This Week in Videogame Blogging, 65 die in a tragic Tetris accident in NYC, and Hard-casual also get the scoop on the Fallout: New Vegas protagonist!

In slightly less tongue-in-cheek happenings, Jim Rossignol, one quarter of Rock, Paper, Shotgun, noted that “Locked Door” was close to the biggest article ever published on RPS. It’s certainly well worth a read, and a great example of the fact that good games crit doesn’t have to be the straight-forward essayist type. RPS continued its standard of excellence this week with some fantastic coverage of upcoming game Mafia 2, and a nice little op-ed on Left 4 Dead’s new survival mode.

Dan Kline¬† wrote about a theory he has that “having a programmer in charge of your company [makes] such a big difference” to game development. I’m a little sceptical about the breadth of his argument, but colour me interested. He does say, however, that “having a programmer in charge means there’s no black box.¬† Video games are software first, game second.” Which is a sentiment I can definitely get behind.

This week, L.B. Jeffries suffered GDC denial and went to GDX (game developers exchange) and wrote about his experience. It’s a pretty insider-focused conference, but L.B. still managed to get quite a lot out of it. And he met Ian Bogost. In his own words – “suspicions confirmed. He’s a total badass.”.

Matthew Wasteland wrote about an anecdote from crunch time in ‘Front Lines, pt. II: A Thousand-Dollar Effort’. It has to be read to be believed.

Iroquois Pliskin of Versus Clu Clu Land turns a review of Gears of War 2 into something like a defence of the Roman Coliseum aesthetic in the game. “The Takeaway”, he says, “Are you not entertained?” The argument against trying to critique a game for something it’s not trying to be, is one that I don’t feel has really been played out yet. I am reminded of Mike Schiller, former editor of the moving pixels blog, and his defence of the story in GoW2. Also from Pliskin is his not to be missed post “Against My Better Judgement, I Discuss Citizen Kane and Maybe Art” which is absolutely chock-full of great ideas on games-as-art and the use of cinematic comparisons. Also, some badass dude called Ian Bogost turns up in the comments.

Tom Chick reluctantly finished his great series on the new game Demigod this week, with his ‘Final Word‘. The discussion surrounding whether reviewers should evaluate the quality at launch versus what it will be once issues are resolved is discussed and handled in a most excellent way, I felt.

Michael Abbott at the Brainy Gamer this week commented on the change to the ending of Fallout 3 that Bethesda’s Pete Hines outlined would happen with the last piece of DLC for the game. Abbott was sad that the lesson learned from player feedback on Fallout 3 seemed to be that endings were bad intrinsically, however I felt that the take-away was more that Fallout 3‘s ending was bad. Go read it for yourself.

Finally, we come to what I feel is this weeks absolute must read – and it comes to us via Critical Distance contributor’ Christopher Hyde’s tumblr blog. He links to a piece of writing from a film criticism website that, when it comes down to it, is lamenting the lack of any serious games criticism.

In the post “The Alligators Have Good Graphics: Beginning Game Criticism, Pt 1“, author Logan Crowell, who comes from a film criticism background, valiantly outlines the issues surrounding game criticism and says about games criticism that,

Ultimately, though, we need to begin. We need to stop asking why there isn’t game criticism and start writing some. Maybe it will fail to distinguish itself. Maybe few games are ready for serious critics. We still need to try. If we don’t, then someone, sometime down the road, is once again going to ask why there isn’t any real game criticism.

It seems to me that Crowell just hasn’t found it all yet, and if he had he’d be singing a much merrier tune. Not to put too fine a point on it, but the post seems to justify the existence of a site like Critical Distance. Where is the entry point to games criticism? So far it’s only regularly happened by the discovery on of any of the many networked blogs and communities, often via The Brainy Gamer and others.

Either way, Logan, some of us have been ‘beginning’ for quite a while. You’re welcome to join the conversation. Beware, though, it’s deeper than it looks. Actually, a lot deeper. So deep I have run out of words.

And that’s as close as we’ll get to an aggregator website!

Till next week.

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10 Responses

  • Thanks for the shout-out and great summary overall.

    Skimmed some of Crowell’s piece but every time I see someone claim that there is no game criticism I can only assume they’re lazy or not even trying. You did a good job roasting him in the comments. I mean, c’mon, if you google “video games and criticism” you get any number of spikes, “braid and criticism” launches even more. The claim he makes at the end that all of the criticism is just analyzing mechanics or plot but not both is even more absurd.

    Half of what is so irritating about the “We need a Pauline Kael or Citizen Kane” argument (which he makes in the comments) is that they seem to be ending the post with some jackass notion that they themselves will rise up and lead us to this new critical utopia. For as much as Klostermann’s essay gets farted about by people, the man seemed to have little answer to the problem other than “I can be your Lester Bangs!”

    Criticism is a function of a community, not a lone individual handing down some brilliant essay to the masses. If someone wants to convince me they have good ideas for how to change a culture, it would be nice if they bothered to study it first.

    • +1 to L.B. The proof will be in the pudding, no? If his Braid essay isn’t that great, then we know he’s just another kid with a film degree thinking he understands games because he’s played them. The idea that Unit Ops and Rules of Play are the only books that have been written academically about games criticism is beyond ridiculous.

      I should note, there are vast stores of academic criticism that not even the writers Logan respects (you guys) pay that much attention to. And before you give the “but we’re not interested in academia, unless it’s Bogost” bit, actually read some of the pieces at a fairly accessible journal such as http://gamestudies.org/0802 to see that your goals and our goals aren’t that much different.

      I see just as much, if not more, of the “we are inventing this field” story from Brainysphere writers as I do from the Crowell piece, and the same lack of attention paid to previously published works that really are working on inventing the same wheel.

      • @SimonFerrari I always feel inadequet next to your writing level. Yes I do understand there is a lot out there and it does seem that both issues have been beaten into the ground. There is good criticism and you just have to look for it and yes we are not the forerunners of the conversation, but we are the ones who continueally have it.

        Criticism is as much about the medieum as it is about individial works. The blogs of the unfortuantly titled “brainysphere” are continually having a conversation not just in what they write, but in what they pass on. I couldn’t find half of what was out there on my own, but thanks to the connections to other blogs that I’ve made and now Critical Distance I am able to find interesting individual pieces of writing.

        We aren’t inventing the field, I agree, but reinventing it I don’t agree. I think of it more as self education. I’ve learned more by participating in what may or may not have already been discussed by academic than reading it.

        • @ Eric:

          You don’t give yourself enough credit, man! I definitely didn’t say you guys were re-inventing, hence the “working on inventing the same wheel.” I see the work my colleagues and professors do as complimentary, not as inherently superior, to what you guys are working on accomplishing. And I was a bit harsh in implying that you guys never look outside your blogosphere; however, it’s stuff like Ben’s final link-orgy sentence to the post that I’m not a fan of. All the websites linked (except Jesper’s) were in your circle of friends, and you often only quote, cite, or mention each others’ writings and the occasional RPS write-up as if you were the only writers struggling with the issue.

          I guess my rumble request is the same as Logan’s: stop talking about the state of criticism, about whether games are art or not, about “thoughtful” or “interesting” ideas you read on another blog… and do more of what you guys are good at – analyzing how games play, what they mean, and how they’re made. And maybe cite somebody outside your circle every once in awhile?

        • Ha! I said rumble request. Which leads to the most important question of all, “Why no Scooby Doo games?”

  • Logan Crowell says:

    Ben, as I said in the comments at THND, I think you’re right that I went too far. My own frustration with gaming criticism caused me to be more dismissive than fair. The reaming you’ve given me, and you’re not alone, is well deserved.

    I do still believe game criticism has further to go, but I think everyone can agree on that. The main intent of my piece, as a gamer reading criticism and not as a critic, was an attempt to explore what it is about the criticism that leaves me feeling dissatisfied, despite the intelligence of the writing. Unfortunately that seems to have been overshadowed by the portion you quote, and a couple of other tasteless lines at the beginning.

    As a fan of Braid, I enjoyed last fall tremendously. There were insightful articles coming from all directions. But that’s true for so few games. This is where I find there to be a large disconnect between games and criticism. There is a ton of writing about gaming, wonderful stuff, but there is far less about each individual game. For every great game there is not great criticism and the critical community has yet to speak about a larger number of games in the way it has Braid (and Bioshock, etc). My piece was a look at why that is, from the perspective of a gamer. I was far more critical of the gaming community and game makers than I was of critics. Mainly, though, I was exploring what I see as the challenges to criticism. You know these challenges better than I do. My piece is an expression of my own views, not a schooling for those already doing the writing.

    Likewise, I definitely do not think I am the answer (as L.B. suggested). Good god, no. I can only hope to offer as much insight as what I read (and I hope you’ll come back in two weeks when I take my first real stab at it). I also don’t think gaming needs a Bangs or a Kael (nor have I said so). What I did say is that game criticism has yet to reach the ideal bridge between theory and public discussion that Kael and Bangs personify. That isn’t because game critics are idiots or their work is weak, but because criticism is developing. I spent most of my piece exploring some of the reasons that ideal is so hard to obtain.

    I’m not a professional writer and I have no intention of being a career critic. I have a background in film, yes, but my main approach to this piece was as a gamer. I’m extremely thankful for what game criticism there is, and I hope you’ll forgive me for wanting more. What I think we can both agree on is that game criticism is at an exciting point right now, one full of both quality and potential. The leaps it’s made since only two years ago is astounding. It can only get better and I really can’t understate how excited I am to even be having this discussion with you. As a writer, I’m thankful to be given enough respect to be mentioned at all. As a gamer, I’m just asking you keep giving me more of what you’re doing. Believe me, I’m thankful for all the writing being done and just want to see it keep improving.

    • Ben Abraham says:

      Hey Logan, thanks for stopping by and taking the time to address some of your critics (heh) criticisms. I linked to your piece because in many cases you had a point, and it’s just a little bit of a pity that we seem to have latched onto the more contentious claims like “there’s no criticism” instead of dealing with the content.

      Que Sera, Sera – many of the issues you mention are deal with every time these writers try to convey something in a post, and often in staggeringly creative ways. A quick example – dealing with interactivity is hard, but if you’ve played a lot of games you realise that many Videogames actually don’t offer all that much in the way of it. For example, see this piece I mentioned in our recent podcast which outlines just how *little* interactivity is present within games like Half-Life 2, etc. Also in the podcast (this is getting close to ‘shilling for CDC mode’ =P) we talked about the issue of a lot of game criticism dealing with the form over the content (so, critiquing them as games, rather than what they say as games) which is probably a throwback to our dependence on reviews for the earliest measure of a game.

      And, yes, there really is *a lot* of re-inventing of the wheel going on. We seem to love to re-tread the old topics of “games as art” and “is comparing games to film at all useful”…

      So, where am I going with this…? Oh yeah; glad to know you’re passionate about improving the discourse and are able to politely address your critics. Looking forward to whatever you come up with on Braid (Can you believe I haven’t actually played it still?! Crazy I know..)

    • Gah, sorry for being such an ass and I’ll definitely be back to read your follow-up piece. There is a long history of people getting upset about the state of criticism in games but after that initial strike many balk at the actual task of going through game after game and writing about it.

      Everyone loves to quote Klostermann’s Bangs piece, but I don’t see him actually writing anything to try to solve the problem. Same for the copycat “There is no critic X” essays that started to crop up afterwards. All talk, no action.

      This is just one of those issues that brings out a lot of anger in me every time I see it and honestly, I’ve made an ass of myself more than once by blowing up over it. I’m sorry if I went overboard and I hope you really do dive into this. If they aren’t afraid of actually doing the nitty gritty, the more the merrier I always say.

      • Logan Crowell says:

        I totally get it, don’t worry. The reason I wish I hadn’t been so harsh is precisely because your reaction wasn’t undeserved! I’m just glad to know that when both sides are willing a sincere, honest discussion can happen without the snarkiness so many mainstream sites thrive on. The fact that everyone has been willing to engage a no-name who kind of threw some dirt at them — and accept his apology — speaks a great deal about the community.

  • Chris says:

    Who are those Tetris jokers and how did they get on the smart people blog? I vote we burn them!


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