Loaded Questions is a recurring feature at Game Bias. If you have a question you would like to submit, please email it to firstname.lastname@example.org 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.
Dylan Cornelius: What’s your opinion on the current state of game writing (criticism, reviews, etc.)?
Jed Pressgrove: This question has inspired me to write a three-part answer:
Everyone’s doing their best in a world where freelancers and contributors are paid jack squat on the whole.
Let’s exterminate these fucking no-good piece-of-shit publications and give their readerships a swift kick to the crotch!
Intellectually challenging pieces are out there, but good luck finding most of them. At the same time, the state of game writing today is better than it was during my childhood. I say that despite my nostalgic appreciation for gaming magazines like Diehard GameFan and GamePro.
I still think it’s too difficult to find quality pieces. A few years ago, Critical Distance, a publication that collates notable gaming articles of the week, would lead me to some interesting posts and debate, but that site has become beyond predictable and one-dimensional.
There’s also something absurd about a game like Red Dead Redemption 2, one of the clunkiest and stupidest big-name titles I’ve played in the last decade, receiving nearly perfect marks from reviewers. It raises the question of whether most of these writers are brain-dead or removed from the concerns of an everyday person who expects a baseline level of execution from artists. It raises the question of whether some people are receiving favorable or manipulative treatment from companies to give high marks to hyped-up releases.
I don’t have all the answers, but I do know the overall state of game writing is profoundly unsatisfying.
Serge Soucy: The other day I was thinking about Tetris. I thought of the seemingly endless array of choices and outcomes that the game presents even with such simple game mechanics. What are some recent games that are simple to understand and play but that offer an exciting variety of choices in the way that Tetris does?
Jed Pressgrove: With the exception of Dr. Mario, nothing captivates me like Tetris in this regard. One recent title that did come to mind is Topsoil. The choices of where to plant seeds and when to harvest crops continue to compel me. It’s devastatingly simple, and failure’s always around the corner. Yet unlike Tetris and Dr. Mario, Topsoil gives me a feeling of peace no matter what. Its serene vibe reminds me of the wisdom that you get when you accept that the cycle of life can’t be fully controlled.
Many people would not think of Tetris or Topsoil when it comes to player choice. There’s an ideology out there that says the most meaningful choices in games have to be related to a story involving characters. This ideology grew to an exorbitant size at the height of Telltale Games, a developer that should be criticized for its nauseating impact on the industry of games (one can also pity the company because of its 2018 closure — for all the good it would do).
I’ve observed more about humanity while analyzing the choices in a chess match than I ever have while reflecting on the options I selected from preset lists in a Telltale or Telltale-wannabe game. The decisions we make in “mechanics-driven” contests may point to fundamental truths about ourselves — how we react to pressure, how willing we are to take risks, how patient (or impatient) we are. Someone’s performance in such a game can also clash with their typical behavior outside of the game. A gentle giant in real life might be a conniving pest in chess; perhaps that says something about the person’s subconscious self.
Serge Soucy: While recently replaying The Legend of Zelda, I was once again struck with immense satisfaction whenever I discovered an item or a dungeon that I had forgotten about or had stumbled into. What are some of the most memorable moments of discovery that you’ve experienced in games?
Jed Pressgrove: I’m mostly remembering different mechanical tricks that I figured out on my own. Here’s a few of them:
- In Super Mario Kart, you can use the feather power-up to jump onto a shortcut in the haunted house stage of the Mushroom Cup. As a youngster, I was thrilled when I experimented and found out that you can also make that jump by using a mushroom power-up and tapping the jump button in the middle of the boost.
- Between the ages of 7 and 10, I would play Fatal Fury 2 on the SNES with some of my close friends. I discovered an incredibly cheap tactic with Jubei, the old man. He has a dash-and-throw special move that happens to be unblockable. I learned that, with proper timing, I could throw my opponent with that special move right as they get up from the ground. I would do it over and over. You wanna talk about immense satisfaction.
- In the SNES version of Samurai Showdown, I happened upon an unblockable aerial technique with Ukyo. Ukyo has a midair special move where he executes a huge sweeping slash that sends out a diagonally flying fire bird. A standing opponent can block this move by itself, but if you jump at your enemy and execute a hard slash that they go on to block, you can immediately chain that blocked attack into the special move I described. Your opponent will get set on fire every time.
Pablo Perez Lopez: What are your thoughts on e-sports? Do you follow any?
Jed Pressgrove: I fundamentally like the idea of e-sports, despite the fact that many popular games under this umbrella are viciously boring (League of Legends) or substandard in their design (Street Fighter V). I would enjoy e-sports more as a form of entertainment if it revolved around better games. This might be elitism, idealism, or lunacy, but the world would be a better place if Super Mario Kart (SNES original) were more of a focus than League of Legends. I do respect Overwatch as a phenomenon, though I haven’t paid attention to it in a good while.
Pablo Perez Lopez: Have cultural barriers (such as lack of historical knowledge or context) ever caused you difficulty or significantly affected your perception when experiencing any work of art from a foreign country?
Jed Pressgrove: Without a doubt. I can’t even tell you how many times cultural barriers have guided my perception; these things work against us on a subconscious level. I’d say it’s impossible to completely measure our cultural biases. The critical question is whether our bias leads us to view human beings from other parts of the world in a condescending, unfair, or shallow fashion. Obviously there are other concerns (a lack of historical knowledge means you can’t spot particular distortions of reality), but we have a moral obligation to recognize the humanity (or lack thereof) in others through art. As a citizen of the United States, as a Mississippian, I may not grasp the intricacies of the Japanese language, but great artists like Akira Kurosawa have shown me the universal power of human emotion. For that I am most grateful and humbled.
Ryan Aston: Do you think there is value in categorizing video games into genres anymore now that games cross genre lines so frequently? Think of how first-person shooters now include RPG elements and progression and how RPGs now frequently switch turn-based combat out for fast-paced action.
If you are for using genre labels, what do you think is the specific value in doing so? Consumers are more savvy and knowledgeable than ever, with a better idea of what they’re buying, so from an artistic and historical standpoint, do you think there is good reason to classify a game into one genre or multiple genres?
Jed Pressgrove: While you’re right that modern games often blur genre lines, this sort of cross-pollination has occurred for decades. Some of the best RPGs of the 1990s (Illusion of Gaia, Secret of Mana, Secret of Evermore) don’t feature traditional turn-based combat, and consider how 1996’s Super Mario RPG injects platforming and rhythm-based button pressing into the genre. The survival horror genre, which has been quite popular since the release of 1996’s Resident Evil, essentially combines elements of adventure, action, and puzzle games.
I won’t say you have to use genre labels, but from a historical standpoint, they can provide meaning. When we recognize that certain games tend to be placed within a particular genre, it can help us identify traces of artistic inspiration. Debates about genre — like “Is Zelda an RPG?” — can lead us to elucidating observations about design traditions and theory. In some cases, I am in favor of using more labels. Increased utilization of classic genre terms like comedy and tragedy could transform how we examine a title’s historical significance, both within the context of games and in the larger context of art.
You mention consumers. They do have an impact as far as how genres are popularly defined, but game critics have a bad habit of overstating the importance of consumerism. It gets to the point where writers would rather follow the money than any personal notion of the truth. I have zero interest in telling people what to buy (see my criticism of the consumer-review model), and I also don’t find consumers that savvy. If they’re so intelligent these days, why do they, in many cases, keep buying the same old crap? The day I allow the ravings of addicts to determine what I write is the day I should stop writing.
Sidney Fussell: Why is Final Fantasy X-2 so overlooked when it’s so clearly one of the best games of its generation?
Jed Pressgrove: Years ago in this review, I explained why I thought Final Fantasy X-2 is a lesser game than Final Fantasy X, which is quite flawed by itself. I seem to remember you and I disagreeing about the game back then. But placing our difference of opinion aside, one would think this game would get more attention given Final Fantasy X’s fanbase. I honestly believe the awkward title of the game did no favors for it. It’s almost like “X-2” translates to “I’m a fake sequel!” or “I’m a mindless cash-in!” I also wonder if the concept of an all-female cast would be more popular today than it was in 2003.
Doggie: Many people praise Uncharted, horror indies, and The Evil Within, but you don’t. What are the elements of bad video-game storytelling to you since many criticize you for condemning high-praised games?
Jed Pressgrove: There isn’t one storytelling mistake that every bad game makes. Since you mentioned both horror indies and The Evil Within, I will say horror games frequently use mental illness for shock value. It seems that horror games, for the most part, think the main goal of a horror story is to merely scare or discombobulate an audience, but most of these games don’t even come close to the level of tension in an Edgar Allan Poe short story. One reason for this is that horror games copy each other and horror-movie tropes to an absurd degree. You rarely see anything creative in a horror game. On a deep level, I disagree with the idea that a horror story must be stereotypical (see my review of the insanely overrated Telltale-wannabe game, Until Dawn). Many times when you criticize a horror story for being stereotypical, you’ll hear a common refrain: “But it’s horror. It’s supposed to be idiotic, graphic, and sexist. Haven’t you ever seen a horror movie?” I find this line of thinking foolish and circular — it’s why innumerable filmmakers can keep indulging in their fetish of vulnerable white female protagonists who are dumber than a sack of rocks. People need to expose themselves to actual great horror tales, like Shirley Jackson’s The Haunting of Hill House or Sam Fuller’s White Dog.
Brant Moon: With your broadening focus on other mediums, will you be continuing Loaded Questions (beyond this next installment)? And will you take questions about the other topics beyond games as well?
Jed Pressgrove: I will continue Loaded Questions if people express interest in it. You probably noticed that production on Loaded Questions came to a halt late last year. One reason for that was a lack of questions. By the time enough questions came in, I had lost some fascination with the concept. Long story short, if anyone reading this wants to see more volumes of Loaded Questions, consider doing a couple of things:
- Send me questions. Topics beyond games are fine, provided that I have some knowledge of the topics. Unfortunately, I won’t dedicate time to questions such as “What is your favorite color?” and “What would win in a fight: a panda or a koala?”
- Retweet or favorite my tweets when I share links to Loaded Questions. The more engagement, the better. More eyes and interest can lead to more questions.