Satire: It’s funny because it’s true

by Dan on July 3, 2013

In college, I took several writing courses, one of which was called Humorous Writing. Every style I wrote — parody, nonsense, what have you — turned out to be satire, according to the professor. So I believe in its power; when I see satire done well, it can be the most incisive forms of criticism out there.

Something Awful often mixes satire with snark and sarcasm; I think those are less world-changing and more self-indulgent. But Dennis Farrell utterly nails the satire in If Films Were Reviewed Like Video Games, wherein he breaks down World War Z in the style of a bad — but distressingly typical — game review.

I know you get why it’s funny, but just because I’m me, let me completely kill Dennis’ joke and openly articulate the flaw: He’s reviewing the mechanics of how the game was made, instead of reviewing the experience of movies, which is the whole reason any of us attend them. A film is judged on what it makes us feel — is it engaging? Is it moving? Is it fantastic spectacle? Whether it’s a tense, personal drama or a sci-fi popcorn flick, will we get lost in its fictional world for two hours? Because if the review adequately explains that it is and you will, chances are good we want to see that movie. That’s what we want from a film, and it’s what we want from a film review.

Games can do all those things I just mentioned, and can arguably do them better. You’re an active participant in how a game’s engaging, moving, fantastic spectacle plays out. And yet, because the game is interactive — because it has mechanics, which films, books, TV shows, or albums do not — a lot of reviewers get tripped up and only focus on those mechanics. Yes, it’s important to note when they’re bad — poor control can ruin the rest of the experience — but if they’re good, chances are high that the reviewer will want to talk about the experience instead, which is what the reader really wants to know about. Like good sound in a movie, the mechanics of a game become invisible when they’re doing their job.

No responsible or trusted (or perhaps simply sane) film reviewer would summarize the dialogue by saying “A lot of people talk in it and things keep happening.” They wouldn’t say a film wasn’t good or bad because of its run time. They wouldn’t demonize a film for telling a different story in its sequel or expanding a successful formula; in fact, they’d more likely criticize it if it didn’t. Yet you see those kinds of judgments in game reviews all the time — “this sequel doesn’t do what the first one did” is as common as “this sequel is too similar to the last game.” And if calling out a specific type of camera strikes you as silly, consider how often you’ve seen a game engine name-checked, with the implication that its use makes a game inherently superior. Ridiculous, right? Right?

This whole article — from the assumptive yet incongruous score in the beginning to technical obsessions to personal biases and illogical expectations of personalized content — is a humorous warning to heed. Just be thankful it’s presented with a smirk by a stranger on the internet instead of with a scowl from your editor!

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