Monday, June 13, 2011

The Game Criticism That I Care About.

Too much "game criticism" comes in the guise of art criticism. The critic rips merrily into the hermeneutics of a game, discussing how broad social issues like race or gender are portrayed. The critic makes grand pronouncements about deeper meaning and what affect these portrayals have on the player's psychology.

"What is this game Telling us?" seems to be the central question. "Telling" has a capital "T" because the critic aggrandizes it through writing gravely and intensely. Everything's meaning is exaggerated in order to match up to the stature of other arts that the critic thinks are deserving of respect. "We need to discuss these points in order to be taken seriously" you may hear--but seriously in what regard?

Games aren't paintings or novels or books of poetry. They aren't static entities set in print or pastels. Games are dynamic. Games are an interactive medium in the strictest sense. Games are participatory event in themselves--we need look no further than sports to see this proven.

Games have plenty of static content, but what makes them different and worth caring about is not that static content, it's the act of play. You don't go to a movie because the act of focusing your eyes on a screen captivates you. Games may be composed of static art in part, but their whole is greater by far.

Game criticism can contain the criticism of the static art the game presents to the player--I do not challenge the validity of such criticism. I find such criticism wanting, though, because the real meat of what makes games interesting is not that they can show us art just as a movie can, but because we can actually play them--we can generate novel experiences that themselves generate novel experiences. These experiences are unique to each individual in a way more profound than the unique experiences different people may get out of the same painting or movie. Games allow their content to be molded to the player and her behavior; we should examine this molding deeply because it is what makes games worth playing. Games are not just a cheap substitute for a movie or album or painting. The more that we treat them as if they are nothing more (and confine ourselves to criticizing them in the same way), the harder it will be to show people that games are worth analysis and study. Why study inferior wanna-be movies?

I'm interested in analysis of game mechanics and other elements with an eye towards their effect on the experience of actually playing the game. I hope I can provide (and have provided) that on this blog.


Brian 'Psychochild' Green said...

The problem is that most "critics" are game playing enthusiasts that have somehow gotten a platform for their writing. So, most "criticism" tends to be of the very shallow variety, if it even aspires to anything more than fawning praise of the latest major release. (To be fair, this isn't exactly unique to games. Most movie reviewers aren't a big step up from this.)

Even if we do get real criticism, it tends to be rather simplistic. Computer games haven't been around as a "serious" medium for very long (if at all), so you don't get the real heavyweights. The analysis and criticism tends to be simplstic. And, a lot of it borrows heavily from other media. What we should hope for is for people to start looking at games and appreciating their strengths (the interactivity, as mentioned). Then we might see some criticism worthy of that name.

Ryan said...

Glad to see you writing again! I have eagerly been checking your page once a week or so to see when you would return. What are your plans going forward?

I've been focusing some of my energy to RPG-like board games lately, it's been a refreshing change and very social, too.

Hope to see more posts soon!

evizaer said...

I'm glad to see that people missed me. It's good to know that this site matters to more than just me and mot. :)

I'll be focusing more on strategy games, but some of what I have to say can apply to other genres as well. I'm working on a pretty long post on micromanagement and how it comes about in game design.