For this article, I wanted to clearly illustrate why game writers need to be specific. I'll use two articles I found as examples not with intention of correction, but illumination.
The first article is by Tae K. Kim titled "Why games need to be shorter." Here's my response to the article in order by paragraphs.
- The 2 theses/arguments are stated up front. Great start.
- Kim debunks the idea that gamers who want shorter games are typically older gamers with less time to enjoy their hobby. Kim States that he loves spending lots of time on a great game, which sets us up for the development of his supporting arguments. Good.
"Games go on for way too long these days, and for all the wrong reasons, the biggest being gamers have arbitrarily decided there is a minimum number of gameplay hours they will accept—eight seems to be the magic number—and the longer the better."
- This point is a bit strained. First of all, Kim has not established himself as an authority concerning "games these days." I doubt there's anyone who has played every game or even most games from this generation. It would be far more effective if Kim qualified his statement by saying something like "games that I play" or "from my perspective." Second, this statement makes a jump in logic failing to outline or hint to the trickle down relationship between consumer desires and developer design trends. Even if games are longer just because gamers have a twisted value system, this doesn't inherently make a game worse. We can also ask what does Kim mean by "better" games.
- "but making purchasing decisions based on quantity rather than quality has a trickle-down effect to the development level." This is the point that should have been worked into the previous paragraph. This isn't a big deal though. At least it's included. But just afterwards we get this: "This is why almost every title has a collectible widget or a multiplayer mode or a bevy of achievements, regardless of how well it all fits in with the overall fiction of the title. It’s also why certain titles drag on endlessly, with levels that feel like the end but lead to yet another environment and another one after that."
- "almost every title" is a very specific kind of statement/argument that covers 51-99% of games. Once again Kim weakens his credibility here. This argument would be more effective with several examples of each type (out of place collectibles/ multiplayer modes/ achievements). Not only would examples help us grasp the point better, but it would give us a better idea of what kinds of games Kim is more familiar with. The more we understand about Kim's view point on the issue, the better we can relate to his opinion piece. After all, opinions, like any other kind of statement/argument can be supported, challenged, and corrected.
- Kim supports the previous point with this: "It happens even with great games like Uncharted 2, a game I reviewed and loved, but thought could have ended sooner than it did." Does Uncharted 2 represent bad collectibles, tacked on multplayer, or poorly designed achievements? I think it's none of these things. I think Kim wanted to communicate that Uncharted 2's variation of gameplay challenges drops off toward the end of the game creating repetitive experiences. But this still doesn't support the 3 types he introduced.
- At this point the article has lost focus on the theses. This paragraph doesn't strongly support the whole either. "Length isn’t a consideration with every title, of course." Does it matter that length isn't as much of an issue for some games? Does this point need any more than a passing mention? The examples and descriptions that follow are vague and work against Kim's thesis. What does "nature of their gameplay," "long periods of time" and "satisfy your brain and your wallet" mean exactly? This paragraph basically says length isn't an issue for some puzzle, multiplayer, or single player games. Another way of saying the same thing is game length should be considered on a game by game basis. The more general your claims, the less effective they'll be.
- "I’m arguing for shorter, more tightly paced games that come in, say what they need to say, and then have the grace to know when to walk off the stage." I'm sure well all get what Kim is trying to say here, but this statement is as generic as it comes. As long as a specific game isn't brought into the discussion, it's hard to being wrapping our heads around what might qualify as being "tightly paced." Is this an issue of narrative pacing, gameplay variation, ludonarrative dissonance, or all of these things?
- "This is especially critical because narrative urgency is missing in a lot of story based games these days, and many gamers spend more time wandering around doing meaningless activities than actually advancing the story. Often, the fate of the world is hanging in the balance, and we’re all wasting time opening every desk and scouring every corner looking for hidden objects." Again, the worlds in bold are either subjective or generalizations that say nothing specific. Still, this unwanted side effect of ludonarrative dissonance isn't related to bloated game length.
- Kim presents a very clear thought. Basically, if developers aim to design shorter (presumably with less art/audio assets to create), they can focus (time/money) on crafting the game with less ludonarrative dissonance. Sure the developers could make a better game if they diverted resources from one effort into another. But that conclusion doesn't necessarily follow. Kim's statement about Half-Life would be more effective if he describes his own experiences with the game instead of using the generic "you." After all, everything I did in Half-Life did not bring me closer to achieving th goal.
- More generic statements. Somehow, writers trick themselves into thinking statements like "ld rather play a three hour game with a focused pace than a meandering ten hour game that takes forever to get me to the end" are unique and effective ways to close out an argument.
We (everyone who talks or writes about video games) need to learn how to form debatable-substantive-arguments. It's simple, really. Instead of trying to convey a large concept, just pick a game you have experience with, say something about a specific aspect of the game, and find a few examples to back yourself up. You want the example to do all the "debating" for you. If you can link to a video or a playable example, even better.
I'll close with a review that actually provides a video example to support a bold claim. From the second page of this gamesradar review of Donkey Kong Country Returns:
"These cart levels in DKCR approach Battletoads speed tunnel levels of annoyance, as they repeatedly fail to give you any clues as to what the correct action should be. Jump? Duck? Dodge that or land on it? The only way you’ll know for sure is to try, and probably die in the process."
This statement is completely clear and completely wrong. Remember an article I wrote years ago about how game reviewers need skills or at least they need to know how their lack of skill may affect their perception of gameplay challenges? Since I was a kid playing Donkey Kong Country, I've known that bananas are the universal clues. Like Mario coins, if you see a banana, you know that you can obtain it without dying. In addition, bananas are used to outline paths of travel when the fast action or screen scrolling might obscure the path otherwise.
In the video evidence, it's clear that bananas are used as they always have been. See for yourself in the video. And in the Battletoads speed tunnel example, there's only 1-2 obstacle sequences that have questionable warning cues; the "!" jumps at 2:40 and the fast up and down obstacles just afterwards. Otherwise, that challenge is legitimately fair.
The beauty of being specific is that it encourages responses/rebuttals to be just as specific or more so helping the whole debate move forward. Unless we take these steps seriously, we'll never get around to talking about video games.