Neil deGrasse Tyson and James Gunn Argue: What's "Good," Video Games?

The E3 Coliseum is living up to its name, as the astrophysicist and film director just had a fight over what makes a good game.

This is a companion discussion topic for the original entry at

I’ll use this line “Games are young compare to movies, books, and music” and that true even now since it hard to describe a game in a way that every one can relate to. I best describe a “Good” video game, even go as far as Great, is a flow to it. The moment to moment action either it action or simple conversation with a character.

I think an important thing to remember is nothing is made in a vacuum & thus it is fair to critique games in comparison to other media like everything else. If I’m to critique a game like Nier: Automata it should be in the context of what might be related to it. Since it’s a game about androids maybe it would be useful to look at how it succeeds & fails in looking into those themes in comparison to say Blade Runner , Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? or Binary Domain. However, unlike other media, games have mechanics, glitches, interactivity & those elements exclusive to video games should be looked at in relation to other games. Does this character action game control as well as say a Bayonetta? Is it broken in places like Alpha Protocol? Do the mechanics clash with the themes? It is only after we have really observed and studied all a games elements (or most in some cases) that we can then decide if a game is good or not. There are so many different reasons people play games that saying that a game is simply good or bad based off a single element of it such as story or gameplay feels really close minded to me.

I guess what I’m trying to say is when we look at games (and media in general) there are several different discussions their can be had with them in regards to them. What is this doing for this genre? What is this doing from games? What is this doing for media? And What is this doing for society?

Games leverage a lot of, I guess, “cinematic language”, and there are definitely fine similarities between games and movies (and games and books…and games and plays) that make comparisons valuable. I think these comparisons are most valuable and/or interesting when they’re related to the finer points of visual/narrative presentation.

I think trying to make broad value judgments of works in different media is difficult and generally pointless. There are some useful generalizations you can make (things like “film writing is generally better than games writing”) which can help you better contextualize critical and commercial responses to certain works.

It’s difficult for me to see questions like “is game X ‘better’ than movie Y” as anything but a pissing contest.

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Sadly a distinction I never see brought up in the “is it a good or is it a bad” discussion is intellectual quality versus entertainment quality. I always see it simplified to “good movie” and “bad movie”, and sometimes the simplification is with good reason, not all mediums work well for a deeper discussion but then why broach the subject to being with?

Michael Bay movies aren’t making money because they’re asking deep, meaningful questions or because they’re doing a great job re-telling a story from another medium; they’re making money because tons of people, both adults and children, find them entertaining, and that’s a different kind of quality.

Having both types of quality in one game or movie is great, but we don’t always need both. There are plenty of games, such as Broforce, and entire genres of movies, particularly B-grade action movies and plenty of Bollywood movies, that are intellectually dumb but ultimately very entertaining. Those aren’t bad movies and games, just dumb movies and games. Likewise there are plenty that aren’t action-packed thrill-rides of constant entertainment but have the intellectual competence to make you question some random bit of philosophy or reality, for example Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind and Verde Station. Of course, intellectual movies aren’t entirely devoid of entertainment value either, they just sit on a different point on a spectrum that frequently gets ignored.

We could even break this down into more and more aspects of what actually makes a given game or movie “good” (sound design, camera shots, gameplay mechanics, dialogue, choreography, etc), but that would get out of hand pretty quickly. This was a bit of a rant but I do get tired of people trying to talk about complex subjects with no real vocabulary to describe, specifically, what they are talking about (referring to the E3 Coliseum).

It ultimately comes down to an argument between empiricism and aesthetics, with DeGrasse Tyson arguing that volume of movie-goers is a usable metric for “quality” of a film/videogame/whatever. Given the realities of capitalism, that is a less-than-ideal metric, but it raises the question of the utility of such judgment in the first place–as a critic, are you really trying to give a qualitative judgement to everyone, to inform the average person whether or not their money is well spent, or are you talking to a particular audience with some prior knowledge and prejudices one way or the other?

Personally, I prefer to make my cultural consumption choices, decide if they are “good” or “bad”, then read some criticism that will help me understand why I thought the movie/videogame/whatever was good or bad. A general qualitative judgment is useless to me, which is why I could care less how many other people also saw that movie / played that game. This is why I think Let’s Play has become a big format, as it runs around the particulars of language and simply shows people how games work on a mechanical level.