A long long time ago, I used to like Zelda, Okami, and Mad World, among others. I thought they were good games, and I never really questioned it. I remember before I played Ocarina of Time how much everyone said it was the best game of all time. There were memes back then of the OOT box, with a warning label, “Warning: Playing this game will make every game you play following this a slight disappointment.” I played OoT and somewhere at the back of my head thought, “huh, it’s not the greatest game I’ve ever played”, but I completed it, and all the sidequests, and never looked back.
I never really questioned liking the Zelda games until Tevis Thompson’s essay, “Saving Zelda” released in 2012. Dark Souls and Zelda: Skyward Sword had released around the same time the previous year, and I came home from college and played them both over winter break, jumping back and forth between them. I was completely on the hype train for Skyward Sword. I’d played a demo of it at New York Comic Con. I pirated that demo shortly before release, and I was hyped to see motion controls finally get their moment in the sun after being disappointed with how Twilight Princess used waggling as a substitute for the sword button. Despite that, with the actual game in my hands, I found myself playing a lot more of Dark Souls and I didn’t really know why.
Then “Saving Zelda” dropped a couple months later, and I read it, thinking, “This is ridiculous, Zelda’s a great series. Everyone loves Zelda. Skyward Sword is amazing”, but it planted the seed of doubt.
I played more Skyward Sword, and saw more and more of what Tevis was talking about. And I’d had the same experience he did with his comparison to Demon’s Souls. I had beaten Demon’s Souls and loved it, and I was playing Dark Souls directly next to this overhyped Zelda game, and at some point I realized, “Oh wait, the entire time I’ve been playing this game, I wasn’t actually having fun.” I was bored, waiting through mini-cutscenes, excessive dialogue, the reminders that my battery was low. The combat was rote and not very thoughtful, unlike the better game I was playing beside it. The Wii Motion+ was not calibrated very well at all. The game was a dull slog which consisted entirely of doing exactly whatever was laid in front of me, which was *entirely* Nuzzles, especially since the new motion+ combat meant that even combat was now a Nuzzle.
Around this time, I was also getting involved with the dregs of the Icyclam community. It’s worth nothing that Icyclam is a criminal and a megalomaniac who shouldn’t be bothered with, but his community, and the dregs surrounding it (which are more sane than his direct circle, but still share his core values), tend to have pretty good taste in games, and I ended up playing a ton of old and obscure games I otherwise wouldn’t have if I didn’t take their suggestions. I’d considered the idea of starting a youtube channel, or games criticism site with friends because I felt like game reviews didn’t have their priorities straight (I thought Gamespot’s Twilight Princess 8.8/10 score was a crime against a masterpiece).
I had always heard, “gameplay is the most important part of a game” as like, a truism, and I joined the Icyclam spinoff community I did because I thought they’d be the hardcore community of gameplay enthusiasts I was looking for, instead of just believing in Icyclam’s same immersion ideology that I abhorred. I wanted to find people who took gameplay seriously, and I found a community of people who liked difficult, complex games, while seeming to reject Icyclam’s fanaticism. I ended up disappointed as I eventually realized that no, they hated glitches, they loved fancy graphics, and they didn’t really care about gameplay that much, just whether a game was hard or not (and they rationalized that masocore games weren’t “really” hard, to avoid the obvious contradiction of a hard game that was bad).
And being in that community, I ended up constantly arguing that no, graphics aren’t really that important, and I had it pointed out, “Well don’t you like Mad World and Okami? Those are pretty, but the gameplay isn’t actually that good.” And oh shit, he’s right. I had just like, assumed these games are good and I liked them even though I could reflect on them and remember how I was bored the entire time I was playing them. They’re made by a company with a good pedigree. They both have gorgeous unique art styles, unlike anything else before or since. They both have a lot of content and mechanics and seem like they should be interesting. And in practice, they’re both actually boring and I had cognitive dissonance about liking them. So from that day on, I stopped attempting to defend games I wasn’t confident about, and I stopped regarding games favorably based on their prestige among other people or the prestige of the company that produced them.
And of course, I’ve looked back on a lot of games this way. Some games I’ve bounced off of without realizing why, before I ultimately concluded that they’re not very fun, like Majora’s Mask or Planescape Torment. Did I actually enjoy the moment-to-moment of them? Not really.
And I feel like if I did this type of self-deception so commonly before (played games that bored me and said I liked them because they seemed like they should be great) then wouldn’t this be common among other people? Have you ever convinced yourself you liked a game, ignoring the feeling of actually playing it?