Chris Crawford's Games Sucked

Every so often I mean to write an article about how Chris Crawford doesn’t know what he’s talking about. It’s pretty impressive, in some ways: his book on game design, for example, is practically a manual on how to write a sucky game. And Crawford keeps inspiring me to write this article because every time he opens his mouth (or uncaps his pen) he says stupid things.

Lots of people have weighed in on the meat of Crawford’s latest musings on how the game industry is moribund and uncreative, and I’m not particularly interested in tackling them. Instead, I just want to say something that needs to be said:

Chris Crawford wrote games that weren’t any fun. I think that Crawford gets a pass on this from so many commentators because he developed games in an era when there simply wasn’t as much competition. So anyone of a certain age who writes about games has played his games. Therefore, when people talk about 1985’s Balance of Power, they’re not actually talking about that game, but about their memory of playing the game as a 13 year old.

To take Balance of Power as an example: it wasn’t “innovative”; it was basically a rehash of Bruce Ketchledge’s 1984 game Geopolitique 1990, published by SSI. The main difference between the two games is that Crawford made some changes to suck all of the fun out of it. Specifically, in Ketchledge’s game, making too many significant mistakes could result in a war, which the player then had to resolve. In Crawford’s game, making a single mistake resulted in the game immediately ending with a snotty little lecture from the programmer ending with “We do not reward failure.”

What. A sanctimonious. Prick.

Who can point me to a single game that Crawford did that had any real influence beyond handwaving? We are talking, after all, about the man who developed Scram, a “nuclear plant simulator,” which has the distinction of being the first game to be so boring that it was literally more fun to go outside and watch grass grow. The only game Crawford has published that even deserves to be on the same page as the word “fun” would be his 1981 wargame Eastern Front. It’s a good game. But not enough to justify his reputation.

Some have pointed out – correctly – that Crawford need not have developed excellent games (or indeed, any games at all) to proffer opinions on the gaming industry. Certainly, none of us opining here at Tea Leaves have a resume that includes professionally published games, and that doesn’t stop us. But the argument is made, and made often in wanky, uncritical hagiographies, that Crawford’s opinion is important because of his “seminal” games and his “genius.” This is false. Crawford’s ouevre is average at best and mediocre at worst, and anyone familiar with the game developers writing and publishing games in the 1980s knows this to be true.

Crawford is good at something, but it isn’t game development. It is self promotion.

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