April 28, 2020

Nobody Knows Best - EP 9: Owning Your Criticism

Taking a trip down memory lane and revisiting an old blog post with new insights.


Transcript

So in 2014, I had a podcast that was focused on game design and development.

And it was really small, 10 to maybe 15 or 20 minute, podcasts that were focused on a particular topic. Now, also during that time, I was writing a bunch, because at that point in time, there was a lot going on in 2014. I was unemployed, I had a lot of free time on my hands, I had a ton of debt, I was looking for a bunch of different jobs that weren't really going anywhere, or some that I thought would go somewhere that ended up not going anywhere, and a bunch of other things that I won't touch on now. But essentially, I was in a strange creative space.

In addition, there were some changes happening in society. It was around here I feel where something shifted; something culturally changed. As I started to write and examine this from a game industry perspective, because that's the area that I'm in, that's my career, I started making those podcasts and writing. And one of my pieces that I wrote during that period, which was the focus of one of the last podcast that I made of the old podcast was one called "Owning Your Criticism". So I thought that it would be interesting to go through it again, given how much time has passed, write down some of my own notes and some things I found interesting about it, and then going back and listening to the old podcast and seeing what I thought about it at the time. Because the fun thing about that podcast and also this piece is I was exploring the possibility of working in multiple mediums In order to get a larger reach. And also, it would be really interesting to see what I said at that time shortly after writing that piece and seeing what I was thinking, what my points were, and maybe seeing if I think some different things now.

So with that all said, I'm going to read all of this and then I'm gonna go through my notes here and give a summary of the things that I thought were interesting and some additional context, and then also, little bits of ideas and thoughts from listening to the old podcast I thought was interesting as well. So just to clarify the order before I go into reading it; first, I read it gave my thoughts and opinions as of now and then I went back and listen to the old podcast and then pulled some interesting thoughts from there.

Alright, let's get down to it then.

Alright, right off the bat, one thing that I found really hilarious is that in that podcast I mentioned that I wanted to use that [podcast] as a way of clarifying what I write.

Another sort of general note that I found really interesting is that when I listened to the old podcast and some of the old episodes, I was definitely a lot blunter than I would be now.

And it's funny because I can feel like...the precision and the focus and...and when I think about it probably has to do with the fact that at that time, I didn't really have that much to lose at that point. But in a way, I kind of admire the...the fire that I had been, like I almost feel like I've become...I've become a little soft even though I've had plenty of ups and downs post then. But I guess it goes to show what being at a bottom can do creatively. And of course, I wouldn't encourage that.

Like, please don't put yourself in a bottom on purpose. I wouldn't wish that on anyone.

And another thing I forgot to mention in the old podcast is when I started it, it didn't really last for that long; I believe it was only for a few months. But I was really surprised how much it resonated with people. Because at that time, the only thing I did was that I would post them on Twitter, similarly to what I'm doing now, and people would engage and click and I'm not gonna pretend that I had like some big...size audience or something. But I consistently got a few hundred people from being a nobody who was just saying opinions. And when I was thinking about that. I was like:

"Why would these people find why I was saying then interesting?"

And then I'm listening to it and now all these years later, I'm like:

"I kind of get it."

I actually kind of do.

And I feel that I was being a little bit too hard on myself at that time, because it...you can feel the roughness and listening to it, but it was a very concise and pointed podcast. But at the same time, the whole point of this one, a spiritual successor in the sense that [it's a] smaller podcast, tends to be focused on a particular topic except it's more general instead of specific to games, I feel like I've been treating this more like a fireside chat and I think that's good. I think that you need the fire and you need the more calm...sort of pace when you're tackling different things. And maybe in the future, I can get a style of having that freedom and fire and that precision. but the calmness I'm trying to not only cultivate in my own life and in making this podcast, but the lessons I've sort of learned to mitigate things and be a little bit more calm and focused and rational.

So the very first few paragraphs I, I can't I just go for the jugular.

And I remember what I was thinking at the time, because I was like so broke. And then I was going online and seeing all these blue checkmark people, which, of course, things haven't changed very much, posturing and pretending to be authorities on things and how much this weird caste system; little did I know at the time that it would be not only bigger over time, but it would infect multiple platforms. But while I was focusing primarily on game criticism, I will say that that was only the vehicle. My critique was for all media at the time, and I kind of implied that in the old audio podcast because another note that I have here says that I wasn't particularly calling out an...x outlet or y outlet; I was talking about mainstream criticism. Because I felt whether you were talking about social-economic issues or politics or games or movies or whatever, there was this smug pretentiousness that took over and made all of these topics that would be so easy to talk about if you treated people with respect and you didn't talk down to them, and these people were framing them as status symbols and ways of elevating themselves. And if anyone gave any sort of critique, as honest as it was, there was the excuse of:

"Oh, well, you don't get it"

Or:

"You're down here and I'm up here so you should kind of learn your place."

And that sort of...mindset really, really enraged me. And then when you put into context, everything else it's no wonder why...one the old podcast did okay, and two, I was so pointed and precise in my critique at the time.

And one thing I said then that I understand a lot more now, and it's funny considering the situation then I said was:

"Well, if you don't like this, why don't you just do something else?"

Now a lot of time has passed since then, and some of those people have gone on to do other things. But the one thing I didn't realize is that as you've devoted time into a career path, it becomes harder and harder to break away from that and do something else.

Because you're starting late, you have to build up additional skills, and given how long I've been doing my thing for, it would be crazy for me if I was in the boat of hating my job and what I do, and then trying to figure out what I want to do next, because I wouldn't know what I would want to do. I have ideas of things that I think are neat, or hobbies I do that maybe could be a path forward, but it definitely wouldn't be an easy transition, there would be a lot of upfront investment that I would have to do in order to truly embrace that path. So that's one thing that I don't agree with my past self on. It was very obvious why a lot of those people who had that disdain stood around, but it was interesting to find out shortly after, and then in the coming years, some of those people did transition to different things.

Another interesting thing about that statement is that I specified that my "Game criticism is a joke" comment is a very authoritative statement. Even though, I go and basically give the equivalent of Episode One - Terms of Service and basically say like:

"I don't have the ability to tell anyone what to think, or tell people what they should or shouldn't do, and I have my own biases and that they can influence me in certain ways, but at the end of the day, what I say I have to own up to."

And the thinly veiled lesson there is that it doesn't matter if I'm talking about [game] criticism or not. What you put out there, whether you're critiquing a video game, or other people, or let's say you have a coworker that's annoying you and they're doing something, are you doing it too? Maybe to someone else? Are you holding yourself to those same standards that you're holding them to? Because if you're not, then you're kind of being a hypocrite. And I emphasize that point of:

"I don't want to be a hypocrite."

I have to make sure that the parameters that I am laying out and the bar that I'm expecting is the same bar that I have for myself. Which in some cases, as you start getting into more of a perfectionist mindset can make you spiral really fast. Because we're all humans and we're going to make mistakes. But if we're so obsessive about having high standards to the point that we can't even meet them, and we're expecting that out of others, there's only there's only one thing that can happen.

And that is spiraling.

Never feeling like you can accomplish anything.

Always being disappointed by people and essentially driving yourself into a dark place; usually unintentionally.

Then I kind of... and I think this one was a little mean. But then I kind of go into some examples where I talked about people calling themselves "game designers" because they can follow a basic tutorial and how that was compared to a lot of critics who would repeat the same things. So that way they could appeal to their inner circle and while the latter critique is absolutely true, and I did mention that I felt like I was being a little harsh, I don't think I needed to do that comparison because the lesson that I want to drive towards is that you can call yourself whatever you want. And I go into this on the next paragraph but I'm kind of...really abrasive.

But I mean, the whole thing is kind of abrasive, the more you read it, but anyway...

The core point that I both remember then and that I called out back then was that if you want to pursue something, you should 100% do it and if you make the initial mistakes and you fail a little bit like anyone else did, who, who's starting a new career or going down a path for the first time, then that's fine. And I think the point I was trying to make is that in design, the bar tends to be really high because there's high volume applications, because there are so many people who think that because they have a good idea, it means that they deserve to direct a game. And they're not willing to go from square one, and build up the skills and see how a production pipeline works, and how a game is built, and then internalizing that a few times before being like:

"Alright, now that I know everything, and I've actually produced some stuff maybe now I would be equipped to do my own thing or rope some other people in."

But when I was looking at criticism overall at that time, I felt like people were putting on those titles and making articles and critiques that appeal to a circle that they want to be a part of, and then used similar pieces and the "professional class" as a way of saying that they were just as good as they were. And to be fair, some of them were treated like that, so of course that would feed into that narrative.

Another interesting point here is that a lot of people back then claimed that "gamers" weren't interested in criticism, or long-form criticism that was in-depth.

Boy, were they proven wrong.

Because as I'm sure a lot of you listening now who are involved in games and maybe have that as a hobby or whatever, long form content is back. It is really back. And it's gotten to the point where now a viable model for people who do game critiques or discussions about lore or game mechanics or systems, they post their videos to YouTube or whatever, and then they'll have Patreon or some sort of way of getting funds directly from fans. So even if the algorithm or ads don't give them enough to sustain that content, fans are putting their money where their mouth is, and supporting those creators. And there are so many popular creators that solely focus on that. And back then, it was so interesting that a lot of the people who were saying:

"Oh people who play video games they're not interested in critique."

They didn't realize that it wasn't that they weren't interested in critique. It was that they weren't interested in what that person had to say.

Which I find hilarious.

And I think a lot of why their criticism didn't land is not it was inflammatory. When you frame something in a way to get people mad, yes, that angry energy can generate clicks, which may give you revenue or eyes and potentially followers and clout. But it opens you up to very pointed critiques about that inflammatory content. And when you're arguing about the nature of what's inflammatory or what isn't, instead of clarifying or presenting a view that's unique to you, that's more authentic, then you're fighting over the tone and aesthetic of what you wrote instead of the value of the content that you presented. So this idea I said it then, I still say it now, especially considering what has changed recently, this idea that people in the industry or "gamers" aren't interested in game criticism or analysis, uhat's completely wrong. That's absolutely wrong.

But the last note that I'll mention here, before I wrap up, which is important is one thing that I mentioned was that there are a lot of people who stuck their toes into controversial things ever so slightly just to see where the wind blew, and then would make their critiques once the answer was given to them. And part of this strategy is, obviously not to lose clout into give the impression that you're always right, which I'm sorry if you're trying to project that energy, you may trick a lot of people for a long time, but eventually you're going to be found and it's gonna come crumbling down, and you're gonna be constantly living in fear of messing up and failing and being wrong instead of embracing that, and finding your own identity, and your own voice. But also, and I think this is still true for the gaming industry, you definitely say you definitely see waves of this, society has a forgiveness problem. And because society has a forgiveness problem, of course you're going to have critics or people giving opinions try And figure out what's the best way they can take advantage of a controversy or a topic or a certain critique. And it doesn't matter how much you apologize or try to atone, it doesn't matter.

And it's sad because one thing I would say in comparison to then and now, I feel like I've internalized even more, especially talking about this podcast in the very first episode is...being your best. Acknowledging that your personal best is only as good as that time. And that ideally, as you grow and get older and wiser, that your best is getting better and better, but you realize that it's your best and that there's only room to improve. You'll never be perfect, but that's okay as long as you are trying to be a better person. But when that path doesn't exist, not only does that trap people in their worst, but it prevents people from growing. And if no one can atone for what they're doing then, of course, they're going to become worse and worse and worse, and certain people are going to be like:

"Well, I'll accept you."

And then once that happens, who knows what will happen right?

If you are apologizing to individuals for something that you felt bad about and that you have done, of course do that. But I have rarely seen someone apologizing for what they did on social media, work. I have rarely seen an apology that did not lead into that person being trapped in their worst groveling for forgiveness to people who are just taking advantage of them. Like I don't buy into that and I hope that you don't either but
what you do and what you say, I may not even agree with all of it. And some of it may be pretty bad, but I hope that if you're called out on what you say that you own up to it, because if you don't, then guess what?

No one should care about what you have to say.

For some, that's a tough pill to swallow. But there's no way you don't look like someone who shouldn't be taken seriously.

So, I'm gonna continue to own what I say and own my criticism. And I'm gonna remember that past me because while things aren't easy, the one thing I can say is that things are a lot better now than they were then. And hopefully, things will continue to improve.

So I hope you're doing well. Hope you're staying comfy and doing what you need to and take care of yourself.