A Response to the Venture Beat Cuphead “Controversy”

Let’s talk Venture Beat and Cuphead.

Now in case you haven’t noticed, I tend to avoid covering controversies involving game journalists being bad at video games. Polygon’s video of Doom was embarrassing on a level that the people involved should have known not to publish it, but the factor that blew it out of control was the lack of context. There was no commentary on the video, nor was there an explanation about who was playing and why they were so bad. I’ve pointed this out when talking to/about developers, but it’s not proper to leave plot holes in your messaging, because the internet has a tendency to fill in those holes and by default assume the worst.

It also doesn’t help that Polygon has a history of publishing articles that are at best outrage clickbait, and at worst an open admission that the author has utter contempt for playing video games and gamers. Polygon hadn’t reviewed Doom at that point, so people weren’t sure whether the person recording the footage was going to be scoring it. As I said in our previous coverage, my dad doesn’t understand how to use a DVD remote control, I probably wouldn’t put much faith into his “this thing is a piece of crap” review. But the review came out, by another person, and Polygon ultimately gave the game a respectable 8.5.

But we’re here to talk about Venture Beat and Cuphead, specifically a video lacking context and commentary that popped up on their Youtube channel of Dean Takahashi playing the game and failing miserably. In fact, the video is titled “Dean’s Shameful 26 Minutes of Gameplay.”

The video above is from Gamescom, with Venture Beat’s writer managing to fail at the basic tutorial when the instructions are literally spelled out for him on the screen. Watching the video from start to finish, you might think that the message conveyed by Venture Beat is that the game is too hard, and therefore we might be looking at a bad review similar to Polygon’s Doom video.

Well that’s not the case. In fact, Takahashi seemed to quite enjoy it while admitting that he was terrible at it. An accompanying article explains pretty clearly that Takahashi has respect for the lost art of skill-based games.

While my performance on the captured video below is quite shameful, as I never finished the level, I think it shows quite well why Cuphead is fun and why making hard games that depend on skill is like a lost art.

And this is where we come to the video’s number one and pretty much only flaw: There is no context. Like the Polygon video, there is no commentary either live or post where Takahashi or another Venture Beat editor describes what is going on. Having a post-recording commentary session where Takahashi and the guy who convinced him it was worth uploading watch the video and talk about the game while laughing at his dismal performance would drastically alter the mood of the video, letting the viewer know that VB is in on the joke and it’s all in good fun. Entire Youtube channels are built on guys playing video games badly and then reacting to how badly they play, so it works.

Imagine adding in context like explaining that the guy had 26 minutes to play a game and the developer just sorta handed him a controller and said “go with it.” Time crunch, plus a potentially crowded and loud showroom floor is the kind of context this game is missing. A staffer standing over your shoulder and/or constantly talking to you while you play can easily distract from what is intended to be a difficult game. Again, we’re not told any of this.

Venture Beat doesn’t even link to the article I posted above in the video, stripping it of what little introspective context that it might have had. You wouldn’t know that the article existed unless you read the website and happen to stumble on it.

Ultimately in both cases we’re dealing with a video that was released in a context that nobody wanted that should have never been published in the form that it was. Venture Beat thought that the video was hilarious and published it thinking that the internet would find it hilarious, kind of like when a group of friends get drunk and record one guy in the group doing bad impressions because they’re drunk and think it’s hilarious, so they post it to the internet so everyone else could find it hilarious, but then find out that sober people outside the group don’t find a straight video of a man stumbling around, drunkenly mumbling half-quotes from 80’s movies funny. It’s an inside joke that should have stayed inside but didn’t because when you laugh at something long enough, you forget that the outside world doesn’t share the same context that you do.

And yes, people are going to be offended no matter what you put out and question your journalistic integrity, it’s the way of the internet. The proper response is for other outlets is to not all simultaneously put out a “no you’re stupid” response about how being good at video games is actually a bad thing.

Other than that, I have no opinion on the matter.

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