Variety's Ben Fritz posted an interesting response to Leigh Alexander's rant on game criticism (inspired by reviews on Silent Hill: Homecoming) in which she said we should probably do a little less nitpicking and a little more championing, and that we've created a review culture where critics and fans alike are just looking for things to dislike — at least when it comes to details. Fritz maintains that critics are too positive overall, getting sold on games before they're out (Leigh's written about the 'four-month bell curve' that goes from hype to disinterest in titles like Bioshock) and discusses the lack of dissenting opinions on the current gaming achievement of the year. On the other hand, where's the championing of certain games or designers for their creative vision — are we just a bunch of sheep?:
Basically, I think another way of saying what Leigh's getting at is that many game critics, particularly those who write for avid fans, can obsess over controls or menu design problems in titles that are doing something innovative in tone or theme, but downplay the same types of faults in games that are essentially improvements on the ones they already love.
The result is that we don't value innovation or attempts to do something big and new, like make a funny game that's thematically consistent with an all-time great TV show or create psychological impact through artful storytelling integrated with gameplay, because we obsess on the mechanical problems or the length of the cutscenes. Not that those things don't matter. But they don't matter that much, especially for an artistically immature medium in desperate need of innovation and freshness.
If we re-arranged our priorities, I think we'd have more critics "championing" certain games or developers. In the end, that's what I'm calling for and I think that's what Leigh's implying. In the film world, there were critics who championed the then-radical filmmakers of the '70s who transformed the world of cinema. Wouldn't it be great if there were more videogame critics who championed certain titles or artists, while acknowledging their imperfections, the way Leigh does "Silent Hill: Homecoming" and Hideo Kojima?
I'm not sure it's simply a matter of rearranging priorities, but overhauling the culture of game reviews and how we talk about games. It shouldn't be either/or — criticism is usually a range of grey, with polarizing opinions at least inspiring spirited debate. Does the audience at large really want 'real' criticism, though? Or just a concise roundup of whether a game is good or bad? We already have various types of 'reviews,' ranging from the generic thumbs up/thumbs down to detailed reviews that pull apart every conceivable part of the game. Certain types of criticism are rarely meant for a general audience — and that's OK. The average consumer looking for a title they'll enjoy isn't going to care if Kojima is a visionary or not; they just want to know if the game is worth spending money on. But are critics comfortable with the idea that their championing and detailed criticism is going to put much of the potential audience to sleep? Are we OK being irrelevant to most people other than the 'hardcore' and each other?