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You take games too seriously.

Ropeburned by Games Journalism

You Have To Burn The Rope

The two-minute Flash game has gone from smart to clever with the new blog fixation on You Have To Burn The Rope. PC gaming blog Rock Paper Shotgun has seized on the game – like Peggle before – as a internet cause celebre, a meme it can get behind.

The thing is, though, that the game has gone from what it is to what the blogs think it should be. The blogs have turned it into a criticism of blogs, a far simpler thing than what it is. They’ve turned it into a teaser trailer, a speedrun, a walkthrough, all the things we associate with those people – those meatheads, to use Ken Levine’s terms for the folks who just aren’t as smart as us but we want to sell things to – who also play videogames.

But You Have To Burn The Rope is a criticism of what’s keeping the artform from being an artform. You Have To Burn The Rope is talking about what’s keeping videogames from moving beyond Super Mario World, the geniusly intuitive but emotionless work of nameless workers with no preconceptions of creating “art”.

And the games journalism world doesn’t want to think about that.

More after the jump.

You Have To Burn The Rope is the kind of game design anyone from the 16-bit generation will appreciate, mocked by the overly-informative messages which we walk by as we walk through the Super Mario World-cribbed opening moments (seriously, it’s every Tower level, sans Wizards).

It shows us how to move through the world, it shows us a possible path, and it challenges us with a massive boss character. But everything you do up to then is just to show you how you should kill the boss – the second you walk past a torch, you have a torch, and you just know that you’re supposed to kill a dude with it.

So you do. That’s the game.

What better commentary could there be about the simplicity of mechanics? What better attempt to show how silly we are to overthink the possibilities of the game form than to show us that we’re merely being led along a chosen path, for the seemingly cathartic moment of killing the big bad guy and getting the accomplishment (or, in the 360 world, the achievement, all the more important) of the big win.

But our brand of games journalism takes pride in its cleverness. When you look at Kotaku’s weekend posts, you have to just feel debased that the new editor of the preeminent games site can only talk about what gets him hard or Casual Encounters jokes in an attempt to fit in. That’s what we expect – jokes for teenagers, by people desperately trying to emulate teenagers.

Thank god for people like Totilo, Croal, and Parish who take their jobs seriously, but what does it say that that’s what we get as the attempt for the “house style” of the gaming world? That the point is to make fun of the less-cool kids, who are wasting their time on speedruns or not smart enough to figure things out without a walkthrough?

Talk about the stuff you’re writing about with a little respect, even if it’s just a joke. People are doing smart things out there, and it’s your job to aggregate and comment on it.

– swr

[UPDATE 4/13: A few caveats, thoughts, and apologies after the community responded.]

[UPDATE 4/20: Chris’ take]

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Filed under: Commentary, , , ,

14 Responses

  1. Davin says:

    Really? Juvenile humor can still have its place in an adult world. There’s danger in taking something too seriously.

    The fact that so much is being attributed to something so simple (a joke that is likely just about the nature of gaming) is better proof of the art of games than any discussion thereof.

  2. ctplante says:

    Something tells me this post is more controversial than my opinions on SCUD.

    And like Davin, well kind of like Davin, as much as I like Totillo and Croal’s style, sometimes I just want to laugh. And not in a droll, Frasier way–diss!

    Gamers are a wide swath of people, and more and more I think we love the medium because we get such different things from it. Need proof, listen to the 1UP Show. I care more about their crazy, sometimes neurotic personalities more than the podcasts intended content of previews, featues, and user mail. I listen to them because they’re intelligent people with very different opinions. Some want to know the inner-working of rouges, while others crave the righteous sequel to Leisure Suit Larry. For the group, there’s no shame in either position (OK, maybe a little shame in Leisure Suit Larry).

    Oh gosh, I just turned this into a Ziff Davis love-fest.

    FULL DISCLOSURE: I also like the 1UP podcasts, because I heard a rumor that some staff members of 1UP.com are Ohio State and Kansas City Royals fans.

    Confirm or deny?

  3. Sam Ryan says:

    FULL DISCLOSURE: ohio state and kc royals fans have no place commenting on anything rationally.

    alright, so maybe i’m being a little droll and catty. and sure, i love a good boner joke here and there.

    i just worry when the boner jokes replace the being excited about games – when we’re more interested in showing how cute we can be than how much this stuff is actually interesting.

    then again, maybe i’m just showing my own (unappealing) cleverness with all of this.

  4. Though this is oft mentioned when topics such as yours come up, but as an industry (games journlism), we spend a whole hell of a lot of time talking about what we should be doing and how we should be doing it.

    What’s really great to have seen over the past few years is places like Level Up and Multiplayer (as well as CrispyGamer.com and now, GiantBomb.com) making a distinct effort to cover their industry professionally (and humbly at that.) Sites like Kotaku and Joystiq (and even more so, Destructoid) exist to serve a specific audience — namely, the larger videogame audience that doesn’t care enough to read entire magazines always. They cater to the folks who read the numerical value of a review and not the text. Do I read Joystiq and, to a lesser extent, Kotaku? Sure! They’re news aggregators! However, the level of seriousness, especially regarding writing, is far lower than on a site like 1up.com or Level Up/Multiplayer, etc.

    Though I agree with you on most of your points, I wish we’d, as an industry, spend less time worrying about the other guys and more time worrying about ourselves. Oh, and we should all hope for the budget that comes with working at Newsweek or MTV. That probably helps too (though not with the style, just the whole reporting power thing.)

    That was a much longer comment than I intended.

  5. […] game looks like that – whether it’s a style he knew fit or a mode of self-preservation in the vicious world of games […]

  6. Henrik says:

    Hi there!

    My name is Henrik and I made the music for YHTBTR. I just wanted to tell you that I don’t have any cheese to put on my sandwiches in the morning so I’ll probably have to take some from a neighbour (we have a shared kitchen).

    *hugz*

  7. […] HardCasual takes the blogosphere – and us – to task for not rising to the critical challenge set forth by You Have To Burn The Rope. Softcore gamer […]

  8. Michael Cook says:

    It’s a participatory gag. It just depends on whether you think people are falling for a trick, or joining in with the joke.

  9. […] April 2008 · No Comments So my response to You Have to Burn the Rope got a little […]

  10. […] a game criticism akkor most tényleg egyszer használatos poénokról fog szólni, vagy sem. Vagy a Hardcasualon kezdődik vagy a Rock, Paper, Shotgunon. De igazából nehezebb olyan blogot találni, ahol nem volt róla […]

  11. […] in my reading this week, since I noticed the guys at Hardcasual used it as a launching point to grouse about the state of game journalism, then apologized after some other people like the guys at Rock, Paper, Shotgun offered a response. […]

  12. […] provoked much debate regarding what message the game is trying to convey. From Hardcasual’s commentary and distaste with YHTBTR’s interpretation (or lack thereof) by the general blogosphere to Rock Paper […]

  13. […] stand up, there’s an unspoken rule: don’t joke about another stand-up’s set. Sam’s post, Ropeburned by Games Journalism, brought a lot of attention to Hardcasual, but it was only recently that I had put these two thoughts […]

  14. Rowr14 says:

    Wow this was a waste of my time. This doesnt deserve a fully argued response, so im just going to say. Your a retard, get your head out of your ass.

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this is a blog about video games by chris plante, sam ryan and chris littler.


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