Thursday, July 30, 2009

Learning from Opinions

I find reprehensible the dismissive attitude towards opinions—especially when, as a result, people selectively dismiss opinions when there is disagreement. We’d all like to think that we know facts when we see them and don’t need to give credence to the opinions of others in a field like game design, but we really do not have enough information and experiential data to support fact claims. Subjectivity and opinion is at the core of game design: what can be more subjective than the concept of fun? Fun doesn’t exist without an experience to host it and those experiences don’t exist without beings to have them—this is subjectivity at its most obvious.

The subjectivity of a statement or concept does not prevent us from gaining useful information from that statement. Dismissing all opinions because they are opinions, and therefore are useless to discourse, is sacrificing the immense amount of data that is held within what caused the opinion to be held. Each opinion must be held for some reason (although asking for details may lead beyond the point where, as Hilary Putnam put it, one “turns his spade”) and understanding these reasons will offer us insight, or will give us a reasonable cause to dismiss the opinion.

Of course, opinions that are purely a matter of taste are generally less useful because they are not reasoned opinions—their causes are entirely biological, genetic, or due to other permanently subjective or non-intellectual factors. For example, it is of no use to argue over the tastiness of mustard, because no matter how much we argue over it our opinion of mustard will not change. Similarly, if you simply do not like certain game settings in a visceral way, you aren’t going to start liking them even after extremely detailed debate because your opinion is a matter of taste and thus irrational. Debating over taste always gets us nowhere—but we cannot avoid the fact that we all have tastes. We can use our knowledge of our own tastes and the tastes of others to inform our judgments regarding if their opinions and ours will align. (This touches on a basic issue I have with game reviews: what exactly is the objective of a review supposed to be? It’s impossible to rate a game “objectively” but without objective metrics we’re stuck in the land of tastes and judgment calls.)

There’s a lot to learn from other people’s opinions, but only if we have some knowledge about the person’s tastes and their experiences. To hedge against unfamiliar readers getting nothing out of our opinions, we should back them up with our best shot at expressing the reasons why we hold our opinions, including what objective perceptions and facts on which we’re basing our opinions.

1 comment:

Brian 'Psychochild' Green said...

One problem is that a lot of what goes into game design is really subjective. Many people will argue from their own, limited, point of view. Many of those will imply that their point of view should be taken as an important one that is shared by many people. That's the essence of the "board warrior" on most MMO forums right there.

I also think that some opinions should be given more consideration than others. For example, if someone simply cannot stand MMOs, it might not be the best to listen to them say how much a particular MMO sucks. But, if they start talking about how great an MMO they are playing is, then it's time to take notice.