Jonathan Blow: Social games are evil, adventure games are broken

“Designers know what they are doing. They know when they show up in the office: 'My goal is to degrade the player’s quality of life.'” Luddite bleating of an anti-game campaigner? Conspiracist ramblings from a faded 8-bit star? No, that’s just the opinion of Jonathan Blow, author of the critically acclaimed indie game, Braid. But Blow's not done. When asked by PC Gamer to qualify remarks he made last year about the social-gaming phenomenon, his reply is unequivocal: “There’s no other word for it except evil.”

Above: Jonathan Blow, dressed a la Bruce Lee and (possibly) about to kung-fu a fool

Whoah, whoah. Is Blow actually telling PC Gamer's Brendan Caldwell that the oft-derided shallowness of titles like FarmVille is, in fact, the banality of evil itself? “Of course you can debate anything,” he allows, “but the general definition of evil in the real world... isn’t like the villain in the mountain fortress. [It's] selfishness, to the detriment of others or to the detriment of the world.” And that, he opines, is exactly what drives many social titles.

Above: The crime in Mafia Wars is pretend – but the evil, Blow argues, is no simulation

A wise man once said that if good men do nothing, evil triumphs. (It was Dhalsim, at the end of the Street Fighter movie.) The “doing nothing” bit sits at the crux of Blow's argument: whereas a good game gives players more than it asks of them, he sees many social games as demanding a lot – time, effort, the decidedly antisocial exploitation of friends – and offering little in return. Most social titles, says Blow, “very deliberately... string the player along and invade the player’s free time.”

Above: Braid, the title that put Blow on the map

It's not just the 21st-century “social game” genre that comes in for some stick. A big motivation behind Blow's upcoming adventure puzzler The Witness was a frustration with old-school adventure titles, a genre that he says has never evolved. “The core gameplay of a racing game, for example, has been refined,” he says. “A first-person shooter... all this stuff. It’s been iterated and refined. Adventure games are still what they used to be... It’s not an accident that they died.”

Above: The island setting for The Witness. Hydra Island this ain't

The Witness, Blow promises, will apply sophisticated modern sensibilities to a long-dormant genre he loves as much as anyone. Presumably that means going a bit deeper than well-received resurgences like Sam and Max or Zack and Wiki. And after publicly placing designers' obligations in such high standing, we can reasonably expect that the title ought to offer players a bit more than the occasional new cow.

Feb 17, 2011

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  • Thedigitalg - February 19, 2011 1:37 a.m.

    I loved adventure games and it's a shame they're few and far between these days. Guess I'll have to make do with Broken Sword and Monkey Island remakes for the iPad... Also, this guy reeks of elitism. The sort you get from those hipsters that proclaim any band that gets big 'sold out'.
  • 435 - February 18, 2011 8:27 p.m.

    Y'know, no matter what context it is in, whenever I see Blow talking the only thing I can think is "this man has his head so far up his own ass that he can watch as the bullshit flows from his mouth." He is the modern day effete artist in the gaming culture, his nose held aloft by all the air blown up his ass by the gaming press. Meanwhile, Braid, taken without the "see, this is art!" arguments, is a pretty decent platformer and nothing more. Not that I don't necessarily agree with his statement here to some degree, but I find it hard to take the words of a man who obviously finds himself at the center of his universe that seriously.
  • BurntToShreds - February 18, 2011 4:52 p.m.

    I am tired of pixel-hunting in adventure games. If The Witness allows you to do multiple things to solve a problem, rather than some contrived method that serves to pad the game and make it "wittier", then I will encourage people to buy it.
  • AlphaAGENT144 - February 18, 2011 12:27 p.m.

    I already like this man social networking itself is a waste of time,and i don't even qualify these as games. i qualify them as "Boredom simulators."
  • JohnnyMaverik - February 18, 2011 11:15 a.m.

    "It’s not an accident that they died." His face is guna be broken is he doesn't stfu >.< Also stop slagging off Bioshock Blow, it was better than Braid, it's a great game, deal with.
  • Ultima - February 18, 2011 5:20 a.m.

    Facebook & Google are CIA fronts:
  • 510BrotherPanda - February 18, 2011 4:56 a.m.

    Jonathan Blow, at first glance, made me think of what Tyler Wilde would look like if he shaved his head.
  • CoryM1134 - February 18, 2011 3:58 a.m.

    This isn't the first interview I've read from this guy, and while I feel like he does great things for the industry, he also does a lot of complaining. I find myself agreeing with him more times than not, but he is filled with anger.
  • pin316 - February 18, 2011 3:39 a.m.

    totally on board with the social-gaming comments...the way that they spread is basically identical to spam/junk mail, except there's no way to opt-out of getting the stupid invites at first. don't agree with the adventure game hate tho...whilst it's true that the core concept of the adventure game is almost identical to the original ones (monkey island, DotT etc), the genre as a whole gets almost no attention from gamers compared to FPS/3PS and similar titles. It's not like there are 100's of almost identical games there... Don't get me wrong - i'd love to see the genre evolved and pushed in the same way that other genres do as I am a huge fan, but until the demand exists there will never be the incentive to do so
  • FloppyDog - February 18, 2011 3:13 a.m.

    I agree with what he said about social games. They are such a time sink for some people. I also agree about adventure games. Game play wise the newest sam & max game is the same as monkey island almost 2 decades ago. Its the one genre that critics give a pass to, but then complain about cod and gow knockoffs.
  • TruckThunders - February 18, 2011 2:14 a.m.

    I haven't played Braid, but when I hear about it, "pretentious" always seems to come up. His opinion about social video games make sense to me, but I don't view them as pure "evil". I just don't play them.
  • Spybreak8 - February 18, 2011 1:58 a.m.

    Yes yes there is good and there is evil just like there is Black and White. Extreme opposites exist in fairy tales, not in real life. Social games pegged by the example of Farmville is moronic and ignorant on his part. Bejeweled Blitz, Tetris Friends, Pinball FX 2 and NFS: HP are great example of social games that are not evil. Not surprising I don't agree with Blow.
  • GayforGilbert - February 18, 2011 1:55 a.m.

    While some of what he says may be true, Blow still oozes pretentious hipster.
  • Outlander - February 18, 2011 1:42 a.m.

    I pretty much agree with everything he has said. But in the end you cannot blame the video game itself. The only reason facebook games exist is because people are willing to play them. And PAY to play them. Anyone else find humor in this line? "Braid, the title that put Blow on the map" Put Blow on the map... Braid came with bricks of Coke!
  • R_U_Guys_From_British - February 18, 2011 1:38 a.m.

    He looks like Tyler Wilde's long lost bro
  • FreedomPhantom - February 18, 2011 1:24 a.m.

    My first thought of his outfit was Kill Bill. No 'bout a doubt it that Farmville is evil
  • D-Roc - February 18, 2011 1:12 a.m.

    Have a look see at this...
  • Weirdjedi - February 18, 2011 12:36 a.m.

    Usually, social games have a set time-limit enforced to keep the public playing for an extended period. They also restrain certain features to enforce some sort donation for the game. Some guys just would like to be paid for what they created. They came up with something, pulled out all the stops, and made something no one ever expected. They deserve respect. Others throw a game out, perhaps lacking in many ways, and expect to get paid in full for what they made. I guess this is what many consider as "evil".
  • n00b - February 18, 2011 12:30 a.m.

  • ninjaemperor - February 18, 2011 12:27 a.m.

    I agree, I've always felt that way about social games, they're practically destroying peoples lives to make some money, it's disgusting. Same with WOW

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