Friday, September 30, 2011

Friday Quotations: Professional Game Crickets

"Needless to say, it is no easy thing to make a living as a critic of anything, but video-game criticism may be the least remunerative of all. Why this should be is not a great mystery. Count off the number of people of your acquaintance inclined to read criticism at all; chances are lean that they will be the same people in your life as the ones playing video games. Yet certain aspects of video games makes them resistant to a traditional approach. One is that many games are not easily re-experiencable. If i am reviewing a book, I go back and look at my margin notes. An album, I set aside an hour and listen to it again. A film, I buy another ticket. If I am playing a game that takes dozens of hours to complete and has a limited number of save slots, much of it it is accessible only by playing through it again, the game itself structurally obligated to fight me every inch of the way. Another problem is that criticism needs a readily available way to connect to the aesthetic past of the form under appraisal, which is not always so easy with video games. Out-of-date hardware and out-of-print games can be immensely difficult to find. Say you want to check on something that happens about halfway through some older game. Not only do you have to find it, you will, once again, have to play it. Probably for hours. Possibly for days.

"One might argue that critical writing about games is difficult because most games are not able to withstand thoughtful criticism. For their part, game magazines publish game review after game review, but they tend to focus on providing consumers with a sense of whether their money will be well spent. Game magazine reviewers rarely ask: What aesthetic tradition does this game fall into? How does it make me feel while I'm playing it? What emotions does it engage with, and are they appropriate to the game's theme and mechanics? The reason game magazine reviewers do not ask these questions is almost certainly because game magazine owners would like to stay in business. But there is a lot of thoughtful, critical, engaging work being done on games. It is mostly found on the blogs and almost always done for free. I have my list of five game critics whose thoughts on the form I am most compelled by, and I am fairly certain that none of these writers is able to make anything resembling a living writing only about games. Certainly, this is the case for the top critics in plenty of other art forms--dance, sculpture, poetry--but none of these art forms are as omnipresent, widely consumed, or profitable as video games."
--Tom Bissell, Extra Lives: Why Games Matter.

Add to this list of woes the fact that many of those who would identify themselves as gamers are openly hostile to the notion of applying critical analysis to games. If you hear the phrase, "it's only a game," odds are about even you'll hear it from a game enthusiast almost as often as from their detractors.

Additionally: I'm really liking this book. It's a serious discussion of contemporary games and their ability to engage the player in new configurations of storytelling and emotional response. Also, it talks about the time he did cocaine and played GTA IV for 30 hours straight.

Later Days.

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