How 'gamer' taste makes life harder for game developers

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I’d say the massive success of Dark Souls nullifies this entire thesis.

I’m going to guess you didn’t read the article, from the opening paragraph: “These comments struck me–and everyone other colleague who read and responded to them–as ridiculously wrongheaded, entitled, and over-broad. They’re also expressive of an entire ideology about games and gamers that veers close to conventional wisdom in some quarters. The problems with this thinking are pretty clear to me: games, however you look at them, almost always involve repetition. We play, strive, fail, and loop back to checkpoints and saved games to try again, or try differently, experiencing time and recursion in ways that would make a film or a novel “experimental.” In games that let us interact with story, we finish, then play again, read again, to choose another choice that bends towards a different texture of storytelling, perhaps a different ending. The opening moves of team sports, the strong gambits of classic chess games, grow familiar to players and spectators through countless repetitions, even earning themselves names. The patterns and process that lead to the outcome or ending of a game are worn into grooves by repeated acts, like leather grown buttery and supple with long use, even as the outcome remains uncertain for competitors, the possibilities of ending unknown to a first-time single player. Genres of games are born out of commonality and repetition of fundamental interactions: do this, like you did in that other game.

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I’m annoyed by articles about computer/video gaming that assumes that all gamers are people who play those. I’m a fan of tabletop gaming, and was annoyed that this article about gamers is actually about video gamers.


Be strong and you shall overcome.


Doesn’t eat cheese.

Does design and play tabletop games.

Does try computer games - in my experience, most are hard to customize, some overheat the computer, most will aggravate arm injuries, some such as first-person shooters are impossible given sensory differences and coordination problems.

Well, I’m not going to that cheese party, anyway.

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Don the white hats, it’s cheese tasting time!

You can find this in almost any survey of ‘expert’ users across all industries. And this is a great look into user experience from a more raw perspective.


The overall point that the idea of “taste” in games is interesting, but only insofar as it cuts down the myth that games are somehow fundamentally distinct from other media like movies, operas, musicals, comics, etc…

[quote]Business logic has desiccated this creative landscape and cut off its
own potential growth with its usual local-maxima-seeking efficiency.
Creators and critics struggle and scrabble here.[/quote]

Yeah, this is the fundamental tension that all creators who try to be commercial artists will face. These articles are interesting, but could be a lot shorter if they admitted this, that besides the interesting idiosyncrasies of games (the repetition and mastery points made) you really could just sum it up by saying “pretty mcuh the same tensions between creative expression and the desire to please an audience that you see everywhere else”


That ship has sailed a decade ago. Board gamers have to specify that they play board games. In fact, it isn’t always clear if “gamer” these days even includes people playing games on computers as opposed to on consoles.


Leigh, I always appreciate the perspective you bring to game criticism. Thanks for finding the gold and bringing it to the surface.


I would also argue that the distinction is largely superficial in the context of this article; the same issues of “taste making” are just as important in board game design as they are anywhere else on the gaming spectrum (or even, as mentioned above, more generically for all commercialized creative works).


And community moderators.


Yeah, pretty much. If you want to appeal to a big audience and make a lot of money, then you go to where they are. If you want to make a lovely little artsy piece it will likely have a much smaller audience. If you’re really good and lucky you can get both done at the same time.

Wonk-headed designers who want to explore new terrain are hemmed in by consumer demands that their undreamt-of architectures manage to plop out nuggets of fulfillment, an appropriate level of challenge, an adequate amount of unique and unrepeated experience.

I’m really curious to know why taking a stand against fulfilling experiences, challenge, and a unique experience is a good and noble thing.


As a historical tabletop gamer, I get frustrated with historical errors and/or just lack of historical research. I think reviewers sometimes assume that because a game is complex, it must be realistic, or because it is simple, it must be unrealistic. I don’t think that any game can be any more realistic than its research is accurate. If its research is inaccurate on the important things, it will be unrealistic. I know with ancients there are a lot of things that can go wrong, so for wargames, I have read up on population sizes, tried to work out my own quick-and-dirty estimation techniques based on the inhabited areas of the largest towns,(a) read up on logistics, tried to compare with modern examples from Napoleon’s and Sherman’s campaigns, etc. Meanwhile other designers often work with “that seems about right” or crib from secondary sources with no gauge for what should seem about right. And for roleplaying games and other genres, I’m not always sure where to begin.

(a) inspired by Russell’s work, but using somewhat different methods and calibrations.


I think gaming’s more vocal fans tend to have a character that it fundamentally different than people who define themselves by a love of music or movies.

Vocal / snooty music & film fans seem to define themselves in opposition to the mainstream. The game fans Clark describes bring the most abrasive my-taste-is-superior aspects of Indie Rock Pete, but align that attitude with the most mainstream commercially successful work.

From a commercial point of view, you are correct that video games suffer similar pressures to what other commercial arts suffer. But when your loudest & most visible fans also have the notion that the most mainstream status-quo is the pinnacle of the artform - that dynamic is an inversion of most other artforms. And I think it’s deleterious to the form when there is fundamentally no tension between the stuffiest suits and the most vocal fans


If I may callously reappropriate theorems without a sound understanding of their actual meaning, I believe Godot’s Incompleteness Theoreoms argue something to the effect that it is impossible to prove the internal consistency of a system without resorting to some sort of external framework. I would like to think the same holds true of games and simulations; of course certain abbreviations and shorthands must be used, otherwise we would just call it reality.

More broadly, once you accept that shortcuts are being made, it becomes much more difficult to finely slice the distinctions between games and simulations, electronic or otherwise. Is a board game just a crude analog machine? Where do digital boardgames exist on the spectrum? What about games like the Scepter of Zavendor which are largely just economic simulations?


I agree, yes, to the extent that video games don’t have an established ivory-tower style critics circle who have historic clout. There is a difference, though, between “vocal, high-profile critics” and “taste-makers” in the sense of pushing the needle on what actually gets made and where studio pressure comes from. Crowd-pleasing blockbusters continue to dominate the funding streams and screens of the world, despite a highly respected and visible critical class who routinely pan them.

All this meta hand-wringing about whether or not video games can become a true commercial art with their very own Oscars honoring artfullness + consumability is unnecessary, I think. It’s an incredibly young artform that is maturing at a blistering rate, and given that basically everyone who was in the target demographic for their mainstream entry as even a pasttime is just now entering Ivory-tower-appropriate age, things are progressing at a perfectly fine, if not surprisingly positive pace.


Conversely, I play a little Minecraft almost every day, but I’ve never thought of myself as a gamer. It’s the least important thing I do.


If gamers taste bad maybe the developers should try switching to joggers.