Sep 14 2010 5:32pm

Stepping into Fiction: Mogworld by Yahtzee Croshaw

It’s weird when a notable critic attempts their own creative venture. It’s like a puppy trying to meow. Technically it can try all it likes, and you’re certainly not going to stop it, but it has to really nail it or else you’re just going to think the puppy is weird. Especially if it won’t stop trying. Really, puppy, we liked you best as just a puppy.

Yahtzee Croshaw is caught in that predicament now, with the release of his first novel Mogworld (Dark Horse). You may know Croshaw from his “Zero Punctuation” series of video game reviews, which run weekly at Escapist Magazine. The reviews are extremely distinctive in style and a great step above any other video game review you can find in regards to conciseness, sharpness of humor, and clarity of opinion. They’re really stonking good, to borrow a phrase from Croshaw himself, so he has a better chance than most critics at pulling off his own fiction novel.

The story of Mogworld is pretty well encapsulated by its back cover blurb:

In a world full to bursting with would-be heroes, Jim couldn’t be less interested in saving the day. His fireballs fizzle. He’s awfully grumpy. Plus, he’s been dead for about sixty years. When a renegade necromancer wrenches him from his eternal slumber and into a world gone terribly, bizarrely wrong, all Jim wants is to find a way to die properly, once and for all.

On his side, he’s go a few shambling corpses, an inept thief, and a powerful death wish. But he’s up against tough odds: angry mobs of adventures, a body falling apart at the seams—and a team of programmers racing a deadline to hammer out the last few bugs in their AI.

That last bit is pretty obvious from the get-go, as Jim encounters more and more logical and behavioral incongruities in the world around him, the foremost being that he can’t die, even after he’s become undead. Yahtzee Croshaw writes with the same cheekiness that he conducts his video game reviews in. (Sorry, I know calling him cheeky is lazy, considering that he’s British, but it’s the law—also he genuinely earns that description.) It puts one immediately in the mind of an early Terry Pratchett book, so the incongruities mesh well with the context they’re being described in.

The main characters in the video game are a bit rote. You get the impression that the author knows that he can’t quite depict emotional scenes or internal monologues without coming off like a robot, so for the most part he avoids them in favor of letting the character’s actions speak for themselves. Croshaw writes the scheming Mogworld developers very on the nose, however, depicting them with a childish petulance that doesn’t seem too far off from how one imagines video game developers actually acting like. It rings true without being insulting, and is probably the funniest aspect of the book. The developers are so fun to read, in fact, that I found myself flipping ahead to see when they would pop up again.

Jim’s revelation that he’s a character in a video game world is handled well, too, and the book becomes emotionally hefty as a result of it. The climax is satisfying and does a great job of finally putting you in Jim’s shoes without turning maudlin or feeling unearned.

It’s just that you need to haul through a fourth of the book before you get there! This is the biggest issue with the book, that the writing style, though humorous and slightly madcap, can’t hide the plot twists. You know that Jim is a video game character right away and that makes you impatient for the story to get on with it and start dealing with events past that reveal. Once it does, you’re impatient for the story to get the character itself to that reveal, as the book gets better and better the more it blends these elements together.

Whether Croshaw should stick solely to critiquing video games is up for debate. Mogworld isn’t going to bowl anyone over, but Croshaw undoubtedly has a strong, unique voice and I would hate to see that limited to only critiques. I’m very interested to see what he’ll do next in the world of fiction.

Chris Greenland can only hope his own artistic efforts will be as well done as Croshaw’s.

1. Akheloios
I would love him to bits, even cuddle him and try to make the world less cliche and formulaic for him, if only he would refrain from using the word faggot or making the assumption that sucking cock was in some way a bad thing.

That's pretty much the only reason I haven't bought his book. The same way TotalHalibut of the WoW review world is kneejerk homophobic when he runs into a gap in a review narrative. Yahtzee seems to paint himself into a corner in his fantasic reviews, finds no easy way out and runs to the mouthbreather Xbox user faggot joke rather than writing his way out of the corner or avoiding it entirely.

I must admit, as a bisexual man trying to find amusement and advice in buying games, and criticism of games I enjoy, Yahtzee is great when it comes to analysis of what is good or bad about a game, but abysmal when it comes to writing jokes without an insulting reference to gay gamers.
Chris Greenland
2. greenland
@Akheloios. You are absolutely on point about that. (Is it me, or has it gotten especially bad over his last few reviews, too?) He has a few jokes he beats to death, but that is by far his worst.

However, I'm happy to point out that he totally avoids that in his book. His hard cynicism is still there, but it's more hapless and fits pretty well through the viewpoint of the main character.
Sven Hesse
3. DrMcCoy
"It’s weird when a notable critic attempts their own creative venture."

Except that Yahtzee wrote graphical adventures games (which certainly are creative) years before he became a notable critic.

Research fail, Chris.
4. Agreeably So
@Akheloios: Agreed.

@greenland: Agreed.

@DrMcCoy: "like."
5. D3stiny_Sm4sher
I wasn't aware Yahtzee was actually a critic so much as a comedian. His reviews are certainly opinionated and everything he says is a tree grown from a seed of truth - a freakin' Sequoia tree, that is, to the point of being humorously unrealistic. I love his videos to death and they always make me laugh but rarely do I ever take what he says seriously. He is the most pessimistic, hard to please gamer I have ever encountered to the point of being useless as a source of genuine critique - hard to decide which games to buy when a critic tells you to just not buy ANY of them because they're all apparently crap. Either that or YOU are crap for liking them. Apparently. That said, his written pieces, while still similar in tone, tend to ring a tad more true to reality with less mountains and more mole hills.

Although it could simply be that underneath that stylish Aussie hat and burstingly bright mind he wears a Guy Fawkes mask that has profane words scribbled all over it, and this is all just an act a la The Angry Video Game Nerd.

Either way, he's certainly intelligent, certainly brilliant, certainly hilarious, and if he's going out of his way to attempt to create a work of literature that strives to be all of these aforementioned things then I do have to tip my hat to him. It takes guts.

Oh, and to the reviewer: good read, informative of what I would care to know about the book without actually spoiling anything that would hold my attention while reading. I'm actually not much into novels but I might give this book a try some time. If anything it does sound original.
6. Akheloios

I'm happy to go and watch his videos on his website. The growling rage I might have from his stupid kneejerk comments is more than made up for in his cogent analysis of the games. I actually save money by listening to him and watching his reviews to avoid the awful games he rips to shreds. But that doesn't mean that I have spend my own money, rather than giving ad revenue to the escapist, by buying his book.

It's the ultimate in free speech. He can say what he likes, he just has to accept the consequences, and in this case, it's me, a bisexual male not buying his book because of what he's said in his reviews.
7. SomeDeadGuy

The gay jokes are entirely in jest and I think are a part of the exaggerated Yahtzee character, not Croshaw himself. Have you watched his Guitar Hero III review? It shows that the character has some... insecurities about his sexuality, to say the least.

As for the book, I'm definitely going to read it. His reviews really are "really stonking good".
8. Akheloios

I'll say again that I value his reviews for his very deep analysis of what is wrong with them, but he does have certain problems in his choice of perjoratives.

I can accept that you can make a few jokes about sucking cock. I can accept that you can make a few jokes about being retarded. I can accept that you can makes jokes about any topic at all that might seem offensive. What I don't accept is that when he has to point out that a game is bad, he almost always makes a joke about a game sucking cock or another homosexual reference, as though homosexuality was bad.

If he's pandering to an audience of teenage Xbox type gamers then I wish him well. I hope that his advertising reviews make up for the loss of people like me buying his book.

I am not trying to limit his freedom of speech. I only want to point out that his comments will probably directly alienate at least 10% of the gaming community, especially in my case.
9. N. Mamatas
I wish I could buy a video game that sucked cock.
10. TotalHalibut
"The same way TotalHalibut of the WoW review world is kneejerk homophobic when he runs into a gap in a review narrative."

Ermm, what? When have I ever used homophobic jokes to review anything? What reviews have you been watching exactly?
11. Akheloios

I'd like to say that I love the TotalHalibut reviews too, I'm beta testing as well, so the testing of the areas I haven't seen have been very useful for me, and I have watched all the reviews. They've been fantastic, and have helped with my own feedback to Blizzard. However you made a rather unpleasant comment in your reviews.

Saying that anyone that has made a comment disagreeing with your reviews, and I don't, must have some kind of fixation on you, and that you don't 'per se' have anything against people who put penises into their mouths, but you don't wish to is a priori homophobic just because you make the link with argumentation with homosexual atraction.

Whenever you say that you have 'no prejudice' against group x. 'but'...

means you have a prejudice against group x.
Chris Greenland
12. greenland
@3. Nah, I knew he had released his own games (which is why I didn't specify that this was his first or only effort). I played through a few of them--mostly the DeFoe ones--to see if any of the themes from Mogworld cropped up in them, but didn't see any strong parallels so I just didn't mention them for the sake of clarity.
13. THsupporter

Who do you think you are to be making false accusations against TotalHalibut. Not once have I ever heard him say anything about homosexuals. So if all you are going to do is make stupid comments about other people just get the hell off of this site.
John Reen
14. BarIdeas
"It’s weird when a notable critic attempts their own creative venture."
15. CassR
16. DralZx
Reading some of these comments makes me laugh, especially people being overly tense about certain things ¬.¬

If we can get back on track? I love the book, I think it's good at keeping my attention, it's funny, it's exciting and well immersed in it's own world to make the characters and settings believable, whilst still having that zany outrageousnous that makes it so very different from your stereotypical fantasy story.

Haters be hating, but IMO, keep writing Yahtzee.
17. TotalHalibut
@11 - So your approach is to libel me with things that never actually happened, I see.

You seem like some kind of bleeding heart with a massive agenda, to the point where you'll willingly make things up out of thin air to prove a point. Do that in real life, end up in court.
Alex L
18. Quercus
Nice review. I've been more or less consciously avoiding Mogworld despite all the post-ZP adverts out of a fear that Yahtzee couldn't sustain a novel's-worth of writing. Maybe I'll give in and get it.

ZP is interesting once you get attuned to the vitriol-as-baseline tone of the reviews, because Yahtzee has some extremely cogent ideas about what constitutes a good game, specifically immersion and storytelling. This is more apparent from his Extra Punctuation column (some swearing involved) and a talk he gave at a game dev conference (on Youtube somewhere). His review of Kane & Lynch 2 - not linked to because it's really NSFW and will upset any passing defenders of fellatio - tips over into fuming rage because of the flimsiness and incoherence of the story-telling.
Twiddly Pooper
19. Mygaffer
No way to e-mail the author? Well, I just wanted to take exception to one thing you said.
"It’s weird when a notable critic attempts their own creative venture."
I don't know how much research you do but Croshaw is first a creative person, second critic. His adventure and other games have quite a following and he was well known for them long before the Zero Punctuation reviews.
20. Flamewall
I really don't believe that Yahtzee is homophobic. I think that the overall liberal and indeed many a times repeated suggestions of games/developers/anyone to go to choke on a dick are derived more from the perception of the public of the act in question than from the fellatio itself.
When Croshaw says that playing Sims 3 is making his testicles shrink in size and is further advancing the development of a cunt on his person I don't believe that he literally means that he had a sex change operation to play the game. Using these crude analogues he portrays a picture that is immidiately vivid on the viewer and to some extents even humorous.
Moreover, I believe that the cock sucking can be atributed to be solely a right of homosexuals. It is entirely possible that a woman could perform fellatio on a man and the same aplies on suggested rape wich in Yahtzees rewies is usually fermormed anally.
It is true that Yahtzee has repeatedly referenced homosexuality in his rewies. I remember that particulary in the Army of Two review he made a number of comments about the strangely close relationship he felt that the said army of two men had but in no way.
Also from the get go to the Army of Two review he admits to relying too heavily on gay jokes. Just as Yahtzee said in his Resident Evil 5 review when he was talking about racism in the game by the developer.
"One really shouldn't worry about this stuff unless there is genuine hatred behind it. I don't get that impression. Capcom aren't bad people. They are just idiots."
Rewriting the last part I could say that Yahtzee is not a bad person. He is just tad inconsiderate and good for him because just as sensitivity training makes people more racist the allaround avoiding and fearing of some tabu subjects just enhances their effects on our society. Like a South Park episode ones taught me: Faggot used to be a term for a person carrying sticks.
Sorry for the long post and the freaky use of english language but I am a foreighner and have been reading some H.P. Lovecraft books in original language of the late and have somewhat become encapsulated by the language.
21. Regulartrashcan
@Ak - I use lots of gay jokes, but it's mostly for effect. I don't mean to offend anyone for that. I know several homo and bisexuals, they are good friends to me and me towards them. Yahtzee most probably don't have anything against homosexuals but he uses them for the funnies. Who hasn't called anyone "GAY!" but actually never meant anything bad? I have, and he probably has too.

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