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Gamer Hope Foundation

For a couple months now, the Escapist has hosted “Extra Credits,” an op/ed piece about electronic games, especially electronic game design. I stumbled across it via “Zero Punctuation,” to which it provides an excellent counterpoint.

Both care deeply about the quality of games, but where Zero Punctuation unloads venomous criticism of every tiny flaw, Extra Credits tends to focus on the bits they love most, which come from every game. ZP’s host, Yahtzee, often criticizes by catch-22, savaging every game element that doesn’t work at least as well as earlier titles and rejecting out of hand any game which isn’t a first-person shooter, but also complaining when games are too similar to others. EC tends to admit then gloss over current problems and look toward a brighter future, whether or not it is ever likely to materialize. EC isn’t quite pollyanna-ish, but it can seem that way when the team is understating a problem in your particular back yard and insisting it’s all good.

The feature’s saving grace is its business perspective. Writer, narrator, and artist all work in the industry, and know how things work, rather than simply envisioning cooler stuff. Their industry experience simultaneously forces them to admit games have problems and informs me (and I expect a lot of gamers who only want what they want when they want it) just why the industry is cranking out twenty FPS titles for every one of anything else, or why so many MMOs fail, or why game dialogue sucks so badly. Short and universal answer: games have to make a profit. It’s not that high-roller executives without a clue about game design sabotage everything (although that plays a role, one EC has yet to acknowledge), but that even companies devoted to turning out a good product often have to cut corners just to survive. And often we the customers contribute to lowest-common-denominator thinking by continuing to buy lowest-common-denominator games.

Extra Credits is, by and large, fair-minded and informative, and worth the watch five minutes a week. If the habit of ending on an upbeat note starts to get too sweet, you can temper each dose with a shot of bitters by clicking over to Zero Punctuation.

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