Hamsterprophecy: Prevision

It\’s All About Pen, Paper and People.

Tired Of Awesome

Posted by Nathan P. on November 7, 2006

So…I dunno. I’m starting to get tired of awesome.

I’m sure there’s a liguistic term for it, but it’s the thing where the constant (over)use of a term makes it meaningless. It seems that everything I see on teh intarwebz is described as awesome. Or bringing the awesome. Or stepping up with the awesome. Or whatever.

Is this merely a linguistic rant? Perhaps. But I think it’s a sign of something a little more important, and this links into some of the post-Gen Con kerfluffle (remember that, kids?) regarding criticism and feedback. In internet discourse, at least, there’s a lot of pressure to only post with things that are awesome. Games that are great, things you think are really good, game experiences that kicked ass, and all of that stuff.

Like most things, this is both good and bad. It’s good because we are a small community, and there’s a lot of negativity out there, and we need to have the energy of awesome in order to have a comfortable sphere within which to interact. And that’s all good.

But it’s bad in terms of creating a culture of feedback and constructive criticism. Not everything is awesome! There’s a lot of stuff out there that happens that isn’t awesome. A lot of it is still quite good. And, more importantly, much of is has potential to be really good. But it is never going to get to the next level if there isn’t critique and criticism!

“It” could be a game design, playing a game, reviewing games, whatever. Doesn’t matter.

I personally am a little frustrated because I’ve gotten private feedback about one of my games, and when I said “hey, could you/are you going to do an AP post?” I got the response “well, it wasn’t a great session, so I don’t think it’s worth it.”

I mean, post, don’t post, whatever. But I think making the deciding factor whether a given session was awesome or not?

Well…it’s hard to critique awesome.

[EDIT: Definitly read the comments on this one, folks]

13 Responses to “Tired Of Awesome”

  1. Alex F said

    Hey nathan.

    The linguistic term you are looking for could be semantic satiation, or jamais vu – although they’re more psychological than linguistic, really (I talk about the differences a bit here).

    On the culture of crit, I really think it’s got to start happening, now that the indie/story game scene seems to really be reaching a critical mass. As numbers swell, the number of duds will necessarily increase even with a culture of criticism, and without it a) the number will be vastly greater and b) consumers are shooting in the dark with their choices, and are likely to become bitter if they keep falling foul of these without the community attempting to lay it bare.

    Do you think the key is simply to do as this post, and remind people that this is needed – or is it going to take a more concerted, collective effort? Should committed designers be pacting to post up warts-‘n-all reviews of each others games on rpg net?

    Related thought: Does this have any parallels with the “never-say-no”/Monarda Law/improv attitude that a lot of the community is keen on? The assumption of awesome? I wonder if that’s indeed part what you’re getting at with your post…

  2. Alex F said

    Woops, link in opening para didn’t work. I meant http://farmerversusfox.blogspot.com/2006/07/weather.html

  3. Heh – I usually focus my AP posts on the stuff that went wrong and leave out the “awesome” (probably a bad habit for other reasons).

    The story-game design community is definitely susceptible to the overuse of “awesome” for the reasons you bring up, but I think its part of a larger, pop cultural trend, where everything either (a) is awesome or (b) sucks. The notion that there’s all this middle ground kind of gets lost. Also lost: the notion that a cultural/artistic exerpience can be worthwhile even if it doesn’t blow you away (or isn’t meant to blow you away). This tendency is similar to focusing only on the home run in baseball.

  4. Jim Henley said

    Thank you thank you thank you.

  5. Jason M said

    I’ve stopped using that word to describe things. I think it’s a cyclical trend and some other word will take its place as the signifier for “we share an outlook and are looking for fun, and I think this thing is both fun and compliant with that shared outlook.”

    The larger issue of enthusiastic support without meaningful critique isn’t so cyclical, I suspect.

  6. Thanks for the comments, all.

    I don’t really know what I’m “calling for.” I think there needs to be meaningful critique (thanks Jason) occuring on a couple of levels. There’s each persons individual design community and getting on-the-run feedback on the design process; theres actual play that both celebrates whats good about the experience and lays out in a constructive way what didn’t work or could be better; theres review of game text and critique of how the designer expresses their design and how effective this is; and so on.

    Decoupling games from personalities is also a hard step that needs to happen, I think. We’ve done a lot of work to make a designer synonomyous with their game(s), and we’re going to need to work to where we can say not-so-nice things about a game without that transmitting to the designer.

  7. Heya,

    You make a great point, Nathan. I think very soon it will get to the point where people will be willing to pay for professional playtesters/game shredders. By professional, I mean someone with a good rep when it comes to actual play and actual posting about it AND the ability to communicate the faults and triumphs of a game.

    Peace,

    -Troy

  8. Nate,

    Yeah, decoupling personalities is a big step. We’ve got to get to a point where our identities aren’t wrapped up in people liking our games, and we’ve got to get to a point where we can be friends with people who don’t like our games.

    Troy,

    I am highly doubtful that we’ll ever have a professional playtesting scene. It’s just outside the budget of most indie designers. I’ve done this breakdown before, but I still think it’s useful…

    Imagine what it would cost to playtest Primetime Adventures at $5/hour (less than the US minimum wage). A full short arc is a pilot plus five episodes. Let’s say that each session is three hours and that players spend 20 minutes between games talking about and writing reports for the customer (which is probably on the low end). Assume it’s a five player game (one producer plus four protagonists). That’s 100 man-hours to run through a single game. At our mere $5/hour that’s $500 per run-through.

    But a single run-through isn’t really enough to tell what’s going on with the mechanics. I’d guess that you need at least five to work out the kinks. That’s $2,500.

    And that’s based on two major assumptions: people will playtest your game for $5/hour and that it only takes them 20 minutes to provide insightful and detailed feedback. While I may be willing to accept the first, I’m highly doubtful of the second.

    Thomas

  9. Thomas,

    I don’t know anyone in RPG publishing who pays for anything by the hour. Not layout, not artwork, not printing, not anything. I doubt anyone would pay for playtesting by the hour either, nor even consider asking for that sort of compensation.

    Peace,

    -Troy

  10. Troy,

    Excellent point, and not one I’d considered. So, how do you handle payments? It’s on something hour-equivilent-ish, right? I mean, you don’t pay $50 for a piece of art you expect to take 20 hours to produce. Ditto for layout and editing. You pay, in part, a fee based on time spent. What’s the price range you’re seeing for playtesting here?

    Thomas

  11. That’s a really interesting thing you guys are talking about.

    I think the main obstacle is motivation. It’s easy to say “hey, I’ll playtest your game!” and then it’s not what your group is into, you realize you have all these other games you’ve been wanting to play, you have to cancel a session and don’t want to “waste” another one playtesting something that may not even be fun, or whatever. It’s really easy to not playtest a game.

    Now, what it someone approached you, Mr or Mrs Designer, saying “I playtest games for money. Pay me 50 bucks a session and I’ll play your game with X people and give you X amount/kind of feedback”, and that person can point to a string of satisfied customers….well, thats a whole ‘nother kettle of fish.

  12. Guy Shalev said

    The playtesting angle is critical to games’ development, it’s a form of critique right there, and one that leads to better results in the end, and not as good if skipped.

    The funny thing is, as we get bigger, and more games are being made, instead of having more groups willing to playtest games, we have less, as each group is playtesting the games of its own creators. Resulting in more games and less playtesting.

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