The old standby stereotype about critics of all stripes is that they eventually become “too jaded to properly do their job.”
There’s some truth to this. Criticism and critical thinking are among the most powerful double-edged swords on the planet.
This is Gauntlet Legends.
It’s the game that first got me into the idea of Action RPGs. I had dabbled a bit with Diablo before this, but Gauntlet Legends was the first one that truly grabbed me.
Gauntlet Legends started out in the arcades in the late 90’s. It ran on state-of-the-art PC hardware, with 3Dfx Voodoo graphics. It was one of Midway’s many awkward attempts to translate some of their classic games into more modern, 3D designs.
The game is pretty simple, harkening back to the original Gauntlet games. You pick a character, and a color for that character, and you storm through several 3D maps hitting all the things. It has all the hallmarks of the original Gauntlet titles: monster generators, limited keys to open doors and chests, and a booming voice that announces things to you for no readily apparent reason.
It also added leveling up, and persistent character saves thanks to the hard drive inside the arcade machine.
I first played Gauntlet Legends inside the Silver Legacy Hotel/Casino in Reno, Nevada. I was 15 years old, and it plucked my nostalgia strings hard. It felt like Gauntlet, but modern, with amazing graphics, fun music, and exciting tactical-yet-mashy gameplay.
The sort of gameplay which I still enjoy to this day in games like Diablo III and Dynasty Warriors.
It has no loot. It has a terrible story. It has a bunch of annoying progression design, where it basically prevents you from finishing the game unless you know where secret items are that you couldn’t possibly find without a magazine walkthrough.
I still loved it.
I never finished the arcade version, but I played the N64 port extensively. Originally, the game was supposed to come to PC in an arcade-perfect port…but it was cancelled, and so the first two home versions were for N64 and PS1.
I hit the level cap on the N64 version, which meant that my character became a giant and could basically stomp all over every enemy in the game.
I eventually traded-in my N64 for a Dreamcast…just so I could play its superior port of Gauntlet Legends. It had most of the content from the Dark Legacy arcade update. The only thing it was missing was a couple of sound effects.
I hit the level cap in that one too.
Then I traded that in to get a PS2…again, just so I could play its port of Gauntlet Legends.
This is when the love died. I never finished the PS2 version of Gauntlet Legends (now using the Dark Legacy title). Not because the game was bad, but because I started to see its flaws more than its fun.
In college, I studied film and literature. Both of these programs were essentially about teaching me to deconstruct these different art forms and see what makes them tick.
At the same time, I was also the games reviewer for a small computer magazine. I would play three games a month and rip them apart to try and analyze them as products and as art.
In order to learn what makes something good, you also have to learn what makes it bad. And herein lies the problem.
Thanks to this background, and about 30 years of playing video games/watching movies/reading books, I can’t approach any new piece of content, or hardware, or entertainment, without its apparent flaws screaming into my face.
Every time I pick up a new pair of headphones, I start looking for flaws in the build or the comfort.
Every time I sit down to watch a new movie, I cast a skeptical eye at it and say “okay, impress me or else I’ll be bummed!”
Every time I load a new video game, I assume that I’m going to get bored of it before I get to the end, or be frustrated by its design decisions.
I generally like writing criticism. I like trying to navigate the ups and downs of a product/game/whatever to give other people information about it.
And it’s true that we can’t know what we like without knowing what we don’t.
But sometimes, I just want to enjoy something for the sake of enjoying it.
Having a critical mindset means that Guilty Pleasures become all about the Guilt instead of the Pleasure.
I‘ve enjoyed Diablo III since launch.I’ve bought and finished the game on every platform its been released on, and I even took the time to get the platinum trophy on PS4. That takes a stupid amount of play time. But, just like with Gauntlet Legends back in the day, a change has happened. Now even with this thing I love, if I spend more than about 20 minutes playing it, I start to think: “To what end am I playing this? Has this game really changed deeply in the years that I’ve been playing it? Aren’t I just doing the same thing over and over? Why am I not finishing all the other games I’ve barely touched?”
And I turn it off.
My critical-thinking mind, whether it’s finding good things or bad things, shows up to kill the fun.
I’m sure that some of you are thinking “Lol, just have fun!,” or “Oh no poor thing he went to school and broke his mind lol what a stupid problem.”
I agree that it’s a stupid problem, but that doesn’t mean it’s fake. I think approaching things critically is generally a good thing because it helps us to develop our tastes as people. I’m not saying we should stop teaching people to develop these skills.
We just have to remember to then use those developed tastes instead of constantly trying to improve them, so that we still enjoy things.
Otherwise what’s the point of being a fan?
Sometimes it feels like fandom has become about picking something apart instead of liking it. I definitely spend more time doing the former than the latter, these days, and I’m trying to turn that around.