Negative Space

I’ve been feeling a bit paralysed by apathy lately, thinking about how fundamentally unfair it seems that criticising something done wrong tends to get way more attention and press than doing something right in the first place. This thought was brought on by a number of current events, but also specifically by reading over my analytics logs for the past year to date and noticing that the post I did about the Penny Arcade brouhaha back in late January got the most traffic out of any other single blog post, and almost as much traffic as the main Life Flashes By page. When you factor in that LFB took around 1-2 years to complete and the PA post took less than an hour, it starts to feel kind of bleak. [1]

There’s been a bit of mumbling online about game criticism as it relates to making games better (spurring from this post by Dan Cook, though it was a lot more inflammatory before it was edited) and it got me thinking about my own relationship with criticism. I’ve dabbled in critique before, but because I also, as you know, actively participate in actual game development for realz, my desire to critique other people’s work falls by the wayside. That’s a big reason why I haven’t written a lot of in-depth treatises lately on, say, how games handle female protagonists – wouldn’t it be a more positive use of my time to write a game with a female protagonist to whom I can actually relate, myself? Feels like a much quicker path to the intended end result. That is, until you factor in the general laziness of the internet, who have enough time to skim through articles but not quite enough to download and boot up a game. I’m guilty of this myself; there’s always a backlog of games I keep meaning to play but keep putting off. And books and movies and TV shows and you name it, for that matter. So in that sense, it often seems to me that critiques do make more of a difference for way less effort, because at least they’ll actually be seen, particularly if they’re especially provocative.

I guess the main thing I need to remind myself is that, even despite the internet’s short attention span, the things that wind up sticking in the long term are always invariably the positives. People are still downloading and playing my past games; just the other week, I got yet another e-mail from someone who’s just discovered the going-on-a-decade-old Cubert Badbone. That’s kind of neat, if I do say so myself. There really is something to be said about all that “long tail” stuff — we all get to that backlog eventually, don’t we? It’s just so easy to lose sight of that sometimes, amidst all the noise and desire for instant gratification. Know what I’m saying?

Footnotes:
  1. Admittedly, I was trying to make somewhat of a positive difference by suggesting conventions or events to go to other than PAX, but it was still primarily motivated by other people’s negative actions.
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8 Responses to Negative Space

  1. Quinn says:

    I feel like I contribute to this problem, because I’m invariably drawn to criticism that’s negative and barbed, as long as it’s well-written. I certainly enjoy reading positive thoughts as well, but there’s something much more thrilling about a really effective verbal takedown. I don’t think this says very good things about me or human nature in general; it’s kind of like cheering on a fistfight (although seeing a physical fight is something I’ve never enjoyed, oddly enough). But I feel like it’s a pretty hard-wired human response, and it sounds like your web traffic reflects that.

    Still, I can appreciate on an intellectual level how much better it is to create something new rather than criticize others’ failures, and you should definitely keep up that approach. I think you raise a good point about the longevity of positive things, too; negative critiques are like a quick sugar rush, but positive examples are a healthy, filling meal.

  2. Yeah, I do have quite the weakness for some good snark, myself. And quite frankly, there are some things in the world that really do need to be taken down viciously. I just wish it felt like there was more of a balance, you know?

  3. Kasey says:

    Isn’t this only an issue if you consider web traffic as a signifier of some kind of “quality”? You’re thinking like Kotaku if that’s your metric!

  4. Thinking about the amount of traffic places like Kotaku are able to get is even more depressing. *sigh* But yes, I do get your point.

  5. Alexander says:

    I can see your point, but I really think you are trying to compare “apples” and “oranges” here. Is it a shame that (statistically speaking) chocolate bars are so much popular than, say, books? I think not. Anyone can appreciate a chocolate bar at any time (a guilty pleasure, perhaps). Buying a book requires commitment.

  6. Well, speaking as a geek who has spent too much time looking at site metrics lately, I can honestly say that, as meaningless as it may seem, validation is a human necessity. Getting more attention for criticizing bad behaviour than for your actual creations IS a bit disheartening, but these things are relative. Reputation spreads. One deed’s audience feeds the other, over time.

    I know you’ve been vocal and honest on your website from the beginning. For as long as I’ve known you, you’ve been frank and decisive in your social commentary posts. Don’t be afraid if part of your reputation has to be built on flinging rocks at burly oafs. A young Jew named David got very well known for it, and they even made him king.

  7. Aww, thanks, Lee.

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