How not to handle criticism: featuring John Clowder

Today, we’re going to talk about something practical. This is intended to be game dev advice from one amateur, but really, this is applicable to anybody that makes things for people to consume.

This post is going to be about taking criticism, more specifically, a post on how not to handle it. Sometimes it’s hard to listen to criticism, but it’s something that we have to face. But you know, it could be hard to take criticism with grace. How do we learn not to freak out toward criticism? I say that the best way to do that is to look at an example of somebody flipping out, so that we may look upon them and think, “jeez it’d suck to be like that guy.”

Our example will be John Clowder, also known as myformerselves and revolverwinds, creator of the cult RPG Maker games, Middens and Gingiva. He is also somebody that didn’t handle one negative review very well. Middens is a game that’s well-regarded, having mostly positive responses. However, one fellow on rpgmaker.net, NTC3, dared to give it a mostly negative review. Say what you will about the review, but it’s Clowder’s reaction to it and what we should take away from that reaction that’s important.

clowder1Rule 1: Don’t immediately argue with a reviewer over their negative points.

This is the first reply in what is probably the greatest review thread on the rpgmaker site and Clowder is already on the defensive. There isn’t any consideration for the reviewer’s negative points on Middens or any reflection on the positives, Clowder just goes in there. To me, getting argumentative immediately characterizes somebody to be hard-headed and unaccepting of criticism. It’s not a good look.

There’s also another take-away, with the whole “assessing those that create when you do not is ignorance” bit:

Rule 2: Don’t say something along the lines of, “if you can’t make it, don’t criticize it.”

In fairness, you get a bit of perspective if you’ve spent time in someone else’s shoes. Like hey, people that accuse game developers of being lazy is an actual problem and maybe if they understood how much time and effort is put into something, this attitude would be less prevalent. Trying to work on my own stuff certainly has given me more appreciation for people that make games.

But the thing is, even if somebody doesn’t work on games, that doesn’t mean that their points aren’t valid. You can think a song is good without being a musician or a professional music critic, you can find a tv show enjoyable without ever having worked on content like that. What exactly is your audience, if you expect your critics to be game developers on your level? Heck, game dev friends might actually hold you to higher standards, so criticism from your average player may be preferable. Appreciate those reviews and listen to them.

Also to note, this point of view would mean that any positive reviews of a game by somebody that’s never made one should also be ruled as irrelevant. But, nobody ever parrots this idea if the consensus is positive; NTC3 points this out amidst Clowder’s rantings, as the rest of the reviews for Middens are positive, but Clowder never even said a thing toward those reviews – not even a simple thanks. So hey, don’t say that a person’s opinion is completely invalid if they’re not in your shoes, because everybody knows that it’s only used against negative criticism and is a sign that you can’t handle it.

And so, NTC3 tries to justify his points in the face of hard-headedness, but it just prompts another response:

clowder3

Rule 3: Don’t angrily accuse people of “not getting it.”

To be fair, people sometimes miss the underlying messages in games. Heck, sometimes people could miss the explicit messages too, just take a look at Metal Gear Solid fans that think war is badass. But here, Clowder shows attitude as he argues the meaning of his game. Combined with his previous hostility, it’s less like Clowder is explaining what was missed but it feels more like him calling the reviewer an idiot for not seeing his vision. Throughout the thread, Clowder just keeps contending that NTC3 “just doesn’t get it” refusing to consider that, “hey, maybe I am the problem.”

clowder6

So hey, if somebody doesn’t quite get your work, maybe stop to understand why they don’t understand. If they don’t get the themes of your work, maybe your execution is vague. Maybe they’re not the intended audience? At the very least, don’t be like John Clowder.

(Also, as a sidenote: Claiming that somebody doesn’t understand your vision kinda doesn’t help accusations of pretentiousness.)

But that’s not all. As this argument went on, other rpgmaker.net users joined in on the thread, usually taking up NTC3’s side of the “debate.” A user going by Fidchell tells him to get off his high horse and while they were a bit rude about it, it really didn’t justify the response:

clowder7

Rule 4: Please don’t do this.

Holy fucking shit, you shouldn’t talk to people like this. Like it’s one thing to be hard-headed, but it’s another thing to treat somebody like this. Yeah, it was a bit rude, but this person wasn’t being a piece of shit. This wasn’t quite a death threat, which is why I imagine that Clowder wasn’t just flat-out banned from this site, but it’s still such a lousy thing to say to somebody. Seriously, if you talk to somebody like this for the crime of not liking your game very much, you’re probably not going to get a lot of respect from circles and in all honesty, serves you right.


So, look at the ramblings of John Clowder and please resolve to not be like that. Besides, that guy is actually awful beyond his handling of criticism, so fuck him anyway. Criticism is (or at least, should be) a healthy thing that helps people improve. We gotta know what we’re doing right, but we also need to know what we may be doing wrong and try to fix that to make games that more people can enjoy. It can be frustrating, but please understand and please don’t be an asshole about it.

3 thoughts on “How not to handle criticism: featuring John Clowder

  1. John makes solid points in all regards. A review can be subject to review. It is not a sacred process.

    In your case you are reviewing the review of a review.

    In honesty the original review that is being commented on is snarky and condescending and vapid which is likely why you didnt reproduce it here. The very fact that the artist’s comments on the critique spur more interest than the critique itself is proof of its banality.

    Valid points are like the edge of a circle. Unless theyre insightful they are all equally distant from each other. A good point hits the center.

    Half the reason gaming is taken as kiddie fare is because the commentary on them is childish and anti-intellectual. Calling an artistic work pretentious is the gist of all anti-intellectualism. Instead of elevating the dialogue they dumb it down as meaningless.

    Remove art from film and I wouldnt touch the left overs. Same with games. Some people like fiber in their diet and others take consuming vegetables as a form of self torture.

    In that sense the reviewer plainly doesnt get it because to them something gas to taste good to justify consumption.

    I’m glad the artist had the courage to stand up for their work. You mess with baby bear and you mama bear.

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  2. I’m not saying that a review can’t be subject to a review, rather, I’m pointing out that said review of the review carries an attitude that is unbecoming of creators. While the post doesn’t have screenshots to the original review, the link to the review and the thread itself is still posted, so I’m not trying to hide it. The thing is, the matter isn’t of whether Clowder should review said review or not – if it was, I would have gladly included screenshots. The problem is the general attitude that Clowder carries himself with, acting dismissive and hostile. You may see NTC3’s review as banal, but regardless of the intellectualism angle you’re trying to push, it’s still an honest review. And to have a hostile attitude toward honest reviews just isn’t a good look.

    I do believe that games can be art. In fact, I considered Fidchell rude for their own dismissive attitude toward art games. But if creators of art games get mad at people for not getting it and dismissing their concerns, it does not reflect well on art games.

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  3. You should have gone into how he was on Uboachan. Look up the Middens YNFG thread – criticism galore.

    You could practically do a part 2 on how pretentious this guy is.

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