The context conundrum


HOLY CRAP?! A BLOG?!
   
Oh, it's been a while. Thought I'd just dump out some thoughts this Thanksgiving seeing how I have a little time. 

Have you ever hated yourself for liking something/someone, because of the context surrounding said object of your affection? 
 
You know: The thing that makes you go eat fast-food late at night to make the conflicted feelings go away, and then you realize that it's a futile concept, so then you drive to a pub only to find they're not open, so then you hit the grocery store and get some beer and you come home late, crash on the couch because you're too lost in thought to focus on one specific thing about your situation and you wish someone could spell it out for you, but you don't want to diminish what you might have and you gave yourself an oath that you would never be in a situation that even might have a passing resemblance to any previous situation that messed you up mentally and you want to do the right thing and not wish what happened to you happen to someone else? 
 

C'mon, you know, that thing
 
I'm talking about games, of course.  
 
Usually when I've written about context in the past, it's been associated to a game's narrative structure. In this case I want to talk about something mostly unrelated to the game itself, context surrounding a game

Following the Link

I'm enjoying Skyward Sword
 
 Yeah, but is it better than that one game that was released thirteen years ago?!
It's one of the few games I have time for these days. I'm stuck playing a few minutes of the game here-and-there between classes and homework. Between finding the time to finally finish up Arkham City, my new adventure as Link has been a pretty positive one. The pedestal for surpassing the expectations for this franchise seem quite scattered, some still proclaim that everything should be still compared to Ocarina of Time as if was some infallible blue-print to the holy grail of game design.   
The issue with such devotion is the lack hindsight regarding certain concepts such as time, or social context. To apply the same expectations to games from 1998, is a bit lacking, unless the game isn't capable of meeting bare-bones standards that were laid down previously.  
 
Unless were talking about The Bible. Everything in that book is relevant today, and should be taken literally. * 
  
I'm not diminishing what a great game Ocarina of Time is, I just  find that we appreciate an older game more after we untie it from it's fanboy pedestal, and apply it to games today. It's one thing to say in conversation:

"OMG OCARINA OF TIME IS THE BEST GAME EVER!" (<-You deserved to be slapped if you use internet acronyms out-loud in real life.) 

Versus: 

"Ocarina of Time was instrumental in laying down a foundation of game design in both exploration and combat, that has permeated with many games years after it's release and it's effect can be still felt today." 


Ya'know, like the Bible** 
  
... 
... 
 
...Moving on...  
 
 Another musical instrument?! What's next? A xylophone?! 
Twilight Princess seemed to follow Ocarina of Time's design choices to the letter, yet in an expanded format associative to the previous generation. When you have a franchise that spawned so many elements that have been amputated and used in other products over the years, to complain that things are beginning to feel "samey" seems like a difficult proposition. But Skyward Sword positively delivers (as much as it can at least) on it's tired-and-true formula. Dungeon design, even the general flow of the game has been dramatically played with. It's not immediately apparent, but over-time the game shows it's true colors. Like Ocarina over a decade ago, it positively adapts it's tired and true mechanics and design into something that sorta feels new.  
 
Paramount to those new changes is it's control scheme, something I have enjoyed immensely. It's gotten a lot of traction online that the control scheme is fantastic, and while it doesn't work 100% of the time it works when it's pretty impressive. It's shinning example that motion controls have a place among what's considered "the main-stream."  

Breaking the Link

At the same time, I can't stand Skyward Sword and my reasoning illustrates the subject of this blog: Trying to judge a game based on it's own merits, versus the, lack of a better term: Bullshit, the game has the "privilege" of having to deal with. 
 
The context surrounding Skyward Sword is terrible. Does anyone care that Skyward Sword, shows that motion controls can be done correctly? More importantly: Are you using your Wii? Is it on? When was the last time you played anything on it? Or does it sit in a closet between the small pile of miscellaneous old consoles you've neglected.  
 
 "It's like it's won first place in a race that everyone already kinda gave up on."
Just about every conversation I've had with people regarding Skyward Sword has to begin and end regarding the state of the Wii, or Nintendo, or some commentary between the state of either Nintendo or the Wii. My annoyance is that we have had to wait until the twilight of this systems lifespan, to see such a great example of motion controls for this console.  

Sure, the Wii-Motion Plus wasn't around at the systems launch, but that's not the point. Why now? Why at such a all time-low? 
 
To be fair, and I can't repeat this enough: It's not Skyward Sword's fault. But I can't stop myself from holding back, and not appreciating the game to what I feel would be it's fullest. I feel sorry for it, and it seems every aspect of this game has to go through some cross-filter that has nothing to do with Skyward Sword. The art style looks like a water color painting, but seems like a technical concession to the hardware, thus causing an issue from time to time when these limitations rear their ugly heads. 
Is Skyward Sword to blame for this? 
  
Trying to break context surrounding a game, to the actual game itself is difficult for me.  
A better eample: What's the first thing you think of when you think of L.A. Noire? Is it the actual game, or the torrent of absurdity that was unleashed onto the internet regarding the lunacy of how that game was made? 

Mending the Link

Perhaps the best example of me personally dealing with this concept, was that old review I did for Yakuza 3. I normally don't review games, probably for the reason that review illustrates. I was inspired to write about Yakuza 3, primarily because (at the time) the sheer absurdity that surrounded the franchise and it's release out-side of Japan.   

 Couldn't have said it better myself bro.
Trying to remove ones-self is impossible to do with the concept of a review, but trying to remove ones opinions regarding the context surrounding a game seems even worse. Modern Warfare 3 and the expulsion of most of Infinity Ward? Did anything that happened in that situation altered your perspective or reasoning for the final product. 
 
For me my feelings back to Skyward Sword is perhaps more muddled. You see, I've played Xenoblade this year: One of the best JRPG's this generation. While my appreciation for Skyward Sword is high, my unwavering appreciation for Xenoblade is still high as ever. One has to ask themselves why Skyward Sword get's the ability to be released in North America, but the equally excellent Xenoblade has to hide in Europe. "Franchise appeal" should be the first response one should give, but in terms of general quality? It's infuriating that it feels like Skyward Sword is being made into a final swan-song, versus actually being one. 
  
So what's to be taken from all this? 
 
I'm not 100% sure to be quite honest, but I do have the threads to something akin to a stable conclusion. At first I thought it was a new form of my cynicism had finally awakened. But perhaps this is a reminder regarding how we appreciate games, that we we should appreciate them for what they are. A simple reminder that perhaps needs to be repeated. It's a difficult proposition that's not absolute to every situation, but perhaps we should better ourselves this holiday season to remind ourselves of this very basic concept.
 
That it helps when we reflect on the game years later, and give a higher appreciation for it.  
That it helps bring the negative appendages and baggage attached to the game, out to the forefront of your opinion, and we enjoy the game more. 
That a similar way of thinking can work both ways, and expand upon a games fundamental faults.
 
"The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword is a brilliant game, and it's even more amazing for having to deal with the rocky foundation surrounding the game." Doesn't that sound nice? Go give it a check when you have the chance.
 
Hope everyone has an excellent holiday season.  
Happy I was able to toss out a blog during my time off.  
I MISS YOU GUYZ!
 
*These statements might be sarcastic, unfunny, and not serious*
8 Comments
9 Comments
Posted by vidiot

HOLY CRAP?! A BLOG?!
   
Oh, it's been a while. Thought I'd just dump out some thoughts this Thanksgiving seeing how I have a little time. 

Have you ever hated yourself for liking something/someone, because of the context surrounding said object of your affection? 
 
You know: The thing that makes you go eat fast-food late at night to make the conflicted feelings go away, and then you realize that it's a futile concept, so then you drive to a pub only to find they're not open, so then you hit the grocery store and get some beer and you come home late, crash on the couch because you're too lost in thought to focus on one specific thing about your situation and you wish someone could spell it out for you, but you don't want to diminish what you might have and you gave yourself an oath that you would never be in a situation that even might have a passing resemblance to any previous situation that messed you up mentally and you want to do the right thing and not wish what happened to you happen to someone else? 
 

C'mon, you know, that thing
 
I'm talking about games, of course.  
 
Usually when I've written about context in the past, it's been associated to a game's narrative structure. In this case I want to talk about something mostly unrelated to the game itself, context surrounding a game

Following the Link

I'm enjoying Skyward Sword
 
 Yeah, but is it better than that one game that was released thirteen years ago?!
It's one of the few games I have time for these days. I'm stuck playing a few minutes of the game here-and-there between classes and homework. Between finding the time to finally finish up Arkham City, my new adventure as Link has been a pretty positive one. The pedestal for surpassing the expectations for this franchise seem quite scattered, some still proclaim that everything should be still compared to Ocarina of Time as if was some infallible blue-print to the holy grail of game design.   
The issue with such devotion is the lack hindsight regarding certain concepts such as time, or social context. To apply the same expectations to games from 1998, is a bit lacking, unless the game isn't capable of meeting bare-bones standards that were laid down previously.  
 
Unless were talking about The Bible. Everything in that book is relevant today, and should be taken literally. * 
  
I'm not diminishing what a great game Ocarina of Time is, I just  find that we appreciate an older game more after we untie it from it's fanboy pedestal, and apply it to games today. It's one thing to say in conversation:

"OMG OCARINA OF TIME IS THE BEST GAME EVER!" (<-You deserved to be slapped if you use internet acronyms out-loud in real life.) 

Versus: 

"Ocarina of Time was instrumental in laying down a foundation of game design in both exploration and combat, that has permeated with many games years after it's release and it's effect can be still felt today." 


Ya'know, like the Bible** 
  
... 
... 
 
...Moving on...  
 
 Another musical instrument?! What's next? A xylophone?! 
Twilight Princess seemed to follow Ocarina of Time's design choices to the letter, yet in an expanded format associative to the previous generation. When you have a franchise that spawned so many elements that have been amputated and used in other products over the years, to complain that things are beginning to feel "samey" seems like a difficult proposition. But Skyward Sword positively delivers (as much as it can at least) on it's tired-and-true formula. Dungeon design, even the general flow of the game has been dramatically played with. It's not immediately apparent, but over-time the game shows it's true colors. Like Ocarina over a decade ago, it positively adapts it's tired and true mechanics and design into something that sorta feels new.  
 
Paramount to those new changes is it's control scheme, something I have enjoyed immensely. It's gotten a lot of traction online that the control scheme is fantastic, and while it doesn't work 100% of the time it works when it's pretty impressive. It's shinning example that motion controls have a place among what's considered "the main-stream."  

Breaking the Link

At the same time, I can't stand Skyward Sword and my reasoning illustrates the subject of this blog: Trying to judge a game based on it's own merits, versus the, lack of a better term: Bullshit, the game has the "privilege" of having to deal with. 
 
The context surrounding Skyward Sword is terrible. Does anyone care that Skyward Sword, shows that motion controls can be done correctly? More importantly: Are you using your Wii? Is it on? When was the last time you played anything on it? Or does it sit in a closet between the small pile of miscellaneous old consoles you've neglected.  
 
 "It's like it's won first place in a race that everyone already kinda gave up on."
Just about every conversation I've had with people regarding Skyward Sword has to begin and end regarding the state of the Wii, or Nintendo, or some commentary between the state of either Nintendo or the Wii. My annoyance is that we have had to wait until the twilight of this systems lifespan, to see such a great example of motion controls for this console.  

Sure, the Wii-Motion Plus wasn't around at the systems launch, but that's not the point. Why now? Why at such a all time-low? 
 
To be fair, and I can't repeat this enough: It's not Skyward Sword's fault. But I can't stop myself from holding back, and not appreciating the game to what I feel would be it's fullest. I feel sorry for it, and it seems every aspect of this game has to go through some cross-filter that has nothing to do with Skyward Sword. The art style looks like a water color painting, but seems like a technical concession to the hardware, thus causing an issue from time to time when these limitations rear their ugly heads. 
Is Skyward Sword to blame for this? 
  
Trying to break context surrounding a game, to the actual game itself is difficult for me.  
A better eample: What's the first thing you think of when you think of L.A. Noire? Is it the actual game, or the torrent of absurdity that was unleashed onto the internet regarding the lunacy of how that game was made? 

Mending the Link

Perhaps the best example of me personally dealing with this concept, was that old review I did for Yakuza 3. I normally don't review games, probably for the reason that review illustrates. I was inspired to write about Yakuza 3, primarily because (at the time) the sheer absurdity that surrounded the franchise and it's release out-side of Japan.   

 Couldn't have said it better myself bro.
Trying to remove ones-self is impossible to do with the concept of a review, but trying to remove ones opinions regarding the context surrounding a game seems even worse. Modern Warfare 3 and the expulsion of most of Infinity Ward? Did anything that happened in that situation altered your perspective or reasoning for the final product. 
 
For me my feelings back to Skyward Sword is perhaps more muddled. You see, I've played Xenoblade this year: One of the best JRPG's this generation. While my appreciation for Skyward Sword is high, my unwavering appreciation for Xenoblade is still high as ever. One has to ask themselves why Skyward Sword get's the ability to be released in North America, but the equally excellent Xenoblade has to hide in Europe. "Franchise appeal" should be the first response one should give, but in terms of general quality? It's infuriating that it feels like Skyward Sword is being made into a final swan-song, versus actually being one. 
  
So what's to be taken from all this? 
 
I'm not 100% sure to be quite honest, but I do have the threads to something akin to a stable conclusion. At first I thought it was a new form of my cynicism had finally awakened. But perhaps this is a reminder regarding how we appreciate games, that we we should appreciate them for what they are. A simple reminder that perhaps needs to be repeated. It's a difficult proposition that's not absolute to every situation, but perhaps we should better ourselves this holiday season to remind ourselves of this very basic concept.
 
That it helps when we reflect on the game years later, and give a higher appreciation for it.  
That it helps bring the negative appendages and baggage attached to the game, out to the forefront of your opinion, and we enjoy the game more. 
That a similar way of thinking can work both ways, and expand upon a games fundamental faults.
 
"The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword is a brilliant game, and it's even more amazing for having to deal with the rocky foundation surrounding the game." Doesn't that sound nice? Go give it a check when you have the chance.
 
Hope everyone has an excellent holiday season.  
Happy I was able to toss out a blog during my time off.  
I MISS YOU GUYZ!
 
*These statements might be sarcastic, unfunny, and not serious*
Posted by Video_Game_King

Damn it! I was in the middle of a Dark Id Let's Play (and lamenting how blogging on the site has been noticeably dying, even with the Blog Initiative and all). Might as well read this. *does so* Crap! Haven't played any of the games other than Bible Adventures, which (I guess) is mentioned somewhere in the blog. Yea, that game sucks more than the girls in Bible Black...I'd imagine. What? Don't give me that look. You put that reference in your blog, maybe.

Posted by vidiot
@Video_Game_King: The Hamburglar is also referenced in the blog. You're not looking hard enough. 
Posted by Video_Game_King

Mainly because I don't want to spoil any games I haven't played.

Posted by ArbitraryWater

The problem is that we as humans have trouble putting anything in a vacuum* as far as context is concerned. When I think of L.A. Noire, I do think of the absolute insanity surrounding that game's development, and it consciously makes me think less of it despite the fact that it's an extremely fascinating title, if in collective retrospect not quite as mindblowingly revolutionary as we led ourselves to believe. (And that's another discussion in and of itself: Internet Revisionism is an interesting phenomenon, especially in regards to games).

Forget just the Wii, in some respects Nintendo has existed in its own little world since the N64 era, when they decided to stick to cartridges instead of CDs. Of course, considering the load times of those early PS1 titles, maybe time has worked in their favor. However, time has not worked in the Gamecube's favor, and it already isn't working in the Wii's favor. Other than Skyward Sword and apparently Xenoblade, can you name many other high quality major releases this year for that console? I'm having trouble. Though, maybe the problem with all of this is us. We, as an internet forum culture, are far too aware of the goings-on in this industry for our own good, and as a result maybe we care too much. The guy who played L.A. Noire because it had the guy from Mad Men (I'm making generic mr. consumer a bit higher brow than COD dudebro. This is intentional) in it doesn't care about the abuses that happened at Team Bondi, and has a better experience as a result. To use a token cliche phrase: Ignorance is bliss.

As a bit of a side note, it clearly works the other way too. Do you think Demon's Souls would have won Gamespot's 2009 Game of the Year if not for the immense niche appeal born out of the internet? That game sold a crazy amount of units despite clearly being developed by a team of sociopaths. Same goes for Dark Souls, but perhaps even more this time as a mult-platform title and a second go-round.

*Except the bible, of course.

Posted by vidiot
@ArbitraryWater: Apologies for the late reply, this quarter is finally winding down and my attention has been, once again, splintered elsewhere here-and-there. 
 
That being said: Look how much a few days can dramatically change a situation. Xenoblade has been announced for NA release today, and I'm excited for other people to enjoy this game. 

Other than Skyward Sword and apparently Xenoblade, can you name many other high quality major releases this year for that console? I'm having trouble. 

Understandable. People seem to forget that Xenoblade was one of three games part of the Operation: Rainfall movement. The Last Story is the next game to get a European release only.  
BTW: I love the rest of your reply. Especially the part where the lack of a vacuum mentality, can be also be a positive outcome.  
Nothing really else to add on-to that, except for a lot of head nodding in agreement. I'm curious about the underlying mechanics of internet revisionism, yet at the same time a bit lost on how to apply that into a blog. It seems like such a thought-provoking concept, there's a part of me that has trouble trying nail-down specifics on how it would work, if there is a social formula that can be applied to it. 
 
The problem is, again, that I don't think there is an absolute answer that can be applied in general. Which is fine, but that doesn't stop me from trying! :P
Posted by ArbitraryWater

@vidiot: I think there is at least one identifiable trend in internet revisionism, at least as it pertains to games. Anything that has been reinterpreted as being "not so great anymore" had a significant amount of hype from either an enthusiast or a mainstream perspective. Grand Theft Auto 4 and Metal Gear Solid 4 both came out fairly close to each other, both got great reviews and sold very well. In both cases, I've seen a fair share of "Was this game actually that great?" threads on these forums, pointing out the flaws that seemed to be somewhat ignored during the initial release hype. There's a good question of how this consensus gets made of course, be it through osmosis of being surrounded by people who never liked the thing to begin with, or if we all have a subconscious backlash to something that was exciting in the past.

In other words: we're all probably hipster douchebags.

Posted by Video_Game_King

@ArbitraryWater:

Or maybe it's the exact opposite: we're all so amazed by novelty that when we step back and the novelty wears off, we discover that the game in question wasn't as good as we thought it was, what with the being blinded by newness and everything.

Edited by RenegadeSaint

I've never had a problem dissociating a game from the stories surrounding it. I tend to view them within the world they present. Of course, I'm still influenced by what I play and see in other games, but an opinion on a game should not be overly influenced by its context. Otherwise we'd be living in a world in which Duke Nukem Forever received perfect scores across the board.