My girlfriend suggested we put on The O.C. while we were eating dinner the other night.
I never saw it when I was in high school through the early 2000’s, but thought it would be worth an ironic, millennial laugh, though, so we put it on.
Then something strange happened. It may have been after Ryan and Luke tussled over Marisa’s love in one of the homes that Kirsten was developing, only to have it catch on fire. It may have been during the cotillion dance that Ryan’s biological mom reluctantly attended, only to get drunk and make a scene. I started to realize that I like the O.C. And not in the same way I put on The Magician when I’m really drunk. Something cut through my critic’s eye.
I realized then, that it’s my problem that I have an instinct to disregard shows like The O.C. Just because it’s a trope fueled bullet straight through the mainstream’s heart doesn’t mean it’s without merit. This brought me to my time playing Uncharted 4.
I don’t think I’ve ever struggled to get through a game because “I’m supposed to like it” as much as Uncharted 4.
Every time I’d boot it up, I’d play for less than ten minutes and walk away. I found the core gameplay loop oppressively self-similar and simply not much fun. I kept going though. I would climb just one more wall so I could get to the part that everybody talks about; the character development and story. And I would get to those parts. And they were just as boring as climbing a goddamn rock wall.
I never understood how this could pass as good writing. It seemed just as trope filled and predictable as any blockbuster movie, full of obvious twists and emotional rollercoasters. Sure, it was successful at what it attempted to do, but that attempt was nothing short of underwhelming to me.
Here’s the rub – people really like Uncharted 4. Just like people swore their lives by the O.C. Obviously these people aren’t wrong. They see something there. This isn’t just an issue of taste.
I was bullied a lot growing up and when I went to art school for college, I found the thing that made me feel powerful – painting. I kept longer studio hours than my peers and was genuinely very good at what I did. I was constantly praised by my professors and over the years it went to my head. When it came time for critiques I became vicious. During one I embarrassed a peer in such a profound way that he stopped coming to class. He stopped painting, and still does not paint to this day, six years later.
In my insecurity and need to feel strong, I took from him what made him happy. I realized I had transformed Art from being a positive force in the world, to a weapon. When I internalized what I had done I couldn’t paint anymore. I just wrote short stories and barely graduated. It took a long time for me to forgive myself and five years to start painting again.
Many years removed from that critique, I’ve realized that the same part of me that feels compelled to disregard the writing in Uncharted 4 and the O.C is the same part that drove that guy out of art school. It wasn’t a desire to genuinely dissect a piece of art or entertainment, but to feel better about myself. To reassure myself that I was important and smart because of my supposedly refined taste.
I try to keep this in mind as I play and write about games, to internalize that there is somebody, somewhere, that loves this thing. And in the case of all the media I’ve mentioned, quite a few people. I have to write with respect not just to the game’s creators, but to the people that care about it. Criticism is still fundamentally important in both consumer and academic culture – it’s how we learn and grow, but how we criticize is just as important as what we criticize. I don’t have to like Uncharted 4, but it’s important that I can look through the eyes of one who does.
In retrospect, I guess Uncharted 4 wasn’t that bad.