Literally What Does “Pretentious” Mean?

How would you describe something as pretentious and how would you define it? Could you give an example in the context of a show/film as well as the context of a game?

There’s a simple definition if you google it actually: “Attempting to impress by affecting greater importance, talent, culture, etc., than is actually possessed.”

This is pretentious. This is attempting to show that the game The Last of Us has a greater cultural value than it actually possesses.

I say that a lot of indie darlings, like Sunset, or really everything from Tale of Tales, are pretentious. They are really simple, but trying to pretend that they are way more important than they actually are, that they have way more meaning than is actually conveyed.

I can’t think of many pretentious films, I don’t tend to watch those. One that a lot of people cite is Eraserhead, but I’ve never seen it. Enter the Void is a film I saw that might be seen as kind of pretentious, but overall I think it’s just bleak and a bit plodding.

Of course some people have told me that I’m pretentious before, that I try to appear more important than I am. Not much I can do about that. I try to be humble, I try to be direct, I try to keep things in perspective. If I slip up, I try to correct.

I view a lot of video game criticism as pretentious, as trying to make it seem like videogames have this amazing hidden meaning and significance that they don’t actually have, or that their limited meaning and significance is so much more important than it actually is. Video games are what they are, that’s kind of limiting, but it’s alright that they’re not this amazing transformative meaning to life or cultural rockstar thing like movies or music were before them. They’re big, millions of people play them, they’re massively profitable, but not strong creators or definers of culture or meaning.

Here’s some talks by Jon Blow on it:

In these talks he kind of grapples with how the structure of games kind of obstructs or prevents meaning in the same ways. I’ve honestly harshed on Jon Blow in the past for being a pretentious son-of-a-bitch with Braid, but I think he’s reigned himself in after that (also it was cut poorly in indie game the movie, and I think his later talks have made it more clear what he means). I think he’s pursuing some of the wrong goals with trying to make meaning in games, and I think some of his efforts to pursue that type of goal show the limitations of the media.

And again, I think that’s alright. Not every type of art is imbued with meaning. Architecture isn’t. Cooking isn’t.

If I recall correctly, Tale of Tales basically openly said that they don’t want to make games. They don’t find games to be meaningful or beautiful in the ways they want, they don’t think games are art (and they mean it, unlike other people), so they make not-games or anti-games.
And I respect that they at least have that kind of honesty, even if I think they’re crazy pretentious otherwise.

2 thoughts on “Literally What Does “Pretentious” Mean?

  1. huitzilopochtli February 3, 2017 / 4:51 pm

    People call Eraserhead pretentious? It’s really clear with its symbolism, and actually kind of simple, which I guess is understandable it being Lynch’s first film, but it’s still really well made, I’d definitely recommend it if you’re interested, as well as anything by Lynch as it’s really good. My guess as to why they would call it pretentious is just that people can’t stomach surrealism out of lack of familiarity.

    What do you think of 1001 spikes? even if you haven’t played it, what did you think about Blow’s talk which you linked where he made a small analysis of a level? 1001 spikes seems to be really appreciated by game designers, but it doesn’t seem to have that dynamism which you talked about regarding platformers, rather it seems to be a more puzzley experience. I guess that’s kind of the same sense in which people appreciate Super Meatboy–that it’s just a puzzle to gradually unravel.

    What do you mean by Blow pursuing some of the wrong goals with meaning in games? the kind of meaning which he talked about in that talk is not some philosophical meaning that narrative games strive for, rather it’s associated with the effects a particular art form produces in its audience, which is why I’m sort of confused by your comment about not every type of art being imbued with meaning, because architecture and cooking do have meaning, at least in the same sense in which that 1001 Spikes level has meaning, in how it conveys concepts relating to its own form, not necessarily some sort of philosophical concept.


    • Chris Wagar February 3, 2017 / 6:07 pm

      That’s all I’ve ever heard Eraserhead referred to as. I have no experience with it.

      I have not played 1001 spikes, but I did see his talk on it, and it made sense. You’re correct, it largely does lack that dynamism I mentioned. It’s very puzzely, forcing a few defined solutions, which seems to be Jon Blow’s preference, I haven’t really heard him praise a game that wasn’t like that, except counter strike.

      You’re correct that the meaning he talks about in his talks is not the grand philosophical meaning of other works, it’s very humble, rational, and simple, which I appreciate. The issue is he still says that he’d like games to be something that can touch people on a personal level the way books or films have and influence a person’s whole philosophy. I think he’s trying to build up from humble foundations to something like that, which you can see in his recent game The Witness, the way it alludes to viewing things from different perspectives in all the narrative materials provided. I think his end goal isn’t going to pan out.

      I agree with you that everything artistic has meaning in at least that designed 1001 spikes sense, but I was referring to philosophical meaning there.


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