Ocarina of Time and the Manufacturing of the "Gamer Canon"
#1

To any online-gaming-community regular in the late '00s and early '10s, it would seem obvious that The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time was the greatest game ever made. I don't remember it being a contentious subject, nor one often debated, nor something that members of such communities came together to decide on; it was simply the truth, as self-evident as the fact that the sun rose this morning. A handful of other games received a similar sanctification - Half-Life 2, Doom, Quake, Bioshock - but none came close to Ocarina's level of unquestionable holiness.

In addition to these "god games", there were a handful of universally-panned "n00b games". It was customary to label yourself a "hardcore gamer" and malign "casuals" who enjoyed mobile or sports games. If you were a PC gamer, you would fling shit at console gamers, and if you were a console gamer you would fling shit right back. If you were a fan of less mainstream first-person shooters, like Team Fortress 2 or Counter-Strike, it was a borderline ritual to hate Call of Duty. Being indifferent or disinterested w.r.t CoD wasn't enough. You had to actively despise it, and heap invective on "cod nubs" joining your server.


This is a 2012 video by TheWarOwl, a well-known Counter-Strike JewTuber. He plays Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3 for all of an hour, deliberately acting like an idiot the whole time and doing everything he can to reinforce his own negative perception of the game. At the end of his "deep-dive", he comes to the conclusion that MW3 is inferior to "skill-based shooters" like Counter-Strike because it lacks predictable spray patterns and other "skill-based" elements. The reason for Call of Duty's persistent popularity, WarOwl posits, is that the game gives people a false sense of accomplishment, due to its focus on improving the player character instead of the player himself.

I like Counter-Strike, and am indifferent to Call of Duty, but it's clear to me that WarOwl's critique of MW3 lacks substance. In fact, it's less of a critique than a unity signal. The effect of this video is to affirm his CS-playing audience, to tell them that they're smarter than the CoD-squeaker masses, that they enjoy Gamer Kino as opposed to mass-produced pablum.

The general point I'm trying to make here: "Gamer Culture" (however you define that) had a laundry list of things you were expected to like, and a laundry list of things you were expected to hate, and these lists were based more strongly on social shaming than the liked / hated things' actual merits.



You see a similar phenomenon with "canon" movies and music, but these media are older than video games, and their critics are taken much more seriously. The question I want to answer with this thread is, "Where did this notion of the 'games canon' come from?"

Let's start with Ocarina of Time. I don't mean to throw shade on Ocarina - it's a legitimately great game - but I can't think of any reason why it's taken such a singular place in the Gamer Canon compared to, say, Mario 64.
  • Game Critic / Journo Consensus? While Ocarina was critically acclaimed on launch, it received nowhere near as much attention from the games press as Mario 64. The rash of articles in games magazines calling it the "Greatest Game of All Time" seems to be for the most part a reaction to the Cult of Ocarina; only a handful post-date the game by less than a decade.
  • Popularity? Ocarina sold very well, but Mario 64, Mario Kart, and Goldeneye all outsold it. And how much it sold is wholly irrelevant; by the late '00s (the heyday of Ocarina nut-hugging) the console the game was made for was long discontinued. The only ways to play it were 1) buying an old N64 and cartridge, or 2) playing it on the Wii Virtual Console (which required a special controller, as the Wiimote couldn't fully emulate an N64's).

My best guess: Ocarina of Time strikes a perfect balance between accessibility and "hardcore-ness". It sold millions of copies and made a mark on popular culture, but is lengthy and (at parts) oblique enough that only a small fraction of the people who picked it up actually played to the end. Like some classes of computation problems, a completion of Ocarina is (relatively) difficult to achieve but easy to verify, and grants clout in a wide variety of places.

(Pinging @Earth Rabbit b/c this thread was inspired by his Ocarina-heresy)
#2
Oh God, I remember all the CoD hate. It always struck a bit of a line between irony and being actually serious - I didn't care much due to my inhumanly low agreeability and hipster jealousy-inducing levels of contrarianism. It started as a circlejerk and everyone will forget about it soon enough.

It's exactly that - those things are basically the same as at the time more successful games, but because they were overshadowed, they allow for the perfect balance between accessibility and "nicheness" - basically it's fake and gay connoisseurship. "Ohoho you play a game that sold 50 bajillion copies, you're a noob and a normie casual, this is why you should play this basically the same game but sold only 45 bajillion, clearly it's only for the special people with good taste!" - That is what it all is.

Funniest of all, even in more niche gamer sites you had the same sort of thing going on - praising some big shot game over a slightly bigger big shot game, even if they're into an even more niche game. Literally NPCs
#3
I recall someone in this circle using the term "high Reddit" to describe a canon of highbrow-esque cultural artifacts that "geeks" and "nerds" are assumed to appreciate, like The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy or Monty Python and the Holy Grail. Most of it is Gen X shit that aged poorly and oldfags pressured others relentlessly to appreciate them. As a kid growing up on the internet, I would see these things pop up occasionally like they are objective masterpieces and, trying to fit in, I would watch/read them and try to convince myself to appreciate them. Then I realized years later that they just fucking sucked. The only value they might hold is as a cultural precursor and are little more than a historical curiosity.

This is what happens when a generation ages out of being a "nerd" and the process is repeating. Just like Gen X trying to inflict their unfunny holds-up-spork shit on millennials, millennials are trying to inflict video game cult worship on zoomers. There's some "wisdom" that they don't want to be lost on future generations and they feel the need to mindlessly repeat the canon to people younger than them, even if they haven't touched the work themselves. Maybe some of it comes from the pre-Gamergate worship of game reviewers and review scores - I'm sure there are some to this day who consider 8.8 a world historical tragedy.

I still don't like Halo though.
#4
Would "high Reddit" even be an accurate term here? It was a cross-site enforced consensus. Every single game that would make a Reddit top ten would also make their way into a /v/irgin's 3x3, at least since '14 or so.

I wouldn't say this phenomenon is indicative that any of the games involved are necessarily bad. I enjoyed STALKER, Half Life 2, Halo, and the 3D Fallouts long before I was ever exposed to any of the forums where these sorts of consensuses were enforced. I played these games as a young teen because they were fun and interesting. The real issue, then, is insincerity and immaturity. Young people like to ingratiate themselves into communities and generally fit in as much as possible, and that means adopting and exaggerating any in-group preference or out-group hatred (in this case, hatred for the Call of Duty games). Since Norwoods never mentally matured into adults, they naturally still undertake this behavior, now expressing it as two hour long video essays about how the latest Call of Duty does apologetics for heckin' fascismerino or something equally braindead.

Sincerity is a bit more esoteric, but the best examples I can think of is Halo. A bunch of ancient videos of earnest Halo fans getting their copies of 2 or 3 and pulling all-nighters to beat them were cropping up in the YouTube recommendations for a while after the announcement and release of the MCC to PC. If you ever took time to read through the recent comments, it's almost all troons who had only experienced it vicariously through a video, waxing nostalgic over something they weren't there for. Troon aesthetics in general have those themes about them, but even aside from troons, there is a great desire by young people to act as if they were from an era before. See the occasional "you would NEVER be able to handle a CoD lobby!" tweets that occasionally crop up by people who certainly never played CoD during the MW2 golden years.
#5
I think that the "gaming canon" is still better than what D-average English majors ('games journalists') would force upon us if they could get away with it. I think that the reddit or /v/ hivemind is fairly good at identifying good games, where they actually drop the ball is in identifying the reasons why those games are great. Generally they borrow reasons from other media (with few exceptions, praising a game for having a 'deep story' is like calling a car a horseless carriage) that don't apply.
#6
(04-26-2022, 09:46 AM)Chud Wrote: Let's start with Ocarina of Time. I don't mean to throw shade on Ocarina - it's a legitimately great game - but I can't think of any reason why it's taken such a singular place in the Gamer Canon compared to, say, Mario 64...My best guess: Ocarina of Time strikes a perfect balance between accessibility and "hardcore-ness". It sold millions of copies and made a mark on popular culture, but is lengthy and (at parts) oblique enough that only a small fraction of the people who picked it up actually played to the end. Like some classes of computation problems, a completion of Ocarina is (relatively) difficult to achieve but easy to verify, and grants clout in a wide variety of places.
This is a great thread topic. I think for Serious Gamers, a game like Mario will always be looked at with some derision because in the end it is rather light-hearted and childish. It's a fun platformer game that never gets dark, and never takes itself too seriously. Ocarina of Time specifically might draw more attention because while it starts out light-hearted and fun, it becomes a bit darker in the latter half of the game. I remember playing this for the first time in Kindergarten/early elementary school and being incredibly freaked out by the zombies in the town market. Ocarina of Time might also receive more praise because it's partially open-world, and those types of games tend to be highly regarded in the 'Gamer-Canon.' These are just things I think might contribute to it's God-like status in addition to what you mentioned. From a point of personal-preference, I liked the Zelda games a lot growing up, and Ocarina definitely isn't my favorite one. I think the next 3D Zelda, Majora's Mask, had a much better story and villain, as well as fixing some of the fucked up features resulting from their first attempt at a 3d game. Link to the Past is also on par with MM imo, and better that OoT. In the early-mid 2010s Egoraptor made a video critiquing OoT in his Sequelitis series. The video itself is very cringe (it contains all the gay edits and asides that were common in early 2010s gaming videos). But the arguments, taken by themselves, are solid.

What other games would you say unfairly get this sort of 'God-Like' treatment in your mind? It's been a long time since I played OoT and I never played the Marios so I can't say too much on them specifically.

(04-26-2022, 10:45 AM)Svevlad Wrote: Oh God, I remember all the CoD hate. It always struck a bit of a line between irony and being actually serious - I didn't care much due to my inhumanly low agreeability and hipster jealousy-inducing levels of contrarianism. It started as a circlejerk and everyone will forget about it soon enough.
COD-Hate was always the strangest specific example of the kind of behavior Chud is describing ITT. The ones I grew up playing (Call of Duty 4, World at War, MW2) were incredibly fun, and even had decent stories as far as first-person shooters go (especially 4 and WAW). There's nothing high-brow about them, they aren't as high skill level as twitch-shooters like Counter-Strike, and they are somewhat formulaic in design, but they represent the perfection of a formula. Obsession with skill-expression in video games has always struck me as odd, because it's usually only lightning fast mechanics that are really being obsessed over. Whether it's perfectly timing your dodges in a Souls game or reacting in .01 second to an enemy in a twitch-shooter, it's a one dimensional way of viewing 'skill-expression,' which isn't really the best hallmark of a good game, anyway.
#7
(04-26-2022, 08:57 PM)obscurefish Wrote: I think that the "gaming canon" is still better than what D-average English majors ('games journalists') would force upon us if they could get away with it.

As I remember it, the gaming communities that enforced this consensus the hardest were also the ones with the highest concentrations of #GamerGate supporters. 12-year-old me didn't see GG as a political dispute as much as a war between "hard-core gamers" and self-aggrandising "casuals"; the bottom-up consensus that enforced the "gamer canon" vs. the top-down mandates of liberal arts failsons.

This segues into a more tinfoil-hattish view of mine: most online political discourse is downstream from fandom discourse. Tactics that used to be exclusive to arguments about favorite movies, tv shows, vidya, etc. were repurposed wholesale for astroturfing certain political views. The political views on which the various tribes of "online people" (channers, goons, etc.) converged sprung directly from their tastes in media and the arguments / discourses reifying them. Think of the connections we love to draw between K-On and Fascism, Fallout: New Vegas and trooning out, etc.

About 4 Twatter suspensions ago, @Earth Rabbit wrote about the disappearance of "popular hated things" - the politically neutral figures (Justin Bieber, Nickelback, Emos, etc.) where heaping scorn on them became a sort of bonding ritual. All that energy has been redirected towards political bugbears.

Of course, back then it was also customary to make fun of conservatives, the Bush Administration, etc.; but the portion of the memesphere dedicated to politics was much smaller, and much less contentious, as people who were "in" on meme culture at the time were almost homogenously liberal or libertarian. A representative example of this one-sided circlejerking discourse is the "Almost Politically Correct Redneck" meme from 2012:


The emergence of the Dissident Right out of this stagnant consensus (+ the equally boring conservaboomers of FreeRepublic et al.) is something that warrants further study.
#8
What you start to notice about the "gamer canon" is that it's very much a product of its time. For example the COD hate is likely due to the backlash against MW2's overwhelming popularity at the time and the fact that it was often blamed for starting the "gritty realistic sepia-toned" era which was in full swing as all of this started to be canonized. What I'd really like to point out though is that it was largely formed during the revival of the American video game industry in the late 2000s and as such went along with the industry wide push against Japanese games. Just look at two Japanese games that, by the criteria Chud pointed out, logically should have been included. Mischief Makers is a humorous and colorful platformer for the Nintendo 64 that didn't sell well in North America, yet it receives next to no mention on these lists. Xenosaga is a now rare Japanese RPG with a 2000s-style futuristic aesthetic, "deep" subject matter, and a fairly long playtime. Does it make the cut? Of course not. These are too Japanese. They only go for "real" RPGs like Mass Effect or Dragon Age (pure coincidence that these were the flagships of this revival of course). In fact in terms of JPRGs you really only even see Final Fantasy 6 or 9, but we all know that these are just there to say "See, 7 wasn't good. These are the good Final Fantasy games". This isn't to say that either of these are bad, but they're there first and foremost to deny the importance of FF7.

Now you might be thinking "but Ocarina is Japanese" and that's correct, but aesthetically it's not Japanese. It's Japanese in the sense that Mario is. They'd never touch Ys or anything Falcom. Fire Emblem rarely even gets a pass and you'd certainly never see Dragon Quest.

(04-26-2022, 09:04 PM)Leverkühn Wrote: What other games would you say unfairly get this sort of 'God-Like' treatment in your mind? It's been a long time since I played OoT and I never played the Marios so I can't say too much on them specifically.
The Last of Us without a doubt. The game is aggressively average on every front but it has a Hollywood-style story so of course it's the greatest game of all time that Naughty Dog gave to us in order to "move the industry forward".
#9
Super Smash bros. Even as a child I lost interest in playing it after 5 minutes, and still cannot see its appeal. But it's highly popular especially among that cohort of gamers. I think some of the best examples of Soyface arose from reactions to the sequeal reveal at E3. It also attracts that detestable type of nerdy black as you'll see in the video linked, also look at this. I think they may well be worse than the basketball type of black.

I guess part of the appeal comes from the crossover of all the favourite Nintendo characters who bugmen played as in their childhood, or maybe they didn't? I think many of the overly excited fans of nerdy franchises are pretending so as to be considered a true fan and high status within the fangroup. Who would want to be senior in a Nintendo subculture? I suppose 'Better to reign in hell' etc etc. The only Nintendo games I played were Pokemon so the uniting of Link and Mario means very little to me. They seem to be the Studio Ghibli of game companies.

It's also a game that sometimes gets played in parties/gatherings, perhaps the misfounded belief is that if you get good enough you'll be able to win at those and enjoy the social prestige. Not likely.
#10
I find Smash Bros. tolerably fun. The only reason to get a Nintendo Switch is for having parties and inviting hoes.
#11
I think your analysis of why Ocarina became what it did to the internet is correct. Portal, another celebrated idol of the millennial gaming pantheon, strikes a similar balance between accessible and hardcore.

I was a big fan of World at War, MW2, and Black Ops. My serious contrarian streak began around 2011, and I remember being upset that my peers would obsess over Call of Duty instead of Halo Reach, which I thought deserved far more praise (it did). I didn't turn against CoD because the millenilol agents of my enslavement told me to... I did it out of genuine contrarianism, and a desire to distance myself from who I saw as my inferiors. The last CoD game I bought was MW3.

I love Smash Bros Melee, but I don't keep up with the "scene" and I don't know any "tech". It just feels fun to play and I love the presentation. The game wouldn't look out of place in an arcade cabinet... the UI and announcer voice all seem to be trying to cultivate that image. Later games would go on to drop the early 2000s "cyber" look, which I think is a shame.
#12
(04-27-2022, 03:34 AM)Edge Wrote: The Last of Us without a doubt. The game is aggressively average on every front but it has a Hollywood-style story so of course it's the greatest game of all time that Naughty Dog gave to us in order to "move the industry forward".
You're probably right with this one. Reviewers soyjak over games they think will 'moving the industry forward' and inevitably the game is just incredibly unfun to play. Xenogears is much more fun and I think has a better story as well, but you don't see people talk about it too much; only reason I ever heard of it was because Orcbrand posts about it a lot.

(04-27-2022, 04:32 PM)Oldblood Wrote: Super Smash bros. Even as a child I lost interest in playing it after 5 minutes, and still cannot see its appeal. But it's highly popular especially among that cohort of gamers.... It also attracts that detestable type of nerdy black as you'll see in the video linked, also look at this. I think they may well be worse than the basketball type of black.
Don't think you're wrong here but I'd just add that the FGC as a whole has a lot of nerdy (or even semi-normal) groids. Nigggers like Shonens and Fighting Games. Groids will be groids but I think the sort of sniveling soyjak white guys you alluded to are much more disgusting. They at least had the possibility of not being the way they are.
#13
(05-01-2022, 01:50 PM)Leverkühn Wrote:
(04-27-2022, 03:34 AM)Edge Wrote: The Last of Us without a doubt. The game is aggressively average on every front but it has a Hollywood-style story so of course it's the greatest game of all time that Naughty Dog gave to us in order to "move the industry forward".
You're probably right with this one. Reviewers soyjak over games they think will 'moving the industry forward' and inevitably the game is just incredibly unfun to play. Xenogears is much more fun and I think has a better story as well, but you don't see people talk about it too much; only reason I ever heard of it was because Orcbrand posts about it a lot.

The same applies to Final Fantasy Tactics. It has great gameplay and one of the best stories on the PS1 but you'll never hear about it aside from The WGD, Beige Shiba (pbuh), or that one leftist edit of Wiegraf (which is actually a self-own). The related series Tactics Ogre simply gets no mention at all. The games included in the "canon" make no sense other than as an attempt to give prestige to the early reddit crowd's favorites.
#14
I nominate Shadow of the Colossus as another undeserved gaming sacred cow. Mechanically dull waste of time. It's what all these lemmings point to as the shining example of the medium's artistic merit and could not understand why when I played.

I feel the majority of gaming discourse and public opinion is dominated by casuals, not gaming hobbyists. There's also the issue of the prevalence of streaming and "content" culture, so you have even more people who aren't even casuals: they just don't play these games at all yet still contribute to discussion as if they had because they watched the Two Best Friends play them.
#15
Where does a canon come from?
One of two ways for a canon to come about. Organically, or consciously constructed. Obviously, the gaming canon is largely organic. I don't think IGN reviews are convincing people that bad games are actually good - even if they do convince people to buy said bad games.

I would say it is that a combination of mainstream appeal, and some sort of influential or authoritative group/individual who pushes the viewpoint, that successfully permeates the culture. The degree to which a game, or more accurately the opinion of the game, successfully spreads, would determine whether or not it gets into the canon and how highly placed it is.

To be honest, the organic nature of the canon essentially means it is crap. Casuals, as @Talionis says, have too much input and their tastes are trash. There are no metrics, no requirements, nothing that the game has to demonstrate to be inducted into the canon. A constructed canon would be superior, as we could gatekeep games like the ones mentioned above such as The Last of Us, which is basically praised for being an interactive movie rather than a game.

We could even construct a canon here at amarna, we'd have to set out requirements for consideration, what metrics to use and so on, but it might be an interesting idea.
#16
A bit different of a take here on a potential explanation:

It's an outcropping of the absolute stranglehold Boomers had on the mass culture at the time and did until very recently. Ask any normie at the time, regardless of generation, what the best band of all time was, and they would say "The Beatles." Best boxer? "Mohammed Ali." Best motorcycle? "Harley-Davidson." You get the idea. There was a cultural consensus that was beaten into the fucking skulls of everyone. Didn't matter if you were born after any and all of these cultural references didn't even exist anymore, it was The Answer to the question, capital T and capital A.

Gen X did sort of the same thing later on. For example, the existence among a very large percentage of the public that the unmitigated shit-tier Hollywood trash movie The Shawshank Redemption is the best movie of all time.

This is just the Millennial version of it. A consensus forms and you will have it fucking beaten into your head. Doesn't matter if you liked the games or not, doesn't matter if you've even played them, it's The Answer.
#17
Interesting. I think the love of zelda is largely down to nostalgia. When I was a kid goldeneye, starfox, smash bros, mario 64 and even Donkey Kong 64 were more popular than ocarina of time. Which a lot of my friends had but no one really played. I don't recall ever watching anyone play it except once.

Final fantasy x was a very popular game too, yet it's not considered a "cool" one like 7. I really liked shadow of the colossus. I found it fun but it isn't high art or anything close to it though it's certainly "artier" than other titles.


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