Thursday, 28 April 2011

Yahtzee: "The Enemy Within"

Who would be so foolish as to think he could legitimately judge a console that's only a few weeks old under the same criteria as dead products, without the benefit of hindsight that comes from analyzing the Turbografx-16? Who could exhibit such a lack of accountability, or even common sense as a critic, beyond a member of the Fox News family?

This is Ben Croshaw. He is the worst thing to happen to video games since Full Motion Video Dana Plato. He didn't create the wailing and gnashing of teeth that consumes intelligent discourse in this hobby. But he has seen an inexplicable rise to fame for exacerbating that feral atmosphere. He didn't start the fire, but he is throwing a peculiar number of tires on it. And this only acts as an encouragement to the folks who are normally told to shut their pie holes already, nobody cares that you think "Xbox is gay", Steve.


I need you to understand that we are talking about the most authoritative voice in games criticism today. Actual developers have noticed overnight success and failure depending on his views. The game "Painkiller" saw an overnight boost in sales after his sloppy blowjob of a review went online. That is a power not even Roger Ebert has every time. Our culture has decided he should be the first real figure of authority when it comes to having opinions on video games, and in helping decide future purchases. Think about that, and consider that Ben "Yahtzee" Croshaw un-ironically said the following:

"Sooner or later, a new platform is only as good as its launch lineup."

There aren't enough Captain Picard Facepalms in the world...

I was watching the newest video with a friend, and we were talking about how in spite of everything, he was being less of an asshole lately and a bit more of an actual critic, in regards to how he approaches Zero Punctuation. At least compared to his earlier days. I theorized that maybe all of the terrible self-entitlement that came about from imitators made him step up his game. Just so he could distance himself from the beast he helped feed. I thought maybe he was trying to be a professional, at last, and actually approach a game from its own merits and shortcomings, instead of his review of Smash Bros. Brawl where he had to make shit up to validate his alcohol-induced hallucinations.

And then he says something so hog-fuckingly stupid that I had to stop and rewind to hear it again, just to make sure it wasn't a trick of the brain.

"A new platform is only as good as its launch lineup."

Who is honestly prepared to believe that a product like a game console's ENTIRE WORTH is only applicable to the rough early stages of its release, as opposed to the accumulated archive of games one amasses over time? He can't seriously be this surprised that a launch title would be *gasp!*, rushed... Can he?

The Super NES had a staggering collection of games that history has pretty much decided by now to be "classics". How many of them came out in the first month?

Super Mario World and F-Zero.

Never mind then. I guess since Chrono Trigger, Final Fantasy VI, Super Metroid, Kirby Super Star, Seiken Densetu 3, Terranigma, Super Castlevania IV, Star Fox, Zombies Ate My Neighbours, Mega Man X and A Link To The Past weren't there in 1991 the instant the console was released, then the entire console was shit.

And what about the Playstation 2?  I swear I've heard this guy mention more than once that it had most likely the strongest library of game titles of any system.

The PS2 was notorious for its lousy launch lineup too. I guess Shadow of the Colossus, one of the few games he didn't approach with the demeanor and poise of an entitled little snot, is somehow terrible now. Because it wasn't there in the year 2000, one month into the platform's decade-long relevance, in spite of the HD next-gen consoles pushing it out of the spotlight.

"But wait! He didn't say the entire 3DS was shitty forever, he's just blasting its launch titles and early status. Perhaps he will review it again with a more positive slant once Kid Icarus and the Ocarina remake comes out, because Yahtzee is nothing if not a humble and malleable man, always changing his mind after hearing people complain that his beliefs are stupid! And then we can be super best friends and we will dance in the fields of gumdrops and sunshine, dancing and singing in the meadows until our throats are hoarse and our feet are sore!"

...Well then why did he devote an entire week's episode to judging a book's cover? When was the last time this guy budged on anything? This is clearly not a person for whom weighing differing points of view ever comes to mind.

[UPDATE, Apr. 2012: Except, the 3DS turned out to be a huge success after a price-drop. Is he going to go back and give it a proper review? Don't be silly. That would undermine himself to the slobs that hang on his every word.]

I know people who call this console a failure a month or two into its retail existence, because Yahtzee said so. Even though the Gameboy Micro didn't experience anything remotely approaching this level of immediate success in its entire lifespan. That isn't just jumping the gun. It strikes me as a form of insecurity.

In the same review, he suggests that a handheld 3D console meant to fit in your pocket shouldn't have such a small screen. See if you can pinpoint what's wrong with that sentence. And if any of his tirades against Nintendo's GOOD ideas are any indication, he also feels that it's wrong for a company in this day and age to try anything even remotely new or interesting, or to expand the general audience beyond the Comic Book Guy stereotype. Especially with features that can be turned off if he doesn't like them.

And he asked how a game can have 3D graphics AND use a motion control setup when the 3D effect can only be obtained from looking at it a certain way. As if he was pointing out something clever enough to que the intro to CSI.

Well, it can't. But that's not some secret. The gyroscopic games don't use the 3D effects. Thems the breaks. Is this a cause for outrage for you? But I don't recall him mentioning another legitimate detractor to this handheld, namely that the 3D effects are a big drain on an already humble battery life. It's like he is morally opposed to having an informed opinion.

And people love this guy. More and more I see people on youtube and in forums trying to ape his rapid-fire presentation style, hoping they can hide their bad opinions behind quick editing, cheap gags or "telling it like it is, bro". And it's not just the horrible, amateur youtube tweens trying this out. Anyone who saw the war-crime that was the first episode of The Escapist's new series "Jimquisition" knows what I'm talking about. It's gotten to the point where even people who are established, credible game journalists or writers are trying too hard to emulate that one guy who's famous on the internet for being all edgy about games.

Am I to believe this badly-justified flamebait approach to games criticism is something we need to do more of to be taken seriously as a respected art-form? That we need to emulate a man who doesn't respect or care about video games beyond a paycheck? A man who is so repulsed by his profession and environment that he can't even see the accomplishments? While people who genuinely do love video games are struggling to keep up in his shadow? This isn't looking a gift horse in the mouth. This is accusing a horse of being a lungfish, because shut up I am the best.

I don't have as much to back this up as I'd like. Maybe I'm imagining it, and comments sections online have always been awful, but does anyone else think it's actually gotten WORSE since he arrived on the scene? The reply boxes for games websites, or even just blogs are getting more and more sanctimonious and, frankly, mean-spirited than I remember them being. Is it possible this man's presence as a figure of notoriety is encouraging people to throw away civility? Or at least those who before felt pressured by society to not just act superior to everyone and everything? Do they think being an asshole = getting internet famous? Am I just crazy or something?

His is the loudest and farthest-reaching voice video games have today. And he is also the worst. Discussion among video games is vitriolic and counter-productive enough without him glamorizing the worst aspects to the worst in us. This might even have been worth it, if his presence were benefiting video games or the people who play them, but I look around at my contemporaries and my superiors, and I am not seeing a brave new world. I'm seeing a lot of people who are convinced, largely due to Zero Punctuation and other raging bouts of insanity, that video games don't deserve to be talked about as a legitimate practice of our free time. That hostility and visual gags are more important than coherence.

Ben Croshaw, whether incidentally or intentionally, has made video games a worse hobby. His videos have made the people who play and recognize games into worse people. He can't possibly be helping developer/customer relations. Look at the insignificant shit he finds issue with in every review. And we've let him get away with it because sometimes he cracks a funny. When it comes to people who can speak on behalf of our pastime as something worthwhile, I say:








And let me make this clear that I'm not saying I would be better in the same situation. Maybe I'm not being fair here. Maybe I'm jumping to conclusions and basing my beliefs on some vague superstitions. I trust my gut on these things, but it hasn't always led me in the right direction and I've made some pretty bad errors in judgment before. And it's not like saying any of this is going to topple the man or make him change his ways or anything so saccharine. 

But I think the most recognized individual in games criticism should maybe care a little more strongly for the field in which he is employed. Is that too much to ask? I mean, it kills me to see someone sucking the life out of this hobby like that, when publishers and developers already do enough of that on their own. 

When it comes to the other Escapist personalities, I see Bob Chipman, Shamus Young, Susan Arendt, Graham Stark and James Portnow trying to make a depressing situation better. They know things are bad, but they offer possible suggestions, solutions and alternatives to the things plaguing this hobby. 

Yahtzee doesn't have anything to offer. He's there to kill 7 minutes of your life. He doesn't give a shit about helping make games better through constructive criticism. That's boring. He needs that time to insinuate homosexual lust between the people who dared make ANOTHER COVER-BASED SHOOTER, THOSE CURS.

In fact, I don't think he WANTS games to get better! He knows people only come to see him destroy a game, even an admirable effort. If a game is actually legitimately entertaining, he'll magnify the smaller flaws and sell them as one catastrophic failure after another. Hey, it works for the lunatics on political news shows. He's smart enough to realize if the games industry got its act together, he wouldn't be special anymore. Anyone can say that Metroid Other M was a dog turd. Rants are easy and they're popular. But the Extra Credits crew managed to say all of that in a way that wasn't just stating the obvious, but also in a way that could reasonably help the audience avoid those mistakes in the future. A critic will tell you what you're getting into, but great critics will tell you how to get out.

And I think it's time we stop giving this guy a free pass because he can make it look like a Wii is experiencing explosive diarrhea as a metaphor for, like, dude, the Wii sucks so much and stuff. I'm just not convinced that a guy who openly despises the focus on migrating casual gamers, which has helped tremendously in making video games a publicly accepted practice for entertainment, should be heralded as some champion of games criticism.

And yet, that's an overwhelming sentiment I've found. Am I the only one who thinks that's a little terrifying?

I don't dislike him because I think he hates his job. But I don't appreciate the ripple effect he's having on us. How he's inspiring others to be like him: To miss the point. To openly begrudge repetition, and then in the next breath complain when innovation appears. To steadfastly deny the merits of Eastern game design. To spend as much time avoiding critical analysis, even points that could work in their favour, in order to fit in more poop jokes. To never take what they do seriously, unless someone disagrees. To treat something that should be taken seriously as if it's a big joke.

We may never have our Pauline Kael. Tomorrow's game critics want to be Armond White.



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