Can we all agree that when we type things into the internet, that the purpose for doing so is that we hope that the stuff we typed is of some kind of value to others? Slashdot has their “Insightful/Informative/Funny/Interesting”-based ratings system; things which are none of those are buried. One of the things that should always get “buried” is a comment that’s nothing but pure, subjective opinion.
A lot of people might find that strange coming from me, because a lot of people mistake me for “saying my opinion” a lot on the internet. While I certainly do that from time to time, it will almost always be in passing, as a bit of an aside to a larger comment that’s actually about something of substance. I have long understood that nobody cares what my, or anyone else’s opinion is.
The recent Diablo 3 situation is a good example. I wrote my article on it months ago during the beta, but it recently got a lot of attention due to someone posting about it on reddit. At about the same time I also was on a particularly critical episode of Roguelike Radio wherein Diablo 3 was thoroughly throttled. In both cases, there was a predictable amount of backlash. People were upset, thinking that I was saying Diablo 3 is “no good”. Actually, I’ve never said that the program isn’t “good”.
What I have said is that it lacks ambiguous decision-making, that it lacks a loss condition, that there is far too much noise in the system for it to be balanced or meaningful. These are not subjective statements, they are attempts at objective observations about the nature of that program.
Subjective Vs. Objective
I’ve encountered this situation so many times on the internet, where I will make an objective observation, and get responses like “LIKE I GIVE A FUCK ABOUT YOUR STUPID OPINION!”. For this reason, I think it might be worthwhile to review the difference between a subjective and objective statement, because it seems that people are too regularly mistaking the two.
One common mistake people make is believing that “an objective statement cannot be incorrect”. Actually, an objective statement can absolutely be incorrect. Science is completely based on hypothesis and the formation of scientific theories. These theories are essentially a collection of objective statements about the nature of something. Scientists also have the responsibility of trying to falsify their claims – trying to find out how what they said is wrong. Sometimes, they find that indeed, they were wrong, and sometimes they find that they were right. In both cases, however, the statement remains an objective statement. It is not as though once an objective statement is proven wrong, it becomes a subjective statement. Objective statements are attempts at making a statement about the reality of the world (and all we can ever do is make attempts).
Subjective statements are fundamentally different. These statements attempt to describe something about one’s own state of mind – their opinions, preferences, and proclivities. Unless you’re in a personal relationship with someone, you probably don’t care what their subjective opinions are, because they have no direct impact on you.
Another common place people get messed up on this is that sometimes, a statement that sounds subjective can actually be objective, if given the right context. For instance, most people would find this statement clearly subjective:
Wii Sports is the best game ever created.
Certainly sounds like a subjective statement. However, if you add that the context was “in terms of most copies sold”, it is no longer subjective. Wii Sports sold something like 46 million copies and is the “best game” based on the standard of sales.
Much of my work has been in establishing objective standards and guidelines that support a very specific kind of system which I call “a game” (Here’s my Gamasutra article laying it out). Of course, there’s a ton of confusion sprouting from that word alone (I have another Gamasutra article coming soon on that subject), but once it’s made clear that I’m not talking about something as broad as “an amusement or pastime”, it should also be clear that I am dealing entirely with the objective, here.
“Everything’s Subjective In Videogames!”
I don’t think anyone is dumb enough to actually say that phrase out loud, but it certainly feels like some people believe this sometimes. Of course, this again stems from the aforementioned problem where we don’t even know what the hell a “game” is. When a “game” is something that can cover anything from Minecraft to D&D to Farmville to Chess, of course it is incredibly difficult to make any objective statements beyond stuff that’s not even really related to the system. We’re basically stuck talking about technology, and whether the application has bugs or how smooth it runs, or something thematic, because those are things that we can be objective about, since we understand them.
Back to Diablo
So like I said earlier, I never said that Diablo is “bad”. Actually, I think we can say that Diablo 3 is objectively “good” – or better yet, “effective” – at what it wants to do: make a ton of cash and exploit human beings who aren’t able to see that it’s a glorified operant conditioning chamber. It is extremely good at doing both of those things.
Now, I will say that I think that those things are bad things, but that’s my opinion. If I were to say this, though, people would yell at me, saying “that’s just your opinion, who cares”, as though I have just gone on the internet and said some useless subjective statement all by itself.
This is the most frustrating part, though: how infrequently people try to argue against my objective statements (i.e. illustrate how they are not true), and instead make one of the above errors and “argue” in the subjective realm. 80-90% of the time, it’s something like, “No way, Diablo is a ton of fun! I like playing it co-op and it feels so good to see loot fall out of a log”.
If you ever find yourself responding to what you see as a subjective statement (“I like X”) with another subjective statement, (“No, X sucks”), you should stop yourself right there.
If you want to find out why someone likes something that you consider terrible, what you have to do is first find out what that person’s standards are. Then, if you still disagree – meaning, if their opinion doesn’t make sense even given what they’re looking for – you can start to build a case using objective statements.
This is stuff that we all have to be wary of – I am probably guilty of having done these things in the past, but it would surprise me if I had done it in the last year or so, at least.
Probably, a lot of this article is pointless in that it’s just preaching to the choir, in a sense. One of the big problems is that my writing is mostly for other game designers and people who are serious about understanding games in a deeper way, yet most people who read my stuff are neither of these. This explains why I get twenty “no you’re wrong I like Diablo 3″ comments for every one insightful and usually at least partially supportive comment I get from a game designer.
I do think everyone who plays games would be better off being able to understand and defend their points of view more effectively, and by staying objective, we can do that.