The ‘big’ release of last month was Duke Nukem Forever, a game that’s been about fourteen years in the making, mainly due to purported incompetence on the part of 3D Realms. At least year’s PAX, Gearbox officially announced they were taking over development after 3D Realms was shuttered and promised to finish the game. And that’s what finally launched last week.

And apparently, it’s terrible. But that’s not what I’m intent on talking about here – there are plenty of places you can go to find out about the problems with what Gearbox has just shat out (I recommend Rock Paper Shotgun’s take). No, my peeve has to do with how some people are reacting to the bad reviews – the same way a lot of people react to bad reviews of anything. One particular phrase.

“It’s good in its own right.”

Now what the hell is that supposed to mean?

To realise how silly that statement is, you have to think about what we mean when we say ‘good.’ There isn’t any universally accepted scale of ‘goodness’ – you can’t say that a cake is good because it’s a 500 on the goodness scale. On top of that coming up with a universal scale would also be very difficult because goodness is highly subjective. Therefore all judgments of quality are necessarily relative.

Given that, saying that something is ‘good in its own right’ is the same as claiming to be able to judge the quality of it without comparing it to anything else. Which is quite clearly nonsense. Even unqualified statements of quality have an implicit comparison embedded in them – for instance, when I say that the Duke Nukem Forever demo failed to convince me that the final product would be any good, I’m implicitly evaluating DNF’s mechanics against those from the best FPSes I’ve played, and realising that it falls short in several areas.

What I suspect that people who pull the above statement are trying to say instead is “I liked this game.” Which is reasonable – there’s no real accounting for taste. But to say that you like something is not the same as saying that it’s good. I mean, hell, I play games that aren’t quite as good as popular opinion would have you believe (for instance, Team Fortress 2). It’s entirely possible (and up to a point, acceptable) to say you like something while admitting that in the grand scheme of things, it doesn’t really hold up.

So please, by all means, go ahead and like Duke Nukem Forever, or KOF XII, or any number of games that were generally received poorly. But if you’re going to claim that they’re good by some arbitrary standard, then my inevitable follow-up question is going to be ‘compared to what?’

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