The Difference Between a TV Show and a Video Game

It’s always surprising, the things that need to be explained.  Take component cables, for example.  Sure, they’ve got five ends, and on the face of it that can be confusing, but then you look at where they go and everything is color coded.  A little bit of care in not swapping the two red cables and you’re golden.  Another one I remember from working gaming retail is explaining how Xbox games don’t work in a Sony system and vice versa.  It seems obvious from this side of things, but if you’re just trying to buy something for a loved one to make them happy in their hobby that you simply don’t care about then games is games.  Once you’re on this side of things, however, there are certain pieces of information we take for granted as being so obvious that they don’t need any explanation.  Take, for example, the difference between a TV show and a video game.

A TV show, or any piece of licensed property, isn’t a video game.  TV and movies are passive experiences where you kick back and let everything happen in front of you.  The stories tend to be richer and better paced because the director has full control of camera, story pacing, script approval, the works.  The trade-off is that you’d better be happy doing nothing but staring for 22 minutes to a couple hours.  Games, on the other hand, do the best they can with story but have to let go of the reigns because player agency is far more important.  Story bits can be missed, the pace is set by the player, and the camera usually goes wherever the player feels like pointing it.  Games are more concerned with empowering the actions of the player, and while there have been some very good stories told via gaming it’s a nice bonus rather than a requirement.

JohnnyMnemonic

Bad movie, good pinball.

What this means, and this can’t be stressed enough, is that it’s perfectly fine to review a game if you don’t like the property it’s based on.  Think the Kardashians are useless parasites sucking on the brain-dead underbelly of Hollywood?  That’s fine and accurate, but I hear nice things about the iOS game.  I’m not an iOS gamer so won’t be playing it any time soon but my distaste for everything Kardashian on tv and what passes for entertainment “news” doesn’t get in the way of the ability to appreciate a potentially good game.  The Transformers cartoon was a giant toy commercial, Transformers PS2 was excellent.  For another example that’s a bit more of a stretch, I can’t say I care too much about Twin Peaks, but Deadly Premonition is a flawed gem. A game and the thing it’s based on are very different things, and a reviewer would have to be so deeply incompetent to get confused by those two that they’d never get a job writing in the first place, assuming they had the basic capability to string two words together.

If that’s not obvious enough, let’s look at it from a different perspective.  I love me some One Piece.  I’ve watched 653 episodes and would happily sit down to watch a few dozen more, but right now I’m letting them stockpile so I can tear through a nice-sized pile in a multi-hour viewing extravaganza.  If disliking a property makes a reviewer unfit to cover a game, then being a huge fan is therefore equally a biased position and just as untrustable an opinion.  And yet I was able to review One Piece: Pirate Warriors 2 without any problems, because the game is not the anime or manga.  The game is its own unique medium that, while starring characters I’m more than a little fond of, still has vastly different criteria defining whether or not it’s any good.  If Pirate Warriors 2 has sucked I’d have said so, and there’s a lot of ways it could have been a complete waste of time.  Boring repetitive combat, unclear goals, stupid AI, or any number of other things would have instantly destroyed any positive bias brought about by years of familiarity with the cast.  The inverse of this is also true- good gaming makes a bad license irrelevant.

Ratatouille

Great movie, terrible game.

A recent review mentioned that the reviewer didn’t much care for the garbage license it was based on.  The reviewer was then called unprofessional (among other things) despite the actual content of the article going over every little thing the game did wrong that earned it the score it received.  The reaction seemed to be that somehow disliking a terrible TV show meant the game’s irrelevant combat, bad dialogue, creepy pedo-tastic fan service, and terrible translation amounted to a good game he just couldn’t see due to…?  Seriously, how do you find a good game in all that?  When reviewing a game it’s our job to see what’s there, not what we wish was there, and rate it accordingly.

One of the secrets of games reviewing is that it’s not actually that hard.  Play game, organize thoughts, type up thoughts, edit into shape.  Ta-dah!  Errors do creep in, of course, but generally of the sort involving not noticing a hidden sub-system rather than the “movie sucks so game sucks too” variety.  Because that kind of thinking completely bypasses any knowledge of what a video game is, and it’s almost impossible to be that confused.