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Published June 5, 2017

‘Why can’t you just enjoy [insert entertainment genre here]?’

More often than not, this is the last line of defense for a fan arguing against a critic over a piece of media. To be fair, critics have their emotional defenses against fans as well, but this one has more of an edge to it because of what it’s implying. It isn’t so much that a critic isn’t a fan of gaming, movies, etc. but that whatever originally appealed to the critic about a genre has been replaced with cold cynicism. It’s, and especially ‘Turn off your brain’, are the ‘Have you no heart?’ for the digital generation: the last grasp of a supposed pure-heated believer to the darkness threatening what they love.

And for those of you keeping track, that ‘darkness’ is my fellow critics and I. [Insert your Charlie Murphy jokes here (RIP Charlie Murphy).]

I’m not here to argue the arguments or my place in the larger discourse in gaming critique. Long-time readers of mine already know I’ve long ago accepted the more monstrous view some developers hold for me. This is more about an internal divide and how I ended up making that same emotional appeal to myself over the weekend, as well as the revelations it led to. It was a strange experience indeed and was started once I finished a run of Zetsubou Games’ latest release: Tomboys Need Love, Too!

Tomboys Need Love, Too! was released a few weeks ago and my quickness in getting and playing it should tell you how intrigued I was about its premise. The plot is simple enough: Kai, an average teenage boy, begins to realize his close, tomboy friend Christine may have feelings for him over the course of a week-long stay at his house. Complicating matters is Sophie: another girl in their class that Kai has a long-time crush on but has a rather sadistic reputation in their class. If you follow me on social media, specifically Twitter, then you know I’ve spent the better part of two days gushing about this VN. There is a fantastic sense of pace, tone and character here that feeds into the overall relationship between Chris and Kai. Their back-and-forth banter is masterful, switching from comedic, to romantic, to tragic when the situation calls for it. Throughout the five or so hours I went through my first run of the game, I can honestly say not only was I enjoying myself, but I was invested in every scene and wanted to see how it would end.

After my first run where I easily got the True Ending, I was more than happy to kick back and call it done. However, something started chewing at the back of my subconscious: a nagging feeling tied to the fact I only got one ending out of the five the developers put together. Finally, Sunday afternoon on my way back home, I came to terms with the reality that I had only played 25% of TNLT. It was an incredibly enjoyable 25%, but saying the entire game was good based off that experience would be like getting a steak dinner and saying it was good because of the rolls they brought you while you waiting for the main course. So, I began to mentally flip through my schedule to figure out when I could go back and complete the game and that’s when it hit me:

“Have you no heart, JP?”

Now, to be completely fair to Zetsubou, I have no reason to believe the entire game will come crashing down based on the rest of its endings. The problem is that those endings are dependent on the biggest flaw I found in my initial play through: Sophie. We won’t get into those particular weeds in this feature, but that I can point to a distinct flaw and tie it into potential weaknesses in the rest of the game was enough to evoke the previous question. Why can’t I just appreciate the parts that I enjoyed? Can’t I shut off my brain and just have fun? Several familiar arguments that were once externally thrown at me where now being posed internally and the truth is that I really didn’t like the only answer I could come up with, but that fits into the larger truth here.

First, no I can’t. I’ve done this long enough now that everyone seems to know that but me some days. Second, the larger truth here is that ‘fun’ and personal enjoyment should never override general objectivity: especially when it comes to larger conversations about gaming as a whole. ‘Objectivity’. Nobody likes that word anymore, do they? Especially if you’re a game critic, trying to be objective sounds either sinister or pompous because so many gamers use their emotions as a defense for what they love. I’m not even talking about certain gaming geners: I’m talking about the industry overall. After all, in a few weeks E3 will be back in town and gamers will surely crown Sony ‘the winner’ of the event because they know how to garner an emotional reaction (coughKH3cough). Sure, that doesn’t always lead to a complete product, however Sony realized more than its competitors that as long as they can tap into the hearts of the mob, they can drag their feet all they want.

….I had a point here….WAIT I GOT IT.

What I’m saying is the VN space is not that much different from the larger gaming world, despite what most devs and fans will tell you. Tribalism, Emotionalism, and the desire to be catered to runs this and all sections of gaming and increasingly in all of entertainment. The difference between the larger gaming market and the VN market isn’t time, exposure or audience. The difference is that there are people in the larger gaming community who keep the tribes and their emotions in check not by being vindictive or judgmental, but by being honest: regardless of what they may or may not feel. And the future of visual novels in the West will not depend on that one VN that will get universal acclaim; it’ll be a group of voices that does not just take what they like/want from the medium and ignores anything that could be considered ‘bad’. That, along with the overall business sense of visual novel developers, needs to be a key focus moving forward and something we’ll be pushing for here on VNs Now.

So yeah, that’s why I can’t just like something. It is what it is, even though it isn’t always pleasant. Someone has to want more than just their fandom fed and I’m happy to be the first one up. I guess that means I have 75% of a game to finish, huh? Hopefully, it’ll hold up. JP3: OUT.

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