As Much As I Like Jonathan Blow...

I think Jonathan Blow is a pretty cool guy, to be honest. He's often self-important, but he's also ambitious, and that ambition is a good thing. He's also extremely clever and very good at talking about game design (better, in fact, in talking about game design than actually designing a game, judging by Braid) and how games can be better than they are.

Then Kotaku (sorry, my muscle memory types it in on occasion; I have, of course, flogged myself in accordance with The Commandments) had this article where people ask him various questions.

One commenter, lucasclause, asked:

I'm curious, Jonathan, since you're getting all of these gushing profiles that talk about you reading Anna Karenina and so forth, would you still try to defend the overly purple prose in Braid? When I played the game, I was frustrated at the lengths you'd gone to integrate the narrative into the gameplay because I found the narrative so awkward and painful to sort through, and if the press is going to portray you as some kind of literary-snob-in-training (I always liked Dostoesvky better than Tolstoy, btw), it'd be nice if you could live up to it.

While it wasn't the nicest thing to ask, Blow's response was worse, because he responded with an ad hominem attack, saying:

The phrase "overly purple" strikes me as overly purple.

One thing one notices when publishing any highly-visible work, especially in the current Internet environment and with gamers as an audience, is that one gets attacked like this frequently. The thing is, it's very rare for any of the attackers to have done anything noteworthy themselves. So I ask you, what have you written that is so good?

It is easy to attack. It is very hard to build a game, even harder to build a game that is at least a bit unlike what everyone else is already doing. Call me when you have built a game of the size and complexity of something like Braid / World of Goo / Bastion / whatever and then we can have a conversation as peers. Until then, this kind of thing is not productive.

What, can a patron not fault a library for having shoddy book quality? Can a customer not criticize a dog salesman for selling a mangy dog? I was, suffice it to say, disappointed with him, and said as much. To his credit, he replied:

The difference is that if a hamburger is burnt into charcoal, it's clear to you that this is the case. You wouldn't have some people saying it's wonderful, other people saying it's bad.

But with the text in Braid, I get both responses. So obviously there is subjectivity happening here, in a big way.

I will point out that most people who write attacking comments do not seem to understand the text in even the most basic way -- not even in terms of what it means, but the structure of how it's laid out, what functions are served by various paragraphs, how that connects throughout the game as a whole, etc. A substantial effort was put into that basic structure, and I find that when people at least see that structure, the worst they really say is "the style is not to my liking" or whatever. In general, tirades only come from people who didn't look carefully at what was there.

This isn't me defending the quality of the writing, by the way. Feel free to think it's good or think it's bad as you wish. I am certainly the least-objective person in matters like that. There's a structure there, and it's pretty complex, is all I am saying.

It's a good reply, and I said as much.

So... while the initial urge might be to say "man, what an asshole," the truth is that, like most people, he's just a person. He might be a bit stubborn, he might think a bit too highly of himself, and he might say stupid shit, but we all do that.

So instead of going on ranting about how certain developers are dicks when they say things we don't like, let's try calling them out first. Like us, sometimes, they screw up, and that's okay.

(is there some way to change the font in the quote box?)