Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Laying the groundwork

In what is perhaps the best videogame column I've read to date, pop culture critic Chuck Klosterman beautifully sums up the current state of games journalism in a piece from Esquire magazine titled, "The Lester Bangs of Video Games":

I realize that many people write video-game reviews and that there are entire magazines and myriad Web sites devoted to this subject. But what these people are writing is not really criticism. Almost without exception, it's consumer advice; it tells you what old game a new game resembles, and what the playing experience entails, and whether the game will be commercially successful. It's expository information. As far as I can tell, there is no major critic who specializes in explaining what playing a given game feels like, nor is anyone analyzing what specific games mean in any context outside the game itself. There is no Pauline Kael of video-game writing. There is no Lester Bangs of video-game writing. And I'm starting to suspect there will never be that kind of authoritative critical voice within the world of video games, which is interesting for a lot of reasons....
I really could not have said it better myself. When I started this blog, one of my primary intentions was to point out where games journalism is going wrong. I did not realize that Mr. Klosterman had already done this, and in 2006 no less. Three years later, and his words ring just as true today. Pick up any videogame magazine (those that haven't called it quits yet) and read their reviews. You'll find they fit Klosterman's description to the letter. The reviewer will inevitably devote as many words to any emotional or thematic depth the game may offer as to how realistic the water in the game looks.

This issue speaks to the heart of the very first entry of this blog, where we had dedicated videogame players saying that reviews are worthless and critics are "gutless asskissers." Only by evolving beyond merely talking about a game from a consumer-centric standpoint and really talking about the deeper meanings of games, I believe it is possible to turn these kinds of opinions around.

But I'm not quite as pessimistic as Klosterman. I think that, as the videogame medium continues to mature, so too will the way in which its written about. With Klosterman's Esquire piece and the New York Times article mentioned previously, it's clear that the idea for a certain Great Leap Forward is out there, percolating in the collective unconscious of everyone who's ever put down a staid, predictable videogame review in disgust. All that remains is for some enterprising writer to stop merely talking about the so-called "New Games Journalism" and actually do it.

On a side note, I should mention that I came across Klosterman's article not by reading Esquire, but from a link in The Videogame Style Guide and Reference Manual, a tome which is much more than the title implies. I'll elaborate on it in my next entry.

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