The original Mobile Suit Gundam might just be one of my favorite animes of all time.
I mention that because, going back to it, it looks kinda like trash. The animation is sloppy, the characters are often off-model, the in-betweens resemble some kind of lovecraftian horror, and 90% of the show is stock footage. Judging it entirely based on its appearance, it’s trash.
But there’s so much more to the show than that. The story is interesting, the setting is creative, the characters are all unique and well-developed, and the show wraps things up conclusively in spite of being cancelled early. In addition, the series managed to tell a complex and even-handed war story in an era where there was massive pressure to only make monster-of-the-week shows. The series is judged on the impact it had and the things it did well, not solely on how good it looks.
So why don’t we view games in the same light?
Traditional criticism of media focuses both on the individual parts of a thing, and how it comes together as a whole. But people always seem to judge games based on a handful of details, weighing gameplay and graphics the heaviest. Some will refuse to play a game if it doesn’t run at 60 FPS, or if it doesn’t have a certain specific feature that they like. Others will give the game an incredibly low score if the graphics don’t meet their standards. And when a new console comes out, people will inevitably say “these games don’t look as good as they should.”
Now this isn’t to say that graphics and gameplay are not important, nor that they shouldn’t be discussed when criticizing a game. But other aspects of the game, such as the story, characters, music, and setting are also important. A good game, in my eyes, is a whole package. One in which everything comes together and works well, even if the individual parts are not as good. Some of my all-time favorite games match this criteria.
It’s so disheartening to mention that you disliked the story in a game, or to say that you found the setting boring or uninteresting, and hearing people brush it off by saying “it’s just a game, it doesn’t matter.” It does matter, you’ve just convinced yourself that it doesn’t because you don’t want to think about it. But if games and the industry are to evolve and be taken seriously, they need to grow out of the mentality that gameplay and graphics are all that matter, above anything else.
If you love games enough to base your identity around them, look at them critically. Judge all aspects of them, not just a few. They deserve to be analyzed and discussed in detail, not just judged based on how pretty they are. Games are more than eye candy. Or at the very least, they should be.