Good gaming journalism: Totilo examines the shooter in NYTimes

#52
Totillo has always been good. There's just some weird obsession with hating on Kotaku.
He's Kotaku's shining star when he wants to be

But recently he made some statements that I think are questionable - he should focus on writing an article like in the OP

Oh, and bring back that Podcast! I liked the podcast back then
 
#58
As interesting as the settings and situations are in Halo and Black Ops II, they’re practically irrelevant to those who enjoy these games. Shooters engage people as a presentation of conundrums that last as long as a quick exchange of gunfire and that are eligible for a painless do-over after any failure.
I will reply with another reviewer:

There's obviously an audience for the film, probably a large one. They are content, even eager, to sit in a theater and watch one action figure after another pound and blast one another to death. They require no dialogue, no plot, no characters, no humanity. Have you noticed how cats and dogs will look at a TV screen on which there are things jumping around? It is to that level of the brain's reptilian complex that the film appeals.
There is a reason why videogames are not taken serious.
 
#59
I was going to create a thread about this, because I wanted to focus on some of the stuff Totilo said here. Unfortunately, the topic is now about games journalism, so the bulk of my post will be as well. However, I do want to make a brief statement expanding on what Totilo said about shooters.

Most people don't understand shooters, and, to be honest, I think most shooter devs don't understand shooters either, which is where games like Medal of Honor come from. They're smart games for smart people. Sure, they're easy to understand, pick up, and play, and they're particularly great if you're impatient or don't have much time, which means that they can appeal to a broad range of people, but they actually require some of the most intelligent thought of their players.

In comparison to shooters, there isn't all that much intelligent in planning your next move in a turn-based game, because ultimately, you've got time to think. You've got room to breathe. The longer you can think, the better your decision is likely to be. It's not to say that turn-based games are dumb, because that would be a really stupid thing to say. They absolutely can require a significant degree of intelligence on the part of the player. However, the only real intelligence players are using in a turn-based game is generally logic/mathematical (with a degree of social), which I personally don't find nearly as stimulating as the type of intelligence that shooters provide.

I find that, quite often, the people who belittle shooters make arguments like this: "well, shooters are just about pointing and pressing a button." Bad developers seem to think that this is the case as well, which is why their shooters are good.

Chess is a fairly easy game to understand, for instance, but it would be absurd to say "chess is a dumb game for dumb people because it's really simple to pick up and play," yet people say this thing about shooters all the time.

Here's how shooters utilize various areas of player intelligence:

(SORRY I REALIZE THIS ISN'T AS BRIEF AS I THOUGHT)

  • Logical-Mathematical: shooters are about resource management. How much ammo do you have? How much ammo will you be expending? What benefits can you purchase with the currency of your ammunition?
  • Spatial: Where are you in relation to everything else? Where are the enemies shooting? Where are the enemies going? Where are you going? Where are you shooting?
  • Social: How can you ensure that your enemies do not send death your direction, and how can you game them into moving into your line of fire?
  • Bodily-kinesthetic: How can you move within the area you are navigating with your spatial intelligence?

Oh, and you're doing this on the fly, which adds the pressure of real-time to you.

Are you denying the right area? How much ammunition do you have left? How can you usher someone into the right kilbox? Will that enemy who disappeared attempt to flank you?

When playing a shooter, you are considering this stuff all the time. Sure, anyone can play a shooter, but to be good requires a significant amount of intelligence and dynamic mental gymnastics on the part of the player.

They are absolutely some of the smartest games out there. I don't care about memorizing button combinations or spending minutes planning out my next move in an RPG. That doesn't require much intelligence of me.

Shooters? They require a lot. Smart games for smart people. Awesome.

In that case the article fails in my eyes. When I read reviews, the general concensus of "buy or not" is exactly what I'm looking for. I hate reviews that don't take a clear stance on things.
But it's not a review.

Film Crit Hulk is my favorite journalist in the history of journalism. He's not technically a journalist--he's a Hollywood person who worked on the production side of things and writes under a secret identity--but he does a ton of reviews/columns, which is more than enough for him to be considered a film critic.

I imagine you'd dismiss his excellent writing on the basis that most of what he says isn't "buy or not." That makes me somewhat sad. Film Crit Hulk's writing exists, in a large part, to help enhance the enjoyment of film. He wants people to care, to feel, to appreciate, and to think better.

I believe that was Totilo's intention here. People who don't understand shooters see them and think they're little more than shooting galleries. He was explaining their appeal, and the reason that they're a lot smarter than they appear.

Is Totilo's piece as good as a Film Crit Hulk piece? Eh, personally, I'd say no. In fact, I'd say if this is good gaming journalism, then journalism has a long way to go. Maybe Totilo was limited in how much he could write, or maybe he just doesn't see how much there really is to FPSes and their appeal (I could write several thousand words on the many reasons shooters are excellent, and I'm no journalist), but this piece talked too much about the details of the games and not nearly enough about the appeal of shooters as a whole.

I will reply with another reviewer:



There is a reason why videogames are not taken serious.
The problem isn't the medium, it's the developers, media, and fans. They're so busy stuck on the antiquated notion that video games (a misnomer now, though appropriate when all people did were things like Pong) are primarily games that they seem to have missed the idea that the medium is actually a method of communication, through which many kinds of ideas can be communicated. The medium can be a tool for education (Serious Games, the genre is called), artistic expression (games with stories, among other things), or purely as games (Chessmaster, Pac-Man).

The artistic games--the ones that would be taken seriously--tend to have poorly-written stories and use combat as the primary method of interaction with the world.

Transformers is a big spectacle. Uncharted 2, a game with all the spectacle and polish of a Michael Bay film, is critically lauded as some of the best the medium has to offer, even though it has more stupid plot points and fundamental story failures than any movie Michael Bay has ever made. I think if people would focus more on using the medium to its artistic strengths (gameplay as a language for storytelling, for instance--most people seem hellbent on using cinematic or literary techniques to tell stories that could be told through the act of playing the game instead, for some reason, giving us games like Max Payne 3 and Uncharted 2), respect for the medium would grow immensely.

The number of stories I would consider to be as good as the literature I've spent my life reading can be counted on just one hand, and that's the fault of the developers who focus on gameplay first (this is like making a movie thinking about the images first--like Transformers; if you put the story first and use the strength of the medium to support it, you'll end up with something as awesome as The Avengers) and the media and audience who demands it.
 
#60
The title is wrong for this thread but what can you do.

It's an article for people that want to know what the big deal is about these games they hear about from their kids/people at work/friends. I don't think it was anything special, just merely ok.
 
#63
No offense to Totilo but no, this is not great or even good.

Let me break it down a little:


Forget that Halo 4 is a science-fiction heroic epic, set to begin a second multimillion-selling trilogy, as we control Master Chief, the armored space Marine (and possible species savior), in gunfights on strange new worlds. Forget that Call of Duty: Black Ops II is the nth annual military shooter and possibly the biggest moneymaker of any piece of new entertainment of the year. These trappings don’t make these games fun. The shooting does.
Ok, this looks like a strong thesis statement for a persuasive piece. Moving on a bit:

One game bellows barely intelligible space opera; the other spits out well-chewed Tom Clancy mixed with James Bond. One is sci-fi and allows the odd romance to flicker between our faceless supersoldier hero and the voluptuous, artificially intelligent female hologram who tells our supersoldier where to go to find the next aliens to shoot. The other game is a mélange of American anxieties about the backfired partnerships of the cold war and the continuing drone warfare of today.

In one level of Black Ops II, set in the 1980s, the Afghan mujahedeen turn their guns on their American friends...
Ok, so we just said "forget these trappings, let's focus on the shooting", then we spend multiple paragraphs recapping the backstory we were just told was meaningless.

As interesting as the settings and situations are in Halo and Black Ops II, they’re practically irrelevant to those who enjoy these games.
Wait...they're interesting? "One game bellows barely intelligible space opera; the other spits out well-chewed Tom Clancy mixed with James Bond." So which is it? If these are interesting why you call one barely intelligible and the other well-chewed?

We're almost to the bottom of the first page and the thesis of what looked to be a persuasive piece hasn't really been addressed at all.

Moving on:

Someone once said that video games were really just about cleaning, about finding the right tools to scrub enemies from a scene. In Halo games the vacuum, mop and dust rag have been the gun, the grenade and the melee. Recent versions have added equipment like jetpacks or, in Halo 4, a floating sentry turret and glide jets, among other things. The typical encounter has involved approaching an enemy force and maybe tossing a grenade to make it scramble or drop its shields, then shooting it to soften it up further, then running in to punch it, then hanging back to heal rapidly.
The fuck? Someone once said this? Who? And how is this not a silly analogy. Cleaning, really? And now we're on to a list of new features in Halo 4. Ok...Halo now has "glide jets." Cool.

The best experience involves cranking the difficulty to Heroic and engaging a set of enemies, trying new strategies repeatedly and scavenging weapons or equipment from the battlefield until the right solution is found, and the enemies are dusted. These phases of stressed decision-making are training for the more unpredictable encounters with rival players in the competitive multiplayer mode. A good minute of Halo combat is like a good minute in the gym: The rest of your life is momentarily forgotten while you sweat it out, and then you’re happy that the challenge is done, and that you are in some way improved.
Finally, more than halfway through the piece, we reach what appears to be the actual point of it. We've spent an entire page on plot and feature summary without revisiting what was ostensibly the thesis of the piece. Next paragraph:

The big development in Black Ops II is that its story-line campaign now presents choices....
The fuck? We're back on story shit again? You already told us the story was irrelevant - twice! This goes on for THREE PARAGRAPHS, ending with:

The end of my Black Ops II story line was radically different from the end of a colleague’s. Small decisions made huge differences. This is the soul of video games.
Is it? The soul of video games is affecting the storyline in a well-chewed, irrelevant story? What happened to "these trappings don’t make these games fun. The shooting does."?

It's like he forgot what the piece was about and halfway through began writing the exact opposite piece.

Finally we end with:

Halo and Call of Duty are ultimately more poker than movie, less video, more game. Online they enrapture hundreds of thousands of players every night. The players don’t show up for the love story or for cameos by scandal-engulfed military officers. They show up for the excitement of solving problems in combat.
But but...the piece spent most of the time talking about story shit and had practically nothing about problem solving. We just said that making story decisions is the "soul of video games." Now we're back to players don't show up for the story, they show up for combat?

What is this even about?

It has the classic persuasive essay structure of an opening thesis and conclusion that wraps up and restates the thesis, but everything in between contradicts the thesis rather than supporting it. This is like C material on a writing assignment in 11th grade English. You could probably write an interesting piece about shooters are compelling because of their problem solving elements but this sure as hell isn't it.
 
#65
Just to not be a total asshole (too late?) let me say I'm not trying to pick on Totilo as much as I'm picking on people holding this up as something to aspire to.

Everyone, even the best writers, are capable of writing poor stuff and for all I know this is a chopped up version of a longer piece that made more sense, may have suffered from editorial direction, deadlines whatever.

That said the piece as presented is just not good writing.
 
#66
No offense to Totilo but no, this is not great or even good.

Let me break it down a little:




Ok, this looks like a strong thesis statement for a persuasive piece. Moving on a bit:



Ok, so we just said "forget these trappings, let's focus on the shooting", then we spend multiple paragraphs recapping the backstory we were just told was meaningless.



Wait...they're interesting? "One game bellows barely intelligible space opera; the other spits out well-chewed Tom Clancy mixed with James Bond." So which is it? If these are interesting why you call one barely intelligible and the other well-chewed?

We're almost to the bottom of the first page and the thesis of what looked to be a persuasive piece hasn't really been addressed at all.

Moving on:



The fuck? Someone once said this? Who? And how is this not a silly analogy. Cleaning, really? And now we're on to a list of new features in Halo 4. Ok...Halo now has "glide jets." Cool.



Finally, more than halfway through the piece, we reach what appears to be the actual point of it. We've spent an entire page on plot and feature summary without revisiting what was ostensibly the thesis of the piece. Next paragraph:



The fuck? We're back on story shit again? You already told us the story was irrelevant - twice! This goes on for THREE PARAGRAPHS, ending with:



Is it? The soul of video games is affecting the storyline in a well-chewed, irrelevant story? What happened to "these trappings don’t make these games fun. The shooting does."?

It's like he forgot what the piece was about and halfway through began writing the exact opposite piece.

Finally we end with:



But but...the piece spent most of the time talking about story shit and had practically nothing about problem solving. We just said that making story decisions is the "soul of video games." Now we're back to players don't show up for the story, they show up for combat?

What is this even about?

It has the classic persuasive essay structure of an opening thesis and conclusion that wraps up and restates the thesis, but everything in between contradicts the thesis rather than supporting it. This is like C material on a writing assignment in 11th grade English. You could probably write an interesting piece about shooters are compelling because of their problem solving elements but this sure as hell isn't it.
Good post, and you make several good points about the organization of the story. You read much like I do, just going from title to thesis statement to body to conclusion and seeing if it lines up; then seeing if the body proves the thesis.

Totilo's a good writer, but I just like the title to reflect the argument, and then to see that argument proven or not. He can definitely do that, but yeah, every writer wanders at times. I too, probably wouldn't have even noticed if it wasn't presented in the way the OP did. And if the OP liked it, that's fine too, I just disagree with his assertions.
 
#69
That's a lot of words amounting to 2 pages filled with platitudes. Margalis explained the flaws of the article pretty good, so I'll just leave it at that.