The Ethics Of Suspending Criticism

For the past week I’ve been housebound, unfortunately, with an infected kidney. In my lethargic state I thought it apropos to indulge myself in Arkane Studio’s Dishonoured, where my plague-addled kin roam wild all across the city of Dunwall.

I must give it to Microsoft, the Christmas sales on the Xbox One Marketplace last month offered a generous range of reputable titles, and I impulse-nabbed Dishonoured: Definitive Edition for a meagre £7.50 ($9.29) at the time. I remember my hesitation due to the game’s 35GB download size against my really quite flaccid internet speed, but I am glad that I relented, and on Christmas Day 2016 I commemorated the birth of Jesus Christ by electing to bask in the glory of throat-slitting and pistol-slinging that Arkane Studios has to offer.

That first week with Dishonoured, after the hefty download, was unprecedented. There was something so ineffably attractive about the game that it had unlocked in me that part of my imagination I thought only existed years ago, in that first week I would catch myself in reverie during schooltime, thoughts wandering, running, takedown-ing, exploring, revolting, revenging, all whilst the real world remained below and the forum of my A level English classroom commenced. I have not experienced this holistic capturing of my attention on-and-off the console since I was only a boy playing through the Assassin’s Creed series. It really did give me that childish sense of glee that even the most evocative titles, or even titles I can confidently distinguish as more artistically fulfilled than Dishonoured, fail to give me to this day. It provided me that very rare hankering, that feeling that you cannot wait to resume play and commence with your strategy.

I suppose it was because of Dishonoured‘s multiple-approach dynamic that I felt this kind of powerful satisfaction when playing through it. This is the first truly-sandbox FPS game I have played since Metro, and that agency to pursue whatever route is most pleasing offered me a sense of possibility that was truly exciting, and it was exciting just to regard the existence of that sense of possibility. As well as this, Dishonoured‘s dedication to its own universe can only be described as endearing. Reams and reams of discoverable text enriches its universe to an uncanny degree, with some of the writing having a level of authenticity that would suggest the authors care about each piece of the universe they are cultivating through each textual asset. Be it an excerpt from a fictional academic journal or a page of an antagonist’s diary, all words feel truly cared about.

As is always the case, the novelty of this excitement wore off with iteration of play, but that didn’t discourage me and I’ve gladly played over 30 hours and subdued 417 enemies in the process.

dishonored-definitive-edition

I had a blast with Dishonoured and its two story DLC packages, so much so that I had no qualms about impulse-purchasing its recent successor on Amazon two days ago now.

I attempted to watch reviews from my trusted troupe before my purchase of the first title, but due to spoiler content I was naturally restricted. Having now completed the game I thought it appropriate to watch in retrospect, and to my surprise the critics that I trust the most tended to differ from the general consensus, criticising the game for narrow options of stealth and also for an unsuccessful gamification of ‘low chaos’ and ‘high chaos’ playstyle qualifiers, which determine the game’s ultimate ending.

I understood their criticisms but I still maintained reverence for the game unflinchingly. I could comprehend perfectly the reasons why my critics had a distaste for the game and yet I did not let that affect my opinion as I have in other instances, I could only regard them in apathy.

Now this might seem like an unreasonable question to draw from the subject at hand, but… does that me a dick?

Seeing genuine complaints about the flaws of a game not as reasoned expressions of deconstruction but rather as entirely dismissable statements of opinion is exactly the kind of thing I’m scared of as an amateur games critic. I understand that criticism about Dishonoured should impact my reverence, but I suspend my criticism so that I revere this evidently flawed work with a kind of unconditional admiration.

I’m being exactly the kind of person I hate. Look, if you’re a regular reader of mine you know I thought Virginia was more useless as a game than Dmitri Payet is a player for West Ham right now, and I couldn’t stand seeing positive review scores for this game where there was clearly an explanatory gulf between assessment and score. It is the biggest sin of a critic to claim that a game is good or abysmal without appropriately explaining why that is the case. On a similar level, I feel that Dishonoured is a great narrative and ludic achievement, but I couldn’t hope to explain to even myself, let alone somebody else, why exactly I feel that way. How can I then justifiably feel this way?

I believe in criticism as an evocative and influential tool that can both nourish interest and challenge established conceptions. If I didn’t believe in the latter element of it, I would only write about games and not against them. If someone read one of my reviews, fully understood the line of reasoning in which I criticise the game, and yet didn’t let that impact their own opinion at all, then what was the point of both me writing the review and them reading it?

I have wasted everybody’s time.

But is there a way I can make myself not like the game as much as I do? Should I cancel my order of Dishonoured 2? Should I shock myself every time I think about the game? Would that shorten the distance between what I know and what I feel? Should I feel bad about feeling good about something?

Dishonoured, I love you, but you’re bad for me.

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9 thoughts on “The Ethics Of Suspending Criticism

  1. Being a critic can be very difficult I would imagine. Sometimes it can be hard to spot flaws in a game, or to be enjoying it so much that they can become overlooked.
    I recently finished Evil Within and I KNOW that it is a good, competently made game. But I did not enjoy it and spent more time picking holes in it that recognising what it did well. I allowed my lack of enjoyment ignore the quality that was present.
    I didn’t enjoy Dishonoured either by the way ;-).

    Liked by 2 people

    • Ah, it’s interesting to think about it the other way. I suppose for me Metro 2033 was a game I understand is expertly made, but felt a little bit lost on me and I only have a few hours on it as a result. You irksome contrarians!!! Why do you have to not enjoy the games that aren’t very good!!! You infuriate me!!!

      Liked by 1 person

  2. I think reviews at best are subjective, so putting your opinion out there is going to be met with a degree of apathy in many cases. People are going to disagree with you, and you’re going to disagree with others. The notion that someone’s review of a game should affect your enjoyment of it is misguided.

    If you really liked Dishonored, and you read my negative opinion of it, would that sincerely affect your enjoyment? I believe the question you asked was whether or not it should, and that’s an important question to ask. However, the real reason for reviews to exist is two-fold:

    1. Reviews exist to guide buyers about whether or not to purchase a product.
    2. Reviews exist to generate discussion about said product.

    With that in mind, say you wrote a favorable review of Dishonored, and adequately explained why you felt it was a good purchase decision. Those that are alike in thinking to yourself would see the review as a promotion of the game, and your review would give them the impetus to purchase it. Those that don’t value the same types of games you do would see it as something to pass on. The rest that already played Dishonored, and formed their own opinions of it, would have the opportunity to discuss the review with you.

    This is all assuming that your review encompassed the strengths and weaknesses of the game. If you wrote a review of Dishonored and it amounted to “Dishonored is awesome because you can kill people and rats show up everywhere! You should totally buy it!”, then it really wasn’t a review at all, it was basically fan mail to the developer.

    I was going somewhere with this…

    Oh right!

    My point is that if your review is actually critical of the game (meaning you provided detailed analysis of it) it doesn’t matter if everyone agrees with you or not. The reader disagreeing with you doesn’t mean you wrote a poor review. It just means that you and the reader don’t agree. The only thing that would make your review worthless is if you did nothing to back up your opinion of the game at all.

    Or something.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. I get what you’re saying and I think we both agree, no matter what stance taken in a review, it is absolutely necessary to back up that approving or disapproving stance with reason. Without that element of reason, there’s a fundamental inability for the review to generate any type of discussion.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Ouch! I hope you get better soon. An infected kidney doesn’t sound fun at all… 😦

    I see reviews as just someone’s opinion. I always shake my head when I see angry trolls belittling a reviewer because they don’t agree. I look for reviewers who share my taste when I’m trying to figure out if I should get a game or not. Ultimately, I just won’t know until I try it myself. If I listened to what the critics say, I would have never played Final Fantasy XIII. I know most other people hate it, but I love it. We’re all unique I guess, haha.

    Liked by 1 person

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