a thread on polish, why i end up crying all the time when i try to think about this reasonably, and what kindness means in this context.

none of this is new, but i have been thinking about this a lot recently as i am in a research phase for a project.

thread 1 of 2, ha.
there is a lot of complexity to conversations around polish.

probably a good starting point is the language of AAA polish, which in many ways frames the conversation in smaller game projects.
there's a complex history here of how the industry incentivizes same-but-better (product value) framing. game B is better than game C, because look at the shaders, also it runs at 4k with such-and-such a feature set if you buy the new graphics cards. here is a side by side...
as a result, the most common language we see for evaluating games is framed in these terms. "the graphics are good", "the jump in this game is unresponsive", "movement feels bad", "this game has amazing responsiveness" etc.
and as smaller game creators, we can't achieve the fidelity or labor bandwidth AAA does. but we're very much informed by this thinking.

i try, but can't stop thinking in these terms.
i'm not interested in a reductionist "polish is wrong" framing.

instead, let's have conversations about our own ingrained thinking, reductionist schools of design, the value of craft, and the innate human phenomena underlying this.
firstly, there's innate appeal to the more human version of polish- look at the beautiful chair you friend made, look at this this neat water simulation your friend put in their game, look at this nice cape flip animation, etc..
anyone who has watched me play a game knows how much i love to run around and stare at shaders, run through plants to watch the animation, repetitively hit walls with a sword or jump in and out of water.

a lot of us engage in these behaviors when playing games.
similarly, a lot of us, as we strive to learn and grow in making or critical awareness of games, rely, probably beneficially, on simple recipes for what constitutes good player animation, effects, water, idle animations, etc. etc.
where this gets us in trouble is:

(1) a lot of our source material is commercial, and we internalize commercial value judgement.

(2) we apply our own gainful narrowness of practice or critical awareness as judgement of the work of others. this is very hard not to do.
this is why i cry about this.

i've spent most of my life training myself to be discerning, but it's coupled to harmful ingrained concepts of commercial value judgement.
keen observation is not wrong. narrowness of practice is not wrong. but when it becomes prescriptiveness in judging the work of others, a dogma about quality which is inextricably linked to privilege in terms of technical skill, labor, or critical awareness, it can cause harm.
one of the most obvious indications is that if you interrogate the way the industry attempts to separate smaller games into a top tier commercially viable set, and the rest of us, the delineator is often how closely games conform to the language of commercial value signifiers.
so i struggle, and i remind myself:

i have my own feelings on this, but this is not good, or bad. this is the work of humans. humans have worth.

(2) humans have variable access to and investment in any particular definition of polish. lack of polish is not lack of worth.
in reaction, one might arrive at the stance that polish is evil. games should abandon polish.

but this too is vanity and vexation of spirit.
to apply lack of polish as a dogma is also exclusive. it would be wrong to assert that only people who subscribe to your particular approach to countering capitalist dogma are allowed to make valid games, that everything else isn't valid.
polish is, truthfully, tightly coupled to internalized capitalist value judgement.

and to be clear, fuck capitalism.

but our primary duty in interrogating our relationship with polish is respect for humans.
i hope we will all gradually learn to counteract our internalized judgement of ourselves and of others, and move away from narrow lens value assessments into a language which respects process and the humans behind games.

fascinating things are happening in pixel art, as a microcosm of this. we have several very different visions of polish. for instance, in games of the hyper light drifter / dead cells / blasphemous school, you have high fidelity but often wonderfully loose detailing.
and games in the shovel knight / timespinners / alwa's awakening school of tighter zoom, more spec-restrictive work eschew high resolutions, but embrace detailing.
and there's a wonderful variety of different aesthetics outside of these, all with different relationships to polish.

in the near future, it's going to be really interesting to see what happens once things like DAIN-APP are more widely adopted in games.
i'm looking forward to both games that embrace related tools and those that opt not to, whatever that means to individual creators. either way it means that visual fidelity will have a decoupled or less direct relationship to worth in the traditional capitalist sense.
i think this will have a really interesting effect on the culture around fidelity and polish.
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