The Distinction Between “Favorite” and “Best” – Also, I’m Back, Fleshbags

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.

EWE and Editor People

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.

And when you start reading those fairy tales again, you’ll realize just how horrifying the things we tell our children really, truly are…

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?

Image result for whoa gif

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.

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Also, steering.  Steering is important.

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.”

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“Sasuke-kun’s brooding narcissism is his BEST feature!” “No, Sasuke-kun’s psychotically hate-fueled obsessiveness is his BEST feature!”

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

10 comments

  1. I think that the “for me” is inferred in those types of statements. In fact I’d argue we’d all be a whole lot better off if entire review were read with an inferred “for me”. Because that is what it is, a representation of the reviewer’s likes, dislikes, and experiences. Even your example of the well reasoned argument for “best” RPG battle system comes down to the opinion of the person writing it (or “for me”). I can see where writing something like “It just doesn’t work” comes across as lazy but in some cases it is the only way to describe that something just isn’t clicking with you but you can’t pinpoint why. I do think that it should be explicitly clear that that is what you mean though and are not instead trying to say that technically it is broken.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I agree that the review process can never be thoroughly objective – but when major publications and journalists start to assign it an aura of objectivity with a score or a bullet point list of pros and cons, I feel like the body of the review needs to support those arguments. The problem lies not in a reviewer having personal opinions or likes and dislikes, but in letting those pass themselves as a critical assessment of the whole. For example…I do not like the modern Fallout games. Fallout 3 and Fallout 4 are games that I have tried and tried to play through and enjoy…but I just don’t. I love sci-fi and post-apocalyptic settings, I like and respect Bethesda as a developer…but I just don’t enjoy my time playing them the way I do other games. They just don’t work for me – but I would never try to pass that off as a critical assessment of them as works. They are, when I do my best to assess them as RPGs, very good to great games. They have well thought out systems, good writing…all of the pieces and parts that make a good video game. I can recognize that objectively and critically and do my best to score them as such…and I’d never resort to scoring them low and just saying “the combat doesn’t work” even if it’s just for me. I just don’t like it. That doesn’t mean it’s functionally bad – it’s just not to my taste. I think, especially for major publications who derive their revenue from a consumer base that bases, at least in part, their purchasing decisions at least in part to critical reviews of games and media, those publications and reviewers have a duty to do their best to separate purely personal likes and dislikes from critical assessment based on industry experience. Just my two cents! 🙂

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  2. Welcome back! FYI, the villages around here are almost into the next age, and should be burned down at your earliest convenience 😈

    Ugh. Opinions presented as facts are my biggest issue with professional review people. I’m cranky, it’s kinda late, and I’m tired so I’ll just say I agree with your entire post! I certainly respect that you and TSN (my good friends) have different FF games that are special to you guys. I am also incredibly happy I found a cool group of bloggers that understand I have special feelz for FFXIII 🙂

    Liked by 2 people

  3. I was trying not to flail while reading this, because one, that’s an insult to my dignity (…) and two, my arms might have come out of my blanket and it’s cold. If this issue was nail, you’d be a hammer, because it is so correct. I’ve pondered the nuances of “best” for a very long time. Do I think true objectivity is possible? Not for mere mortals. I believe it does exist, because I believe there are ways of doing things that are most effective, but there are SO many factors involved with good/bad weighing against each other, but what one person finds acceptable to let slide (poor translation, Mood Whiplash, plot convenience, MacGuffin), another might see as a deal breaker. If we could somehow create some kind of AI (and persuade it not to kill us) that could weigh these factors objectively then perhaps we could find the perfect story, but there would STILL be people who disagreed, because there can be aspects of narrative that you connect with, and that’s why it’s so important to have many different stories from many different points of view.

    You’ve also hit on one of my pet peeves in critique, the “this doesn’t work.” As someone who’s received critiques, nothing is more frustrating than hearing this with no explanation. Why doesn’t it work? What part of it doesn’t work? How am I supposed to fix it if I don’t have this integral information? It’s why I try my damnedest to explain why I feel a particular way about questionable aspects. Every single creative work is a laborious process, and it’s easy to bash something and be a troll for views, and no example stands out for me better than when we saw the creator of the Mario & Rabbids game. Even if it’s something you have no interest in playing, seeing the creator moved to tears of joy that his game was being talked about at E3 should drive home that there are people behind all of this.

    It does amaze me how people don’t understand the difference between “favorite” and “best.” Something can be your favorite because you think it’s the best, but your favorite isn’t necessarily the best. You also always bring your own biases to your interpretation of the best, and that’s something I’ve come to realize in my old age and why I can get along with other (non-hostile) Final Fantasy fans. I *know* I’m biased no matter how objectively I try to be. I like complicated, darker, and less straightforward stories, but these are not necessarily the “best” ones for everyone. If humans understood that it’s okay for some of us to like vanilla and others to like butter pecan without fighting about what’s the better flavor, I wouldn’t think about summoning a meteor every day.

    Also…welcome back! I’ve enjoyed you popping up on my Facebook! Intelligent conversation can be lacking there, so I’m always happy when I see you’ve commented 😀

    Liked by 1 person

    • I’m really glad to be back! It sounds strange, but I feel more at home here than I do just about anywhere else. I’m more me here than I am in any other place, and it has hurt not having the time and energy to be here as often as I’ve wanted to be. I’m glad to be finding my way back!

      It’s so strange to me that people feel this intrinsic need to conflate their “favorite” with the “best” in a medium. As if they must justify their choice of favorite by being unable to recognize that there might be other works that objectively achieve greater feats than their favorite. As an example – my “favorite” LotR game is the PS2 RPG “The Third Age.” It is a shameless clone of FFX reskinned as a LotR piece. There a several action, action-rpg, and rts games that I can acknowledge as better games…but that doesn’t change my favorite.

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      • That does not sound strange at all., maybe because I completely understand it. One, I communicate so much better in writing, and two, it’s just easy to talk to people on here. I don’t really have to struggle to formulate what I want to say (unless I’m really tired, then it’s just like “buh” anyway).

        I think it has to do with our “one-up-manship” culture. Whatever we love HAS to be better than whatever someone else loves. It’s childish, and many people never grow out of that phase, but if you do, you realize that someone can love something as much as you love your favorite, and it means just as much to them, and you can bond over that. I know it’s one of my favorite things to see people geeking the hell out over something even if it’s not necessarily a thing I’m into. I mean…yes anguish sustains me, but in a pinch I can devour joy. There’s also a self-centeredness that if something is your favorite it has to be the best. I love FFVII and George R R Martin’s famous Song of Ice and Fire series, and I had to admit while reading it that ASOIAF was better than FFVII in terms of complexity and other things. But AGAIN this is my subjective opinion. I can’t bring completely objectivity to the table, and FFVII is always going to be my favorite thing ever.

        I also find myself getting angry for people. Like now if I see someone bashing FFXIII or Lightning, I’m get super pissed because I know how much it means to LightningEllen. The thing is you never know what something might mean to someone else and what it might have helped them get through. Yeah, Super Mario Bros. might be a “silly game” to some people, but it might have been a literal lifesaver to someone else. Life rule: don’t be a dick.

        Now I’m curious about The Third Age. That doesn’t sound too awful to me TBH.

        Liked by 1 person

      • Yeah, that’s why if you read through my critiques and reviews of games, you’ll rarely find one where I am just fully negative – I mean, I’ve never reviewed Custer’s Revenge, but you see what I mean. Even if something isn’t what I might like, I am usually able to recognize a level of technical or artistic merit in it. Rarely is something so bad that I can’t fathom anyone liking it.

        The Third Age isn’t bad at all – it’s just very derivative. It’s a game that if you like FFX and like LotR you will probably like it, but it’s not groundbreaking by any measure. It just hits a tremendous sweet spot for me!

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      • Someone asked a question about what’s the worst game you’ve ever played, and I honestly can’t think of one. I even looked at the responses, but nothing came to mind for me. Even the famously bad E.T. was entertaining lol. I also think I’ve played so many damn games that many of them blend together, and I don’t really recall the bad ones as opposed to the good ones. I wasn’t overly fond of Dragon Quest Builders, but it’s not a bad game; it’s just not for me. Mario is Missing was enjoyable, because I like trivia. Now this has become a challenge for me.

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