Friday, May 19, 2006

Likes and Dislikes

The latest post on The Games Journal is about Risk and its descendants, and it is excellent, as usual. Which only serves to confirm my earlier comment that it is a hard job to produce unedited material with the same quality as edited material.

I'm back in Beit Shemesh for shabbat to see my parents. I will probably play some cards with my Mom, but other than that I don't know what to expect. Sometimes I end up playing with some of the teenage kids in the neighborhood. I brought Torres, Havoc, Modern Art, and something else. I also should have brought Puerto Rico to play with Rachel; it's been a while. I would like to try her on Caylus sometime next week.

In a BGG thread I explained again why I don't like St Petersburg, but only because someone asked me to. I really have no desire to convince anyone not to like a game that they like, simply because I don't like it. I guess my only purpose was to help someone whose tastes match my own and who is considering buying the game. They may save themselves some money.

Everyone knows that likes and dislikes are a funny sort of thing. In looking over why I don't like the game, the reasons that I give can be divided into two types: critical (objective) and subjective.

My critical reasons are those that serve to objectively evaluate the game design and its success or failure at achieving game balance. For instance, suppose that the game designer wanted to provide three strategic paths: path A, path B, or a mixture of both.

If I demonstrate that path B is either uninteresting or unachievable, then the only serious remaining strategy in the game is path A. Or, at least, the only interesting tension in the game is path A. Whether I demonstrate this or not, this is a critical assessment, which is, at least purportedly, objective.

Subjective reasons are where I say that I don't like this or that type of game mechanic, such as roll-and-move, or what have you. In fact, people may not really care if there are multiple paths to strategy in a game, so even if the game objectively fails in this fashion, it may not bother them.

These two types of reasons combine into one unhelpful mess of a numeric rating. That's why comments are so much more helpful than numbers. Or than "I really like this game!" But you know that.

This division between assessment types is no more nor less than the distinctions we make when evaluating anything, be it music, art, movies, food, and so on.

One evening about three years ago I tried to explain to my son this distinction. I said that I think that a particular (heavy metal) band is objectively talented and makes good music, but that I just don't like to hear it. It took him about a half a year before he could accept this, and I'm not sure that he really has. To him, there was music you like and music you don't, and nothing can be said to be objectively good or bad. No one ever says that something is good or bad except according to their own perspective, said he. Moral relativism is a big comfort to kids whose battle cry is "You can't tell me what to do! You're not the boss of me! Why do I have to do that just because you say so?!"

Alas for him, I don't believe in moral relativism. But I digress.

Is there a solid line between objective and subjective evaluation? Most people don't agree with my particular assessment of Saint Petersburg, and not only due to my subjective criticisms. It's possible that my objective criticisms are more subjective than I am willing to believe. Is it tautological that when people disagree about a criticism that it must be subjective? Or do we just fundamentally disagree on the conclusions? Have I simply not been articulate enough in my objective criticisms?


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