Games Criticism Is Flawed And/Or In A Golden Age

Games Criticism Is Flawed And/Or In A Golden Age.

Two views on the state of games criticism over at The New York Times. Here are excerpts:

Laura Parker's essay Game Theory: BioShock Infinite and Video Game Reviews

BioShock Infinite aimed to be a game that engaged its audience by posing questions about human nature. We know this because we were told as much. But how well did it express those ideas? How many people who played BioShock Infinite came away enlightened about religion, racism or American exceptionalism?


Simply recognising that a video game is a work of art does not mean the job is finished; like all art, games deserve close scrutiny and consideration. BioShock Infinite is art, but is it good art?

If we are to discuss video games as art, we need to talk about them as more than the sum of their parts. Creators want to be challenged; they want to know where they went wrong and what they can do better. So let's help them do just that.

Chris Suellentrop's Game Theory: A Golden Era for Criticism:

We do not live merely in a golden age of video games but also in a golden age of video game criticism. There has never been more, and better, writing about games and what they mean, how they work and how they fail.

We do not live merely in a golden age of video games but also in a golden age of video game criticism. There has never been more, and better, writing about games and what they mean, how they work and how they fail.

And no game was chewed over more than BioShock Infinite. The initial reviews were certainly laudatory (and rightly so), but they were not free of mention of niggling imperfections, as Laura Parker seems to suggest. A sampling: The anonymous critic in the British magazine Edge complained that"the story begins to unravel" in the third act. Tom Chick, who is something of a contrarian and a provocateur, wrote for the website Quarter to Three that BioShock Infinite contains "an ambitious and sometimes dazzling story far too big for the too familiar game that holds it." Sparky Clarkson at objected that the game "sinks toward a deflated ending rather than rising towards a climax" and that the emotional wallop of the ending "has almost nothing to do with the game's actual play."


There's more where that came from, much of it assembled for your perusal byCameron Kunzelman at the website This Cage Is Worms.

Setting aside the specifics of BioShock: Infinite aside, where do you stand? Is games criticism improving? In a golden age, in fact? Or still missing the mark for too often? Or all of the above?

To contact the author of this post, write to [email protected] or find him on Twitter @stephentotilo. Top image via Tumblr.


    Setting aside the specifics of BioShock: Infinite aside
    Which aside do you want to use?

    Just... Wow. So these guys have gone off and made their own little criteria for what how people should review games. That Bioshock needs to enlighten you about all its topics in order for its "art" to be successful? I'm sorry i'm using a film comparison but it's really apt here; only the pretentious believe a story is only there to enlighten you and again, only the pretentious believe a story must have a perfect marriage of every single facet of its being in order to be successful. There's a disgusting new trend with young writers today where their intention is muted behind a wall of nitpicking. How come when i read an Ebert or Travers review, i never get the feeling like they're ignorant like i do now? I'm not sure how to explain it exactly but if you go and read the average review from five years ago, there's definitely a more thoughtful tone, one that seemed like it was separate from politics and the outside world. Now, i just don't feel that. I feel like in every single thing i read, someone is championing a stupid cause. Here, it seems like they want people to just agree with them. Almost like they arbitrarily decided on their conclusion before writing about it. I simply don't get that from better writers. Maybe the writers writing about video games writers need to improve. We need people sitting on the outside who can actually provide thoughtful (not arbitrary) scrutiny, not those who'd rather get a few retweets than incite constructive discussion. We're also in an age where people can just block out voices and opinions they don't agree with. We're spending so much time crafting our lives around challenge and not through it. When that idealistic young journalist first gets out of uni and wonders what to do, they surround themselves with their own ideas, with like-minded people and it stifles their thinking. They become stupidly dismissive of different ideas, start believing their own rhetoric and use ridiculous phrases like "good art".

      If you're not a miserable old conservative white man, you really missed your calling in life.




    I don't think we're in a golden age at all.

    All games focus on today is context - it's all about the story and the literary components of video games, but mind you, story is only context for the game itself.

    We recycle the same games over and over, slap on new graphics and story, and pretend like it's something new. The extent of which we set new games apart, in terms of design only, only manifests itself as "features."

    Take a third person, cover based shooter with extremely simple and unchallenging stealth mechanics, slap "RPG elements" on to it, use it as nothing other than a medium to tell a decent story and BAM! Self-proclaimed Citizen Kane of Gaming.

    Yes, okay, a good story has its place in video games, but what makes games great as a literary medium is the potential to express themes and emotions through actual GAME. Through challenge and interactivity.

    Shadow of the Colossus and Half-Life 2 are shining examples of this and, surprise surprise, they're hailed as god-tier games (and rightly so). Shadow of the Colossus communicates themes of isolation, patience and accepting loss through its level design and the metaphor of "moving mountains," and Half-Life 2 communicates themes of relativism against absolutism and totalitarianism through its enemy and weapon design - that crowbar is significant for a reason. I could write you a damn essay on why these two games are the pinnacle of the medium, but I don't want to make this anymore of a wall of text than it already is.

    We are getting and over-abundance of sequels that are just cash ins and offer nothing new to their respected franchises, and when we do get new IPs, they're basically reskins or complete copies of every single other game in the genre. Why do you think there has been such a massive indie revolution? It's because triple A development is down the shitter in terms of actual game design and has been for a while.

    Now, my problem with game critics is that none of them are addressing (the lack of) actual game design and theory in triple A development. Yatzhee is starting to come around with his acknowledgement of "context, challenge, catharsis," and I've always surprisingly found Egoraptor to have the right idea with his Sequelitis series, but other than these guys and Johnathan Blow (who isn't even a critic but a developer himself), real game design is being seriously neglected in favour of "emotional response."

    The point is, if the story to a game could be better told as a film or a novel, don't slap it onto a game. Write a story that can only be told through the interactive medium, and then think about how you can use game design to communicate this story. Or just make a good game first and realise that the game is more important than the context of which it is played.

    Last edited 28/12/13 12:49 am

    Are you fo shizzle? A golden age? Of what? Wankery???

    I can barely read the latest reviews. There's a preponderance of talking about 'subtext' and 'broader issues' and then about 3 paragraphs complaining of an almost included rape scene of a human female (because that NEVER happens in RL).

    And as stated very eloquently above, they almost never talk about how every AAA game these days feels like every other game. The only difference is 1st person or 3rd person and settting. That's not enough!

    I love gaming, but honest to go, my favourite game in the last 5 years? Plants Vs Zombies. Because it's motherf$cking fun. And that's the point. That's why I play games.

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