Monday, January 11, 2010

Alex Kierkegaard: The Smartest Guy in the Room

He’s called “icycalm” and he’d have you believe he’s the smartest guy in the room. He probably is; he certainly writes like it. He has played more games than I have—he’s played more games than my closest friends and myself combined. He knows what he’s talking about as a gamer. If you should read any gamers' views on gaming, you should probably read Alex’s.

The problem is that he writes as if he doesn’t want to be read. He insults his opponents and spends so much time telling you how smart and exceptional he is that you are forced to doubt it. His style and tone lead to most readers dismissing his writing. Neither he nor his ideas should be dismissed, but Alex insists on testing everyone’s patience. He’s saying some important stuff about gaming; he does himself a disservice by splattering insults and  self-congratulation throughout his otherwise fascinating writing.

Two of Alex’s articles every self-respecting gamer should read:

  • The heart of role-playing games isn’t smacking crap with a sword. In fact, most videogames classified as RPGs are far from deserving the title. Alex offers a great summary of the history of RPGs and how we’ve gotten to a this sad state.
  • Arcade culture—we should regret that we’ve lost it (or that we’ve never had it) in the West. Alex analyzes the arcade culture in Japan with a certain reverence and respect uncommon in his work. He tells you why the arcade ecosystem produces amazing games and how Westerners entirely miss the point.

Yes, these articles are long. I assure you that they’re worth your time if you are interested in gaming.

[Alex has responded to my post by calling me "trailer trash", and a "fagot". Sounds good to me. -Ev]

8 comments:

spinksville said...

If he thinks Steve Jackson is a wargaming expert then that's a fail right there.

Its easy to piss all over CRPGS /IF/ you totally ignore the things they actually do better than pen and paper games. Or in other words, you give up the freedom, flexibility and interactivity of having a human GM and what do you actually get in return?

Exciting battles for one thing. I've sat in tabletop games where it took us an hour to resolve a single combat, involving lots of dice, looking up stats in tables, moving figures on a board, etc etc. Pen and paper does not do combat well (the best of the modern games tend to handwave it, limit it to a few descriptions of cool stunts, or let players invent moves on the fly). Computer games do combat exceedingly well.

Virtual worlds are much more immediate in computer form too than when you have to wait for a GM to describe what you can see. Especially if your GM isn't good at descriptions, is bad at making things up on the fly (um, err, I guess there might be a cooking fire there, sure), or sucks at worldbuilding.

So basically in return for giving up the brilliance of roleplaying with a good GM and good group, you get a mediocre but GUARANTEED experience with exciting combat and a visually stunning, immersive world.

A lot of players would be happy for guaranteed mediocrity, especially if they don't have access to a good GM anyway.

I'm sure CRPGs can get better, Dragon Age proved that. And I'd love to see MMOs encourage players to roleplay more (because there's no reason that roleplay between players has to be limited to mediocrity, we are all creative beings). But Alex is hung up on the 'lalala it's not real roleplaying' and maybe never had to suffer through D&D killer dungeons with a rubbish GM :) Think about that before you dismiss all computer RPGs.

evizaer said...

I don't think that this trade is fair:

* A dynamic world that reacts in interesting ways to how players behave. The players can change this world in significant ways, even destroying it. They can interact with the world in any conceivable way and the world will tolerate it.

* Relatively smooth combat and pretty graphics.

You're also missing the point of the article. Providing branching dialog trees is just a cop-out--it's a way that a game creates the illusion of roleplaying (and poorly). They're multiplying static content to stand in the place of actual Role-playing. It's a cheap and flimsy way of chaining combat encounters (the one thing computers do better) together, not the focus of the game as it should be.

Really, CRPGs present a relatively awful roleplaying experience. The combat is nice and pretty (rarely), though...

I see it as giving millions of people access to a poor role-playing experience where before (and still) a few tens of thousands of people had access to a good one.

I would trade 1,000 hours of WoW for 50 hours of well-DMed (not amazing, but better than sufficient) D&D4e any day of the week.

Brian 'Psychochild' Green said...

Spinks wrote:
If he thinks Steve Jackson is a wargaming expert then that's a fail right there.

Well, there are two game designers named Steve Jackson. One helped co-found Games Workshop.

As to evizaer's post, I agree. (I'm actually the one that sent him the link; someone linked to the site in the comments of my recent post about games "journalism". ;) Some insightful stuff there, but the tone makes it hard to read as you'll be rolling your eyes too hard.

evizaer wrote:
...hours of WoW ... hours of well-DMed [...] D&D4e

Isn't that the same thing? *rimshot*

Thanks, I'll be here all week. :)

Dervish said...

spinksville, the point of the article is not to "piss all over CRPGs." It's to point out how the "RPG" label is misused and explain how it should be used. This is important, because once you have that clarity in your terms, it's easier to focus on what makes those games good and how to make them better.

The games we currently have can be (for example) wonderful tactical dungeon crawlers--masterpieces, many of them--and those elements are what we should look at when comparing and improving them. But, they are poor RPGs. Progress towards greater plot interactivity has been stalled because everyone got locked into the "RPG means stats" mentality and stopped thinking about anything else. An entire genre is nigh-untapped.

The article is about insight, clarity, and consistency, not saying one type of game is better than another. If people learn to distinguish between "this is what makes stat-heavy strategy games good" and "this is what makes role-playing games good," we'll end up with greater demand for and better examples of each.

Anonymous said...

The great irony is that RPG's meaning was always different from the D&D meaning.

What pisses me off the most is the pedantic nature of all these internet fucktards. The "role players" especially. D&D grew out of table top wargaming and ALL early D&D games had shit-tonnes of combat and many of their designers hardcore D&D players.

Alex, icycalm or whatever his name is just an ultra-hardcore arcade nerd who hate's anyone who enjoys games who do not subscribe to the arcade design philosophy. You can see it seething in his righting that he believes extreme ultra-challenge is the most important thing about a game, it's actually the _least_ important thing about a game.

Anyone can make an ultra challenging game out of basic squares, circles and dots. This does not make it a good game.

He things the arcade design philosophy where the designers have design games to be short for the arcades to keep money rolling in is the raison detre of how good games should be made.

I don't know about you but there are many games much better then the best arcade games now, he seems to pine for a bygone era where only those with mad reflexes who enjoyed the extreme ultra-nerd sport of arcade game design (high scores, chaning, patterns, bullet hell, etc) are the greatest thing ever.

The guy is smart but he believes anyone who doesn't share his views or disagree's on some obviously incorrect points of hi is beneath him. He's a poser who just wants to make a name for himself. A real intellectual heavyweight would not be such an immature douche bag, it's like the guy is still trapped in his pre-teens and bags on his little brothers and sisters because they got him killed in his ultra-hardcore extreme nerd sport arcade game world.

Anonymous said...

Best synopsis of icycalm - he has some interesting things to say but it's almost impossible to get to them because he is such an insufferable, ego-centric wretch of a human being. It's almost as if something deprived him of all interpersonal skills.

Anonymous said...

Well, this is close to two years old, but I still thought it's worth posting. Alex Kierkegaard is wanted for fraud and is really Antony Zyrmpas.

Anonymous said...

"He has played more games than I have—he’s played more games than my closest friends and myself combined. He knows what he’s talking about as a gamer."

No, actually he doesn't. For instance, he likes to talk shit about scoring systems in shmups, but he basically sucks at the genre in general, having never posted any noteworthy replays or high scores.

Basically, his schtick is being a pretentious loser and trying to act slick enough to make it sound like intelligence. You're dealing with someone who wants people to pay him to join his clique, and insults people by calling them 'aspies'.