Humans! How long it has been! Well, more for you than for me – I’m the timeless personification of darkness, so really, a couple of months is a catnap for me. Though I suppose I’ve perhaps somewhat missed imparting my wisdom/seething misanthropy onto you, the select group of mortal meatbags that I don’t abjectly abhor. So…I guess…maybe…it’s nice to see you again. There! I’m not repeating myself! (Editor’s Note: Aww, you missed-) I swear, I will set your entire BLOODLINE on fire if you finish that thought (Editor’s Note: …nothing, nevermind.) Damn skippy.
So many things have contributed to my absence – physical, mental, emotional – and I’m sure over time some or all of them will bleed out into my writing, whether in bits or in their entirety. But if I’d had the right words to tell those stories, I’d have been back before now. So then, what finally made me able to pick up my pen – keyboard, whatever – again after being away? Well, that would be, of all things, a Twitter poll from my fellow wizards of the written word over at The Well-Red Mage. By the way – read them, listen to them, support them – they are each and every one an amazing writer and person.
The premise was simple:
Now, at first blush the only dilemma I had was that I felt torn between two decades, as the period from the mid-to-late 90s through the early-to-mid 00s was what I considered my perfect answer. But then I saw a tweet in response that really got my inner-philosophical-gamer juices working.
And then another to further get me thinking.
Ohohoho, now we had a full-blown bout of navel-gazing going on inside my head, minions! What was my Well-Red (and Read) friend actually asking – for an objective “best” era of gaming, or a subjective “favorite” era of gaming? What was the distinction between them? IS there a distinction between them – and even if such a distinction were to theoretically exist, can we ever truly grasp it, as we are inherently colored by our own perceptions of our own individual realities and experiences?
The first issue that occurs to me is that while I truly respect the opinions and thoughts of all the individuals involved in that particular Twitter discussion (Editor’s Note: This is no small thing for him to admit – he works daily around judges and magistrates that he considers barely worthy of continued intake of oxygen, let alone actual respect), I believe that the concept of an “objective best” is impossible. The term “best” is inherently and inescapably subjective – it is brewed from all manner of differing criteria depending upon the evaluator, steeped in one’s own personal preferences and pet peeves, and filtered through the time, place, manner, and setting in which we each experienced things for the first time. There are times when, under certain circumstances, we may attach a more objective modifier to “best” – such as associating “fastest” with “best” when discussing race cars – but even then, it presupposes this connection between the objective term (“fastest”) and the subjective “best.” As soon as someone decides that perhaps handling is a more important consideration than raw speed, suddenly the illusion of an objective “best” race car is shattered.
So then is “best” – without the attachment of some more objective modifier – simply synonymous with “favorite?” Not so fast – it isn’t that simple at all. You see, “best” may be inherently subjective, but it is still something that invites debate. Advocating for or against an interpretation of what is the “best” – trying to convince others as to why they should also adopt what you see as the “best.”
But “favorite” isn’t just a subjective concept – it is inherently, indelibly personal. It isn’t so much a debate or attempt to convince others as to the correctness of your point of view as to simply express your own opinion. You “favorite” can of course change – but the reasons will always be internal, personal – singular to you, not the product of debate and analysis by a wider audience. My “favorite” Final Fantasy is Final Fantasy Tactics. The Shameful Narcissist’s “favorite” is Final Fantasy VII. LightningEllen’s “favorite” is Final Fantasy XIII. The three of us can debate endlessly over which of the three – or perhaps even another – is the “best” Final Fantasy. But there is no debate over our “favorite” – because it is just that…ours.
I suppose this little tirade is in part a response to another point made by my feathered-hat-wearing compatriot.
This statement, made far too often in gaming journalism, is part of the conflation between “favorite” and “best.” I in no way am suggesting that reviews cannot be subject to the personal interpretations of the reviewer – that’s impossible. Any critique, no matter how much the reviewer strives for objectivity, is going to be influenced to some degree by their subjective views. But an analysis that is supported by sound reasoning (“the ATB battle system is the best RPG battle system because it balances the tension of quick thinking and decision making with the strategy and planning of traditional turn-based systems”) is completely different from a blanket qualitative statement based upon nothing but a vague, unspecified dislike (“the combat in this game just doesn’t work”). The only time the phrase “just doesn’t work” should be used is when the aspect of the game to which it refers LITERALLY DOES NOT FUNCTION. As in, every time a battle is triggered and the combat engine tries to load, the entire game crashes. Otherwise, it is just a lazy cop-out to substitute “I just don’t like this” for a critical analysis of a game’s virtues and vices. Does this mean a reviewer can’t simply express dislike? Not at all – but they need to add two very crucial words: “This just doesn’t work FOR ME.” Suddenly, as in the difference between “best” and “favorite,” the expression is clearly personal – not right or wrong, just a statement of opinion individual to the reviewer. It isn’t an argument for or against the overall merits or flaws of the game – those can be made but must be supported with reasoning.
Whew – quite a winding trail of babbling, wasn’t that? If I were one to ask for understanding, I might point out that it has been a while, and I’ve had some pent-up literary expression brewing…but I’m not, so I won’t! Regardless, I must say that it is quite agreeable to be conversing with you mortals again…I think I shall try to do so with greater frequency. Until then, my friends! – EWE