The Power Of Positivity

I’m a positive person. In life, I tend to find a bright side even if I’m lost in the dark, and I look for the best in people even if they’re concealing their best incredibly well. As a games critic, I tend to think of myself as harsh though, because analysing the best qualities of a thing often means finding all the fine points that fail to work along the way. Despite that, looking back at my reviews over the last couple of years, I can’t help but notice that I appear to like games. Quite a lot actually. I am almost always positive about the games I play and I figure it’s worth explaining why that is.

First of all, some of this probably does go back to my personality type. I can recognise a dud when I see it and if you get me talking about a game that I love dearly – most recently Civilization VI – you’re as likely to hear about ten things that I didn’t like, or felt could be improved, than you are to hear a gushing paean. When writing a review, there’s a balancing act though. It’s important to point out flaws, but it’s vital to make it clear when a game has managed to pull off something exciting. That might be, as with Civ VI, a case of building intelligently on an age-old design, or it might be a case of doing something surprising, startling and unexpectedly brilliant.

There are many reasons I don’t like the idea of writing a review as a buyer’s guide (it’s a boring approach, being the top reason) and the idea that spending more time on positives than negatives might mean a game is a Must Buy is one of them. Writing that certain things work well while others don’t isn’t a case of balancing the good against the bad. That’s not how criticism works and it’s certainly not how games work. That’s why it was important for me, with Civ VI, to be clear not just about what the game does well and what it does badly, but to explain what it’s actually trying to do. If you’re more interested in a thematic trip through history than a competitive strategy game, you’re better off looking elsewhere. All of Civ VI’s good qualities aren’t going to make it a fascinating alt-history simulator (you know where to look for that, right?).

I’m much more likely to dislike a game because I don’t appreciate what it’s doing than because it’s actually doing that thing badly. In those cases, I’ll often pass on a review. That’s probably the main reason I tend to write such positive reviews – if I don’t like a game, unless I think you’re all excited about it, I’m not all that eager to write about it. If I feel it’s necessary to warn people that a hotly anticipated game might be rubbish, or might not be quite what people expect, it’s important to address that, particularly if my own excitement about that game might have put it on peoples’ radar in the first place. But if I decide to look at something that the majority of people are never going to hear about unless I tell them about it, I’m probably not going to spend hours playing it for a review if the first hour is miserable. I play so many games that if I wrote about all of them in any detail at all, I wouldn’t have time to sleep. Sifting through and finding the good stuff is more important to me than highlighting every bit of rubbish I find when I’m digging through Steam or TIGSource.

In short, I’m unlikely to draw attention to something simply to tell people how bad it is. If attention has already been drawn to it – by marketing, through its name or by the media (ourselves included) – I’ll deliver as damning a verdict as required.

But on the whole, I write positive reviews. It’s not because I’m soft or too generous, it’s because I select the games that I spend time with carefully. They’re things that I’m either personally excited about and that I know many of you will be if you hear about them, or that are big releases that fall within my particular areas of interest. Those areas of interest are broad, and I’m as likely to enjoy a sci-fi strategy game as I am a domestic horror game, but what I find most attractive is a game that I can dissect. I’m not as interested in discussing plot and character as I am in discussing systems and rules. That’s not because I’m uncomfortable analysing those things – I spent most of my young adult life studying literature and theatre – but because what I find interesting about games specifically, as a medium, are the things that make the medium itself unique. And, far simpler, I’m wary of spoiling plot points by discussing them in detail before people have had a chance to experience them first-hand.

Maybe you’ve never noticed that I am such a positive reviewer (if we gave scores, I reckon I’d give out the highest on average) and even if you have, maybe you’ve never thought to question why that might be. I think it’s healthy to think about the process though and I enjoy sharing those thoughts with you all every once in a while.

And now I’m going to go and find something to be excited about.

This article was originally written for the RPS Supporter Program.

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16 Comments

  1. liquidsoap89 says:

    I’m happy to see that positivity has survived in at least one place on the internet. It can be so tiring constantly reading about how awful things are sometimes. Keep up the good work Agent Smith!

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    Captain Narol says:

    That’s positively a good thing to hear ! Stay positive and enjoy games, Adam !

    Btw, did Adam tried Eve yet ? Maybe you would be a good match…

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    teije says:

    Well I like your reviews, and games should be enjoyable, so good on you.

    RPS please never start handing out numerical scores. Just silly silly badness.

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    particlese says:

    Aha! Another subconscious reason I love RPS sussed out.

    Externally, I guess/think I tend more toward self-neutralizing opinions which I hope present things to think about, force the other person to make up their own mind for themselves, and (not hopefully, but inevitably) result in egregiously long Internet comments. Not very compelling reading, I suppose!

    But internally, the optimism about games is the only thing that lasts, and I don’t enjoy listening to people whinge about forgettable things for very long. I hadn’t noticed it specifically before, but thank you for your optimism and sifting out the good stuff for us! What’s more, thank you for your apparently smart/thoughtful optimism. I might not readily form opinions of individual authors, but I definitely get an overall sense of the tones of a website, and thoughtless (or self-consciousness lacking, otherwise) optimism is not something I associate with this fine establishment at all.

    To contribute to the good feels: last night, I had this realization after playing Thumper and Devil Daggers in succession that I’m overjoyed to be playing some completely awesome games recently. In this case: no story, no characters; just perfect (albeit difficult) games which seem to flawlessly accomplish what they set out to. There are a couple other games recently which have contributed to that feeling which do include narrative stuff (Ori, Life is Strange, …), but they’re in one way or another exceedingly good at doing what only games can do, and I’m really pleased I get to enjoy them. Not deeply thoughtful optimism there, I know, but this comment is long enough already, and I’ve spilt enough words on most of those games in other comments. :)

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      DelrueOfDetroit says:

      I had the same thought. Between Devil’s Daggers, Thumper and I would add Inside to that list we have three* game releases this year where the only adjective I can think to describe then is immaculate. That’s not too shabby!

      *Possibly four with Owlboy

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    Thulsa Hex says:

    I crave positive coverage of games more and more these days — especially with the increasingly-loud and depressingly-obnoxious, scandal-driven, toxic vocal minority intruding on things left, right and center all the bloody time. I’m not looking for unabashed gushing, either, for (like you) I am critical of the things I love. Constructive criticism from smart people who clearly love their medium is valuable and refreshing, and I think that you (and RPS in general) do a great job at producing games coverage that both excites and informs.

  6. Sp4rkR4t says:

    Stay positive, as hard as that may be today.

  7. LearningToSmile says:

    I can’t really muster any kind of positive attitude right now.

    I’m not a naturally good person, I’ll readily admit that. But I tried to be decent because I thought the majority of people were good, and I wanted to do right by them.

    But the recent events, with this election, the brexit, and earlier elections in my own country that went in the same exact direction, it’s getting a lot harder to stick to those beliefs.

    I’m quite lost right now, to be honest. And I can’t even begin to imagine how the people more directly affected feel right now.

    Stay safe, everyone.

    • RaoulDuke says:

      “I’m not a naturally good person, I’ll readily admit that. But I tried to be decent because I thought the majority of people were good, and I wanted to do right by them.”

      I don’t really understand your sentence, you say you are “not a naturally good person” but then say you “wanted to do right by them”, I think that makes you a half-decent person, if you care about others feelings.

      Or do you mean you just pretend to be nice to satisfy others? In that case you might be a bit of a bastard, haha.

      No hard feelings whatever you think of this post, I’m just trying to cheer you up.

  8. Eraysor says:

    It’s a new day, yes it is!

  9. klops says:

    Good post!

  10. Chaoslord AJ says:

    It’s probably a difference whether an essay is written about a game or a product review.
    As a customer I focus on the great games I own which is a drop in an ocean of waste and not to fuss about the rotten apples I got.
    In a review however a bad game/product should be called out (not unnecesserily toxic mind you) and negatives and positives weighed.

    Also don’t despair people, nobody can see all ends and what the future will bring isn’t up to one person.

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      cpt_freakout says:

      I’m gonna be a hippie and say you’re more than just a customer, just like critics are more than just “tastemakers” or consumer guides. Sure, there’s a ton of bad games out there, but if you put yourself in the critic’s shoes (and I mean those who are not in it for the prestige of “tastemaking”, or the self-centered feeling of having authority over something, but those who spend time truly thinking about a game’s significance and how/why that comes to be, for them) then it’s a horrible prospect. After all, it’d mean having to use your imagination and creativity not to celebrate games because there is joy to be had from them, but to exercise them in the opposite direction. Sure, a funny review about a completely awful game is a good read every now and then, particularly when the idea is that, you know, there’s also a measure of enjoyment to be had from it, but to continually denigrate something you enjoy so much would be utterly depressing in the end.

      I think stuff like user reviews has provided critics with a measure of freedom to not be buyer’s guides; there are quite a few gamers out there with a knack for compelling writing with a critical perspective, but in general they’re much better at pointing out if the game runs well on a x486 or if the netcode is trash and so on and so forth. RPS is great at criticism, and you can find buyer’s guides somewhere else, which I think is pretty great.

  11. RaoulDuke says:

    I can usually see the fun/positive things in games even when I don’t like the game itself overall. These days, though, I feel like such a big grumpy, so much stuff has been disappointing/lacklustre to me in the last ~5 years.

    As an example of what I DID like, here are the games I’ve loved in the last ~5 years – HITMAN, Batman: Arkham Knight, The Witness, AC: Unity, The Talos Principle + Road to Gehenna DLC, GTA V, Just Cause 3, Far Cry 3 [4 to a lesser extent since it was a bit too similar but still great], Wolfenstein: TNO, Shadow of Mordor, Diablo 3/RoS, Max Payne 3, MGSV [Really need to finish it, 200hrs in, only 200hrs to go lol], Antichamber, Machinarium + Botanicula + Samorost 3, Darksiders 1+2 [Right on the borderline for “loved”, “superliked”?], Dead Space 2, FRACT OSC, Guacamelee [Gold + STCE], L.A. Noire, Lego Harry Potter Years 1-4, Lara Croft & The Guardian of Light [NOT that terrible recent osiris one, that was BALLS], The Swapper, Trine 1+2+3.

    There are others I’ve forgotten I’m sure. Maybe this is how many games I used to “love” every year but it just seems like there is so many more “good/decent” games coming out just now than there are “great”.

    Obviously there is a lot of “iterative” design in the industry these days [I mean AC+FC+CoD+BF being so samey year-on-year] and I think that contributes a lot to the stagnation:-

    1) Immovable release dates and profit targets that force the scope of games to be reduced so it can be released “on time”.

    2) Publishers/devs doling out the gameplay innovations/features over several titles because that’s what makes them the most money/is the least risk.

    As an example: You can see that the dev team wanted to add the crouching/stealth gameplay from AC:Unity [8th main game] as far back as AC:III [5th main game] but that would require a rebuild/rethink of the engine in some way [AI?], so it seems like they were told “no, we can’t make a change like that yet, but you can place some static bushes to hide in though”.

    I can’t see how these companies work internally but it seems weird to me that they didn’t add crouching to a stealth game until the 8th iteration, like they didn’t think of it til then lol. It was so broken in AC:III as well, they spotted you all the time when you were “eavesdropping”.

    Last thing, how about these bumhole PC versions of games we’ve been getting recently where the devs say “Uhhh it doesnt run above 30 very well because we targeted 30 for the visuals we wanted” and the answer from me is “please stop doing that or I won’t buy your games anymore, having to have the LATEST GPU to get 30-60 fps at moderate settings is not the norm, its junk optimisation” Look at DOOM for evidence of great PC optimisation.

    I need to stop writing now and eat, but I want to discuss this more with RPS people, if they are interested? I tried to create a forum thread but I’m not allowed.

    Are are of you guys/guyettes also feeling increasingly grumpy these days? Grumpier about games only, of course, we don’t have all day haha.

    TL;DR – I love games so much! Just not as many as I used to… and more than a few PC portings/PC versions of multi-plat games have been so crap I couldn’t even play them – I’m looking at you Mafia 3 + Quantum Break + Forza Horizon 3 :(

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      particlese says:

      I don’t know what I’d do with myself if I had that long a list of games I love!

      I really like a lot of games and have disliked a handful, but my unconditional love only goes to a few. Super Metroid, Deus Ex, Journey, the Hexcells games, and Devil Daggers are the ones which come to mind right now.

      If you really want some grumpy game conversation in this comments section, I guess I’ll contribute that a lot of games are great but have some (often) small, horrid thing spoiling them to varying extent, which for me usually ends up being unnecessary or poorly designed user interface stuff getting in my way. Achievements generally annoy the heck out of me, too, but it depends on the game. I modded them out of Skyrim and loathed them in other games I just wanted to sink into, but I liked Pixel Galaxy’s farcical barrage of them at the start, The Stanley Parable’s highly appropriate and amusing ones throughout, and Devil Daggers’ solitary one which actually requires learning and skill development to pull off. Erm, that is to say, “grumble grumble grumble…”

  12. csbear says:

    Thanks Adam for your reviews. You are a big reason I started reading RPS. My mornings can’t start without my breakfast tea and an article from you.

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