For those of you not in the know, discussion on the nature of video game reviews has been taking place lately. So much so that Shawn Elliott has started a symposium to discuss the matter between about a dozen video game journalist, who I would more accurately describe as video game critics. He gathered a veritable who’s who of gaming critics, that I’m sure most outside of this interest have never heard of, to embark on the project. The idea itself had been festering in his mind for a while, but its timing spawned nicely from the Mirror’s Edge debates that had been going on all through November.
My first thoughts on this were “great, we’ll finally have a measure of conversation to which we can point to as evidence that our generation’s medium is worth talking about like any other.”
There were supporters out there, some of them taking part in the conversation and some self called “second tier people snipe from the sidelines.” (Which, incidentally, has been encouraged.) Others like Micheal Abbot, Mitch Krpata, and Micheal Walbridge.
Then came the detractors. There are always detractors for everything and are to be expected. Like this now almost infamous response. It’s fine. Healthy detractors keep the “self important bearded tossers” on our toes. However, it struck me as odd and with a minute sense of alarm and confusion, when critics like Pixelvixen707 and L.B. Jeffries, whom I really respect, when they came out unfavorably towards the symposium. I read their articles and in doing so I feel that I misunderstood or misread what they hoped to accomplish during the symposium. So I went back and reread the questions.
The questions are divided up into two parts. The first part is focused on the current state of game reviews and review scores. the problem of the preview culture that the Internet is privy and susceptible to. The second part is the part that interests me: Reviews vs. Criticism. The questions in this category try to determine the place that each has. It is that purpose that I think the dissenter’s latch on to.
Both Pixelvixen707 and L.B. Jeffries have their reservations. Pixelvixen is more about the way we write and Jeffries about the content. I think I’ve broken almost everyone of Pixelvixen’s rules of writing online criticism. L.B. Jeffries brings up a more important point though. That instead of talking about what game criticism should be or why there is so little of it, we should shut up and get to it. Or as he says, “Talk is cheap and in abundance on the internet, it’s actually doing something that’s in such short supply. ”
Along those lines I would have to agree. Many of us wanting to see criticism have to write it ourselves. I don’t think discussing will lead anywhere, not without examples and experience. We could look to other mediums that have learned the way of critique. We could look to Shelly, Kael or Bangs. The idea of this symposium is that criticism for video games must be different based upon the interactive nature of the medium. We can take the story construction from literature and visual nature from movies, but there is no present criticism to account for the interactivity of video games. That should be the focus of the talks, because that’s what differentiates video games from other form of media.
The best way would be to dive right in and see where it leads us. Trial and error is going to be far more useful than talks about abstract concepts. I’ll do my part to keep throwing stuff at the wall until something sticks.
Of course that’s not saying I’m not going to lap up every word when they post the emails.