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On smarmy rationalizations

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I used to think that I had rather sophisticated taste in music. Most people probably think that about their tastes. And then I started learning guitar, and I came to realize that actually, most of the songs I liked were painfully unsophisticated.

And then I listed to a song that was, for the most part, random noises mixed with rather random lyrics. Actually, I hesitate to even call it a song, it was more like.. a clever arrangement of sounds. And I couldn't stop listening to it. It was awesome.

It was then that I realized something important: it wasn't even so much the music I was in love with, it was more the sounds. I just love songs with overdriven guitars and distorted vocals. All along I had convinced myself of these smarmy intellectual sounding reasons for liking things ("The lyrics are really deep" or "this tune is really catchy"). But the truth is, the real reason I liked those songs was for reasons I wasn't even conscious of.

You see this all the time in other walks of life. Ever ask a girl what she's looking for in a guy? She'll probably say something like: "well.. he needs to be smart, and funny, and be easy going and..". Blah blah. But if you ask her about the last guy she dated she'll probably describe the high-school quarterback.

And hey, wait, that guy wasn't smart, or funny.. actually he was kind of a dick.

Its not that she's lying about what she wants. Well, maybe she is. But its more likely that she just doesn't realize what it is she's really looking for in a guy. She unconsciously recognizes it when she sees it, though.

(In fairness, guys do the exact same thing.)

The point of all that (besides the fact that I have no taste) is this: It's really really easy for people to lie to themselves about why they like something. Realistically speaking, when it comes to most things they probably have no idea why they really like it, but they can come up with all sorts of smug rationalizations if you ask them. And they won't even know they're doing it.

Why does this matter? Well, for the most part it doesn't because really nobody cares about your opinions on why foo is awesome. They'll listen and smile and nod and then talk about their crazy cats or whatever.

But it does matter when you're going to make something for other people. Like, say, a game. Because maybe you think, "gosh, I really loved Final Fantasy 7, I want to make a game just like that", and then you go and make your game which plays suspiciously like FF7, only with a different storyline and characters. And it sucks. And you realize that all you really liked about FF7 were the characters and the bad-ass cut-scenes, but you convinced yourself that you liked the game too because otherwise you'd feel kind of silly for spending 50 hours playing through a game that wasn't even all that fun otherwise. Oops.

Or take a game like Battlefield 1942 (which I loved). I used to come up with all sorts of reasons for why I thought the game was awesome. And some of them were kind of true. But honestly, the reason I liked the game was because shooting tank shells at people's feet and launching them 30 feet in the air never grew old for me. But if I had just said that, I would've sounded shallow, so instead I talked about how cool the damage model was and how I liked the variety of vehicles (even though I only ever drove tanks).

So what should you take away from this as a game designer? You can trust people to tell you if they like something or not, but you should take any explanations for why they like it with a grain of salt. Because really, why they think they like it and why they actually like it are likely two separate things.
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Very cool point. [smile]

It definitely makes you stop and reconsider why you like the things you do.

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