Just because you’re wet doesn’t mean it’s raining

If I just lower my expectations... then why are you serving me such crap that expecting 'middling' requires a downgrade?

I don’t expect a grand, stirring tale, but I expect one that isn’t an incoherent, stupid, shrieking mess and features characters I actually like to see on screen.

I’m not fond of excuses when it comes to critical thought.  You hear a lot of them thrown around consistently, usually that a given film wasn’t supposed to be winning awards, so why are you critiquing it?  Because apparently it’s impossible to both be a good action film and not insultingly stupid, never mind that Pacific Rim showed us exactly what Transformers could have been with a better script instead of the blaring obnoxious films that we’ve seen for years now.  Just because a film is meant to be entertaining action doesn’t mean it also has to be bracingly stupid.

We need to tear down the idea that critical thought and questions somehow need to step out of certain discussionsIt is possible for something to both be a straight action piece meant to show off cool hardware and explosions while also being a likable piece on its own merits.  You do not get to defend blockbuster titles on the premise that they’re meant to just be action extravaganzas, as it’s possible to have both.  But that’s the least of the defenses that I want to skewer and be rid of.

I was going to put something Gravity Falls here, but I don't think it deserves my derision.

And conversely, being grimdark doesn’t make you deep.

Just because it’s for kids doesn’t mean it should be dumb

I despise people who point to something dark from a child’s program and say with wide-eyed fascination “yeah, this is a kid’s show.”  When I was a kid I had an alcoholic father, a grandfather who died of cancer, I lived through two divorces, I nearly drowned at one point, I had a classmate get hit by a bus.  I might not have understood the nuances of every adult interaction, but I was not somehow oblivious to the fact that the central humor of Daffy Duck blowing himself up for an audition was meant to be dark and depressing.

Kids are not dumb.  They are ignorant, frequently, and can miss a lot of subtlety and innuendo hither and yon, but they are not these walking balls of stupid that will mindlessly accept any drivel offered to them with ferocious zeal.  Some kids are pretty damn smart, some are average, but they are more than capable of understanding darkness, death, pain, loss, fear, and so forth.  The one “meh, it’s for kids” conceit you can actually get away with is the fact that younger audiences won’t recognize well-worn cliches as just that, and even then the smart ones will start to figure it out pretty quickly.

Kids can recognize darkness and grimness.  They know trite inauthentic drivel from genuine emotion.  Give a child a video game and they will know if they’re playing a real game or something that’s been reduced to pointless hand-holding because of this assumption that kids are dumb.  Stop claiming that it’s all right if something is crap just because it’s aimed at children.

The story also helpfully drops off in the middle of the ending, so that's great.  Resolve nothing!

By the time you reach the promise set up in these initial preview shots, it’s just about time to say goodbye.

Just because it’s cheap doesn’t mean it can be bad

Hydrophobia: Prophecy was on sale on Steam recently for 50 cents, and I bought it, because female protagonist and half a dollar.  The actual game was competent but infuriatingly short, running just long enough to introduce concepts that it then did nothing with, and the coolest part of the game was when control over the nigh-ubiquitous water was granted… only for the game to end about half a minute later, with the implications barely explored.  At its full price of five dollars, it would have been a bit crap.

I have, in the past, said that games might be worth it for their low price, because an all right game can sell itself partly on the merits of being cheap.  But just because you get something cheap doesn’t mean it’s not bad  A low budget is not an excuse to cut corners in obvious and unpleasant ways.  If your game idea requires so much budget that you only have room for ten minutes of actual game, throw that shit out and start with an idea that actually fits your budget.  Having a low budget can explain why your TV show didn’t feature spaceships, but it cannot be used to excuse your show featuring spaceships that look terrible and are animated with sub-1995 computer graphics.

Bargains are nice, but a bad game on the cheap is still just bad.  It’s understandable that a cheap title might not have the money for some big impressive sequences that would have been nice to include, but it’s not an excuse for being outright terrible, and you shouldn’t be encouraged to buy things that are absolutely not good just because they’re cheap.  (Things that are all right are another story.)

There's also Chromedome & Rewind, Whirl, Arcee's revamped history, Chromia, Tailgate... so, yes, getting better.

In fairness, that first one’s getting a lot better.

Just because it’s problematic doesn’t mean you can’t like it

The Transformers franchise has a big damn problem with women.  Saints Row goes back-and-forth on it, as well; it’s a series that features a lot of female characters, including the protagonist if that’s your flavor, but the longest-running lady is specifically marked as being promiscuous and a punchline for it.  Mass Effect has some issues with homosexual relationships not aimed at the male gaze and with its lady romantic options in general.  Guild Wars 2 has some gross armor designs for women, and it can be argued that some of the Kryta stuff in the original game was pretty damn racist.  Pacific Rim doesn’t pass the Bechdel Test.  I can go on.

All of these things I’m listing are some of my favorite bits of media.  I recognize that they’ve all got issues.  None of that stops me from liking these things a lot.

There is a difference between recognizing and understanding the problems in your favorite franchise and saying that you can’t like it.  I love the Dragon Age franchise, despite the often tedious slog of the first game and the sharply constrained environments of the sequel.  I love Star Trek, despite the fact that the series never quite had the motivation to really push the bar as far ahead as it wanted to and wound up equivocating a lot of its core points.  I still happily watch Disney films, and I don’t even need to tear into all of the many issues that some of those have.

Hell, problematic stuff can still be really diverse in other ways.  I like Frozen a lot, it’s a great movie, and it’s also painfully white with same-looking female leads and uncomfortable dips into cultural appropriation.  It also passes the Bechdel with vigor, focuses on a diversity of interrelationships, emphasizes differing ideals of femininity rather than just girly vs. tomboy, and really explores what happens when you break free of long-held fears.

Saying something is problematic doesn’t mean that liking it is wrong, it means that there are things to discuss about the message it sends from a critical standpoint.  If you don’t love it enough to examine its flaws, you might not love it as much as you think you do.

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About expostninja

I've been playing video games and MMOs for years, I read a great deal of design articles, and I work for a news site. This, of course, means that I want to spend more time talking about them. I am not a ninja.

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