Competition versus Exhibition

I’ve been thinking about this, so I wanted to say one more thing: I don’t think the comments of the IndieCade reviewers were terribly evil or unfair. I do think that their comments reveal a mindset, very common in the world of games, that is worth criticizing and analyzing – but I wouldn’t say they were evil or ridiculous. But what I’ve realized in thinking about it is that I’m generally not very fond of the idea of competition, of judging games against one another. With an artform this radically varied, that just feels like the wrong way of approaching the subject, and one that imposes false criteria of excellence. You can’t stick all these games into one bag.

That also makes me think that perhaps the more appropriate form is the exhibition, where games can display their variety and uniqueness without having to try to outdo one another in fields that aren’t even relevant to them. I don’t know about you, but I’d be more honoured to be included in a list with people that I admire than to be told I’m better than them, because I know that I’m not.


  1. James Patton

    That’s an interesting idea. I think that’s how I think about other artforms. I wouldn’t want to compare Scott Pilgrim to Schindler’s List, for example, because they’re such different works, but I think the world would be a much poorer place if we didn’t have either of them.

    I think it is still possible to have some guidelines as to what makes a game (or a film, or a book) “good”, though. Obviously these would have to be applied sensibly, and if someone thought a work was good even if it disobeyed all the rules then nobody can take that away from them.

    But, clearly, people have been saying that X is better than Y for thousands of years, often about things that people tend to agree on. Shakespeare is better than medieval plays, for all their charming vulgarity and sincerity. Mozart is better than Gluck: nobody knows who Gluck is anymore, but everybody has heard Eine Kleine Nachtmusik (even if they don’t know what it’s called). I think this can be said of games, too: Duke Nukem Forever was almost universally denounced as a bad game, whereas BioShock was, by and large, considered a good one.

    I think the error people make is not in saying that this game is better than that game, but in assuming that all games must be measured by the same standards. If you’re writing a novel, for instance, you’d want to focus on the quality of the prose, to dwell on interesting issues and to use the novel as a space to explore ideas. If you were making a film, you would want to focus on the visuals, the sounds, the music (or lack of it) and the overall ambience. In both you would want to focus on character development, sure, but it would be unfair to criticise the film because its dialogue isn’t as beautiful as Virginia Woolf’s prose, or to criticise the book for not having visuals and music.

    So too with games. DOOM and Call of Duty are probably both better than Duke Nukem Forever, since DNF tried to be DOOM and CoD at the same time, which was silly. But I don’t think you can say that CoD is better than DOOM or vice versa. They both have individual goals as games: DOOM aims for something silly, unrealistic but compelling; CoD aims for something more realistic (though not totally realistic, of course), set in a world which, while ridiculous at times, is more grounded than DOOM’s cyborg spider demons. You can extend this out into games with greater emotional complexity, too: The Infinite Ocean does what it does very well, but to measure it by DOOM’s standards is nonsensical. DOOM, likewise, can’t be measured by TIO’s standards. I’m currently playing a work of Interactive Literature called “Afternoon” which is lauded as a triumph of fiction, but I’m having great trouble adjusting to it because “playing” (or reading?) it is unlike anything I’ve ever done before, and I don’t know which values to bring to bear.

  2. Doom compared to The Infinite Ocean?

    Challenge accepted.


    Music: Doom and TIO (old version and new alike) both have good music. However, Doom has more good musical tracks, compared to TIO’s two (counting old and new together). This makes it look like Doom will win, but since I’m a biased prick, I will judge using the Doom soudtrack from the Atari Jaguar version. That version has no music. In other words, Doom now loses this part of the comparison.

    Story: TIO’s story is extremely complex. Doom has no story. TIO wins.

    Graphics: TIO’s graphics are beautiful. For the time, Doom’s graphics were good, but, again, because I’m a biased prick, I will be using the (unofficial) ZX Spectrum version’s graphics for the comparison. The graphics are awful, archaic, and, well, not good at all, really.

    Literacy: A small child living in rural China could play Doom and not miss a damned thing. TIO requires a doctorate in English. TIO wins.

    Scariness: Doom is not scary, because its graphics (on the Spectrum) are terrible. TIO is frightening because of its themes (of which Doom has none). TIO wins.

    Gameplay: Doom has you shooting innocent demons for fun. All they wanted to do was play with you, you sick fuck. TIO has you clicking around, guessing passwords, and even reading things. TIO wins.

    Awfulness: Doom is awful. TIO is awesome. Doom wins (but it’s a Pyrrhic victory).

    And the winner is The Infinite Ocean! who would’ve guessed?!

  3. James Patton


    Oh dear, what have I done? XD In all seriousness, my eventual point was that Doom should not be compared with TIO, but that people feel they can and should.

    Even so… bravo, my friend. Bravo. XD

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