Film Critic Hulk, who writes like the Marvel character while crafting intricate looks at all kinds of films, wrote an essay in 2011 about why he stopped hating movies. Even bad movies. Especially bad movies. The article is about growing up, and leaving your anger and off-the-cuff rejection of certain kinds of art behind, but at first blush it sounds like he's sharing a helpful way to look at all kinds of art.
The lesson that helped Hulk see criticism with fresh eyes began with a chance encounter with Quentin Tarantino after a screening of Kill Bill. Hulk told the director about a movie he hated, and Tarantino went on a bit of a rant.
"There's plenty of reasons to not to like a movie. But if you hate them? Meaning if let them bother you? Then they'll do nothing but bother you," Tarantino said (emphasis Hulk's). "Who wants to be bothered? There's so many better things to do with movies. It's like my fucking Top Gun rant, okay? Bad things can be so much more interesting than just bad."
"And fuck man, hating movies closes you off to stuff that seems like whatever you hate. Or stuff by the same guy," Tarantino continued.
"And who knows? That other stuff could be awesome. Some of my favorite filmmakers made bad movies. It won't help you. It just won't. It stops your development right in its tracks, okay? I mean like everything and I ain't trying to get you to be like fucking me or anything. I'm just saying I think it's better for you. And it makes me way, way happier. Never hate a movie. They're gifts. Every fucking one of em."
The entire essay is an interesting look at how to deal with media that isn't good, or that you personally can't stand. It's a wonderful way of looking at the world, and will help you deal with the time your wife gets pregnant and for some reason has to watch the entire Twilight series on loop at least once a week.
At the very least I learned that the final Twilight movie has one of the most fun narrative tricks I've seen in a series aimed at teenage girls, one that almost seems designed to troll the audience. But I digress.
What's the point of all this?
The point Hulk is making, and it's a good one, is that we tend to have a bucket for "awesome" stuff and a bucket for "worthless" stuff and there can be staunch opposition whenever you want to criticize things put in the awesome bucket or praise things put in the worthless bucket. This happens in film criticism, but it's felt in a much stronger way in gaming criticism.
What Tarantino was saying, and what Hulk learned from it, are good lessons about art in general. But video games, as much as they deserve to be given the same consideration as films and painting and all the other "higher" forms of what, are so demanding on the audience.
Let's say I want to seek out and find a film that I think I don't like to see what I can learn from it. At the absolute worst I'm out $15 or so for the movie on disc, and it's likely going to take two hours to watch. That's it. An education in film, in terms of materials, is relatively inexpensive. That's not counting the number of inexpensive streaming options that open up the world of television and film. Michael Bay makes films that have very little merit emotionally, but by gosh you can learn a ton by paying attention to how he sets up shots.
Hell, there are genres of games I think I don't like, but if I wanted to learn more about them it would take me the purchasing of new hardware, expensive or hard to find games, and literal weeks of work to master them well enough to finish them and see what there is for me to learn from them.
An education in film, in terms of materials, is relatively inexpensive
Let's Plays are actually a wonderful way around these situations, and allow even unskilled players to dig at what makes a game good or poor, but nothing will even replace the act of playing for yourself.
This is why it's so easy for the vocal, online gaming community to "hate" games, when that same attitude seems so wasteful in other art forms such as film. I used to have no kind words for games like League of Legends, but now that I understand them better I see the appeal and can speak with at least a middling knowledge of what makes them so enjoyable.
The time it took me to get to where I was not embarrassing myself in League of Legends? A week of playing for a few hours every night. That's an incredible time commitment that was worth it to me personally because "understanding MOBAs" is something I get to put on my resume. And I'm still light years away from knowing all the characters or being able to break down a high-level match and know what's going on.
When someone says they hate a game online, they're not attacking you, and they're barely attacking the game. What they're saying, in as few words as possible, is that they couldn't find the fun in the amount of time or money they were willing to give to that particular game. That's an incredibly fair attitude when the monetary and time commitment to learning even simple games can be so high.
Could we all learn something about the art of making games or even what we do and don't like by playing terrible games? Absolutely, but unless you're a professional critic, and hell, even then it can be kind of a wash, what's the point in pinching your nose and forcing yourself to consume something for that long, at that great a cost, just for a lesson that may not come in handy?
I think Hulk's point is completely valid, and laudable, but I just can't get behind it when it comes to the gaming world. When someone tells me they hate a game I take it in the way they likely intend it; that game is not for them, and they lack the time and money, or even will to dive in to learn something about it.
Moving outside of your comfort zone is a great thing when the cost and time commitment is low, and that's the case with most films. When it comes to games? I've often been told a title only opens up after the first 15 hours.
We don't think about gaming in terms of study, but the reality is that most games require years of practice using relatively complicated controllers to gain the vocabulary and skills needed to play them well. Learning how to recognize technique in films takes study, sure, but just to watch a movie? You sit back and open your eyes.
I wish I could be as humble and giving about gaming as Tarantino is about film, but life is too short, and games are too long. Especially JRPGs.
I hate those things.