I have long been critical of a game journalist who has made a name for himself highlighting what he believes to be are truly awful video games. My central critique is that he was merely profiting off of work that was at best lazily performed and was easily avoided just by looking at its cover art. To get to the kernel of the thing, I’ve always felt that this blogger, who I otherwise like because he sincerely makes me laugh, was simply exploiting video games for a cheap thrill.
But let’s face it, the guy’s got like a million “friends” in the digital world, so people dig it. He ignores the genuinely nasty tweets I send his way from time to time which I feel is gracious enough. So I’m not here to fault the guy, but something has happened that I can’t avoid noticing. The man is trying to play nice and openly seeking to engage with “good” games. I have no idea what could have changed his heart. I mean, I know he’s being sued by one of his subjects and I know the plaintiff is citing this very negativity in their baseless complaint against him. I shudder to think that a mere lawsuit would shake a man of such righteous principles. So as a man of faith, which my subject most certainly is not, I will take it that he’s had a good old fashioned mystic conversion and now wants to play positive.
So I’m watching all of this unfold on Twitter and I realize that the problem here is that video game criticism is not actually criticism. More often, this “criticism” is just one player’s personal reactions to playing a certain video game. What these journalists and bloggers lack is any sort of framework for their criticism. In Literature, theatre and even film, the critic usually espouses some “school” of thought about their subjects. These schools are really just a bunch of artistic principles jumbled together in attempt to produce a consistent, cohesive whole in which one can represent the entirety of existence. These frameworks that I’m talking about are inherently philosophical in nature. So in short all I can say is that modern video game criticism is not a valid criticism because it has no philosophy to back it up.
This lack of philosophy, of a sense of principles communicated via linguistic structure, completely disconnects video game journalism from its subject. There are two reasons for this. The first is that video games themselves certainly have their own aesthetics. There are actually quite a few “schools” of video game design and creation. The other is that there are several “schools” that are pre-made and good for any medium that relies on storytelling to produce its effect. So even a “critic” who has never played a video game in her life could still evaluate them against the Romantic, Classic, Gothic, Modern, or Post-Modern schools of thought (just to name-drop a few). When the source material of criticism is only emotional reaction, however, no framework can be applied.
Essentially what I am saying is that the vast majority of video game “criticism” is just the same old cultural narcissism that’s been running through society since the dawn of the 19th century. It’s that reality-television existence where everything must be filtered through an omniscient presence, inherently pure even when obviously hypocritical, and then radiated back out to a worshipping chorus of supporters and the cowering of those suppressed. This is also why there’s very little money in video game criticism, literally anyone can do it.