I’m sure we’ve all at least heard about, if not seen, the notorious Cuphead gameplay video from VentureBeat. Game journalist Dean Takahashi takes a shot at the game while he was at Gamescom 2017, does an incredibly and hilariously poor job, and the internet proceeds to beat him up over it.
Although most people have only seen a select 2.5 minute excerpt from this complete video, showing him trying and failing repeatedly to figure out the tutorial, of all things. This footage was immediately taken by various unsavoury types on the internet, shared, and consequently blew up into a fiasco that resulted in death threats, racism, sexism (on the presumption the one playing the game was female), and just a lot of people being rude to someone they don’t know over the internet. You know, the usual.
However the full context behind the video, as you can see from the title above, is that they knew it was bad. It was posted as a joke. But unfortunately, a statement from the PC Gaming Editor of VentureBeat, Jeff Grubb had to be issued to address the entire situation. The full statement can be found in the video description of the above gameplay demonstration.
Most importantly, it addresses the known lack of competency of Takahashi when it comes to platforming games, despite him being just fine at Assassin’s Creed Origins, another game he played whilst at Gamescom, or his history uncovering all kinds of important stories surrounding the games industry and even writing books on various subjects. Another video was released, even addressing the situation in a humorous manner, similar to the full context behind the original upload, as well as Takahashi writing his own views on the matter..
So with this in mind, it raises a question that comes up every now and then within game culture and journalism. Do we need to ‘get good’? And is the notion of being good at video games a toxic one within not only the games journalism industry, but in various online communities and societies surrounding video games as a hobby?
Really, this is a complicated issue and one that I suppose comes down to opinion. Which is, in essence, a part of games journalism. While reviews do discuss things like mechanics, graphics, gameplay, all of that, a large part of how we feel about any given game does come down to our own personal experiences and the types of games we like to play. Someone who doesn’t like platformers, for example, isn’t going to have a good time with a platformer and may not give the same score or review that a dedicated platforming fan might give. And that’s a good part about being able to see so many reviews, we can combine a range of opinions and thoughts on mechanics to help influence our own decision, or view differing opinions on games we may have already enjoyed.
However, as someone who takes up the title of a games journalist, there is a certain expectation of competency. For example, a game being ‘too hard’ is not a good indicator of whether or not the game is good, given the measure of difficulty will vary from player to player. Though something like a learning curve, for example, is part of the mechanics and can be discussed without as much bias. Stopping at a point that’s deemed ‘too hard’ is another bad indicator, although there is an element of assigning the right people to the right games. And sometimes, such as in the Cuphead example, this just isn’t entirely possible and at least, if nothing else, there’s a visual example of how the game plays. Even if it’s not the best example.
On the side of the community, however, and perhaps this even extends to developers in some cases regarding accessibility, there is absolutely a focus on the skill of people playing and talking about games. Consider the culture around Dark Souls or Super Meat Boy being the absolute peak of ‘gameplay’ purely because of their difficulty. Both games even brand themselves around this, and gamers everywhere establish their skill and cred based on whether or not they can beat these types of games.
While that’s fair enough, those certainly are things to be proud of, it’s absolutely not a standard to hold others up to, given that video games are an entertainment medium first and foremost. People are entertained in different ways, whether that be difficult challenges, purely a good story based experience or a combination of both. For example, the difficulty settings on various Naughty Dog games offer all levels, from an incredibly basic mode that gives players all kinds of assistance so they can focus on stories, right through to a more challenging mode where players have to think more carefully about how they tackle challenges and really learn to make the most of the mechanics.
So it’s not as though one of these players has experienced the game the ‘correct’ way and one the ‘wrong’ way, as the game offers both of these, as well as variations inbetween. Just as it’s wrong to say that a player who prefers one genre over another isn’t enjoying video games ‘correctly’, or enjoys the hobby less purely because they’re bad at a given game. So long as they’re enjoying themselves.
And that’s the key thing. We’re all just here trying to have a good time. And I think my closing thoughts on the subject can be succinctly summed up by this panel from K.C Green’s classic webcomic, Gunshow.