The conversation was over as soon as the defense became, “It’s supposed to be entertaining, so that’s good.” If you must have context, this was from a nice journalist who received a questionable command from PR but chose to demo their game regardless. This post is not about that journalist because the context could have been anything in the entertainment realm: books, movies, theatre, podcasts. I’ve heard the statement multiple times in multiple conversations, and every time it seems an incredibly low mark to hit. It’s safe to assume any entertainment media manifests because a creator thought it would entertain consumers.
There’s an entirety of existence waiting for you, everything from the smallest dancing particle to the limitless expanse of universe. In your own mind lie fewer boundaries and the possibility of everything that has been and could be, or never be. If your criteria is “be entertained”, how do you narrow down what is worthy of your time? If you review videogames with that criteria, how do you convey your experience to others?
Entertainment is the end result, the aftertaste. Whining critiques of boredom with no outline of what goals the game failed to meet are worthless–the lowest form is falling into personal insults against the developers because the critic has no concept of their own standards, and therefore can’t judge the game itself. Similarly, game reviewers who praise a videogame for its entertainment value but do not define what contributes to that value are a waste of time. There is no safer nor worse review to give a videogame than, “It was fun.” That’s as helpful as saying, “Well, it was made.”
Like any solid strategy, you must first define success before you can decide if success is met or not. Take a moment to think of your favorite videogame. Don’t look at the genre, because eventually you’ll find that genre is less relevant when you have a game strategy. It actually is an excellent starting point to ask, “What about this game entertains me?”
Example: I could pick Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time. I’ve never played a game that gave me quite the same feeling of triumph–but that’s not my answer. A videogame designer can influence my feelings but I bring my own context to their creation, so what I’m actually judging there is my life context and little to do with the game. Still, I can narrow it down to what made me feel triumphant. Was it beating the game? No, that was only a sense of sadness that the adventure ended. “Adventure” is a good keyword! Exploration, puzzle-solving, defeating strong enemies by learning new tactics—I see a few more keywords. I liked having a world where the knowledge I encountered along the way unlocked new areas and knowledge to discover. I liked growing through my experience to affect change in the world around me. Now obviously this goes on for awhile, and I’m not going to pin down my ideal videogame design solely from one game I like. I can definitely say that the games I enjoy most do contain elements like stories that progress with my ability as a player and let me empathize deeply with the game world.
There are some fantastic effects from defining what you expect specifically from an enjoyable game. You might better recognize the difference between pining for a game that was and pining for the feeling of a certain time and place in gaming. Maybe you’ll break dull habits and develop more discernment in choosing new times and places to game, making gaming a more productive part of living your life. You can even appreciate a game without enjoying it enough to play it! You can even review a game without enjoying it and cite specifically in what ways it did not meet your personal standards, giving valuable feedback to the developer and insight to your readers.
My time is precious and I prefer living fully in every moment, so I think of this as asking more from my games. I don’t feel a need to fill empty hours or zap boredom, so why would I delegate a hobby (and job) I love to serving that purpose? Why would I read articles that don’t help me discover new games that fit my gaming strategy? I can be picky: my games have to prove themselves worthy of my attention, by my standards. Otherwise I’m the author of my own boredom.