Sunday, December 20, 2009

Video Game Critics and the Post-Arcade Scene

I don't know if this website is the same Diehard Gamefan as the Dave Halvorson prozine from the '90s, but Alex Lucard's scathing critique of Just Dance sparked this interesting exchange. First, a reader's comment from an unidentified "Me:"

I work up a good sweat playing this game, I don’t really care about the score. You only get out of this game what you put into it. The pictures scroll to let you know what move is next, that move is repeated until the next move scrolls by, that’s pretty obvious if you use your brain.I was a dancer and I have very good musicality, I do very well on this game, however I’m mostly concerned with having fun and playing something my daughter can enjoy with me. I think if you want a fun game that friends and family can play with you this is a great game. If you are a boring, competitive person don’t play it, no sore pusses for this game. Relax and live a little dude, don’t take things so seriously.

Lucard responds with the following post:

Dude – that’s not the point of being a reviewer or a critic. The point is to review a game based on its technical abilities, of which Just Dance fails miserably because it doesn’t work properly most of the time.

The pictures also don’t always scroll to let you know what move is next and are often out of synch with the actual moves by the dancer on screen by anywhere from one half to a full beat. That’s shoddy programming.

No, Alex, you’re wrong. What “Me” was writing is exactly what critics do. There are many ways to look at things besides the “technical” side. That’s just a worn-out convention of videogame reviews, where everything is filtered into Graphics-Sound-Gameplay-Overall.

I haven’t had time with Just Dance yet, so I can’t make any judgement calls on the responsiveness of the controls. And I’m very well aware of how frustrating sloppy or sluggish controls can be in a game (I still feel the hand cramps from Atari 2600 joysticks). So I can certainly sympathize.

That said, I don’t think Just Dance is wrapped around conventional arcade gameplay. It seems to avoid it altogether, the way Wii Music avoids arcade conventions. I think the focus is on dancing with friends and having fun. Most people are self conscious when it comes to singing and dancing, so the arcade rules of risk/reward would scare them off. It really wouldn’t work. You want the player to feel free to play and improvise and goof around.

A great example I use is the castle in Super Mario 64. You could just run around the yard and do cannonballs into the lake, and have a really great time. Notice that there were no rules, no dangers, no goals, no time limits, no penalties. And yet, here we were, in 1996, having a blast running and bouncing Mario around.
It’s the same thing with Wii Music (absolutely spectacular game, btw) and it’s the same thing here with Just Dance. You’re not playing for high scores or medals. You’re playing for the satisfaction of playing.

I think we’re seeing the emergence of the post-arcade video game. Risk, reward and judgment are out; creativity and improvisation are in. Nintendo had the perfect name all along – “We Play,” indeed.

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