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Why game criticism doesn’t exist

Chi Kong Lui's picture

Game designer and academic, Greg Costikyan, recently renewed the debate on the importance of game criticism and the lack thereof in a recent post at Play This Thing.

I'd be lying if I didn't admit that every time there's a call for serious-minded game criticism (not game reviews), it pisses me off quite a bit. After all, I do run a site called GameCritics.com and, in the last seven years, I've written well over 200 reviews attempting to explore the fundamental questions that folks like Costikyan claim should make up the core of game criticism. That doesn't even include the extensive work of my site colleagues whose strive for similar aspirations.

So despite our large body of work, worldwide visibility on the Web, and the obvious name of our site, why have our efforts and the work of The Escapist, Edge, and many others not considered the Lester Bangs of videogames? In a word: demand. Critical analysis of our general media isn't something that people are really concerned about so you can imagine that the situation for videogames is even bleaker.

Back when media wasn't instantly accessible by mouse-click and art challenged and inspired audiences to ask questions, critics were topical experts that taught us what to pay attention to and how to better understand and appreciate the finer points of art. Information, interpretation, and opinion were a critics' commodity that audiences sought and valued.

Today that dynamic is no longer necessary. "The critic is going the way of the dinosaur and the dodo bird" as N'gai Croal succincintly put it. The role of the critic has been supplanted by the Information Age. Limitless content that can be downloaded, streamed, and/or beamed either on-demand or Tivo'ed via cable television, Internet, or cell phone has made us less particular about the media we consume. It isn't a question of what we consume, but how much. With so much information, questions aren't as fascinatingly curious as they once were since they can be instantly gratified by Google or Wikipedia.

Blogs and message boards delivered the final blow to critics by empowering readers saturated with boundless infomation at their finger tips to also voice their own ideas and opinions. They leveled the playing field between critic and reader. Everyone became a critic and the critic became just another voice in the crowd.

The sad truth is that the majority of audiences don't want a deeper understanding of the art in their videogames. They simply want someone to sift through the crap and tell them what's worth their time and money. That's why people get paid to write game reviews that tell people what to buy and not write game criticism that help people to better understand the games they play.

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If only then, the game

If only then, the game "reviewers" would actually review the game instead of playing 5 minutes of it, giving it somewhere between 60-100% score (6-10/10 or whichever system floats your boat) depending mainly on how much advertising the producer of the game has on the given site...

Well, I for one love this

Well, I for one love this site, and I have for years. I even wrote you an email ages ago praising you for the way the "Legend of Dragoon" debacle was handled. As far as game writing goes, it's the best I've seen - informative and thoroughly entertaining while coming across naturally and without ever being pretentious.

I hope you and the rest of the team here continue filling the niche and keep up the great work.

Edge

Stopped my sub to Edge several months ago because the reviews were turning more towards the populist online school of games writing and the last couple of editors seem to prefer style over substance. Too much art not enough writing. I'd rather look at screenshots online where they can be manipulated for easier viewing rather than squinting at a page in a magazine.

The news is still well written and interesting in Edge but thats about it, certainly not worth buying for, unless you're looking for a job in the industry aswell as Edge devotes a lot of ad space to employers. Another general gripe for all magazines - too many adverts. They're easily blocked online.

C'mon!

Some of the reviews on this site read like glowing advertising copy -- by way of example: Brandon Erickson's gushing COD4 'Review' of COD4 that doesn't criticize anything, and read's like something mutated from Infinity Ward press releases.

No where does Brandon even mention that COD4 was produced on an astronomical budget, doesn't look even remotely state-of-the-art, and ships with render anomalies and flaws galore. Neither does he mention that the multi-player is fantasy arcade casino play that's faster and more ridiculous then Counter-Strike and won't appeal to most serious 'realism' Fans.

I could go on but there are a slew of reviews on Game Critics that certainly don't do the site's moniker or the concept of Criticism much good.

Sorry...

.

The writing and just the

The writing and just the ideas expressed on this site could be better, or more consistently good, than they are. The people who write here are uniformly intelligent and their honest consideration of the games is certainly well beyond that of the mainstream gaming press, but it's rare to find a particularly well written review here. There tend to be grammatical errors and sometimes the sentences aren't constructed in a particularly interesting or eloquent way. There is game criticism I like more, like the frequently glorious and just about consistently dead-on Zero Punctuation, and, while I know he has a bad rep in some circles, I find myself frequently fond of Tim Rogers' esoteric, nebulous ramblings--the man is smart, and productive as hell. Gamecritics often feels like it's straddling the line between criticism and reviewing.

Snack Eater wrote:There

Snack Eater wrote:

There tend to be grammatical errors and sometimes the sentences aren't constructed in a particularly interesting or eloquent way. There is game criticism I like more, like the frequently glorious and just about consistently dead-on Zero Punctuation, and, while I know he has a bad rep in some circles, I find myself frequently fond of Tim Rogers' esoteric, nebulous ramblings--the man is smart, and productive as hell.

It's ironic that you knock us for grammar errors and eloquence and then you turn around and praise Yatzee's run-on style on "Zero Punctuation" and Tim Rogers who by your own estimation rambles.

Snack Eater wrote:

Gamecritics often feels like it's straddling the line between criticism and reviewing.

Why can't we be both? I don't see why being useful/accessible and thought provking have to be mutually exclusive.

auteur game criticism

There is a thesis on auteur game criticism on this website: http://kafaayari.wordpress.com

critics do still give deeper understanding.

I would argue with your statement Chi, that gamers only want a critic review to help steer them away from the crap. Of course, while that is the primary objective, (considering how expensive games are today) I often can tell from a well written game review when the critic really enjoyed the game, and that influences my decision even further. Games like Okami and Shadow of the Colossus are two such examples, and I'm moved when I'm able to pick up on that through their words.

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