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Veteran Member - Level 12
Most of us are fans of a game genre, series or combination of the two. Heck, many of us fan HARD all over consoles or specific game studios (such as Ubisoft or DoubleFine). And, the internet being what it is, most of us have found that in no time at all, we will face one of the most dastardly threats known to internet-kind.
The Jerk Who Thinks That Being A Jerk Is TOTALLY FINE Because They Are "Only Being Critical."
Now, I'm sure that from time to time, you or I have been guilty of this in a fit of impassioned dislike or in haste to come to the aid of one of our fandoms, but there are some people out there (in the woo-woo space between ones and zeroes) who are constantly on this train of thought, and it is a train that needs to be derailed into a swamp and never be heard from again for its own good. So today, I am going to attempt to give you a good idea of what exactly constitutes as criticism and what amounts to your opinion plus a jerky attitude. While criticism can often sound kind of jerky (we're going to focus on constructive criticism for the sanity of this blog), most of the time, it is actually warranted for actual reasons, and those reasons are explained (and no, "because it sucks" is not an explanation).
"Japanese Games Just Suck," said the guy who made the game "Fez," which, for all intents and purposes, steals gameplay aspects from Zelda, Mario and all of the Nintendo originals.
See the quote above? Not constructive criticism. If anything, it's a blatant insult that deserves to be called out for its audacity. Sure, you could say, "I don't like Japanese games" or "I don't play Japanese games because I think that they suck," and those would be perfectly valid opinions (although I would disagree). However, attempting to justify this sort of statement as a way to "criticize" something else is nothing more than thinly veiled trolling. We know you're not being critical, and THEY know you're not being critical, and when this sort of behavior is engaged upon online, it rapidly dissolves into "you're stupid!" "Well you're pathetic!" and on and on back and forth until both people are so wrapped up at going at each others throats that they forget what they are actually arguing about.
"Well then, Oni, if you're so smart, then HOW DO I GIVE CONSTRUCTIVE CRITICISM?"
Having written many critical essays in my scholastic career, I can give you a couple pointers on using these sorts of tools in criticizing games and other media- these will help you stick to the core of your point without making you sound like a total Jerky McJerkyface. Of course, if you prefer the "NO U" style of arguing, that's just fine with me- if you're fine with looking like the internet equivalent of a poo-flinging monkey, far be it from me to stop you from doing the thing you love.
So without further ado- the list!
1) Have a point
I know, this sounds pretty basic, but you know what? Some people get all caught up in hyperbole and metaphor and trying to sound clever that they forget to be clear about what they don't like. So, for example, if your point is "The shaky cam feature in the film 'Cloverfield' took away from the actual plot and detached your feelings towards the characters," then make sure to spell that out before you start getting all flowery and poetic on people.
2) This is not a war where you have to "win" the argument by convincing EVERYONE IN THE WORLD that what you think is the truest thing ever- don't treat it like such.
Constructive criticism is like a butt- everyone has one, but not everyone wants to hear what it has to say. There will probably never be a situation in which everyone in the entire universe is going to completely agree with you all the time, and even then, what would the point of a constructive criticism be if everyone completely and totally agreed? Some people love auto-target features in games while other people think it is annoying as hell, and depending on how it is executed (no pun intended), your opinion on auto-target may change from game to game. There are no hard and fast rules to what is universally good at all times, and even in situations where it is obvious that good intentions were there, it can end up turning into a cluster of you-know-what.
3) Don't get distracted.
It can be easy to start talking about one thing that you would like to criticize and then find yourself on a wild tangent that rapidly flies towards left field. I know how that can be (my blogs tend to take strange turns a lot, lol). But when making a constructive criticism, it is important not to start jumping onto tangents and losing your initial point by bringing in unrelated things. Because eventually, you're just going to sound like a whiny jerk (regardless of your actual intentions) and no one is going to want to listen to you unless they are incredibly masochistic and enjoy having their eardrums pounded with incessant whining and wailing.
4) Offer Comfort and/or Advice.
Most game companies may not ever read what you have to write. In fact, many of them probably don't care as long as the game sells the requisite number to be profitable (and are laughing all the way to the bank as we speak). However, there is a possibility that someone from a gaming dev. team is listening to what you have to say, and it is far more likely that other people who enjoy games and may even want to start making games of their own one day will be reading what you have to say. So because of this, keep your audience in mind when you write constructive criticism. You can show situations in which whatever you disliked worked well in a separate sort of situation or game genre. You can point out things that could have improved it or, if they replaced the faulty mechanic or story element, might have enhanced the game as a whole.
Demonstrating through actual direct reference of whatever the problematic element might be and then suggesting a solution or possible alteration that could make things better is one of the best ways to help make that bitter pill go down more smoothly. It also frames the argument in a "here's how you can make your game even BETTER" sort of way, instead of a "your game sucks therefore YOU as a human being suck" sort of way.
I'll give you two guesses at which argument tends to make people more receptive.
5. If people attack your criticism, don't take it as a personal attack.
Many of our critical thoughts are extensions of our personal opinions- whether or not the design flaw that we saw is actually an issue or not can be up to interpretation, especially if other people cling rabidly to the opposite belief as you. However, the best way to make your criticism hold up under pressure (or dissenting opinion) is to not allow the argument to devolve into "NO U" personal attacks. If someone posts something about you, your mother, or the state of your basement geek dwelling unit, the first thing you should reply with is, "but does this have anything to do with the fact that when you go into this bonus map that you're constantly getting stuck in the floor when you get to this specific essential area?" Keep it on topic (ie: your criticism) and you will find that people either out themselves as ridiculous trolls (who everyone will then discount), or make your argument look intelligent by comparison. Remember, do not fall prey to "baiting"- they will try every trick in the book to pull you down to their level. But if you beat them at their own game by anticipating their tactics, you can come out ahead, and THEY will look like the jerks they are.
Pictured above: reading comprehension fail (hopefully, you are not included in this demographic).
So to review- remember to have a point to your criticism, don't get pulled into a "war" where you must defend your criticism to the death, don't get distracted, offer comfort/advice, and don't take dissenters opinions as personal attacks.
If you stick to these guidelines, it will make your arguments stronger, and more clear to those who read your work. And it will scare away the trolls if they can't get you to devolve into a mindless screaming infant versed in sailor-grade swearing. Which, if you consider the outcome, is a win-win situation.
Remember, gaming is serious business, but so is your sanity- just because you feel strongly about something in a game doesn't mean you need to devote your life to it to the point where you're one of those creepy shiny-eyed people who stand outside of grocery stores with petitions. You can feel confident that what you believe is correct for YOU and if things get too heated in the online forum, you can always close your browser, shut off your computer, stand up, stretch a little, and go out for a walk (or pour yourself a glass of something tasty). Taking a break is basically the hidden sixth rule for being constructive with your constructive criticism. Remember, the only person fit to rule your life is YOU, not some anonymous person out there in cyberspace who insists on disagreeing with you.
So, have you ever been guilty of the "being a jerk and pretending you were just being critical" about something?
Is there a specific aspect, genre, game or system that you have a critical thought about that you would like to share?
And finally, what are your best techniques for not letting the trolls and the jerks get to you?
As always, it is wonderful to hear back from you!
If I was trying to be a jerk, I don't think I would feel the need to pretend I was just being critical, but in general I tend not to be a jerk.
Well, I have probably been guilty of it in some time in the past. I think that everyone is. As to any specific criticisms, no. I also have a nice little anti-troll in me that just says to screw personal attacks and pay them no mind. It has worked for me numerous times before.
Eh, I just prefer the ultimate anti-nerdrage technique: being really nice and cracking a joke. Someone who's angry just can't respond to friendly advice and humour without either looking like a complete jerk or calming down.
I'd say that a lot of people on the Internet point out that "it's just an opinion!" I can't even describe how SICK I am of hearing that. To me, I don't think that someone should have to point out that it's their opinion; they should just know it. Ugh, I just wish that some people could understand that...
Most of the time, I am just a jerk and I think I'm being constructive, but that's just my personality. I can be constructive, it's just easier for me to be a jerk. Heh heh... anyway...
Personally, I feel that in this generation, the shooter genre is getting filled with cookie-cutter games, and as long as people continue to get their "high" off of those kind of games that cause constant and instantanous rewards, they will continue to be that way. Not many genres, games, or systems annoy me at the moment, but that could change in the future.
And, to prevent trolls from getting to me, I just ignore them or make a joke, which usually gets them to stop. If they don't, I take action by either leaveing, reporting them, or whatever else I can do.
That's all I have to say about that. Great blog, Oni!
I think its all bull though cause some things people could put something hurtful on the net and want to say somethin bak.
Multiple times people have called me overly critical of certain things, but I always try to give reason why I have those opinions. I could go on and on about why I feel mainstream musicians are less passionate and care less about their music than underground musicians, or why COD is doing itself a major disservice to its original fanbase by "mainstreaifying" itself, but I don't feel like I have to most of the time.
But, yeah, great blog, you see a lot of people on the internet who believe their opinions are fact without actual basis for said opinions.
I have been...
Oni, what a well-constructed, well-stated, n& meaningful blog. It serves as a reminder to those of use who write blogs, reviews, op-eds., etc. that we should always keep our audience in mind. Two, that we should be constructive NOT destructive. Its always easier for someone to see you're point of view when you're being constructive vs. destructive. To end my piece, great job on the blog. Hope to see more from you in the near future.
I wanted to be a funny jerk here and make some kind of offhanded comment about how much something sucks... but I like this blog too much to do that. Not only do I enjoy your writing style I even love the pics you place in key points of your story. Very good work once again.