JohnStacy

Nostalgia and the validity of opinion

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Lately, there has been a storm of things attacking Ocarina of Time as being a sub-par game entering my view, and I find the different perspectives interesting, and a lot of valid points are made. A lot of these things actually come from a wide time span, from about 2010 to a month ago, but for whatever reason the first time I see them is today.

So I am going to offer my opinion on the subject, mainly because my graduate thesis piece on Ocarina of Time is to be released soon.
Background in spoiler tags.

Spoiler

 

Ocarina of Time was the first game I played, back in 1999. The neighbor family was a bunch of gamers and introduced me to it. I was 7, and it was magical. It was the only game I had for the whole next year. Blockbuster was a thing, and I occasionally would rent games. Paper Mario was one, along with Mario 64. I didn't like Mario 64 as much, mainly because the thought of adventure appealed to me more than the closed world concept of the Mario Games.

I played games up until 2008, when I stopped buying new consoles, and didn't play any new games after Twilight Princess. In college, from 2011-2016, and after college from 2017-2018 I didn't play games very often at all. Thanks to severe, untreated anxiety and depression, I had to constantly be working on things because the level of discomfort of enjoying free time was almost unbearable.

So basically from 2008-2018, I played basically no new games, and didn't really play many old games either. I came back to the Switch. Mario Odyssey, Breath of the Wild, and Mario Kart 8.

 

Critiques are a wonderful aspect of the creative process. As a music composition graduate student, my professor tells me that if nobody hates what you do, it's because it's bland and uninteresting. If you have anything of value, somebody somewhere will hate it. So I see things I like in the same light. However, the intent of critique seems to carry a lot more weight because of this. More times than not, the intent is a lot more clear than the author may have thought.

Most of the recent criticisms of Ocarina of Time seem to come from a place of "let's knock this game off its pedestal because it is only good because nostalgia." The reason I have a problem with critiques that come the place of dethroning is that they critique aspects of the gameplay and story much more harshly than they do for other games. In the example of story, one such critique praised Wind Waker, Link to the Past, and Zelda 1 for their stories, but attacked Ocarina of time for being uninteresting purely for the aspect that the whole story was centered around "go get these things, beat Ganon." The bad part about this is that the games they praised were centered around the exact same concept so the critique fell flat.

This kind of critique happens any time somebody doesn't agree with the success of a creative endeavor. A few years ago, a list started circulating of the most overrated jazz artists throughout history, along with reasoning. The two most overrated jazz musicians on this list were Maynard Ferguson and Stan Kenton, with Charles Mingus being 3rd. This really struck me weird, as the reasoning was very shallow. Ferguson was attacked for his "sparkly, overly bright sound." He was a trumpet player who played in the high range. High trumpet is sparkly and bright. You can not like trumpet, but you have to admit that bias if you're going to give the defining aspect of the instrument as the main critique of the artist rather than dancing around it entirely.

The same thing happens in critiques of software all the time. A while ago the notation software Sibelius was featured in a video on bad design, and within days there were people who had never touched the program talking about it like they were long time experts on it. It was interesting, because these people I know had never used notation software were suddenly questioning me why I used it, as if they were a mentor suggesting a better alternative. People who had never used notation software were all suddenly popping up with the exact same complaints about the program overnight. (Manifested in discussions about notation software and people trying to convince others away from sibelius because "but the ribbon is bad, and so are the dialogue boxes!")

Back to Ocarina of Time, and to a similar extent Majora's Mask, a lot of the critiques really do seem to be trying to say "you only like this game because of nostalgia, and if you didn't have the nostalgia you wouldn't like it, and if you do like it it's because you don't know anything about good games." I will not contest that first part. If you honestly think that Ocarina of Time is viewed like it is without at least some nostalgia, you're wrong. The second point also is somewhat valid. I have known of quite a few people who played it for the first time as adults and didn't like it. Younger people who played it for the first time also don't get it. So you can make the argument that nostalgia fueled the view of the game as a masterpiece. However, if you're going to make that argument, you have to take into account that Link to the Past, Zelda 1, and Wind Waker typically get the same response. Apply to Mario games, Metroid, etc. This is where the argument actually falls apart in most cases.

The last point is one I highly object to. I really never have gotten into the idea that people have where "if you like this, it's only because you don't know what good <thing> actually is." I was told that I only like Herp Albert, Weather Report, and video game music because I didn't know what good music is. I am almost done with a master's degree in music composition, have played as a professional session musician for a groups of a lot of genres (pop, rock, country, jazz, Latino, etc). I STILL like Herp Albert, Weather Report, and video game music. But now I know what really good music is, and I can listen to that too. I can listen to the greatest composers of the Classical music canon. I can listen to the greatest jazz artists. I can appreciate the greatest rock artists. I enjoy and appreciate all of those. But I can still listen to the ones I used to listen to. I have played great video games. I still like Ocarina of Time. I still like Majora's Mask.

I am a casual gamer. I don't like highly difficult games, and never really have. Difficulty isn't a sole factor in determining a game to be good or not. I am not really interested in playing Cuphead for this reason. I play games mainly for story and progression. Yet, people like me are referred to constantly in these critiques as being "not real gamers." This is the equivalent of being told that "because you play casually, you don't know what a good game is, therefore you are wrong if you like this game."

Part of the reason I dislike this kind of critique is largely because the intent drenched in passive aggression. The passive aggressive tone quickly becomes very obvious the more the person giving the critique repeats the phrase "I just don't get it is all." Backing away and looking at the discussion as a whole, it is perfectly clear that there is no intent to understand or try to communicate about it. You can say "I don't like this thing" without having to hide it behind a "I don't get why people like this" if you're not actually going to make an attempt to understand.

It is okay to not like things, and it is okay to accept that people like things. It is okay to come out and say that you don't like a thing, and it is okay to justify why you don't like it. On the other hand, it's okay to like things, and it is definitely okay to not attack people for not liking things, which is what got us in this mess in the first place. For the most part, most of these critiques are riddled with people in the comment section that just attack back without actually contributing. "THIS GAME WAS GREAT YOU"RE STUPID" kind of comments.

I guess that's just what has been bugging me lately.

 

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From my own experience I know people, including myself, have a tendency to bring identity into the mix, but never openly and up front. There is a lot of immaturity involved there. For example, I couldn't stand Playstation games because I wanted to be a Nintendo guy. I felt like I would betray my identity if I were to also invest in Sony games. It would be even worse if certain types of people were playing those other games. I wouldn't want to be associated with them either. So there is that group mentality that factors in too. At the same time I would have to do a lot of suppressing of the fact that some of those non-Nintendo games did appeal to me. I didn't want to admit that.

You can kind of see the same thing happening with operating systems, programming languages and DAWS. An immature and uninformed mind (like my own in the past) would be very susceptible to taking a side just because someone says this or that is good and you are lame if you think that other thing is good.

Maybe someone who comes down hard on games that a lot of people enjoyed, but they didn't is because of the identity thing. "You're not of my group, and I certainly don't want to be in your group." To knock a game from its pedestal might just be a means to deal with that. Am I making sense?

As a side note: nostalgia doesn't always prevail. I have great nostalgic memories playing Mega Man 2 on the Gameboy. In my memory, the music was really cool. When I listened to the soundtrack again some time ago I just cringed and couldn't stand it anymore. I also hate the difficulty of the game itself. No matter how much nostalgia I have with MM, I would never buy another MM game again.

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The identity thing is one I actually hadn't even considered, but now that you bring it up, I definitely think that is a big factor.

I actually realize that I did the same thing with both the playstation and xbox, and also different games and series. My first jrpg was Tales of Symphonia, and turn based games really didn't appeal to me after that. This was 2004 and it has taken me until this year (2 months ago) to actually start playing Final Fantasy, and that's because I actually played Tangledeep first. But I think that was because the people who played those games were people I didn't want to be around, so I did make the association.

You've given me a lot to think about.

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17 hours ago, BloomingLate said:

As a side note: nostalgia doesn't always prevail. I have great nostalgic memories playing Mega Man 2 on the Gameboy. In my memory, the music was really cool. When I listened to the soundtrack again some time ago I just cringed and couldn't stand it anymore. I also hate the difficulty of the game itself. No matter how much nostalgia I have with MM, I would never buy another MM game again.

I wouldn't judge the series too harshly based on that particular one. The first few Gameboy games were pretty janky, that one especially. If you ever find yourself with a heart full of forgiveness and a day full of free time, I recommend you give the series another chance with one of the Legacy Collections. 

 

Anyway, I pretty strongly believe that there's no such thing as objective quality in art, and by extension, that people who try to say that a game is provably good or bad are full of it, so my opinion on those kinds of arguments is already that they're pointless from the outset. 

But even looking at it from the perspective of someone who thinks otherwise, I do think "You only like that because of nostalgia" is a pretty garbage argument. On top of being impossible to prove, it's unbelievably arrogant to tell someone that you understand their opinion better than they do. 

Ditto for the "not a real gamer" thing. It's just a slightly altered flavor of No True Scotsman for people who like to pretend that opinions somehow morph into facts if you're good enough at video games. 

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18 hours ago, JohnStacy said:

The identity thing is one I actually hadn't even considered, but now that you bring it up, I definitely think that is a big factor.

I can't take too much credit for this insight. My co-worker once shared an article with me to explain why he didn't want to engage in a discussion about religion with me. The article pointed out that such discussions, much like those about politics and programming languages (at least online) tend to result in flame wars. The reason being that people have invested too much emotion and identity in their respective positions. I don't think you can escape that completely, but it is good to be mindful of that and ask yourself if you really should be so attached to say, your Operating System of choice.

We live in an age when people, despite all the advances in communication technology, seem to be particularly bad at having respectful, meaningful and fruitful conversation about pretty much anything.

I'm inclined to agree with Servbot#36 when he/she says:

3 hours ago, Servbot#36 said:

Anyway, I pretty strongly believe that there's no such thing as objective quality in art, and by extension, that people who try to say that a game is provably good or bad are full of it, so my opinion on those kinds of arguments is already that they're pointless from the outset. 

But even looking at it from the perspective of someone who thinks otherwise, I do think "You only like that because of nostalgia" is a pretty garbage argument. On top of being impossible to prove, it's unbelievably arrogant to tell someone that you understand their opinion better than they do. 

I do think there are some "objective" standards by which we can judge the quality of different works of art (music, literature, photography etc.). Or at least things we can "universally" agree on. But regardless of that I would say arguments about opinions on games are useless from the start. Especially when coming from the angle that you laid out in your opening post.

I don't know exactly what sources you (John) have been reading, but if these arguments are coming from random kids on the internet, I wouldn't let that get to me too much.

To have a semi meaningful discussion about good and bad video games I think everyone would need to lay out their criteria on the table first. I imagine these will vary per genre and per console (I don't expect PS4 quality on a Gameboy game for example), or at least some criteria may weigh less or more depending on those. The goal of the discussion should not be to convince someone who likes a game to not like the game, or vice versa, or to shame them. A better goal might be to learn more about the person you are talking to.

For example, you mentioned Tales of Symphonia. That was one of my favorite JRPG's ever and I remember being so excited to have that coming to a Nintendo console. The animations, music and battle system (but especially the music) made me desire it greatly. Now, I actually have very concrete criteria for judging whether a JRPG is "good" in my estimation:

1. STORY - The story must be captivating/emotionally moving
2. WORLD - The game world must be expansive, and not linearly explored (ToS 1 = Good, ToS 2 = Bad)
3. BATTLE SYSTEM - Streamlined and varied, controls must make sense
4. MUSIC - Battle music must be good, since you'll be hearing it A LOT (FF7 = Awesome, FF6 = Not so much)
5. CONTENT - I want to take at least 40 hours to get through the main story and then have plenty more optional stuff to do
6. COLLECTION and/or CUSTOMIZATION - I like it when there are many items to get and upgrade/customize things
7. GRAPHICS - The fantasy world must feel "alive" and be rich in color and detail etc.
8. DIFFICULTY - An optional difficulty setting would be great. I don't want the game to treat me like a baby, but it can't be too tough either.
9. OTHER FEATURES - Battle Arena, Mini-games, New Game+, Animated Cut Scenes

With this framework I can easily rank all the RPG's I've ever played. And I wouldn't call a game bad or good based on just one of these criteria. It may still be somewhat subjective, but I think no one would argue that having nonsensical, clunky controls are to be desired above streamlined ones. Nor would you prize vague, dull, colorless graphics over crisp, vibrant, colorful ones. [EDIT: Maybe the context of the game might call for vague and dull. When an artist is trying to communicate sadness and darkness, I think we can "objectively" agree that he has failed to communicate that emotion when he uses light, bright colors and happy faces resulting in much joy and laughter.]

Anyway, at the end of the day it doesn't really matter all that much what someone thinks about a game. But yeah, when immature criticisms are leveled at your person for your opinion on a game, or your level of engagement with games ("hardcore" vs "casual"), I can see how that could get to you. I think I'd avoid discussions like that altogether.

It could get interesting when we can get into why we felt the way we did about say, the story of a game. That may offer a window into the other person's soul.

Edited by BloomingLate

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i love secret of evermore. it's unlike any game. i cannot fathom how people seriously dislike it. does nostalgia factor into it? yes, because i was 'pure' when i played it.

secret of evermore has a lot of things to like if you break them down methodically. it just doesn't seem like most of those qualities are picked up well by a non-nostalgic, well - saturated audience 20+ years later.

the color palette. the graphics. everything about SoE's looks screams 'deep' to me. it was such a good choice to go with subdued, earthy colors for this game, despite the virtual reality setting.

the music. some of jeremy soule's finest work. great ambient pieces too, experimental for the SNES hardware.

the adventure/oldschool aspects. you could get lost in these dark woods for hours, as a child, before you start taking notes. without a guide, some parts of the game were pretty hardcore.

the wholy story, while campy, is simply highly original for a SNES game. the 4th act fell a bit short overall, that's my only critique of this game. the gameplay is fine. it's like the most extreme 'total conversion' of Secret of Mana possible. a totally different game with the same base mechanics.

but yet, every youtube video ever talking about SoE rates this game lowly. most just say it's a bad SoM copy, some go deeper and just hate every aspect of it with a passion. i don't get it.

 

..um, i'm probably not entirely on topic, but i wanted to write this at least once somewhere. Evermore's a fucking great adventure game. i can't understand why none of the magic i experienced with it 20+ years ago is widely recognized. maybe, and this is something i didn't think about before but it makes sense, maybe the intentional campyness is what makes people nowadays rate this game so lowly. not that they admit to it consciously, but it still totally influences the verdict. that theory makes most sense to me.

and then there's localizations....i don't know how badly styled the campyness of SoE US was....i just know that the campyness of german SoE was in fact, pretty bad. i still loved the game.

 

 

anyway i think the huge topic talking about this nostalgia stuff is 'BLISS' and what constitutes it, and often talking about bliss makes stuff not blissier but boring. it's like, hey i was a child it's magick, and yea i can upgrade my sentence building machine to the point where i can verbalize this bliss experience in fancy ways...i mean it's good, it's fun to talk about that, but it is seldom in itself....blisssssssss

 

it's just talking about bliss. it's a good word though, innit?

 

in the end everything is interwoven. all your experiences through spacetime. that's nostalgia. EVERYTHING sorta.

if i want to find an 'objective' quality of a game, i would try and start with something like tetris attack. something snappy 1v1, with great mechanics. hard to relativate that.

but tetris attack is not an adventure. there's just something about adventures. and being non-jaded, non-cynical, non-saturated enough to embark upon them. being pure...wtf is that? what is eternal youth? what is everythingß?????

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11 hours ago, Nase said:

but yet, every youtube video ever talking about SoE rates this game lowly. most just say it's a bad SoM copy, some go deeper and just hate every aspect of it with a passion. i don't get it.

I'm right there with you!  I loved Secret of Evermore.

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On 5/1/2019 at 11:19 AM, JohnStacy said:

The identity thing is one I actually hadn't even considered, but now that you bring it up, I definitely think that is a big factor.

Unfortunately, we humans are hard-wired for deep-seated tribalism, even over the tiniest shit. (One of my favorite podcasts has an episode on the topic, well worth a listen: https://soundcloud.com/youarenotsosmart/122-tribal-psychology)

On 4/5/2019 at 8:51 PM, JohnStacy said:

a lot of the critiques really do seem to be trying to say "you only like this game because of nostalgia, and if you didn't have the nostalgia you wouldn't like it, and if you do like it it's because you don't know anything about good games." I will not contest that first part. If you honestly think that Ocarina of Time is viewed like it is without at least some nostalgia, you're wrong. The second point also is somewhat valid. I have known of quite a few people who played it for the first time as adults and didn't like it. Younger people who played it for the first time also don't get it. So you can make the argument that nostalgia fueled the view of the game as a masterpiece. However, if you're going to make that argument, you have to take into account that Link to the Past, Zelda 1, and Wind Waker typically get the same response. Apply to Mario games, Metroid, etc. This is where the argument actually falls apart in most cases.

The last point is one I highly object to. I really never have gotten into the idea that people have where "if you like this, it's only because you don't know what good <thing> actually is."

The keyword there is "good," where someone cites a subjective element as objective (aka: the "No True Scotsman" fallacy). You'll always encounter self-important types that will lean heavily on this to try to assert their opinions as somehow more valid than another's. C'est la vie. There is some validity in someone pushing back on someone else who uses their nostalgia to all-out lionize something while dismissing all else (vinyl, anyone?), but doing it that on a general basis relies on ignoring context. A reasonable person wouldn't look at cave paintings next to DaVinci portraits and say "those cave dudes were talentless hacks, amirite?", or look at a Mac Classic and say "this is the best computer ever made." Those things are items of their era, and best viewed in that light. So for OoT, it arguably really *was* one of the best games of its era, because comparing it to most 3D adventure titles that existed around its release, it was larger, flashier, smoother, and so forth. Extending that comparison infinitely into the future is a fool's errand for those lionizing it, and a strawman for those dissing it.

Also, SoE was indeed great, and @JohnStacy should definitely play Cuphead if not to just enjoy the art and animation, which are top-notch. (It's got an easy mode, too :wink:)

 

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