Did We Reach Peak “Git Gud”?

I was taught to avoid cliches and oft-used phrases like this but I’m afraid I couldn’t resist this time. The point is, we seem to be at a boiling point when it comes to telling people to “git gud” at video games. A new Dark Souls came out which predictably frustrated a lot of people, that Polygon video where a player had serious problems playing DOOM went up, and Rock Paper Shotgun put out a pretty good response to all this. The two main issues this dredges up from what I can see are the handling of game reviews and how much skill factors into video games these days.

RPS pointed out that the recent surge of eSports is a possible factor behind the uptick in “git gud,” that it’s brought back a perceived need for skill in video games. Maybe it’s a response to how much modern AAA games hold players’ hands these days (which I’ve complained about on many occasions). I think it’s just some lingering aspect of the arcade culture from which modern console gaming originates. Console games used to be spring from the arcade design mechanism of challenging players to make them spend more quarters. Longevity and mastery came through rote memorization, and that was pretty much where the depth of a game came from. The very word “game” indicates this.

That’s not really the case anymore with all games, not when story, atmosphere, and really just pure tactile catharsis have advanced so much. Maybe this has always been the case for as long as adventure games have existed. That actually brings me back to the a big problem I think exists in the western console market: that it’s too centered around action games. Any game that doesn’t have a sufficient amount of combat is derided as a “walking simulator.” A big part of this whole problem is that people in this market are starting to realize you can enjoy video games for other reasons. I think that has always been allowed in places like the PC market or the Japanese console market where strategy games, simulation games, and adventure games have always been welcomed. If people want to use console games as merely interactive fiction or virtual exploration, let them.

Let’s look at Dark Souls III in this regard. I actually don’t think the presence of an easy mode would kill the game. Maybe it would kill what From Software wants it to be (I’ll get to that point later), but it would still be an enjoyable experience for a lot of people.

I say this as someone who relishes the challenge of Souls games. I’ve cleared all of them except Bloodborne (I don’t own a PS4). I beat every Dark Souls III boss solo except for Nameless King. I don’t need an easy mode, but I think one would allow a lot of people to enjoy the game for other reasons.

The combat and difficulty are indeed a big part of what makes Souls games for a lot of people. That sense of accomplishment when you finally beat a boss, or the games’ propensity to constantly beat down any sign of player hubris with new and unexpected challenges is something you just don’t experience in other games anymore. That isn’t the only thing that makes Souls though, and I wish the indie developers trying to copy Souls would understand that.

People who love Souls also love it for its consistently superb art direction, deep and enticingly delivered lore, mysterious atmosphere, and skillful level design. If the game wasn’t that difficult or had a less difficult mode I think there would still be a lot in it for more casual users to explore. If you could explore the Dark Souls world and lore as just a really atmospheric adventure game that would be cool for some people too.

And if From Software thinks that damages the specific experience it wants to deliver, then that experience doesn’t have to be for everyone. Dark Souls is great because its designers didn’t set out to make a game that would appeal to 10 million people or satisfy the kinds of sales expectations EA and Ubisoft need to keep operating. It doesn’t have to be all things to all people. Games can focus on specific audiences.

As for “gitting gud” at games with high skill ceilings, I don’t think that’s entirely necessary in order to form some kind of valid opinion. I also however don’t think it’s sufficient to form the ONLY opinion on the game in question.

You see, video game reviews are subjective. I don’t know how many people still don’t believe this but it’s true. One video game review is one opinion from one player. Players are different, their reviews are going to be different. The people critiquing game reviews seem to be hating on dissenting opinions or opinions that differ from their own but I don’t see the sense in it. I don’t get mad when people have opinions about games different from my own. Maybe publications should do a better job of making specific writers and their viewpoints more visible so readers could identify with them. Didn’t some used to do this by having classification systems indicating what each writer was into?

The same goes for high-skill games. With those I think there’s more value in looking at a palette of opinions from both “newb” reviewers and more expert reviewers. Maybe the former will give a good indication of how the experience is for a newcomer with the other being for readers who are experts. If publications had the bandwidth I’d say they should have games like that reviewed by at least two people meeting those classifications (or maybe just have second opinions like Game Informer did back when I read it). EGM used to have four people review each game, Famitsu still does.

Yeah, whoever was playing DOOM on that Polygon video looked like they’d never played first person shooters with a controller before, but maybe they can write well enough to publish an opinion of the game valuable to someone in the same position.

BULLETS:

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