Criticism on The Graveyard

There’s an interesting (negative) critique of The Graveyard by Deirdra Kiai at the Adventure Gamers website. There’s quite a few things I can come up with in response (and some points that I agree with as well). But I’d like to hear from you, other people who have played the game, if you share Miss Kiai’s views or not, or have something to add.

21 thoughts on “Criticism on The Graveyard”

  1. I agree with what Miss Kiai said; as much as I commend what you have created I had no empathy for the old woman and believe that had I been a character sitting with her on the bench, conversing with her I would have felt a lot more.

    The article starts off with the quote “games are supposed to be fun” but perhaps the point should be games are supposed to be interactive.

    For example, one – actually, make that two characters I had real empathy for whilst playing a game was Lester and Buddy in Eric Chahi’s ‘Another World’/’Out of This World’. Despite the lack of conversation, I feel that title played somewhat like a silent movie. I felt for Lester because I played him and Buddy because of what the two characters went through together – I interacted with and got to know these two which made the ending more powerful.

    In order to care for a character perhaps you need to spend more time with/as them.

  2. I disagree that it wasn’t fun, the song was fun. That reminds me, I need to buy it. I already saw the death on YouTube, someone uploaded a video of it, but it’s still worth supporting (besides, you two bought my game).

    Reactions to things differ greatly between people. At least that reviewer said things like ‘I found being an old woman annoying’ rather than saying that everyone would. There’s nothing much of substance in that criticism to talk about, though. The comments there were more interesting and more thoughtful than the post itself.

  3. Oh, and if you want a critique of the game that doesn’t amount to ‘I didn’t have any empathy for the old woman and couldn’t sympathize with her, so the game meant nothing to me’ a few of my friends had a conversation over IRC about the game. From what I remember, these points were brought up:

    – There was general dislike about the explanation of the game’s controls / instructions within the game, it said something like “that’s all you do, that’s it!” — which may produce an adverse reaction in the audience, since it’s a bit condescending.

    – The camera sometimes broke, but you probably know about that already.

    – Some of us felt there wasn’t enough to do. I.e. it’d have been interesting if you could examine each of the graves, or examine the contents of the old woman’s pockets for clues about her character.

    – I suggested that because how slow she walked was so important, more work could have been put into the actual walk animations, so that she doesn’t seem to slide, but rather has to proceed by laborious steps, instead of having a steady, but slow, speed, she could have a more varied or staggered speed, and even get tried sometimes.

    There was probably much more discussed, it was a while back and I forget most of it.

  4. I like how you automated the Paypal / download thing w/ a download that will expire etc. I expected I’d need to wait for you to manually send me an email link or something. I didn’t know Paypal could do that.

  5. I only played the demo version, so I can’t comment on the death sequence. But my criticism would be that the Graveyard was basically not interactive. While watching the old woman hobble down the path and then sit on a bench as a tongue-in-cheek death song plays is an engaging enough set of sounds & images, my only role as the player was to hold down the “go” button. There are many different interactive games that could rightly be criticized as “this might as well have just been a movie,” which also applies to the Graveyard. People’s ideas about being able to go around and read gravestones is a bid for giving the player some sort of micro-choice or role to play in the old woman’s life than just viewer.

  6. How strange. I was playing a game by this woman right before I read the critique. I mean, seriously. Closed the game, opened the browser.

    I feel that Miss Kiai got nothing out of the game not because of the game, but because of her. I’m not implying that she is somehow flawed, but that she experiences emotions and things through character, and empathy with characters (this is clear when playing her games, by the way). The Graveyard isn’t about that; in The Graveyard it is necessary for you to project yourself onto the old lady and feel generalised emotions about life and death in general, not just about that one woman. I think that were Miss Kiai the sort of person who enjoys writing narrative as opposed to dialogue, she might have enjoyed The Graveyard more.

    I also think that she should have paid a measly £2.50 before publicly slating the game. The death changes the experience in many ways. And her confusion about the way she would have felt means that (in my view) she should have sought some clarification as to what her full emotional response to the full game would have been.

    Steve, I disagree. Were I watching The Graveyard (The Graveyard, not a live-action film version of The Graveyard) as a short film, I would feel completely differently about the game. When I played it I would walk, stop for a rest, walk, stop for a rest, etc. That was my decision, and I took it to make the old lady’s life easier. Were it being filmed, my decision would have been taken away entirely.

    I know it’s a minor decision, but it turned the majority of the game into an epic quest to get from gate to bench without limping. It was fun, it was involving. Watching a film wouldn’t have been the same at all.

  7. I found the game terribly depressing. I would like to make some comment regarding the nature of art, film, emotions, and games, but you know what. I am tired. Maybe tomorrow.

  8. Wow, she sure was hasty. I do not agree with her at all, the point of the game isn’t feeling empathy, so why dies she base all of her negative view of the game on this point? If she thinks empathy is the only emotion you can feel towards an old person, she’s is totally missing the point.
    I have a hard time making a critique of a critique, so I guess I’ll stop now.
    And oh yeah, I loved the song.

  9. this is an artistic game , is different from all games on earth , this is a CONCEPT game , a minimalist game .

    i appreciate it very much , because he transpose art in games…

  10. I too share her sentiments except for her’s about the old lady character. I would’ve liked to know more about this old lady because I felt emotions for the character, but you two game creators, you had no incentive to follow up on what emotion I had.

    I agree with Steve’s, Phil’s first and Paul’s second comment, especially Phil’s since I have played that Eric Chahi’s “Another World” and feel that he has done what you, Michael and Aureria, aspire to do before you.

    I noticed PBB’s comment is all about Miss Kiai and really has little to do with the game you two made.

    If you are truly going to achieve what you’re after than you may want to pay more attention to the negative comments than the ones that just tell you praise.

    Without negative comments, you will continue to stagnate artistically (and in general) and have no true idea of what you are doing.

    By the way, at the end of the game, I felt that I was expected to laud you with praise for your artistic, minimalist game. I felt that that was one of the things you two were expecting when you were making this game. The game has little content and is indeed minimalistic.

  11. If my comment was more about Miss Kiai than on the game itself, its because I allready have told what i think about the game in numerous topics about the graveyard, and so i wanted to react on the critic more than on the game, because the topic was about that.
    But sorry if i praise without critics, but i don’t like to critic stuff i can’t do better.

  12. I subscribe to this feed, and so read the post a few days ago but have refrained from commenting while I waited to hear what others have to say.

    My initial reaction to The Graveyard was an extremely positive one – I thought it was a great look, one which has inspired another project I’m working on at the moment, and I’ve shown it to numerous people, some of which have ‘got it’ and some which haven’t. Ok, no I haven’t bought the full version (and haven’t watched the death sequence on youtube either), but I understand why some people don’t get it.

    I think the term ‘interactive’ is such a difficult one anyway, because by it’s nature as a piece of computer software, it is by definition ‘interactive’ (see Lev Manovich for more info on that concept if you’re interested) and although I have certain problems with this argument, in those terms The Graveyard is certainly interactive. It could indeed be argued that it’s not a ‘game’ in the traditional sense of the word, however I would strongly argue that it is indeed an ‘art game’ ( for more info on this if needed although Kai already refers to it in this capacity). The other alternative is that I guess to some extent it could be considered ‘interactive narrative’ although I have less experience in this argument since it’s not really my area.

    I won’t deny that I have certain criticisms of the game (yes I’ll still call it that regardless) but the frustration that is a part of this game and the way that the game itself plays on that is in itself interesting.

    An imperfect experiment? Yes, perhaps, but is any experiment ever really perfect? I think the important criticism to take away from this is that it’s a stepping stone to something else. No, you won’t grow if everyone only praises you, that is true, but what I DO like about Kai’s review is that although she clearly doesn’t empathise with the character, doesn’t enjoy the gameplay and regards this game largely as a failed experiment, she does say,

    “In any case, it’s worth admitting that I admire Tale of Tales’ willingness to use the medium of video games to convey emotions other than “fun”. In fact, I wholeheartedly encourage other developers to do the same – we can certainly do with more “art games” in this comparatively superficial landscape of ours. The fact that The Graveyard was, in my eyes, an imperfect experiment in some areas by no means implies that we should simply go back to killing things and solving Sudokus.”

    She doesn’t like the game and yet she still finds something positive within it. Just saying a game is bad without saying why you think so means you haven’t actually bothered to engage with it on any level, and Kai has obviously tried to engage with it somewhat because she justifies her response to the piece, whether as a game or as an interactive painting, narrative, whatever. I saw another review on YouTube where the guy’s rationalisation about why the game was bad was because “games are about high scores”. To me that’s not a review, that’s an uninformed opinion.

    Just because I appreciate the concept over the actual interactivity (or relative lack of in this case) doesn’t mean that I’m under the illusion that everyone thinks this game is great, but I don’t think the authors are under the impression that everyone would like their work.

    Just a thought – use it, don’t use it…

  13. Thank you for all the comments. They are all sincerely appreciated.

    When we started making games with Tale of Tales, we focussed on making games for people who don’t play games. Because we felt that the potential of the medium was being underused and the game-aspect made it impossible for many people to enjoy it.

    In the mean time, we have realized that a lot of people who do play games, also appreciate what we are trying to do. So we try to cater to them as well. And while we take all criticism of our work seriously, we still cannot find it in our heart to work for an audience that simply wants to make our games more game-like, more traditional. That’s a step too far for us. We have too much ambition for that.

    We understand that some people really like playing games. And that, as a result, they would like it if our work was more like games. But to them we say: go and play any of the 99% other games out there, and let us continue to work towards an new type of interactive entertainment.

    Some people like what we are trying to do. Others don’t. And that’s fine. Just don’t expect us to change what we do just to please the people who don’t like it. We need a little more motivation.

    I realize that The Graveyard has its shortcomings. Many of them are the result of the practical context of the production. Others are caused by lack of experience or bad choices. We really like to hear criticism of our work. Because it is very helpful. We are doing something very difficult and we are practically alone in doing this. So we need all the help that we can get.

    So it’s not that we only listen to people who praise us. But criticism of people who don’t appreciate what we are trying to do, is simply not very helpful.

    Miss Kiai’s criticism seems to come from certain expectations when playing games. The expectation that the game will give you something, for instance, and give it easily. This is not how we work. We want our players to do something, to actively contribute to the content and the meaning of the game. To think for themselves. This is an extremely common concept in fine arts, music and literature. Art is not riddles that you can decipher. And you may not always be ready to appreciate a certain work of art. Or capable, even.

    In our games, we give the player to most essential of choices: to play or not to play. If you play well, there is a good chance that you will enjoy the experience. If you don’t, you probably won’t. The problem with our games is, I guess, that the rules are not very clear. And that, often, they don’t exist. You have to make them up yourself.

    That being said, we know that The Graveyard is far from perfect. And there’s many things that we would like to have done with it, to improve it. Hopefully this experience will improve the quality of The Path, and any other projects that may follow. See, please, continue to criticise (and praise 😉 ) our work. It’s very welcome.

  14. Michael – a great response to the comments posted, and I hope you continue to produce the interesting and challenging content you have been thus far.

  15. Late, and as such quoted to refresh our memories…

    “If you are truly going to achieve what you’re after than you may want to pay more attention to the negative comments than the ones that just tell you praise.”

    Tale of Tales Critic (what happened to proper names?), the creators of the game ARE listening to negative comments. Why else would this be posted on the blog to initiate a discussion? The blog post isn’t saying “haha, let’s all laugh at this ignorant woman”; the blog post is saying “Miss Kiai has some valid points, but I don’t totally agree with her; what do you guys think?”.

    Perhaps actually reading the blog post before responding would be a good idea…

  16. I almost always agree with your philosophy on games, and that is always what interests me about your products.

    When it came to the graveyard, i’m not sure if my reaction was your intended reaction. I felt that i was very disconnected from the avatar, i actually felt like i was someone helping the lady along, not as if i was the lady herself. I found myself wishing there was a second avatar that was either following or helping the lady along.

    The game put me in a strange position of both being and not being this woman. She didn’t seem to have anymore history than a puppet to me, which all relies on the puppeteer. Perhaps i was a poor puppeteer? on the other end, i felt like i was attempting to make a performance fulfilling the role of another actor. I felt incapable. I felt like i couldn’t make her story my own, nor could i join in her story. I was an observer that had a tiny amount of unexplained control.

    I wouldn’t rate the graveyard on a scale of good or bad. It broke my opinion of what games were, and that was very important. It sparks a good kind of controversy.

  17. Your response is actually quite interesting, Ben. We like to play with the ambiguity of the avatar: with the question as to whether the avatar represents you or whether she is a third person that you interact with. Allowing this ambiguity to exist probably does not improve immersion, but we find it so fascinating.

    I also like your realization of “feeling incapable”. It reminds me of how I feel when I hear my own 98-year old grandmother talk about dying. I absolutely do not know what to say. She obviously knows a lot more about aging and death than I do. How can I possibly understand what she is going through? I’m not sure if your experience with The Graveyard had anything to do with this. It just seems similar.

    We do have a tendency to create characters that are archetypes rather than real people. I think this comes from our desire to allow (force?) the player to make up their own story. I guess we are asking the player to play a role, as an actor. And we are giving them a lot of freedom to fill in this role, as to the personality and story of the character. I personally like fantasizing about such things. And I like the idea of a character being always open for a different fantasy. That way the game is never over. There’s always another way to play.

    But I realize that not everyone likes this form of play. It can seem like a lot of work sometimes. I don’t know. I just think that there should be games that you only play once in a while. Instead of wanting to play them all the time. I’m always going to think more fondly of any Bergman or Godard film even if I have watched The Matrix or Star Wars many times more. Not that we have the desire of making anything as extreme as an art film. But something things just turn out that way. And I’d rather fail and end up making art than fail and end up making pulp. :)

  18. hmm, yeah.
    Your comment (michael) at the end was most interesting. “rather fail and end up making art than fail and end up making pulp.” It reminds me of pulp fiction. Somehow, that movie became art even though it’s “pulp.”
    Maybe someone will make a game we can enjoy “ironically.” lol.

    There is always this strange thing with art about where and how and through what lenses it’s being viewed. For example, there is theatre that completely ignores the audience, not breaking the fourth wall, and then there is theatre where the play recognizes itself for what it is, a play.

    heh, on a side note, i would have felt strangely ostracized after playing your game if the old lady would have looked up and spoke directly to me, after all that happened. She seemed to ignore me completely, I didn’t exist in her world. If i did, i’m not sure i’d know how to react. The breaking of that barrier would have brought me great discomfort, particularly with having to struggle with her over to that bench.

  19. Funny. In almost all of our other games, we have implemented a way for the avatar to look directly into the camera. We feel such kind of eye contact creates a bond between the player and the avatar. But we didn’t implement this feature in The Graveyard. To be honest, it didn’t even cross my mind. And I still don’t feel it is appropriate for The Graveyard, somehow. Not sure why.

    Maybe because I don’t feel that the old lady requires your help. To some extent, she doesn’t care about you. She’s too old for that. Maybe this is why she seems distant. Because she is. At her age. One foot in the grave. Almost in another world.

  20. Yeah, which is probably why it would be so uncomfortable if she did reference you. You can just tell, you aren’t important to her. If she looked at you, it would just be patronizing. It would be accusing.

    This all reminds me of the creatures in Black in White, who definitely know of your existence. They are in some senses your “avatar” but in a lot of senses not: they exist completely independent of you (though perhaps i should say “interdependent”). If i’m understanding correctly, this relationship that exists between player and character is one of the things you like to explore, and it’s a very interesting one. It reminds me of this game i thought would be funny to make, where your avatar was a character with a game controller, and he ran around plugging his controller into other characters of the game, giving you control of them.

    It also reminds me of games that give you an illusion of chose, but force you into the same dilemma’s. For example in Golden Sun you are given yes or no choices to questions like, “will you give the the all powerful amulet to the evil psychopaths?” and you say no, you friends will be like don’t be stupid, and you’ll agree anyway. In the example of the graveyard, you aren’t given the opportunity of “choice” in game, there is no illusion. You don’t have a choice that lies directly in the game, only a choice that lies somewhere outside of it, in your mind or somewhere else.

    It’s all so very very strange…lol.

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