It’s been a little over two years since I started The Game Critique. In the past year I wrote fewer posts than before, (only 24 this year) but they definitely have gone up in quality and length. Looking at the posts that I have planned and those that are half finished I find that I may be entering a phase of long form essays. I think and hope I finally may have found my niche and expertise in the critical community that I’ve long been searching in the dark for.
This year was also the year I finally graduated college. I have my BA in English from Boston University. I’ve also found that I enjoy reading massive amounts of games criticism almost as much if not more than playing games sometimes or writing about them. Thankfully this is a useful skill at Critical Distance where I’ve taken on a larger role as the year progressed. In the beginning, March as it were, I was just filling in for Ben as he gallivanted around GDC. It has now turned into a monthly thing. And as of two days ago I restarted the CDC podcast, something I’ve wanted to do for a long time and turns out only took about a week to set up and complete. Both are efforts I will continue in the coming year if Ben will still have me. (It was a long 4 and half hours long.)
In looking back over the last year I realized I only wrote about three games specifically. ‘Where is the Last Third of Brutal Legend?‘ was the first game essay I wrote this year. In the post I challenged classics professor Roger Travis to tell me where I’m wrong in comparing Brutal Legend to the Greek epic. He did so in the comments and I’m grateful for it. Later in the year I managed to write a trio of posts on inFamous and its missed opportunities with each post focusing on different elements of the game. Something I should do with more games in the future.
An ongoing theme in my writing about games this year in the need for structure in games, or rather a need for solid structure in games. I feel too many games drop the ball on something so basic for reasons, I really don’t know what the reasons are. Storytelling structure, which by the way is different from plot structure, is something we have mastered a long time ago and continue to innovate to push it forward, while always adhering to the basics in other media. I sometimes feel the basics are ignored or unknown in the games industry.
You could say this all ties into the Games as Art debate and whether or not they’ve reached that level. Thanks to Roger Ebert a lot of you did and I took it upon myself, I still don’t know why, to catalog these responses and because some people cannot let go, am still cataloging responses. As trite as it is to hate the topic and cry out in exasperation every time someone brings it up, we should know well enough to only use that response with someone who legitimately should know better. A game journalist, a game critic, an industry insider, developer or publisher. To a vast majority of people this was a watershed moment. This was the first time anyone had ever had the idea proposed to them. The reason the topic keeps getting brought up, is because someone will come along, ignorant of all the conversation before hand and say, “well what about this?” We should not go “uugggghhhh,” throw up our hands and condemn them. We will have this debate again, and we should be as calm and reasonable as we were with Ebert. Or at the very least point them to my post. There’s enough reading material there to keep them quiet.
This year was the inaugural PAX East. I was there and have the photos the prove it. It was definitely the post with the most title changes ever, as I had to fix the number every time I did some edits in the text. I have no idea if I’ll go to the next one. If enough of the people I know end up going to be worth the trip, then I’ll be there.
Another debate that came up that more people are sick of than aren’t is the one about CLINK HOCKING’s term ludonarrative dissonance. I’ve already written my defense of the term. I also went ahead and wrote a full post response to one of the comments in said posts. Gears of War deserves the term and it deserved a full post unto itself.
Tom Bissell wrote probably one of the most important pieces of game criticism of the year and not just it came in the form of a hardcover book. It has exceptional writing, but I felt that it lacked focus in making its arguments to any particular audience. It seems to be a 101 of game criticism and yet sometimes doesn’t even go that far. But as Kirk Hamilton said on the podcast, “sometimes beautiful writing is enough.”
I wrote a great response to a piece of criticism regarding Final Fantasy VIII, that I managed to expand into a piece on what exactly criticism is and how many people’s narrow thinking of it is wrong.
I end this look back at some of my better work on the post I was most afraid to publish and which ended up being one of the pieces I’m glad I did. Critical Distance back in its birth was a bit of a wild west as everyone tried to figure out how to fulfill its purpose, once we figured out what its purpose was. Eventually we got the weekly roundups and they became longer and more in depth. But it seems few were aware of how this mystical process of choosing the best writing of the week was done. I’m glad I could shed some light on it. It’s even spawned a larger discussion near the end of the year in relation to game writing. A discussion we are only seeing the beginning of.
What do I have in store for next year? Well for starters I have an entire word document filled with post concepts, a few outlines and one post that is three pages long and isn’t even a quarter finished. A lot of these are posts that should have gone up this year, but I spent most of the summer studying for the last language class I needed to graduate and then the mad search for a job that I’m qualified for that no longer seems to exist. On the bright side I got a contract writing gig at Gameranx writing the news. That starts early next year. I hope to get Indie Game Spotlight back up, but if there is one thing I’ve learned I should make less promises when it comes to my writing. I don’t seem very good at keeping them.