Game Bias’ 15 Greatest 2D Platformers List — Intro and Honorable Mentions

by Jed Pressgrove

In video games, jumping is as ubiquitous as shooting, and it’s often considered an essential part of the 2D platformer genre. But that’s not exactly the case from my view. Although the overwhelmingly majority of platformers involve jumping, there are historically significant games where you must move from platform to platform without jumping at all. This list will include entries that fit this description.

Some might wonder why I have chosen to focus on 2D platformers. The short answer is I don’t think 3D platformers have been that impressive on the whole over their roughly two-decade lifespan. I will consider putting together a list of the greatest 3D platformers, but it would be shorter than this one.

The honorable mentions below show that 2D platformers remain vibrant and fascinating. But before I reveal these selections, I do want to say that the 2D platformer, more so than any other video-game genre, is heavily associated with blind nostalgia. Fez, Shovel Knight, Celeste, and others bring shame to the art form by referencing or utilizing aspects of classics without surpassing or interrogating what came before them (see Fez’s Tetris, Mario, and Zelda allusions; Shovel Knight’s easygoing nods to Mega Man, Zelda II: The Adventure of Link, and Super Mario Bros. 3; and Celeste’s pixelated sprites, which look like god-awful mush during the game’s precious zoom-ins). We must look beyond what reminds us so much of the past.

As for why the following five games weren’t simply included as part of a 20 greatest 2D platformers list, I echo what I said in the intro to my 15 greatest shooters list: there are other honorable mentions I could name, but I want to highlight these choices for their unique appeal.

Platformance: Castle Pain (2010)

Unfortunately, this game might be forever lost after Microsoft abandoned support of Xbox Live Indie Games for the Xbox 360, but in case a port pops up somewhere, I must mention Platformance: Castle Pain by Magiko Gaming. This gem is simple: you can walk left or right, jump, or zoom in or out so that you can better detect and avoid obstacles on your way to rescuing a damsel (yeah, that trope is more worn out than a pair of 1980s blue jeans). The zooming mechanic is brilliantly executed. Let’s say you’re at the section where you need to traverse a long platform while jumping over arrows that are being shot at your back. You may want to attempt this trek with the default zoomed-in camera, reacting to the sudden appearance of a projectile behind you, or more cleverly, you can zoom all the way out so that you can see the game’s entire single stage — it resembles an elaborate living picture that one would hang on a wall — and thus the release of the arrows from their origin. Unlike Celeste’s phoned-in visuals, the pixel art here is superb whether it’s in your face or in the distance. The experience is brief like a children’s storybook and accompanied by an uplifting medieval-themed soundtrack, but Platformance: Castle Pain requires perfect timing and spacing to conquer its challenges as you move from checkpoint to checkpoint.

Rock Bottom (2014)

Amy Dentata’s Rock Bottom is a fantasy in which levels that represent a state of depression can be completed by counterintuitive means. The goal of Rock Bottom is to jump to higher platforms, but the only way to increase the power of your jump is to fall to your death. To further strengthen your legs, you must extend your fatal plunge by avoiding platforms as you fall from greater heights. If viewed cynically, Rock Bottom’s concept could be linked to suicide ideation, but I interpret its madness as wry hope for convenient change. Ultimately, the game is an affirmation of life after struggle, as suggested by the ending that celebrates the fact that the protagonist can finally jump without having to worry about escaping a hole.

The Duck Game (2013)

This quirky title from James Earl Cox III, one of the most fascinating and prolific developers of the decade, might not fit the traditional definition of a 2D platformer, but it effectively utilizes platforms in its depiction of a downward spiral of addiction and obsession. Absurdly, the protagonist is preoccupied with the idea of holding the legs of a duck as the bird flies. Unless you elect to hit “Escape” on your keyboard, you get to see what happens when the hero indulges in this practice. In addition to the trippy premise, visuals, and audio, the amusing part of The Duck Game is that the platforms don’t matter. When you’re flying high with the duck, the platforms are unnecessary for vertical advancement, and when flying with the duck becomes a problem (the protagonist stops caring about hygiene and everyday chores as the duck’s strength wanes), you can’t leap well enough to reach your previous high. The implication is that if the duck weren’t in the picture, you could go from platform to platform like a normal video-game character.

Iconoclasts (2018)

Because I played Joakim Sandberg’s Iconoclasts for the first time only a few months ago, and because it’s practically new, I don’t have the critical distance to state that it deserves to be on the main list. That’s what my head says. My heart says the game should go down as an all-time great. Iconoclasts’ combination of combat and puzzle-solving makes for some wonderful platforming moments, but it’s the storytelling I want to focus on here. Not only does this game have the most complex plot of any platformer I can recall, but it has the most conflicted depiction of faith and religion that I’ve seen in any video game, period. With a theatricality that recalls the interweaving dramas of Final Fantasy VI, Iconoclasts never lets you forget that it involves human beings with worldviews shaped by their individual experiences and convictions. This is the most ambitious 2D platformer ever made, and in almost every respect, it succeeds. (See my full review here.)

Octahedron (2018)

Yet another 2018 game that I will continue to keep in mind as I evaluate the history of 2D platformers, Octahedron’s ever-changing mechanics share center stage with a beyond-thirsty electronica soundtrack and neon-infused graphics that recall wild night clubs. The smooth and slippery movements of the platform-creating protagonist complement the pulsing beats and blanket-like textures of the music. A sensual powerhouse from developer Demimonde, this game is so sexy that one can feel dirty exploring every last part of its tunnel-like stages. (See my full review here.)

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Loaded Questions Vol. 10

Loaded Questions is a regular feature at Game Bias. If you have a question you would like to submit, please email it to pressgrove84@yahoo.com or tweet it to @jedpressfate. Questions can cover anything closely or tangentially related to video games or art, including but not limited to criticism, culture, and politics. Questions may be edited for clarity.

Question 1

Dani: Do you tolerate tank controls in games like Resident Evil 4 or God Hand? I read a piece where you talk about how this mechanic was awful in Silent Hill 2, but you have praised Resident Evil 4, so I’m curious why.

Jed Pressgrove: I haven’t played God Hand, but the protagonist in Resident Evil 4 controls fine as a tank, and it’s all due to perspective.

Before I go any further, I’ll explain what basic tank controls are for those who may not be familiar with them. In a game with tank controls, pressing “up” on a control pad or joystick will move you forward. To turn, you must press “right” or “left” on a pad or joystick, and when you turn, your avatar stops moving altogether. In other words, you can only move forward when you’re facing in the direction you want to move, but to face another direction, your avatar must pause and turn. Moreover, if you press “down” on a pad or joystick, your avatar will, depending on the game, do nothing or move in reverse without facing the opposite direction.

Regardless of whether you’re playing Resident Evil 4, Silent Hill 2, or Combat (which actually involves tanks), tank controls usually take time to get used to. But perspective, or the position of a game’s camera, can significantly impact your experience using this control scheme.

In Resident Evil 4, the camera is behind the shoulder of the protagonist; thus, the player is always looking in the same direction as the protagonist. This perspective allows tank controls to be more intuitive, as when you press “up,” the protagonist moves “up” into the background that he is facing. And because the perspective never changes, you’re tied to the eyesight of the character, which produces a strong connection between you and the avatar.

In Silent Hill 2, the camera angle changes dynamically depending on where you are walking in the environment, similar to the case in the original Resident Evil. The camera might be behind your character one moment, only to show a side view of your character in the next. And yet, the whole time, you’re expected to keep pressing “up” to move forward. The random changes in perspective are intended to be discombobulating, but I consider this a cheap trick that serves as a contrived reminder that you and your avatar are fundamentally at odds, and let’s not forget, the Resident Evil series already pulled this trick multiple times.

To me, the epitome of Silent Hill 2’s clunky stupidity is the early encounter with Pyramid Head where you have to keep running away from him in circles within a small room. The concept itself is silly and kinetically uninteresting, and the only reason it’s remotely tense is due to your avatar’s weird pauses in movement every time you have to turn (rather than any heightened connection between you and the avatar). The elongated routine completely destroys any suspension of disbelief that one might have, as no one in their right mind would awkwardly pause as they’re running away from such a destructive creature within an enclosed space.

Question 2

Kenji Madaraki: Is replayability a factor for you when deciding if a game is one of the greatest ever? I know that Indie Gamer Chick, for example, has stated that she doesn’t care much at all about replay value and will still put a game in her top 10 even if she liked it drastically less on a second playthrough. Has a game ever fallen out of favor with you to a considerable degree after you played it again?

Jed Pressgrove: I definitely fall more on Cathy’s (Indie Gamer Chick’s) side when it comes to replayability.

First, games are frequently addictive for various reasons, but just because a game is addictive doesn’t mean it’s great. Case in point, if you were to go by hours played to identify my top game of 2016, Street Fighter V would be the clear winner. However, I didn’t play Street Fighter V for hours and hours and hours because it was great. I did it because I’ve been playing the Street Fighter series since I was a young kid, and I’m very competitive when it comes to any of those games. Even though Street Fighter V isn’t that good (see my review here), I still got a rush from beating people online, so I played the game for a ridiculous amount of time.

Second, I don’t call a game “great” before going through a rigorous process of questioning my instincts and feelings and comparing the game’s strengths and weaknesses to those of various other games. There is no objective truth here, though I do have a lot of knowledge and experience to draw from when making these determinations. So while it can be helpful to replay certain games when I’m trying to rank them in a specific order, replayability doesn’t help me evaluate the various qualities of a game in a historical sense.

To answer your final question, sometimes replaying a game might make me think it’s not as good as I thought it was, but I can’t recall a single time when this has happened for a game that I consider one of the greatest ever, and that’s due to the second reason above. I don’t throw around “greatest” lightly.

Question 3

Cesar Marquez: What is art? What isn’t art? How can video games be art and sport at the same time?

Jed Pressgrove: Very broadly, art is something that involves craft and/or personal expression/style, and it can be appreciated by an audience as a display, statement, or performance. This definition allows quite a number of things to be art — from paintings to lawns, from chess to basketball, from cross-stitching to glassblowing. Art is not necessarily good, but I think it should be a very wide umbrella.

The main thing that I exclude from the artistic realm is advertising. If the sole purpose of something is to get you to spend money on something else, that thing is my sworn enemy as a critic and human being.

There is a competitive element to many games, so that’s why they can be sports, which can be art themselves. The art in games can be seen in their individual elements (music, visuals, etc.), what they express as a whole (Nier: Automata as a portrait of discrimination, Earthbound as a statement on the unifying power of faith, etc.), and what players can achieve (Dayo’s come-from-behind victory in Street Fighter III is beautiful and elating).

Loaded Questions Vol. 9

Loaded Questions is a regular feature at Game Bias. If you have a question you would like to submit, please email it to pressgrove84@yahoo.com or tweet it to @jedpressfate. Questions can cover anything closely or tangentially related to video games or art, including but not limited to criticism, culture, and politics. Questions may be edited for clarity.

Sam Martinelli: You’ve said in the past that you don’t support the idea of downloadable content (DLC) on principle, noting that games should be finished products once you pay for them. What do you make, then, of the free-to-play model? For example, games like Fortnite, Quake Champions, or Hearthstone: Heroes of Warcraft can be enjoyed without paying a dime, though shelling out some extra cash for cosmetics or new cards may enhance the overall experience. Is DLC acceptable if the core game is free?

Jed Pressgrove: As with most things, there are degrees of acceptability here. If a game is free to play but requires money for cosmetic changes, it doesn’t seem as bad as a full-priced game — which may or may not be buggy or “complete” at launch — that features cosmetic options via paid DLC.

Having said that, I’m still not a fan of DLC even within the free-to-play model. Minor cosmetic changes mean nothing to me, especially given that the intent behind them has more to do with superfluous virtual-identity customization rather than a meaningful shift in, say, aesthetics. From an artistic standpoint, it would be far more interesting if the “cosmetic” could lead to a richer interpretation of the game, but if you feel this way, you might as well make the case that all such things should be available from the get-go for a one-time price. Makes life a helluva lot simpler. (The game DLC Quest has played its own small role in shaping my views.)

I also do not spend money on any kind of DLC because I don’t want to send the message that I’m in favor of DLC in any way. If you give companies breathing room on this issue, they’ll keep seeing how far they can take the scheme. That’s why some free-to-play games have been called pay-to-win games. When changes via DLC lead to in-game advantages, many players feel the pressure to pay. Yes, people always have a choice, but I frown upon an industry that always says it needs more money as it shows little evidence of higher standards for quality and fairness across the board.

Brant Moon: I know you’re not a huge fan of the term “ludonarrative dissonance” (or maybe just not a fan of its overuse), but I liked that it helped some people consciously consider, “Hey, maybe the gameplay is not jiving with the story.” If you had to name one game (or two) with the best narrative-to-gameplay synergy, what would it be? Conversely, what popular games do you think have the worst synergy?

Jed Pressgrove: You are correct that I despise “ludonarrative dissonance.” It’s a mouthful in that dreadful academic sort of way, and it looks ugly in a sentence. There’s also confusion surrounding the term, which makes me question its usefulness. It seems to me that we can talk about matters of “ludonarrative dissonance” just fine without ever employing the phrase. By avoiding these two words and being specific about our observations, we can sidestep confusion and probably make a decent point.

From my standpoint, your question is much harder to answer than some might think. As I consider what you mean here, I realize that we are often conditioned or encouraged to think of narrative and gameplay as separate entities that, ideally, fit together like puzzle pieces. But this line of thought only represents one approach to how stories can be told or how ideas can be communicated within a game.

Think of something like Missile Command. This is a game that many would say “has no story.” But it does tell a story in how it captures, through its rules and theme and unique arcade cabinet, geopolitical and existential anxiety. Could we then argue that something like Missile Command showcases the purest kind of synergy that you refer to?

Another game that comes to mind while I think about all of this is the original Ninja Gaiden on the Nintendo Entertainment System. Although the cutscenes and player-driven action in this game are undeniably obvious in their separation, the urgency of Ryu Hayabusa’s quest and emotions, as illustrated in the cinematics, comes thundering out that much more when you take control of his avatar. If Ryu weren’t as fast and agile when you play as him (a clear departure from the deliberate pace of Castlevania, Ninja Gaiden’s biggest influence), the storytelling would mean nothing, and the mechanics would betray the conviction of the preceding writing and imagery.

It’s even harder trying to determine the pop game with the worst such synergy. Perhaps many open-world games deserve the most criticism for their nonstop indulgence of meaninglessness. Their big-ass maps and countless isomorphic tasks avoid the entire challenge of expressing something in a game. The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild, for example, doesn’t really express anything. Who gives a damn whether you stop Ganon again? Nintendo is telling us (like so many other unimaginative developers), “Here it is, player! The world is your oyster! Feast!” And when you read many of the reasons why people think Breath of the Wild is magnificent, it all comes down to what they did in a particular part of a game that features a culturally insignificant, emotionally vapid, and childish sense of morality. Emergent egotism.

Ryan Aston: What are your favorite depictions of Hell in media (games, movies, television, books, etc.)?

Jed Pressgrove: Lately, the depictions of Hell that have impressed me have all come from games. Hell in Will You Ever Return? 2, developed by Jack King-Spooner, has never left me. King-Spooner’s usage of everything from clay to photographs gives the setting an organic yet unreal vibe. What really got to me was how the game employed the Seven Deadly Sins within Hell. The encounter with Lust, outside of satirizing RPG combat norms, inspires you to grapple with the idea of your unborn children. (Also, it was either this 2012 sequel or its predecessor (they both take place in Hell) in which King-Spooner somewhat portends the political rise of Donald Trump.)

I also liked how Manual Samuel depicted Hell as this place where you have to function like a cog within a society. The demented rationalism of the setting deliciously plays off narrator Brian Sommer’s contempt for the wealthy protagonist Sam. It’s like, finally, the spoiled rich kid gets to know what it means to be working class.

Detroit: Become Human Review — Telltale’d Again

by Jed Pressgrove

Developer Telltale Games, known for titles like The Walking Dead and The Wolf Among Us, doesn’t just allow players to make choices in its games; it tells players that their choices matter — incessantly and obnoxiously. With Detroit: Become Human, director/writer David Cage offers a variation of Telltale’s player-choice marketing. After you complete a chapter in Detroit: Become Human, the game shows a flowchart of how your actions, such as talking to a certain character or not killing someone, ultimately resulted in the concluding scene of the chapter, and as a bonus, the chart reveals other paths you could have taken if you had made a different choice. While the narrative of Detroit: Become Human preaches about the potential humanity of futuristic robots, Cage’s presentation of player-driven consequences is distractingly mechanical.

In Detroit: Become Human, you alternate between playing as three androids in the year 2038: Connor, who investigates “deviant” androids, a la Rick Deckard in Blade Runner; Kara, who is designed to do chores for humans; and Markus, who takes care of an aging and ailing artist. The stories of these three characters evolve according to how you play. If you, say, overlook a clue at a crime scene as Connor, you may fail to nab a perpetrator. There are limits to your impact as a player, though: the three protagonists move toward different destinies as outlined by Cage. Connor must come to grips with whether his mission matters more than his shared humanity with the suspects he tracks down. Kara learns what it means to be a parent as she protects a formerly abused little girl. And Markus becomes a leader in a political movement that seeks to end the slavery of androids, who are seen as disposable by humanity at large.

The variety of consequences in Detroit: Become Human is interesting, especially considering that the story never stops moving. There is no Game Over, so a lack of attention to detail on your part can have repercussions that flow through the entirety of the game. But instead of allowing the voice acting, animation, and other audiovisual cues to let players know how their actions impact people in the story, Cage uses contrived text messages in the top-right corner of the screen to spell out how other characters feel about your decision-making.

This “reputation meter” of sorts recalls Telltale’s awkward “He/she will remember that” statement, which appears when a nonplayable character perceives your decision as significant. Although Cage intends for this feature to inform you of character emotions, the messaging cheapens the emotion in generally well-executed scenes. For instance, if you want Markus to be more of a pacifist leader, a woman named North will often show signs of disapproval. But apparently, such signs are not enough for literate audiences. In addition to North’s on-screen reactions, you will see her name at the top of the screen with a downward-pointing red arrow beside it when you disappoint her. Conversely, if you please North, you will see her name and an upward-pointing green arrow beside it.

At best, Cage’s laughable reduction of human dynamics to traffic-light colors and a thumbs-up/thumbs-down binary is unnecessary. At worst, it shatters what the images of the game can say to you. One scene depicts Kara and the little girl snuggled up in an abandoned car. You wouldn’t be unreasonable to perceive warmth and security in such a picture, but during my experience with Detroit: Become Human, a screen message indicated that the child was “Distant.” Not only did this text seem to contradict what the game was illustrating, it also rejected my natural interpretation of the scene itself and asked me to buy into an idea that I personally would have no logical reason to accept without the shoehorned description.

Perhaps this sense of artificiality is intentional on Cage’s part. After all, Detroit: Become Human involves androids having messy awakenings about the purpose of their existence. Take Markus. His story has been criticized for evoking the Civil Rights Movement in the United States. However, these critical accounts have rarely mentioned the other references in Markus’ story: the perspectives of Descartes and Gandhi are alluded to via quotes and actions, and Markus frees the minds and spirits of other androids by touching them, a frequent reference to the miraculous hands of Jesus Christ. Although the allusions can feel like flippantly borrowed ideas with little depth, is it possible Cage is trying to say that androids are rather green and confused in their newfound humanity?

If so, the emphasis on our roles as players with choices throws a monkey wrench into Cage’s goal as an artist. Compared to the protagonists in Cage’s story, the audience of Detroit: Become Human has far more experience with the state of being human. We know that relationships in life often can’t be boiled down to whether someone likes us less or more, as implied by the game’s red and green arrows. We know that sometimes when we make choices, we’re not necessarily thinking of locked and unlocked paths in the vein of the game’s post-chapter flowcharts, which encourage us to admire the story for its replay value rather than its moral value. Despite how engrossing Detroit: Become Human can be, its player-choice marketing is always ready to rear its robotic head, separating the audience from the supposedly visceral and contemplative feelings of its heroes.

Loaded Questions Vol. 8

Loaded Questions is a regular feature at Game Bias. If you have a question you would like to submit, please email it to pressgrove84@yahoo.com or tweet it to @jedpressfate. Questions can cover anything closely or tangentially related to video games or art, including but not limited to criticism, culture, and politics. Questions may be edited for clarity.

Question 1

Mingying Wang: In a tweet, you questioned if using Steam is something people should do. Just curious, why do you think that? Also, what would be your suggested alternative?

Jed Pressgrove: I tweeted that because of some people’s outrage over Steam’s policies and decisions. For years, it hasn’t been unusual to see a moral critique of Steam, but I’ve personally never seen any of these same people conclude that we should stop using Steam.

Oli Welsh’s recent reaction to Steam’s content policy is a great case in point. His final two sentences on the policy follow: “They [Steam] will watch the vast community they built devolve into toxicity and hate and their storefront get overrun with exploitative, bilious rubbish, and they won’t intervene for fear of offending anyone or taking a position on anything. It is weak, it is immoral and it is unworthy of our industry and our art form.”

These sentences are powerful, but they lose power when you consider that Welsh doesn’t even consider the idea of withholding money from Steam or ceasing one’s usage of Steam. What’s more, despite the fact that you have to pay for individual games on Steam without being able to own them (a swindle if I’ve ever seen one), Welsh’s article says, “[T]he deal with the customer is a fair one.” Bullshit, Welsh! Get off your moral podium if you can’t think in favor of everyday working people.

I’m not telling people how they should spend their money or time. If someone wants to use Steam every day and buy 1,000 games from Steam within one year, that’s their right. All I’m saying is that if you’re going to imply Steam is an indifferent dictator that doesn’t care if Neo-Nazis take over the world, I’m not going to take your bile seriously if you’re still using the service, promoting its sales, etc.

Personally, I don’t use Steam that often. The major reason is that I don’t currently own a gaming PC, though when I do purchase one (which should happen in the coming months), I will use Steam from time to time if I can’t find another way to play a particular game. But I will never say Steam is fair. If it were fair, you would either get to own the games you buy or pay a flat fee to play a wide selection of games through the Steam service.

Question 2

Jeff Hudspeth: I recently watched an Extra Credits episode that made the point that games shouldn’t cost $60 and should probably cost more based on a variety of apparently sensible factors (though the video concludes $60 is probably where prices should remain). I wondered what you, as someone who makes a point of considering things from the perspective of the working-class gamer, thought about current game prices. Is $60 an acceptable price tag even though it perpetuates loot boxes and DLC? Is $70+ as outlandish as it sounds? Is it even possible to come to a solution without reaching the conclusion that our economy needs to be massively overhauled?

Jed Pressgrove: If I’m being honest, I think $60 is too much. For starters, just look at how big-budget titles are packaged: the cases are poorly made, and they rarely come with manuals, booklets, or something akin to liner notes. Next, look at how quickly most games lose value. Then think about how many of the games are technically questionable at launch, or how you have to spend more money just to get cosmetic features.

I could go on and on. The game industry — as well as unoriginal blowhards like Extra Credits who go out of their way to defend the industry’s low standards and to lull people to sleep with patronizing baloney — can’t shut up about the costs of game production, yet at the same time, it releases (and often celebrates!) poorly made stuff on a regular basis. And do game companies ever consider that perhaps they generally suck at budgeting?

$60 price tags do not perpetuate loot boxes and DLC. The game industry must take substantial moral responsibility for releasing unfinished and incomplete games. Another group that deserves some blame is game journalists, who should represent a united front against the schemes of the industry. Finally, everyday people who spend money on DLC and the like might grapple with the notion that they’re getting ripped off. Sometimes the best thing to do is to stop spending.

Question 3

Serge Soucy: After reading through Slant’s recently revised top 100 games list, I became curious as to how you and other members of the Slant team collaborate to make a list of that size. What’s the process like?

Jed Pressgrove: I can’t reveal everything that went into the updated list, but I can speak broadly about my experience. All of the writers submitted ranked ballots (which were not shared between us). That was the most challenging part for me. I had never created a ranked list of the 100 best games, so I had to think about every game I had ever played from either memory alone or by looking at other lists and resources to help me remember.

Our editor, Ed Gonzalez (who is both a great editor and one of the best film critics alive), then assigned scores to all of the games based on a number of factors (how highly a game ranked on an individual list, whether a game showed up on multiple lists, etc.).

After the scores were tallied, it turned out that a number of the games were neck and neck. So Gonzalez asked us to write arguments for the games that we thought were the most deserving in these neck-and-neck situations. That was the most fun part.

None of the writers (to my knowledge anyway) corresponded about the list during this process. In one way, that’s a good thing. You wouldn’t necessarily want writers teaming up and trying to impose their will on a list.

But in another way, I wish I could have debated with my peers more. As I said on Twitter, I strongly disagreed with a good chunk of the games that made it to the list. But that’s the nature of the beast. That’s why if you really care, you should make your own list.

 

Loaded Questions Vol. 7

Loaded Questions is a new weekly feature at Game Bias. If you have a question you would like to submit, please email it to pressgrove84@yahoo.com or tweet it to @jedpressfate. Questions can cover anything closely or tangentially related to video games or art, including but not limited to criticism, culture, and politics. Questions may be edited for clarity.

Ronaldo Villanueva: Do you think The Legend of Zelda is a role-playing game? The definition of RPG is not clear for many people, which is what makes Zelda’s classification unclear. I also think a problem arises given that A Link to the Past and A Link Between Worlds take a lot of their structure from Dragon Quest and other Japanese RPGs, namely using narrative as a vehicle for linear progression through a world.

Jed Pressgrove: I don’t go around thinking “Zelda is a series of RPGs,” but there is a good argument for that line of thought. Your point about narrative is a good one. Now, if someone counters and says an RPG must give you the opportunity to level up your character, we could argue Zelda II: The Adventure of Link is an RPG, as it allows you to level up your strength, health, and magic through experience points.

I was happy to read this question because a few years ago game developer and theorist Chris Bateman and I exchanged blog letters about this topic, and I mentioned The Legend of Zelda in my letter (here’s my letter, and here’s Bateman’s response). We didn’t arrive at any easy answers for this question about RPGs, but I think you’ll find the conversation interesting.

One thing’s for sure: the definition of RPG has changed a lot since Dungeons & Dragons. And at this point, tons of games use narrative to drive linear progression through a world and offer players the opportunity to level up and mold their characters. And as Bateman pointed out in his response to me, another perspective values more open progression in RPGs. So even if we’re not willing to call games like Assassin’s Creed Origins or Okami RPGs, you could make a convincing case that the RPG is currently the most influential video-game genre.

Daniel Cánovas: What are the worst penalties you’ve seen in video games? And the best? I’m playing Final Fantasy V right now, and you have to redo a lot of stuff (get experience and levels, watch cinematics, etc.) if you die in combat.

Jed Pressgrove: I know many people hate the idea of starting a game all the way over after losing a certain amount of times, but some of the greatest games ever (Galaga, Xevious, and so on) use this penalty. What I hate is being forced to watch a cutscene every time I attempt to defeat a boss, especially if that cutscene is idiotic (and pre-boss cutscenes often are). Even if the cutscene is good, who wants to watch it multiple times when your primary motivation for continuing to play is victory over a challenging foe?

As far as best penalties are concerned, it might be beyond cliched to say this now, but the penalty of losing potential experience points in Demon’s Souls/Dark Souls is brilliant in how it plays with our curiosity, greed, and pride: do you keep exploring this fascinating world, even if dying means you have one chance to survive through a series of enemies again just to regain what you once had in your possession? I also like how if you don’t wait for Shadow at the Floating Continent in Final Fantasy III (SNES), you will never see him again and thus will never be able to use his powerful techniques in battle again. Finally, if you don’t eat the egg (for health points) in Earthbound quickly enough, it hatches, and you’re left with a chick taking up a precious spot in your inventory. That’s just great.

Doggie: What are the best video game canines? And what are your favorite Mega Man bosses?

Jed Pressgrove: The best video-game canine is … not Dogmeat in the Fallout series. While I like him (especially in the first two Fallout games), he can die permanently, and he’s not that versatile. I prefer the dog in Secret of Evermore. He’s with you for most of the game (in one sequence, you get to play as him alone), he changes forms as you travel to different worlds, he’s powerful, and he locates items for you. I also like Interceptor for his random combat behavior in Final Fantasy III (SNES), and Rush in Mega Man 6 is incredible in how he fuses with Mega Man to give you a jetpack or power armor.

It’s hard for me to pick a favorite Mega Man boss from the classic series. I think the best Mega Man bosses are in some of the more modern games. Chill Penguin from Mega Man X is great. I like his little laugh and his variety of attacks. And if you count Mighty No. 9 as a Mega Man game in spirit, I have to mention Countershade, who spews anti-human and anti-government rhetoric as he snipes at you throughout his stage, and Avi, who speaks in an obnoxious news-reporter style.

Actual Sunlight Review — Actual Marxism

by Jed Pressgrove

Note: This article originally appeared in Pixels or Death, a defunct online publication. A special thanks to Pixels or Death Editor in Chief Patrick Lindsey, who edited this article for its original publication and was very enthusiastic about the prospect of it being republished at Game Bias.

“In the midst of winter I found there was, within me, an invincible summer.” – Albert Camus

Actual Sunlight‘s insight into power structures and human nature has mostly gone unrecognized. While the critical focus on the game’s portrayal of depression is warranted, developer Will O’Neill’s story goes beyond the mental illness of protagonist Evan Winter. As suggested by Reid McCarter and Patrick Lindsey, Actual Sunlight has a substantial Marxist reading. This reading compels me to reject the common label of “interactive fiction,” a term that says nothing about the power structure that Actual Sunlight opposes from a standpoint of philosophy and genre. Most importantly, a Marxist reading suggests that O’Neill did not necessarily intend for the game to end in the protagonist’s suicide.

From the very start, Actual Sunlight presents a Marxist interpretation of modern society. One of the core ideas of Marx’s theory is that capitalism systematically alienates workers. Early dialogue in Actual Sunlight reflects on this idea, as Evan Winter goes to work and asks, “Do we work in marketing? In finance? For the government? For the people? For good? For evil? Does it matter?” With “[n]o raises, no promotions, no hope, no future,” Winter sees his labor – and therefore his life – as pointless and without immediate or long-term benefits. Paradoxically, Winter’s dedication to alienated labor trumps an early wish for suicide. Shortly after the game begins, you can go to the roof of Winter’s building with the intention to jump, but Winter points out that he must go to work.

Much of the game’s writing highlights the Marxist idea that capitalism exists to exploit workers for the minimum possible cost. The management in the story wants Winter “to do more with less” with a “very, very high quantity of work.” One of Winter’s coworkers, Troy, illustrates how exploitation affects far more than the depressed protagonist. Troy is significantly older than Winter, makes a long commute, and works weekends, but Troy has reaped no rewards for his seniority or dedication. In fact, Troy’s exploitation gives us the game’s title: “I can’t even imagine the last time he [Troy] saw the house he spends every day paying for in the actual sunlight.”

One might ask why Winter continues working if he is so conscious of alienation and exploitation. Actual Sunlight presents more than one explanation, but the most important reason relates to Marx’s idea of the opiate. While people often interpret Marx’s statement that “religion is the opiate of the people” as a personal refutation of faith and spirituality, the phrase is primarily a social critique of how religion gives laborers the illusion that they can be fulfilled human beings under a capitalist system. Similarly, the first line in Actual Sunlight has largely been interpreted as personal, but it is also part of a social critique: “Why kill yourself today when you could masturbate tomorrow?” This question from Winter resembles a depraved but revealing marketing slogan for the capitalist system.

Consider that Winter’s addiction to porn (“so much to jerk off to”) is made possible by modern technology sold in stores. With its emphasis on modern technology, Actual Sunlight confirms the general lack of spirituality in video games. O’Neill therefore substitutes Marx’s opiate of religion with the opiate of consumer electronics (dealt by holy prophets like Steve Jobs). Winter himself describes the powerful opiate effect of consumer electronics in relation to his depression: “There has never been a better time in the history of mankind to be completely, cripplingly, devastatingly alone.” Winter also calls videogames “a shitty, anesthetic way that we have spent our shitty, anesthetized lives.” While modern technology subdues Winter’s suicidal thoughts, he later destroys his consumer electronics out of recognition that they keep him complacent in an oppressive system.

But so what if Actual Sunlight explicitly critiques the capitalist system like Marx? If that represented the contribution of the game, it would be little more than an obvious political statement. What makes Actual Sunlight special is its attention to the theoretical foundation of Marx’s critique: the concept of “species being,” which states that human nature is tied to labor. Marx explains that while animals like beavers and birds also perform labor, humans can change the circumstances of their existence through implementing new ideas that they conceive. Because capitalism tends to prevent humans from fulfilling or controlling their lives through labor, the system perverts human nature itself.

Driven by Marx’s thesis on human nature, Actual Sunlight raises questions about power structures in society and games. For example, game critics might reconsider capitalism as the ultimate power structure in society. O’Neill’s protagonist grapples with his white male privilege throughout the game; he even questions whether he, as a white male, has the right to be depressed. The game’s critique of capitalism, however, shows that not all white males ultimately benefit from the system. As Marx argues, recognition of alienation and exploitation can unite workers across backgrounds.

As an unsentimental RPG, Actual Sunlight provides a clear answer to a question from The Matt Chat Blog: “Are CRPGs good for nothing but reinforcing capitalist values?” This question sounds like the beginning of a rant from Actual Sunlight’s protagonist. With its commentary on alienation, exploitation, the opiate, and the perversion of human nature through an economic system, Actual Sunlight substantially diverges from the typical “light vs. darkness” RPG conflict, as well as the genre’s generally unquestioned emphasis on consumerism, materialism, and loot (see Stephen Beirne’s “Level 99 Capitalist”). Of course, some will immediately disagree with me for suggesting that Actual Sunlight is any sort of RPG. However, like Mattie Brice’s Mainichi, Actual Sunlight gives new sociological meaning to “role playing.” To insist on the banal “interactive fiction” label is to deny that these games play with the power structures within RPGs.

Besides providing insight into power structures, O’Neill’s very creation of Actual Sunlight celebrates Marx’s idea of human nature as inspired labor in action. This claim might seem contradictory given that most critics have interpreted Actual Sunlight as a literal “endgame” with Winter committing suicide. I can understand why this interpretation dominates the conversation about the game. After all, O’Neill breaks the fourth wall early in the game and calls Winter a “corporate dead-ender” who, unlike those under the age of 25, is on a fast track to destruction in his 30s.

Moreover, with a “Yes/Yes” choice, the game forces you to go to the roof of Winter’s building when he has his strongest suicidal urge at the end of the game. The lack of player choice in this particular action leads many to conclude that the game ends with Winter’s death. Dialogue like “You missed your shot” supports this interpretation.

Nonetheless, Winter doesn’t die in the game, contrary to John Walker’s claim that Actual Sunlight “dismisses any possibility for things to get better.” As a player, you have the choice to imagine what ultimately happens to Winter. In light of the game’s Marxist foundation, O’Neill’s ambiguous final image allows a possibility other than suicide. Is it not potentially positive that the final image of the game has Winter seeing the “Actual Sunlight” that Troy has missed in his utter dedication to the system? With this interpretation, Actual Sunlight‘s ending is not unlike a Jim Harrison story: a lost protagonist finding meaning and self-worth in a reconnection with nature (in this case, sunlight).

When O’Neill breaks the fourth wall, he basically declares that Actual Sunlight is not all fiction, tying himself to Winter as a mirror of his experiences. The successful creation of Actual Sunlight implies that Winter, or O’Neill, survives. Instead of committing suicide, Winter goes on to create a game (rather than write more cynical essays). The game is the result of labor not dictated by the capitalist system. The game is here because a depressed man has fulfilled some inspiration in his head despite the unfortunate circumstances of his life.

Loaded Questions Vol. 6

Loaded Questions is a new weekly feature at Game Bias. If you have a question you would like to submit, please email it to pressgrove84@yahoo.com or tweet it to @jedpressfate. Questions can cover anything closely or tangentially related to video games or art, including but not limited to criticism, culture, and politics. Questions may be edited for clarity.

Julio Cesar: What do you think of good art made by bad people? And I’m not talking about little things like not washing your hands before lunch. I’m talking about really bad, awful, and despicable people, like rapists or Nazis. Should we buy their art and support their careers, knowing that their behavior is not the the best? I don’t think piracy is the answer, because if you look at the case of a film director, more than one person is involved in making a film, so piracy is not fair to the whole crew.

If a director is accused of having child pornography, and we buy his films, aren’t we helping him? I’d like to know what you think.

Jed Pressgrove: I can look at these questions as a critic, and I can look at them as an everyday person who lives under a capitalist system.

Here’s what I think as a critic:

You can’t ignore good art by bad people if you want to be a serious critic. It’s quite likely that critics regularly appraise games that involve immoral artists (or artists they would deem immoral), and they just don’t know. And why should they know what all of these artists do in their spare time? Critics are here to interpret and evaluate art. Although I encourage all critics to consider their moral responses to art, a critic’s purpose is not to judge the personal lives of artists.

One rule I follow as a critic is that I don’t tell people to buy anything. It’s marketers’ jobs to tell people to buy stuff. My work is here because of my urge to express myself.

Here’s what I think as an everyday person who lives under a capitalist system:

I can’t tell anyone how they should spend their money because I’m not sure moral consumption exists. You could argue that if you know someone is bad, you shouldn’t buy, experience, or even talk about their work. But what if you don’t know if someone is bad and they actually are bad? Is your ignorance a good enough excuse, especially given that ignorance isn’t an excuse in other cases of moral character?

Your point about movies being made by multiple people raises another question: should you refrain from purchasing a film just because one person is immoral? What if the rest of the crew is a group of great folks? Should the work they’ve contributed to be completely dismissed and avoided? And if the “knowledge” we have is only an accusation (as in your child pornography example), is it right to assume guilt automatically? Or is it better to not buy any art until you have a good idea of where every artist stands morally?

I realize I’m raising even more questions than you did, but the implicit point here is that people must decide for themselves where they draw the line, as we could spend hours raising different questions about this issue. It’s nowhere near as simple as some make it out to be, and no one should feel forced to comply with another’s philosophy.

Having said all of that, I admit some individual cases could be very straightforward: if there’s an independent guitarist you like but you learn that he is a neo-Nazi, no, I wouldn’t recommend buying his new album titled “Kill ‘Em All, For Real” off his website.

Guillermo Tizón: I’m a 22-year-old dude from Spain who has a short history with video games. I didn’t pay attention to games as a serious thing until one or two years ago, and now I want to study them and their history. How should I, a noob, face video-game history to improve my cultural background on the subject? Any tips? Should I follow a specific path? Also, I can deal with games like Super Mario Bros. 3 or the original Legend of Zelda, but there are others, like the first Metroid or Castlevania III, whose language I find really difficult to understand, like I don’t know what I’m doing or if I’m making any progress.

Jed Pressgrove: This is just a thought, but it’s something I want to mention before I answer the main question: I would never call you or anyone else a “noob.” Gamers often use words like “noob,” “casual,” and “hardcore” to divide themselves, but I believe it would be better to forget all of these terms.

There are a lot of ways you can improve your game-history knowledge. I don’t know what systems/platforms you have access to, but the simplest way to study the history is to play as many games as possible. I’ve learned more playing than I have reading. Pick a genre and start as close to the beginning of that genre as possible. If you ever get a chance to visit an arcade, spread the quarters around. And as you play the games, make sure to look up when they were released. If you can can go into games knowing when they came out, that will allow you to recognize a chronology of trends and ideas organically.

There’s also a lot of good material to read and to use as a reference. You might want to check out a publication that focuses on game history. The magazine Retro Gamer is generally a decent read. Retro Gamer features interviews with classic game designers and often dives into particular franchises or genres. You might also want to tap into a community’s knowledge. Various forums, from Twitter to Reddit, can be used as resources.

You raise a good point about certain games being more difficult to parse depending on who you are. In these cases, I’d recommend watching some longplays on YouTube. Sometimes seeing how other people play can help you advance your skill. Worst-case scenario, you can watch someone beat an entire game and take notes.

I’ve only scratched the surface with what you can do. Sometimes the path depends on what type of games you want to learn about. If you’re looking for anything specific, please feel free to contact me, and if I don’t know the answer, I can try to find someone who does.

Jim Bevan: (1) What is your opinion of theory channels? What separates a good channel that offers a serious look at hidden meanings and implications in a piece of fiction from one that just provides speculative clickbait?

(2) What kind of gaming videos do you like to watch? Do you prefer ones that delve into the science behind elements presented in a game (like Lockstin & Gnoggin), those that look at themes and mechanics (Snoman Gaming, EmceeProphIt, Super Bunnyhop), or those that specialize in obscure facts/trivia (like Guru Larry’s Fact Hunt)?

Jed Pressgrove: I can’t speak about theory channels because I never watch YouTube for theory. My favorite game theorist is Chris Bateman, who happens to be a writer (here’s his blog). One thing I love about Bateman is that he seeks to include rather than exclude. For example, I had a conversation with him about the definition of “role-playing game,” and he was open to considering the perspective of anyone who might use the term; he didn’t suggest that we should pay a greater amount of attention to the Dungeons & Dragons tradition, even though he recognizes this tradition as a critical piece of RPG history. And while he is a fan of games, Bateman analyzes them as a scientific/philosophical observer. Theorists have to be willing to consider multiple angles for me to take them seriously, so I hold them to a different standard than I do critics, who frequently interpret games from particular and personal angles.

I don’t watch a lot of gaming videos. I watch longplays when I need to verify facts or want to learn about certain games. Years ago, I watched a lot of the Angry Video Game Nerd because he effectively parodies the feelings of many people, including me and my sister, who played NES games while growing up. Every once in a while I’ll watch Cyril Lachel’s videos (Defunct Games) because of the rhythm and tone of his voice.

The “science” in games doesn’t interest me for the most part; breaking down things like that can take the fun and magic out of the art form. Here and there I’ll catch a video that looks at themes and/or mechanics. Chris Franklin is really good at what he does, and I saw a recent video by Amr Al-Aaser that I liked. For trivia, I’d rather check out a magazine like Retro Gamer.

Ryan Aston: Have you ever thought about making a game? If so, what kind of game would it be?

Jed Pressgrove: A few years ago I considered the idea of developing a text-based adventure or tile-based dungeon crawler, but that line of thought didn’t last for long. I’m just not interested in making games, and the last thing I would want is to develop a game and then feel led to write an article titled “Go Easy On Us, Critics: Developing Games Is Super Hard.”

Biased Notes Vol. 6: Okami

by Jed Pressgrove

Note: Observations below are based on the first several hours of the HD version of the game.

1. It’s refreshing to play a game where you bring harmony to the natural world through spiritual and artistic means. Okami suggests that faith is a two-way street in terms of how humans relate to deities: sometimes we need a miracle to restore our trust in a higher power, and sometimes a god, for motivation, needs to hear that we believe. That last bit might not be news to anyone, but it’s significant that the game puts you in the shoes of a benevolent god. In Okami, you’re always in “god mode,” just not the mischievous, egotistical, destructive sort we usually see in games. The greatest illustration of omnipotence comes with the game’s most distinct mechanic: when you paint as the white-wolf goddess Amaterasu, the color of the world is sapped out until you finish your brushstrokes, implying that you can operate from another dimension as your physical form rests on earth. Okami is also a feel-good game on a superficial level, thanks to the cute animals and the flowers that pop up as you run and jump (is there any doubt that Okami helped inspire 2009’s Flower?). Now that I’ve gotten this out of the way …

2. I wish the irritating adoration for The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time wouldn’t have happened so that maybe, just maybe, Issun in Okami wouldn’t have happened. Issun, your nagging companion in the game, descends from Ocarina of Time’s Navi, a character that is a tutorial rather than an actual character. To make matters worse, Issun speaks in audible gibberish that would fit snugly into a show or direct-to-DVD movie aimed at three-year-olds. Issun goes beyond hand-holding (which would be condescending enough): when I learned that some villagers had turned to stone, Issue told me that we needed to get to higher ground. At that point, a big arrow appeared to guide me to higher ground, and even though I followed the arrow’s direction, Issun would not stop telling me that we needed to get to higher ground. I would not be a god of patience, I can tell you that.

3. Why is combat in this game? Hours in, I’ve only taken one hit from an enemy. The whole thing goes down like this, almost every time: I run up to a foe, I mash a button like I’m playing a third-rate beat ’em up, the bad guy falls down, I paint a line across the loser. It wasn’t interesting the first time, and it wasn’t interesting the 100th time. The other variation (just as dull): a projectile comes at me, so I paint a line across it to send it right back to its thrower. Does a god even need to fight? (Don’t cite Kratos.)

4. More than once, I have fantasized about being able to play the prologue of Okami. It’s a gripping story (reminded me of Beowulf), and imagine the weirdness of experiencing it from the perspective of the mysterious wolf savior. That you can only watch and listen to the prologue makes me recall my frustration with having to tolerate Issun’s orders. Okami wants you to assume the role of a god, but not without guidance. This tension stems from the fact that it would be hard to feel godly if you didn’t know what was going on. So Okami overcompensates.

Loaded Questions Vol. 5

Loaded Questions is a new weekly feature at Game Bias. If you have a question you would like to submit, please email it to pressgrove84@yahoo.com or tweet it to @jedpressfate. Questions can cover anything closely or tangentially related to video games or art, including but not limited to criticism, culture, and politics. Questions may be edited for clarity.

Dalton Miller: It seems like Eastern influence is once again dominating the space of major publisher games at large (see The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild, Nier: Automata, the Dark Souls series, the newfound popularity of the Yakuza series in the West, etc.). Do you agree? If so, do you think this will be a lasting influence, or will the Gears of War-style Western games space return eventually?

Jed Pressgrove: I don’t know if I would say Eastern influence is dominating the market. If we look at the top 10 best-selling games of 2017 in the United States, there’s more Western influence represented in that list, and guess which 2013 Western game made the list? Grand Theft Auto V.

But I would agree there is a shift of a sort. People do seem to be far more interested in Japanese games than they were a few years ago. The Nintendo Switch’s popularity is a clear indicator of that. We can also see this shift in the rapid emergence of games like PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds, which was directly inspired by the Japanese film Battle Royale.

Also, if we’re talking about countries within the Eastern hemisphere, you would have to cite games like The Witcher III. So the influence goes beyond Japan.

It really doesn’t matter to me if this influence is lasting. I’m more interested in what games are doing and saying. It’s also hard for me to predict what the public will gravitate toward. For one thing, my standards often don’t align with the standards of the public. And in the next five years, there could be some cultural or political event that somehow inspires a lot of people to start playing certain games.

Ryan Aston: What is the best video-game boss? What is your philosophy for bosses in general? Do you think they should test how proficient you’ve become with skills learned across the game, introduce new mechanics, or what?

Jed Pressgrove: M. Bison. Beyond his devastating standing kicks and strong horizontal/vertical game, M. Bison embodies everything that’s wrong in Street Fighter II. Think about how important geography is in Street Fighter II. You don’t just pick a fighter. You pick a country to represent, and you fight the champions of other countries. You watch a plane fly around the world. Every character is represented by a specific stage. But you don’t know where Bison comes from. All you know is that you fight him in Thailand, on the same stage that you fight the Thai fighter Sagat, because that’s where Bison is headquartered. He is completely divorced from ethnicity, home, and background, and that, not his brutality, is what makes him more inhuman than anyone else in the game.

My only philosophy on bosses is that they should make for interesting conflicts, which can involve testing what a player has learned, throwing mechanical curveballs, and so much more. In Blazing Lazers, the first boss can be “defeated” without shooting a single bullet. This particular boss can split itself into three different parts, forcing the player to move to different safe spaces. The boss is a cinch to defeat if you are powered up, but if you keep dodging its different parts — as if you and the boss are part of some synchronized dance — the boss will eventually leave, and you get to move on to the second stage.

Jeff Hudspeth: Are there genres you struggle to engage with, and how do you approach them critically? I’m thinking here of my own difficulty getting into real-time strategy games and how game genres seem to contrast with each other more starkly than, say, movie genres.

Jed Pressgrove: There are a few genres I don’t engage with, and I typically don’t or won’t review them because of a lack of interest and/or experience.

Although I am very familiar with a variety of role-playing games, I stay away from massively multiplayer online role-playing games (MMORPGs), primarily because of the money and/or time that they often demand. I’m not interested in being part of a 30-member party and chatting with people before a raid. I have no desire to play a game that controls so many aspects of one’s life.

Sports simulations are another breed that I try to avoid. I love sports (particularly basketball, football, boxing, and mixed martial arts), and sports games can be brilliant (from Blades of Steel to Pyre), but games that attempt to resemble a real sport tend to be uncreative, and they’re pretty much bound to fail. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve played a Madden game, only to marvel at how goofy it is despite a pretense of realism.

The truth is that no game critic can be dedicated to every single genre out there. It takes too much time to play games, and they’re being pumped out at an alarmingly fast rate.

Having said that, I try to cover as many genres as possible. When it comes to fighting games, turn-based strategy, real-time strategy, RPGs, shooters, platformers, adventures, puzzlers, and others, I feel comfortable dissecting them because of my prolonged engagement with them.

Brian: Why do a lot of the arguments in your reviews always amount to a game being either “sexist,” “pandering,” “misogynistic,” or some other overused mainstream word? I’m genuinely curious. Personally, I think games are an art form and should be given the same freedoms as any other art form. Artistic freedom is what makes movies, books, and drawings so interesting to watch, read, and look at. I would write more, but I don’t want to waste your time. Thank you for writing back if you do.

Jed Pressgrove: If the word fits my purposes, I’ll use it. Doesn’t matter to me whether the word is mainstream. I use words that reveal my feelings, thoughts, and personality. I will say, though, that it’s interesting you bring up the terms “sexist” and “misogynistic,” as I don’t use those descriptors that often. In fact, I don’t believe I’ve used those words in any of my reviews this year for Game Bias, Slant, or Unwinnable.

On your point about games as an art form, I agree artists should have the freedom to express themselves. I also believe criticism itself is an art form, so I should have the same freedom as developers. Nothing I do or say should prevent developers from expressing themselves, and vice versa. I have no interest in “changing” games (and I hope developers have no interest in “changing” criticism) — that’s a pointless dream, as no one can control art, and art will never satisfy us. But I will say what I want, and I hope others do the same.

Ian Mossner: What are your thoughts on the criticism of games that don’t have “true” gameplay? I’ve seen multiple tweets like this recently taking aim at Detroit: Become Human.

Jed Pressgrove: There is no such thing as “true gameplay.” People who say otherwise are behind the times. Games have changed, and there’s nothing anyone can do to stop that. That’s why I judge games for what they are. I may not end up liking a game that goes in a different direction than the norm, but it’s important for me to experience the game so that I can be informed on a basic level.

One more thing to consider: games directed by David Cage often get judged before anyone plays them. Detroit: Become Human is only the latest example.

Many commentators think they’re cute and smart when they dismiss upcoming games based on preview material like interviews. When people judge games before they come out for whatever reason, they are being fundamentally close-minded, not to mention unoriginal. In an answer above, I admitted that I don’t engage with sports simulations or MMORPGs. Imagine how ignorant I would be if every time a new MMORPG is announced, I started lambasting it based on preview materials and assumptions. A lot of people love speaking from a standpoint of ignorance, especially on Twitter. It’s easy attention and work. Anybody can highlight a couple of sentences from preview materials and go to town as their buddies cheer them on. If the frequent disparity between artistic intent and execution can’t convince these uninspired analysts that it’s mindless and meaningless to judge things they’ve never experienced, I don’t know what will.