June 25, 2009
I'm doubting myself a bit lately. Two games - The Darkness and Mass Effect - are making me wonder why I responded to them so negatively when they first appeared. Revisiting both games this week, I see them in very different lights. Both have flaws, but looking back on my original responses, I somehow overlooked or blinded myself to the many ways these games succeed, and I'm trying to figure out why that happened.
I was especially tough on Mass Effect. In one essay I scolded the game for its awkwardness as interactive cinema. In another, I took issue with an infomercial produced to publicize the game. In a third piece, I wrote disparagingly about Mass Effect's unfortunate visit to the 'uncanny valley.' To be fair, I did praise the game for its depictions of race, but my overall response was mostly negative. Looking back, I realize that I never bothered to write about the game. Instead, I zeroed in on its stylistic elements and promotional campaign. Why did I do that?
The Darkness received even worse treatment from me. I completely ignored it. Didn't even bother to rent it. Playing the game now for the first time, it's clear to me that nearly all my preconceptions about The Darkness were wrong. It's difficult to reconstruct the circumstances, but I'm fairly sure I looked at the game, read a review or two, thought "just another shooter," and moved onto the next shiny box. The Darkness isn't just another shooter at all. Why did it take me two years to figure that out?
I haven't completed either game (near the end of The Darkness, but a long ways off with Mass Effect), so I'm not prepared to write about them yet. But in the meantime, I'm curious to know if anyone else has shared my experience. Have you revisited a game and discovered that you somehow failed to properly appreciate it the first time?
If so, can you account for why? Are we drawn into a blog/website/forum hive mind that prevents us from seeing clearly and deeply for ourselves? Or do we sometimes behave as contrarians looking for an angle ("Everybody thinks Mass Effect is great. Let me tell you why it isn't."). Maybe we don't stop and smell the roses often enough. In the perpetual onslaught of game releases, do we narrow our focus to bullet-point features ("Mass Effect is like an interactive movie!") rather than the whole experience offered by a game?
I'd love to hear your thoughts. Maybe you'll help me figure out where I went wrong.