The Rules – Rule #1

Here’s a personal rule: I don’t slag other people’s games off.

It’s a rule I’ve tried to stick to over the past decade, sometimes falling by the wayside, but a rule I believe is as valid today as it’s ever been.  In the specific context of design and game creative, I also encourage other people not to slag other people’s games off.  It’s a bad-habit that I’ve seen become an endemic team/company behaviour, and is as frequently applied to the games people are working on, as to the games people are playing.  Once people have a ‘slag games off’ mindset, it’s tough to shake.  And, let’s be clear, amusing as it can be in the pub, it serves no one.

Here’s the slaggin’ formula:

sweeping generalisation+focus on one subjectively onerous area+statement of reduced playtime=affirmation of intent never to repeat experience.

As an example:

Game x was shit.  The controls were just terrible, I hated it so much I put it down after an hour.  I’m never playing one of x’s games again.

There are myriad reasons why I don’t slag other people’s games off.  Although I feel it’s as valid a factor as any, the fact that games are incredibly difficult and time-consuming to make, even the bad ones, and that talented people have given so much of themselves during the making of any game, good or bad, isn’t actually the main reason.  It’s a factor, but it’s not the main reason.

It’s not even because emotive game critique is the preserve of journalists, bloggers and gamers, who are obviously much better than we are at calling out a game’s faults in entertaining ways.  I’m happy to leave them to it.  So it’s not that.

It’s this.  I don’t slag other people’s games off largely because it serves no creative purpose.  At best, it’s entertaining; at worst, it’s an endemic habit that encourages impassioned criticism of the whole, without looking in any objective detail at the good and the bad.  It encourages the dismissal of a game outright, leaving important information undiscussed and unobserved.  It colours the critical understanding and debate of games with the raw emotional response, which is totally counter-productive.  It encourages debate about whether experientially a game is good or bad in the broadest terms, rather than exploring the factors that we should be interested in: entertainment, engagement, challenge, accessibility, variety, freshness.  Slagging games off is the gamers perspective, not the designers perspective.  Way too often I’ve seen design meetings descend into game slagging sessions, or debates about whether subjectively someone’s right to have enjoyed a game or not, a feature or not – as I say, this is the gamers perspective, not the designers perspective.  It gets you nowhere.

You could say, well if you don’t play games as a gamer, how can you design enjoyable experiences?  But not slagging games off is not about whether or not I play as a gamer, or whether I enjoy a specific experience – I’m more than happy to say whether, subjectively, I found a game to be enjoyable or not.  Behind that, however, there needs to be a deeper understanding of all the factors that played into that subjective opinion, discussed objectively and in balance.  The thing is, within a development environment you’re never not making the game – whether it’s during a meeting, in the kitchen, over lunch, at the water-cooler, wherever, every conversation is a part of the generative process and, as such, should be treated as such.  Adopting a company behaviour of avoiding slagging, and being more thoughtful in the critique of games, can reap enormous rewards.  It should be encouraged.

So, as a rule, I don’t slag other people’s games off.  I encourage you not to either.

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