Saturday, September 16, 2017

Weekend Retropost: Bad Games

Retropost Saturday: What bad means..

Thirteen Ways Of Looking At The Terrible Thing You Just Made


When you say a thing is bad, you are usually using it as a shorthand for one of these things.

There are 13 of them.

So, instead of just saying "bad"…maybe say which one you mean next time?
They wanted it to stay up. It didn't.
(1) The Hindenberg

What you really mean:
It Fails to Do What The Author Wanted It To Do
This is a poorly crafted game. People say "broken" a lot here. This also covers things like typos and literal math errors (like the author expects one outcome but it inevitably produces another, things meant to be weak are strong, etc). It is the kind of "bad" where a designer (if they were honest) would agree they missed the mark.

Example:
Mythus
"I co-wrote Mythus with Gary….One of the first things I did when I started playing was to throw out half of the rules we wrote…."
--Dave Newton, co-author of Mythus)

What's a helpful thing to do? 
Show the author saying it does a thing, then demonstrate that it can't, under any circumstances, do that. Then you're right. After that you then might have to prove that that thing is important or outweighs all the good things about the game, but you have proved--at least--a failure of craftmanship.
They were lying
(2) The X-Ray Specs

What you really mean:
It Fails to Do What The Advertising Said It Would Do
People also call this "broken", too. This is a dishonestly made or poorly-tested product.

Example:
Seclusium of Orphone says you can make a Seclusium in half an hour (or an hour? Can't remember. Anyway:) You really can't. If you can I haven't heard anybody say you can. You might say Mythus is this, too, if you assume Dave and Gary knew they'd throw out half the rules they wrote before they played.

What's a helpful thing to do? 
Point out the advertising says one thing and demonstrate it's impossible to do that thing. If the advertising is ambiguous and you're railing against it, you're back at (10).



(3) The Left Handed Scissors

What you really mean:
It's relatively unpopular
Not very many people like it. Often conflated with (4).

Example: 
Torchbearer. All RPGs ever, really.

What's a helpful thing to do?
Explain why anyone should care whether a game is popular or not. I mean: what's wrong with left handed scissors? Left handed people need scissors, too.



(4) The New Coke

What you really mean:
The Thing Is Underperforming in Terms of Popularity
Less people than you'd expect like it, considering everything it had going for it in terms of advertising, licensing etc. More of a big deal than (3) above--but only if somebody claimed it was supposed to make money. If part of the designers' goal was to make lots of money and sell lots of copies (true in the case of Marvel Heroic, not true in the case of many DIY D&D products) then this is a bit of (1), as well.

Example:
Marvel Heroic RPG

What's a helpful thing to do?
Explain why anyone not working for the company should care whether a game is making as much money as somebody expected it to. Are you evaluating the ability of the designer to guess the public taste? Sometimes that's important, sometimes it isn't.
In case you had any doubt, Dave Sim's comics had
loooooong text pieces in the end telling you in the
first person that he's sexist.

(5) The Cerebus

What you really mean:
The Thing Accurately Reveals the Author Is A Douche
The words or images in the RPG reflect attitudes on the behalf of the author that only douchebags have. Games called racist or sexist are often this.

Frequently conflated with:
(6), (7), (11)

Example: Those dumb novelty RPGs people make that just make fun of other peoples' RPGs

What's a helpful thing to do?
Explain how there is no possible way anybody but a douchebag could've written what's on the page . The easiest way is to find some nonfiction piece the author wrote which echoes the bad ideas in the piece. The most tortured and fraught path is to assume that whatever the author depicts it's something they like--that's almost always wrong and very hard to prove. Ask yourself: are you guessing the author of Ghostbusters hates ghosts, or just assuming?

(6)  The Garfield

What you really mean:
The Author Chose To Do Less Than Their Best Work
A variation on 5. The particular douchebaggery in question being the author clearly could've done better. A lot of stereotypes are supported by this kind of bad because stereotypes are easy to write.

Example:
Ruins of Undermountain.

What's a helpful thing to do?
Prove the author knew a better way to do a thing--or grasped that finding it would've been useful--and then show how what's there isn't that.

(7) The Russian Roulette

What you really mean:
Harmful
Literally the world outside the game gets worse because of this game existing. Games called racist or sexist are often this.

Example:
DragonRaid (an '80s Christian D&D alternative), Fate

What's a helpful thing to do?
Prove it with facts. Like DragonRaid for instance made money for some shitstain who had a problem with D&D on Christian grounds, plus maybe granted legitimacy to bigoted attacks on the RPGs that made a lot of peoples' relationship to their hobby (and parents) pretty traumatic when they were young. I'd probably have to do some more research to confirm all this if I really wanted to go after DragonRaid, plus prove that this wasn't balanced out by the fact that it probably introduced people to RPGs who otherwise would've had nothing because their parents were fundamentalists.

If a thing is, objectively, Russian Roulette and will cause harm and the author knows it and agrees with that and puts it out anyway, you have a clear case of (5).
(8) The Offensive Thing

What you really mean:
The Thing Upsets You (When extreme: Triggering)
Games called racist or sexist are often this but it doesn't necessarily mean they are racist or sexist because culture offends people, period. Like any game with gay guys in it will offend someone but whoever it offends doesn't count. People taking offense usually implies they believe it's bad in some other way, too.

Frequently conflated or combined with:
(5), (7)

Example:
Blue Rose--the setting purports to be an egalitarian paradise but sweeps class issues completely under the rug. I'm offended. I have no evidence that the authors were classist (5) or just didn't think through egalitarianism very much (1) or that RPG people became any more classist because of it (7), however. It wasn't exactly a popular game (in which case (3) may have led to it not being (7)).

What's a helpful thing to do?
Make a case for whether the people who are offended are just offended alone (in which case who cares?) or whether the offense might indicate (7) or (5). Here's a thing: are people offended by two guys kissing actually not harmed even though they think they are or are they harmed but who cares because fuck them they suck?

(9) The Bad Influence

What you really mean:
It's A Harmful Influence On Other Games

Example:
Caves of Chaos, most other early adventure modules--companies realized that authors paid by the word could bulk out 5 pages of ideas to 15, 30, 100, or even 200 pages of text and people would buy it. Thus leading to a lot of (10) and arguably (2) and undeniably (6).

What's a helpful thing to do?
Point out how the tendency didn't exist until that thing came along and make a case the new tendency was some kind of bad.
(10) The Thing You Just Don't Like

What you really mean: The Thing Is Not To My Taste
Like the game is broccoli flavored and you hate broccoli.

Example:
Apocalypse World

What's a helpful thing to do?
Describe what kind of person you and/or your group are, what you like, and why that game doesn't do those things or doesn't fit. It's as much about you as it is about the game, acknowledge that, it'll help people who are like you and who aren't decide what to do with the game.

(11) OH GOD NOT ANOTHER...

What you really mean: Not To My Taste Plus It's Part Of A Whole Trend Of Things Not To My Taste (Aka "I'm so sick of these games like…")
You like pizza, this game is a hot dog, plus it seems like every ten seconds there's another hot dog.

Example:
Apocalypse World Engine-games

What's a helpful thing to do?
As (10) plus describe why you think anyone else should care that there are a lot of these games that you don't need to buy (if you are). Are you arguing (9)? Are you arguing that a critical mass of (11)s result in (7)? Are you just sort of irritated at not being a majority? If it helps: you play RPGs, you're not and never will be.

i.e. Are you saying "less of this, please" when the problem could be just as easily solved with "more of that, please"?
(12) The Game For Douchebags

What you really mean: Not To My Taste Plus It's Only To The Taste Of Shitty People
This is like (10) on overdrive: You don't like it and can't think even imagine a worthwhile human being enjoying this thing, nor have any such people come forward.

Example:
Bliss Stage. Maybe it does what it's supposed to and what it advertises and does it to the best of the author's ability and hurts no-one but what it's supposed to do doesn't seem to appeal to anyone who isn't a moron.

What's a helpful thing to do?
Describe what shitty characteristic of a person links to the shitty part of the game. If someone you like is into the game, then you have to revise your opinion. Like so even thought tons of terrible people like Monsterhearts, so does Shoepixie and I like Shoepixie and don't begrudge her entertainment, so I guess that game is ok.

(13) The Chew Toy

What you really mean: One or More Of The Above Plus the Author is a Douche
It has flaws that may or may not be objective. But the author is pretty objectively terrible.

Example: FATE

What's a helpful thing to do?
You can keep calling the game "bad" because the only person it's unfair to is the author and they're a douche. But if someone asks then you need to point out what made you decide the author's a douche.
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So this simplifies life. Most critiques are 10 dressed up with other stuff to make them seem more objective, like

The standard knock against White Wolf is a lot of mechanical (1) with either (10) ("I'm not a goth") or (2) ("I am a goth and it wasn't goth enough").

The 4venger attacks on Old School D&D were a lot of (1) and (2) with, at least on some sides, some (7) leading to (3).

etc.
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18 comments:

Canyon said...

What do (or did) you dislike about Monsterhearts? I'm really curious because I've had nothing but good experiences with it. Obviously it's shooting for something entirely different from normal dnd, but that's hardly a bad thing.

Zak Sabbath said...

Nowhere in the post do I say I dislike Monsterhearts.

In fact I say it must be ok.

Not my kinda thing tho--porn performers in general tend to not be real big on romance.

Matthew Skail said...

How does FATE games "literally" make the world worse?

Zak Sabbath said...

Most obviously: Fred Hicks, who is evil, makes money.
As do the shitheads who he hires.

Kyle Traylor said...

"Fred Hicks is a douche" is pretty well-documented, but are there any prior posts where you discuss the flaws you see in FATE, objective or not?

Zak Sabbath said...

No--I wouldn't want to inadvertently advertise it.

Kyle Traylor said...

Fair enough!

Matt said...

I collect old RPGs and have a copy of DragonRaid. I wouldn't say it's *good*, but I didn't see anything offensive. IIRC he said RPGs were *not* evil and dangerous, and tried to prove as much by writing an RPG for evangelicals, loosely based on C.S. Lewis, in which PCs cast "spells" by reciting Bible verses. It wasn't a commercial success, because non-evangelicals thought it was preposterous and nothing was going change evangelicals minds. (Pat Robertson *still* thinks D&D is a gateway to Satanism.)

Zak Sabbath said...

I didn't say it contained anything offensive

(this is the second time I've had to point out someone interpolated something I didn't write)

I said it made the world worse--which is different--and if a game makes any money for an evangelical christian and does that by making kids learn bible verses when they could be playing D&D instead those 2 things make the world worse.

Even if it wasn't very much money and it wasn't very many kids.

FM Geist said...

So perhaps this isn't quite a point but:
I feel like lacking in some way is: potentially harmful; I.e. The sort of content that a competent (rather than wretched) DM can mine for great material while a lackluster or incompetent one can make a seriously fucked up outcome;

Maybe something along the lines of "actually trusts people to be adults but because some people are hacks is treated uncharitably"?

Doesn't really have a ring to it tho

Zak Sabbath said...

There's already a lackluster or incompetent DM though.

So the harm is on them.

FM Geist said...

Agreed, hence the qualifier; I think it's also a centerpiece (other than some people being qualifiably loathsome) of the "culture wars" of sorts always non-starting in RPG circles. For example:
1. Astral Succubus (Numenera): if a DM decides to run this in a sexist way (a real possibility, but not the ostensible purpose) it can be sexist and therefore is
2. Blood in the Chocolate: either "this is about the authors fetishes" or "by including colonialist iconography from the source material it is racist" (I don't know about Kiel's fetishes and they're none of my business and the idea "exposure = learn behavior" seems exceedingly speculative/protestith too much)
Kingdom Death (not worth running down)
Etc

Vs the sort of real potentially harmful:
Warhammer leaned real misogynistic in fluff and crunch by absolutely hamstringing the Sisters of Battle

Idk it's sticking in *my* head which doesn't necessarily validate it as a point of discussion

Zak Sabbath said...

I think a simpler issue is: Warhammer provides less options for female players who want to play female chearacters, thus making probably for fewer female players:

that's an ill WITHOUT requiring a shitty person be in the playgroup

http://dndwithpornstars.blogspot.com/2014/10/gender-and-representation-in-warhammers.html

FM Geist said...

Strong agree, although I do find a high % of RPG inclined trans women (including myself) cut their teeth with Sisters or Demonettes? I think my problem is (and maybe it's a point of departure) awhile *after* I quit options for SoB got cut and they started being second fiddled to Gary Sue Grey Knights fluff and becoming support units for the GK which idk ~*~feels~*~ suspect to me?

But core to point:
I think that's a reasonable discussion (or in a theoretical world of no pressing commitments, it could be discussed and probably have fixes offered) vs a sort of grandstanding that takes certain concepts as being morally poisonous via running down a particular interpretation path (why someday the sad obsessive part of me will make an extremely point by point breakdown of why I think BitC is an important contribution, deserved the hell out of the gold *and* illustrates flaws in assumptive logics of review)

Zak Sabbath said...

couldn't have said it better

and Kiela nd other creators trying to push the envelope would probably really like hearing your thoughts on BitCh

FM Geist said...

The moment I'm not in "Jesus fuck teaching at a new school is hell where the fuck is payroll why do I do this to myself" mode; expect something (should also probably start using Google circles)

Canyon said...

I don't understand what you mean by the latter half of the "What's a helpful thing to do?" section of (11) if not, "Monsterhearts is not to my taste, and until I found out that Shoepixie liked it I couldn't imagine anyone decent liking it." If you never disliked it, and/or before learning that Shoepixie did like it you could picture good people liking it, why is it in that section at all?

But you've answered my main question, so, thank you.

Adamantyr said...

Would you consider H.O.L. an example of #5? It fits the bill of being a novelty RPG. (Albeit an old one...)