We’re all for praxis, just not for going outside

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L.I. Underhill is a media critic and historian specializing in pop culture, with a focus on science fiction (especially Star Trek) and video games. Their projects include a critical history of Star Trek told through the narrative of a war in time, a “heretical” history of The Legend of Zelda series and a literary postmodern reading of Jim Davis' Garfield.


  1. arcbeatle
    August 16, 2017 @ 1:01 pm

    I was with you on what you were saying for a time…but this gets very “either/or”. Why not have both? If I had the money, I’d have both a Switch and an Xbox One. I’d get to enjoy the photo-realistic-ish beauty of Mass Effect Andromeda’s vast vistas, and the carefully styled ones of Breath of the Wild’s.

    The attitude that photo-realism and technical superiority is, well, superior, is nasty and bad sure. But I enjoy the games that pushing the technological spectrum to its brink has made, and I enjoy the things that building from withered tech does. I would like both, please.

    Of course right now I can afford neither so I just play games on my roommate’s Xbox One, but in an ideal world :P…

    When you brought up the Dynasty Warrior’s turret thing, the first thing I thought was “what a clever gameplay innovation to work within their boundaries. That sounds fun and creative,” rather than the conclusion that followed it.

    Gaming’s toxic culture is awful, and I’ve grown more and more sick of it with every year. Its weird looking back on the days when I identified strongly as a “gamer,” proud of it like it was a good thing. I still feel like I’m rubbing bits off wool out of my eyes sometimes. The attitudes of “hardcore gamers” are often cringeworthy.

    But I don’t think that precludes me from liking the aesthetics of increasingly photorealistic games alongside more stylized ones.

    Anyways, I know your post was as you said in the opening a bit of a rant, and sorry if this comment was just as rambling. Charlottesville’s got me down, ya know? Thanks for the interesting read.


    • TheMagister
      August 17, 2017 @ 12:57 pm

      I agree with the either/or part. The ability to put out top-of-the-line graphics is there; why not utilise it? Why do so many people play on the PC and download all kinds of fancy mods to deck out their graphics? Because it’s nice. Half-Life 2 was a hallmark game when it came; because of its physics, its gameplay,…and also its great graphics.

      People buy so many HD remakes. Yes, The Last of Us and the Wind Waker and GTA V were already great games with great gameplay (or story in TLoU’s case…) because they want their eyecandy. And games like Shovel Knight and Sonic Mania have a great charm because they evoke an earlier time, but if all games today still had the technical quality of a Pokemon Red or Blue, we’d all be wondering why there was no evolution.

      Also, of course the SNES had some amazing soundtracks: Chrono Trigger or Plok (look up Beach, it’s crazy) are great, but can you imagine playing Skyrim without the orchestral thrill of the Dragonborn Theme?


  2. Lambda
    August 16, 2017 @ 2:30 pm

    I’m wondering if the obsession over realism might result from the people in charge being generally mediocre artists because they’re first and foremost technologists.

    I think it’s a general pattern that when you’re learning how to do something, you need to learn how to follow the rules, but then when you learn how to do it really well, you need to learn how to break the rules. So with art, you start off with an inability to reflect reality being a critical flaw, so you need to address that, but when it comes to making really good art, then it’s all about how to choose to make things unreal.

    It’s an idea which came to me when I was wondering why I find well done animation so much more compelling than live-action, that the ways in which you make it look unreal are where the actual art comes in, and animation gives you all sorts of opportunities to do that when it would just look wrong in live-action. Similarly, most stories won’t be about the sorts of experiences real people have most of the time, they’ll probably be made unrealistic in all sorts of ways in order to convey stuff, or at least a particular thing which does happen that way sometimes, but is very uncommon will probably be chosen.

    So maybe the people in charge just haven’t progressed beyond the “I’m not good enough at making things look real” stage of their artistic development yet, and hence think of making things look real as all-important?


  3. Sean Dillon
    August 16, 2017 @ 4:09 pm

    I think it’s this elitist attitude that’s sort of killed my interest in video games beyond a casual status (well, that and the summer of ’14, but that’s just stating the obvious). Sure, I’ll watch shows like the Jimquisition or AVGN, but I don’t really have the urge to go out and “update” my PS3 into a PS4 (though I might in a few years when Last of Us 2 comes out [hopefully it’ll go the route I think it’s going to go to given the ending’s at best ambivalence to Joel] or just jump ship to the Switch [as for the other options… the X Box never interested my and I want to stay as far away as possible from the PC Master Race]).

    Then again, I don’t think I was anything more than a “filthy casual” who plays single player games on easy. And that disdain towards people who prefer an easier time that fits with their play style and aesthetic kind of makes me not want to play video games. A shame, as I was quite liking TellTale’s stuff (though I feel ending my relationship with their hit game at Walking Dead season 2 is good enough).


  4. Eve
    August 16, 2017 @ 8:21 pm

    Graphics update after graphics update and yet, the only game I’ve found to rival my love for Minecraft, Civ V, Portal and Skyrim is the one where you shoot giant robot monsters with bows. I haven’t even played Horizon Zero Dawn and I still love it because it sounds FUCKING AWESOME.

    See, what makes the game is the concept, the gameplay and the story. People still play Oblivion and Morrowind, Fallut New Vegas and Fallout 3, Baldur’s Gate and Avernum. They still play Pokemon Red. They still play Bard’s Tale and Monkey Island. They still play Zork, which doesn’t HAVE graphics.

    All of those games are fun and well-made, and most of them have had great cultural impact precisely because they had a low barrier of entry for gameplay. Compared to, say, Crysis, whose main selling point depends on the ability to obtain a super-powerful gaming rig. I know a ton of pokemon fans, I know a lot of Skyrim fans, I regularly play Minecraft multiplayer. I don’t know any Crysis fans. I don’t know if Crysis HAS fans. I don’t know if anyone BUYS Crysis. (Someone has to, right?)

    The lower barrier of entry to your gameplay, the more likely it is that you can have an active modding community to keep the game alive well past its console generation. (besides Nintendo games, because those aren’t designed with modding in mind.) Skyrim is from 2011 and new mods come out all the time. Minecraft has a vast library of modpacks. Civ V has a vast library of mods on Steam, to the extent that I’d rather play Civ V than VI.

    Although that might just be me being a stick in the mud about older games. I am reluctant to get into anything new not because of lack of time, but because little has impressed me since Fallout 4. The two exceptions are Kerbal Space Program and Horizon Zero Dawn. Kerbal Space Program is cool because you get to build poorly-made ships and watch them blow up (also challenging because the astrophysics are as close to real as possible). Horizon Zero Dawn is cool because you get to SHOOT GIANT ROBOT MONSTERS WITH BOWS. I don’t need any more reason to play that game.

    I will admit, I sometimes cringe at the graphics of Skyrim, because they look clunky compared to FO4 and Mass Effect 3. But Skyrim has had its hold on the hearts of games ever since 2011, despite being eclipsed in graphics technology.

    And these clowns working for Sony and Microsoft think most gamers give a rat’s ass bout top-of-the-line graphics? The original DS outsold the PS3 and the Xbox 360 by forty million units!

    It’s almost like Sony and Microsoft are working from the Cult Fanbase model that stopped working for television two decades ago.

    Now if you will excuse me I must see if anyone is playing in my Minecraft realm.


    • Nathanael
      August 27, 2017 @ 9:35 am


      The aggressive attempts to obsolete old hardware are why I don’t buy consoles. I end up playing console games only once they have PC emulators. Old PC games always have emulators.

      I still play Infocom games. And Sierra games. I sat down and played through Ultima IV in the mid-2000s. Finished off the early Wizardry games in the late 2000s. Honestly, the only “modern” games I played in the interim were the Bioware games and some of the Final Fantasy games. (I’ll probably get around to Portal eventually.)

      Played SimCity 2000 until Cities:Skylines came out.

      Graphics are easily the least important thing in a game, and graphical resolution or “realism” is even less important. Underlying gameplay, whether it’s simulationist (SimCity), tactical (Wizardry), or story (anything by Infocom, Sierra, Origin), is what matters.


  5. Ozyman.Jones
    August 16, 2017 @ 11:00 pm

    If graphic realism is so all important, then why do the LEGO versions of the franchise games sell so damn well? In every case I’ve read of, including The Force Awakens releases, the LEGO game has outsold the more ‘realistic’ version every time, and by many times more, not just a smidge; often topping sales charts over ALL other games for weeks on end.

    Could it be… fun and engaging game play? Quick learning curve? You know, that boring stuff that got me into gaming all those years ago. And now that I’m a crotchety old dad, it’s what I still look for. Sure the LEGO games hit every demographic and are maybe not the best example. But then, I’d still rather play Quake and Quake II over most modern games.

    With my mid-teen son constantly demanding hardware upgrades for the shared PC to run ever more demanding software I’ve said enough. There is only just so much money that can be spared for something as disposable and ephemeral as computer games. For the people making the games, they are life. For the hardcore Gamers, they are more than life. For a large proportion of the purchasers, they are little more than a casual distraction that must compete with everything else vying for those scant and precious spare minutes and dollars.


  6. Harmen
    August 17, 2017 @ 5:10 pm

    Funny that you should mention Yokoi’s design philosophy Josh.

    Here’s what the man thought about photo-realism:

    “Do these playworlds really need to be that photorealistic, I wonder? I actually consider it more of a minus if the graphics are too realistic. There’s a similar line of thinking in the entertainment world—using soft focus lenses when women are filmed, for instance. When that is done, each person can project their own conception of “beautiful” onto the woman being filmed, and everyone will see their own personal Venus.

    If things are too realistic, there’s no room for your imagination, and the reality of those faces you thought were beautiful will be revealed. Or to use another common expression, it’s actually more erotic when a woman leaves some skin covered. Even if a video game doesn’t have the power to display very complex graphics, I believe your imagination has the power to transform that perhaps-unrecognizable sprite called a “rocket” into an amazing, powerful, “real” rocket.”


    There are some other choice quotes as well in the article. On wether he wanted to use better tech to create the Game Boy:

    “The technology was there to do color. But I wanted us to do black and white anyway. If you draw two circles on a blackboard, and say “that’s a snowman”, everyone who sees it will sense the white color of the snow, and everyone will intuitively recognize it’s a snowman. That’s because we live in a world of information, and when you see that drawing of the snowman, the mind knows this color has to be white. I became confident of this after I tried playing some Famicom games on a black and white TV. Once you start playing the game, the colors aren’t important. You get drawn, mentally, into the world of the game.”

    “Actually, it was difficult to get Nintendo to understand. Partly, I used my status in the company to push them into it. (laughs) After we released the Game Boy, one of my staff came to me with a grim expression on his face: “there’s a new handheld on the market similar to ours…” The first thing I asked was: “is it a color screen, or monochrome?” He told me it was color, and I reassured him, “Then we’re fine.” (laughs)”

    As you can see you’re not the only one who thinks this. Gunpei Yokoi provides for some interesting perspectives on what you’ve written on.

    Thought it might be an interesting companion to what you’ve written.


  7. Matthew Blanchette
    August 18, 2017 @ 6:51 am

    Does this site even talk about “Doctor Who”, any more? EVER? At ALL?

    Because I’m having an absolute CRISIS, right now. :’-(

    It’s called “Gareth Roberts’s Twitter feed”. As of a few minutes ago, he has just retweeted a Nazi. Unironically.

    …what am I doing with my life? :’-(


  8. DocGerbil100
    August 20, 2017 @ 9:54 am

    Hello, Mr Marsfelder. 🙂

    I don’t think I’ve commented on your articles before, so I’ll first say that I’ve really enjoyed reading the Star Trek and gaming stuff you’ve created and provided. I sincerely thank you, sir. 😀

    When it comes to platform choices, I think the industry has slightly different priorities than many of us might expect.

    I’m sure you know this already, but for the benefit of those who don’t…

    Unless you’re a small indie developer (writing games for Steam, for example), investing in developing for any given platform isn’t cheap.

    Everything about the development – from office infrastructure to devkits to staffing to licensing to actual work to marketing – all has to be paid for, or have a plausible repayment plan provided for it, anywhere from three to five years in advance.

    Unless the development effort is tiny, that’s a lot of money. On a triple-A effort, it’s fuckloads. They don’t expect that investment to be recouped from one title, they expect it to come back from many titles, plus good profits on as many titles as possible, with as few turkeys as they can manage.

    Nintendo, both for better and for worse, is notoriously, almost parodically independent and idiosyncratic. For every revolution they’ve given the gaming world, they’ve also given us at least one example of Totally Bat-Shit Crazy. Sometimes we get both at the same time.

    I think that scares both the development and financial sides of the industry. No matter how much love there is for Nintendo, they don’t trust that Nintendo won’t screw the pooch and turn out a machine that limits the ROI so much that they can’t make their money back.

    By the time they know for certain what they’re dealing with, it’s usually a couple of years too late for them to get on board quickly.

    The community’s response – and your own response – to the Switch is also a good example of the issue: we hope they’ll succeed and turn out another great and mega-successful console, but we’re not at all sure and don’t really expect it.

    We all know them, all too well – and whatever’s actually there, we all see what we’re really expecting to see.

    We didn’t expect to see a winner.

    We expected them to fail.



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