‘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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About Author

Founder of VNs Now.com. Long-Time Reader, Amateur Writer and Chef and Gundam Enthusiast. Opinions are Steve's, Facts are Mine.

  • “Objective” doesn’t mean much because games with a narrative do so to interact with the player’s emotions. Plot beats, characterization, etc. can only be measured so much on a technical level and the fact is that as a critic you must interpret the fiction, which means your biases can very easily mar the quality of your own experience. That’s why objective means very little in the grand scheme of game (narrative) criticism.

    Objective is at best the buzzword tossed out for “I can see the merit of something not my preference”/”I can see the flaws of something that is my preference” when the review ought to be able to speak for itself. Show, don’t tell, if you’re objective you shouldn’t need to use the word as a crutch to validate your opinion. (“Just honest” is rapidly becoming the next stage of this.)

    This is not a call for you to change your reviewing style but it is one to consider since I used to hold this same stance before I realized it was better off without it.

    I’ve noticed that you often bring up how heartless you are (jokingly) in many of your reviews and that is an “objectively” a weak part of your review. How you perceive your own station in the community has nothing to do with your “objective thoughts on a game” and comes off as a way to cushion your opinion, and maybe even yourself against criticism; the bottom line is that it’s filler. But that is part of your style, your reviewer persona, and if we gut that, maybe you’ll have more “objective” of a review but you consequently have less to bring to the table. Cynicism just happens to be the emotion you appeal to.

    The lauded “objective” is being able to say a game is available on certain platforms (how earthshaking), but being able to recount and articulate your personal experience of why you like something or not is fundamentally a subjective opinion. No one reads reviews expecting it to be precisely recreated when someone else plays it, that would be regurgitation. I doubt your reviews are claiming to be a substitute for the game itself- good games you use your reviews to encourage people to play it, bad ones to deter them from wasting their time.

    Being able to identify flaws is a valuable skill. Being able to have solutions to these flaws is an even better skill. Actually believing that you as a reviewer are “being objective thanks to having no heart” borders on comically edgy.

    EDIT: Made some quick edits

    • Howdy! You will not be surprised that we don’t see eye-to-eye here. First of all, no CRAWLING IN MY SKIN rebuttal? I am disappoint. B) BUT TO YOU POINT, let’s take it from the top.

      This commentary is not about being objective. While I understand you are quite passionate about the topic, this commentary was literally an internal monologue I had that I decided to write down to promote a certain mindset when it comes to media and entertainment: especially when it comes to the VN sphere. That internal monologue was born from from the fact that I really, REALLY enjoyed a single storyline of Tomboys Need Love, Too. That single storyline literally gave me everything I have ever advocated on this site about romance games down to how it uses fanservice. BUT, it was only 25% of the total game. And make no mistake, I was willing to make a positive recommendation right then and there. I didn’t and I won’t because I haven’t played the full game: not even close.

      This led to the reality that more and more in media, someone giving an audience 25% of just a raw, emotional appeal is enough. Hell, if we’re being honest, LESS than 25% is enough for people. Feeding the fans is just part of the hype machine that is modern entertainment and it’s not going away. But what keeps the balance of media consumption correct are a group of people within that community who can let themselves enjoy something for a while, then sit down and look at the full picture: who look for something more than just, ‘Hey, this had something in it that appeals to me! That means it’s good!’

      This is what I meant when I said ‘general objectivity’. It is more of an antagonist within yourself than a position on a piece of paper.

      • Eh, you can fill in the cliches fine enough yourself.

        I have no real horse in the race for the VN you talked about which is why I focused on the objectivity topic. It is also hardly the first or last time I’ve seen it discussed when it comes to criticism and review. (The closing of “and that’s why I can’t just like something” gave me the impression that the objectivity topic was fine enough to talk about)

        I’m sure as a cape fan you know the <25% appeal better than anyone. 8)

        Feeding the fans has always been part of the (business) model, it is not new, the machine has only gotten bigger. People haven't changed, they'll always have time to eat burgers and it's a ~necessary~ contrast for all those steaks.

        Also I have a fundamentally different stance when it comes to "choice" games such as this. VNs are built on your emotive choices. Like your steak analogy you can go back and reorder different food. Like choosing the vegetarian option at a steakhouse, it's irrational and expensive but the option is there. But even if the theoretical chef delivers, if you are a steak fan, its very likely the veggies aren't likely to convert you anytime soon. Or in a unlucky scenario, you miss the appeal of the veggies entirely through no real fault of the restaurant.

        This is of course assuming people even have the luxury of a restaurant. I can tell you that most media fails outright despite a humble bar, because shit like sexism is excruciatingly alive and well. This is probably why the "25%" appeal is so prevalent in some genres more than others. Romance suffers this the most, sometimes fairly and unfairly, because of its gendered history, if I'm being honest.

        Does this mean I support giving things a pass because of SOME appeal? Hell no, but anyway, back on initial topic, trying to staple objectivity, even "general objectivity" on things that deal in emotional currency still doesn't make for good examination. It's a filler at best.

        TL;DR I'm not disagreeing too much with you, believe it or not. I have general criticism of the term objectivity and its use in general when it concerns the subjective aspects of narratives. The likely rationale behind "small appeal gets a pass by most" is because pickings can be REAL SLIM sometimes.

      • https://uploads.disquscdn.com/images/7c22a45bcff2289ef896027bd1a83476d59173a3e79ca20e60bdaf87468544e6.jpg
        As requested via Twitter (disqus doesn’t allow me to edit in images, FOR SHAME)