you spend the first 5 minutes jumping between chasms as a cave collapses all around you. You're essentially super woman straight from the off, yet the game acts like it is oblivious of this since it is so damn compelled to try and force its story down your throat. I couldn't really lose myself in the experience until Lara starts to be more pro-active and aggressive. The dissonance between the gameplay and story fades away, thus it's easier to just give yourself to the experience since the game stops trying to force a narrative agenda upon you.
While I'd give the game a solid 8/10 on the whole as I had a lot of fun out of it, it struck me as being really quite pretentious. The devs do not have the smarts or skills to pull off the ideas they have for the game, thus making it seem that the game is trying to be smarter than it actually is.

Assassin's Creed and Mass Effect are both good examples of pretense in gaming to me as well, for similar reasons. Both are bog standard "OGM YOU ARE TEH ONE ALSO ANCIENT ALIENS AND STUFF" stories that are trying to give the appearance of being a lot more serious and intelligent than they actually are.
Journey, Braid, Limbo... None of these games are pretentious, they're just legitimately intelligent works.