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What is a game's quality? Is it objective?


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This might sound pedantic but I always wanted to have this discussion with people LOL.

People often say about how quality =/= popular, but then what's quality exactly? Is it something objective and intrinsic to the game?(Because popularity is exactly that).

I mean, there are some things that generally, people might judge as bad quality, one thing are inconsistencies in the plot (Plot Holes), but what if someone thinks that plot holes make his favorite game better? Can we really tell him "Bah you and your tastes are wrong"? Another thing is lack of production values (a.k.a lack of money), if everything in the scenario is bland then that's generally criticized as poor quality, but take Higurashi for example, Ryukishi07 draws his characters like a kindergarten, then Mangagamer(?) came and made everything more detailed with more colors and voices, but some people disliked that, and prefer the original game entirely. What makes quality an objective thing then? "What generally people think" still means that there's something subjective there.

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Quality is very obviously not objective in the sense that it doesn't exist if there isn't anyone to experience it. It's a perception -- and, like you said, any aesthetic criteria must be validated within someone's experience for that quality to play out properly. That said, there are a few aesthetic parameters that we generally agree on so that we can talk about the games in the first place. Even if someone were to think plot holes make their favorite game better, they make it harder to have meaningful discussions about them. How can I know the experience I have is attainable by anyone else if a game directly contradicts itself? Cohesion gives a solid base for people to enjoy a certain story or aesthetics more or less in the same way, or at least with some common ground to build upon.

So quality is a collective construct, both subjective (in that it's made of people's experiences) and objective (in that it means people can find meaning in talking about the game at all). Intersubjective is the word you're looking for here.

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Objectively most eroge's etc are pretty low quality. I mean, just take a look at higher budget vn's with gameplay. Even the VN part of it is much more advanced. For me it's enough though if the story is compelling, but they sure have a cheap feeling to them. Muv Luv Alternative is the one biggest surprise i've ever had. It's quality is through the roof. Now say what you want about the story, they put a lot of dime and love into it.

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5 hours ago, Soul Hunter said:

This might sound pedantic but I always wanted to have this discussion with people LOL.

People often say about how quality =/= popular, but then what's quality exactly? Is it something objective and intrinsic to the game?(Because popularity is exactly that).

I mean, there are some things that generally, people might judge as bad quality, one thing are inconsistencies in the plot (Plot Holes), but what if someone thinks that plot holes make his favorite game better? Can we really tell him "Bah you and your tastes are wrong"? Another thing is lack of production values (a.k.a lack of money), if everything in the scenario is bland then that's generally criticized as poor quality, but take Higurashi for example, Ryukishi07 draws his characters like a kindergarten, then Mangagamer(?) came and made everything more detailed with more colors and voices, but some people disliked that, and prefer the original game entirely. What makes quality an objective thing then? "What generally people think" still means that there's something subjective there.

Personally these are my criteria and the order in which I consider them important:

1.  Writing

2.  Presentation (of all elements)

3. Artwork

4. Audio elements (BGM and VA)

5. Program stability

 

 

 

You saw what I did there, right?  Essentially, that is a possible subjective view of quality... while ignoring the parts that I didn't admit were important, such as world-building (construction of the setting) and character design (which includes elements of the writing, VA, and artwork to make the whole), both of which I consider important.  The fact is, 'quality' is both an incredibly subjective term - one that doesn't lend itself to clear and objective assessment - and something that, in a general sense, be quantified by that same subjective viewpoint (which is where you get reviews. 

Speaking as someone who reviewed a whole truckload of VNs over the years, I can tell you that trying to be objective is a trap.  Objective quality is one of the most irrelevant types of quality in the eyes of readers.  It's ok to admit where you are biased, but true objectivity isn't something a reviewer should indulge in when playing something they like.  It takes all the fun out of it.

In retrospect, I think I wrote most of my best reviews near the beginning of my 'career' with VNs.  I recommended VNs based on what a reader is looking for, rather than some abstract objective assessment of quality, and I generally got more feedback in general... which is kind of what trapped me.  Also, reviewing SOL games became so painful toward the end that I was completely cutting off my emotions when reviewing them, which kind of defeated the point.

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Most presentation elements (like plot twists, vfx, voice acting, art) has a effect it's aiming for. In a narrower sense, quality is extra effort/good execution that puts it above the standard mediocre approach.

Quality is production values, attention to details, actual proficiency of the writer, well-developed character/setting/story EXCEPT where things are intentionally kept simple for a smoother experience.

What I call skillfulness is how well the the author worked within the bounds of the format/genre to make an exciting/interesting story. How well the visuals and music managed up with the story.

Besides that you have the concept/content. What kind of story did the author actually make? What "fetishes/character-attributes", elements, and themes did the author stuff in? This has a huge impact: we like what we want to see, not because something is high-quality.

Edited by Chronopolis
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The best judge of quality is time. Fads come and go, which is why popularity is a poor judge. Think of all the anime that gets discussed every season. Some of which is very popular and then gets forgotten about within a year or 2. On the other hand, there are cases where something went unnoticed for a while, and eventually it gets dug up and finally appreciated. I realize its a frustrating answer, to say that the only way to really determine quality is to wait. But I think its the only consistent method that is relatively free of bias. 

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The only way to find any objectivity in a genre is to have enough experience in it to be able to easily identify what a work is going for and judge it accordly. For example, i consider HoshiOri barely decent because the barebones drama doesn't appeal to me at all, but i do recognize that it accomplishes what it sets out to do, which is deliver a comfy atmosphere where the chemistry between the protagonist and the heroines is the focus, which is why the very high ratings aren't strange to me at all, because it's a great VN for the target demographic (objectivity) while is a decent VN for my tastes (subjectivity).

Edited by onorub
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1. People mix up quality and their personal enjoyment all the time which makes the discussion about it very loaded. Quality is somewhat quantifiable, while enjoyment is purely personal. It's utter snobbishness to claim you only enjoy good-quality things, or to not be able to appreciate the quality of something you personally despise. At the same time, it's easy to understand why many people do not have that kind of distance towards media they consume – they affect our emotions and can become so important that we see every critique of our favourites as personal attacks against us.

2. Quality isn't objective, as Palas nicely explained, but I also hate the perspective that it's 100% reliant on context. We get to something like claiming that Twilight is a quality series because bland self-insert protagonists and shitty, sappy writing are not considered negative traits for a teenage romance novel (and I've seen a writer that I semi-respect spewing that). I think that the "does it do its job?" question is important, but shouldn't be the end of the discussion. Otherwise, once more, we lose all difference between something being of good quality and just being popular.

3. And as the same time, the pedantic approach of overanalysing pieces of media by some (even well-developed) set of technical standards, and creating some kind of "mean score" assessment is absolute nonsense too. A piece of media is never just a sum of its parts, so to say something meaningful about it you need to include contextual knowledge and subjective impressions about its effectiveness in whatever it tried to achieve.

So, to sum it all up... I'd argue that quality, if the word is meant to have any meaning at all, is a bit more objective than some people make it out to be – arts that develop over decades and centuries create their canons of good practices and techniques that are worth utilizing, and should be used as points of reference. But it's also not as important as some make it out to be – both because something doesn't have to be high-quality to provide entertainment and because high quality by itself doesn't create meaning. And that's good, because otherwise art and popculture would be awfully dull. :P

Edited by Plk_Lesiak
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As to your second point, I think quality being 100% reliant on context or whether something does its job are different categories. The former is more is more about the assessment of quality depending on which subset of the potential audience you ask while the latter is more about resonating with the intended target audience. To pick Grisaia as an example: Many in the VN fandom regard it as one of the must-reads, yet there is a subset of readers who hate it passionately (including me). I'd say that has to do with it committing to a certain set of VN tropes and turning them up to 11. For the people who love VNs because of these tropes this makes Grisaia on of the best things out there. For people like me who got into VNs for other reasons and are only bearing with some VNisms because other aspects make up for them, Grisaia can be unbearably bad. I can totally acknowledge that if a certain type of experience appeals to you, chances are you are going to love Grisaia. Stuff that might be considered an indicator of quality for Grisaia's target audience might be the opposite for others. So is Grisaia a masterpiece? No! It completely depends on who you ask. I don't even want to know what my mother or the average newspaper critic would think of it. Which is no different to something like Twilight. If you ask your 14 year old niece, it might be the greatest thing in the history of things. If you ask anyone else, not so much? So am I calling Grisaia the Twilight of the VN community? Yes. But my point is, you could basically do a similar mental exercise with any popular and/or highly regarded piece of media. 

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3 hours ago, alpacaman said:

So am I calling Grisaia the Twilight of the VN community? Yes. But my point is, you could basically do a similar mental exercise with any popular and/or highly regarded piece of media. 

I don't think saying Grisaia is the Twilight of VNs is that wrong... Maybe slightly exaggerated. 😛 But let's focus on Kajitsu for the time being. I think there are many positive things about it you'll be able to get most people to agree about. Like it's humour being well-done, the art and music being consistently high-quality and the common route effectively building up towards the dramatic character routes. The trashy and over-the-top parts of it, mostly showing up in the later parts of the experience, are what's most contentious about it – and it'd be easy to argue they wouldn't work, even for their intended audience, if they weren't preceded by the genuinely well-done aspects of the game, building the necessary emotional investment and slowly exploring the crucial characters.

Also, from what I've seen, you'll find more people claiming it's a very enjoyable VN or a good entry-level one (for people who are not yet sick of the tropes it relies on), rather than seriously saying it's a masterpiece. In my ideal world, the statements "Kajitsu's heroine routes are trashy and over-the-top" and "Kajitsu is a great/touching experience for those that enjoy its stylistic" are completely compatible with each other and non-controversial. And we should, indeed, put all popular media to similar scrutiny. ;)

Edit: TBH, this is kind of a heavy(?) topic for me personally, as someone who plays with reviewing stuff. We're living in a world where things that I find objectively atrocious, like the Transformers movies, are wildly successful. And in a world where media critics fetishise technical competency and subversion of tropes that something as awful as The Last Jedi could become a critical darling. But still I don't think that we should give up on certain baseline quality standards. I mean, you can make various excuses and adjustments when it goes to specific genres and storytelling formulas, but for example, are teens too dumb to enjoy better prose and better-constructed characters than what Twilight offers? Nah. Its even on different level than Kajitsu, that very deliberately builds it's cascade of ridiculousness and ends up with something pretty unique despite remixing overused tropes – it's just lame writing, and that's the part that no amount of context can nullify. 😛

Edited by Plk_Lesiak
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38 minutes ago, Plk_Lesiak said:

I think there are many positive things about it you'll be able to get most people to agree about. Like it's humour being well-done

Well, I'm not talking for myself since I personally really enjoyed Kajitsu and its common route, but there is a common complaint with the comedy that it's basically making fun of people with serious mental problems or having these mental problems. Other that that, I agree with you.

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1 hour ago, Plk_Lesiak said:

I don't think saying Grisaia is the Twilight of VNs is that wrong... Maybe slightly exaggerated. 😛 But let's focus on Kajitsu for the time being. I think there are many positive things about it you'll be able to get most people to agree about. Like it's humour being well-done, the art and music being consistently high-quality and the common route effectively building up towards the dramatic character routes. The trashy and over-the-top parts of it, mostly showing up in the later parts of the experience, are what's most contentious about it – and it'd be easy to argue they wouldn't work, even for their intended audience, if they weren't preceded by the genuinely well-done aspects of the game, building the necessary emotional investment and slowly exploring the crucial characters.

I don't really want to get too deep into discussing Grisaia as I don't want to derail the thread, but is it really the character routes that are the most contentious? I managed to really not like it in the common route, and some of the aspects you mentioned as objective positives played a big role in that. The comedic scenes all basically culminate in a "women are irrational, amirite" or "Yuuji is so badass" punchline and most of them are accompanied by the same music track so at some point every time it started playing I automatically zoned out, which imo isn't what proper sound direction should do. I strongly disagree about the character build-up as well. Other VNs don't need close to 50 hours to build up characters to make you care enough for them to feel sad for them when you learn they were once forced to cannibalise members of their softball team or whatever. As for the art, I agree it's competently done, but artwork especially something where time and general trends play a big role in how it is received. Most VN artwork from the 90s looks somewhat ugly by today's standards (except to fans of this particular style), and it's completely possible we are going to look at Grisaia in the same way in some 20-30 years. High/expensive production values are not the same as high quality. 

1 hour ago, Plk_Lesiak said:

Edit: TBH, this is kind of a heavy(?) topic for me personally, as someone who plays with reviewing stuff. We're living in a world where things that I find objectively atrocious, like the Transformers movies, are wildly successful. And in a world where media critics fetishise technical competency and subversion of tropes that something as awful as The Last Jedi could become a critical darling. But still I don't think that we should give up on certain baseline quality standards. I mean, you can make various excuses and adjustments when it goes to specific genres and storytelling formulas, but for example, are teens too dumb to enjoy better prose and better-constructed characters than what Twilight offers? Nah. It's even on different level than Kajitsu, that very deliberately builds it's cascade of ridiculousness and ends up with something pretty unique despite remixing overused tropes – it's just lame, and that's the part that no amount of context can nullify. 😛

youropinionoxkl2.jpg

(Sorry, I couldn't contain myself). To add something more substantial, I completely get where you are coming from on this. I think the term you're looking for is "valid". You can point to a set of criteria a piece of media should adhere to in your opinion, explain where these criteria come from and why you accept them as an indicator for quality. You can say that the action scenes in the Transformers movies are bad because they are cut in a way that doesn't properly convey what is even going on instead of just cutting really fast between locations, and in your opinion an action scene should actually show the action. That is more valid than someone saying "skyscraper go boom", but it's not more objective.

The reason I fight the term "objective" that much is probably because of these youtube channels that claim to do "objective criticism" when all they basically do is stop at every frame and scream "that's stupid", and by claiming to be objective they can pretend they are not just whining because they don't like a movie having a female/PoC protagonist who actually does stuff.

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4 hours ago, alpacaman said:

I don't really want to get too deep into discussing Grisaia as I don't want to derail the thread, but is it really the character routes that are the most contentious? (...)

Well, I don't want to go too deep into this either, but you wrote mostly about hating tropes it uses which is a lot more in the personal taste/cultural sensitivities category. Just like the complaints @Dreamysyu mentioned, that's kind of a whole another layer of discussion. Plus with production quality... Sure, people may dislike the artstyle or it might age poorly... The same might even happen to storytelling, with VNs as a medium and culture people live in changing. But you can both acknowledge something representing high quality in its original context and it not standing the test of time – but honestly, 2D games suffer from this way less than many other forms of media.

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youropinionoxkl2.jpg

(Sorry, I couldn't contain myself). To add something more substantial, I completely get where you are coming from on this. I think the term you're looking for is "valid". You can point to a set of criteria a piece of media should adhere to in your opinion, explain where these criteria come from and why you accept them as an indicator for quality. You can say that the action scenes in the Transformers movies are bad because they are cut in a way that doesn't properly convey what is even going on instead of just cutting really fast between locations, and in your opinion an action scene should actually show the action. That is more valid than someone saying "skyscraper go boom", but it's not more objective.

The reason I fight the term "objective" that much is probably because of these youtube channels that claim to do "objective criticism" when all they basically do is stop at every frame and scream "that's stupid", and by claiming to be objective they can pretend they are not just whining because they don't like a movie having a female/PoC protagonist who actually does stuff.

Well, I'll have to retreat to the intersubjectivity term that Palas was so nice to introduce to the discussion. Obviously no standards can be truly objective because objectivity arguably doesn't exist at all. But that doesn't mean things like consistent writing or technical prowess are completely up to one's feelings – it's grounded in the societally-created rules on what is considered positive, or sometimes the internal logic of the text itself. I, once more, argue that quality assessment and overall judgment on whether a piece of media is good/enjoyable are interconnected, but separate. Pointing out plotholes and poorly directed shots that make everything into blurry mess – these are as close to factual statements as you can ever get in media criticism. You can use the word "valid", "grounded" or whatever to avoid the misleading framing, but it's still the same principle. Like, the only possible riposte you would have for the asshats you mentioned above would be "these things don't matter as much as you make them seem", which is a fair opinion, but in no way invalidates their complaints. People freak out about the "culture of nitpicking" nowadays but if you don't have a counterargument against the nitpick, it means it pointed out a flaw. And small flaws can combine into a deeply flawed experience – which might still be very much worthwhile or effective, but that doesn't mean those are not worth discussing or can't ruin the experience for some. That final assessment, of course, is a lot more subjective and requires a lot more elaboration than sheer quality assessment can ever provide. That's why a review which tries to be as objective as possible will not only fail to achieve that goal, but will likely also be a very crappy thing to read. Or is, indeed, a pose assumed in bad faith/to mask one's opinions.

Edited by Plk_Lesiak
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Well it's quite subjective matter for sure, and I based that on the definition from Oxford dictionary in which the dinition is 'the definitó standard of something when it is compared to other things like it; how good or bad something is'. Of course each people would have different standard on which work that would be good or not, so yeah quaity here is quite a subjectibe matter to a degree.

Edited by littleshogun
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