Sunday Meditation: Game Criticism Back On Track
While there are plenty of editorial opinions out there I think reviews, which are supposed to have some level of objectivity, qualify best as video game criticism.
Since literature, film, painting, photography, music, and other forms of art all have their own scholarly fields of criticism there's no reason why video games shouldn't either. It may take some serious time before any of it is accepted writ large since there is still plenty of argument over that whole art thing, but it's something I pay attention to nonetheless.
Like any other field of criticism it has its trends, bias streaks, strengths and weaknesses. Until recently though I've felt like things got off track somewhere in the PS3/Xbox 360 generation. Maybe that was because of the explosion of gaming related content on the internet, fanboy extremes, or maybe it was because of the huge influx of previously none-gamer type people into the customer base. Whatever the cause, looking back I think some things got twisted.
The 10 scale seemed to stop being used properly. Anything decent got an 8, and anything that got a 7 was considered pretty bad. Below that, it had to be quite broken. There were often serious biases against any type of gameplay that wasn't immediately accessible or reliant on constant action. Flash over substance wasn't just the trend in the games themselves, but it became what impressed critics the most. Not every game got pummeled for this obviously, but that was because a good anchor of video game criticism stayed largely intact. However I think the landscape dictates that we move past that anchor, and it appears that we are doing so now.
When I first started doing reviews about 4 years ago I held fast to that anchor as well, namely Judge every game on its own merits as an entity unto itself. In short, don't criticism it for what it should be but for what it is. This came from a school of literary criticism I am fond of. The thing is, many other schools of thought exist and a good reviewer should be flexible as the industry changes. I think things have changed for the better recently because critics seem to be willing to cross that old line and judge games a little bit more on what they should be instead of what they are.
It's a new generation and we are coming off a very stagnant field in which many different genres all tried to pack into one area to appeal to a certain crowd. That killed a lot of good things. Unsurprisingly Lightning Returns reviews that weren't great got attacked by the new class of FF fans for bias, but from my perspective applying what this game should have been (a coherent finale to a confused trilogy) was a perfectly acceptable way to critique the entry. Other titles are getting like treatment. Thief and Lord of Shadows 2 are getting fairer marks because critics are noticing the attempts to appeal to everyone aren't beneficial but detrimental. Even Call of Duty is starting to experience a correction in scores that many probably felt was long overdue. It seemed strange to me that something so technically behind and largely unchanging per iteration should get such easy passes time and again. Now I believe there is recognition that without sufficient in-franchise experimentation the games just don't deserve to get the same scores every time.
So while I still think it is good to mainly critique a game on its own merits, I believe now more than ever there is something to be said for holding each game up to the standard set by its own franchise, the standard of its own intent, and yes even the standard of what fans are looking for. In that respect I feel like gaming criticism is back on track to help encourage diverse and unique gaming experiences instead of letting shenanigans and laziness slip by as was so common in the last generation.
3/1/2014 David D. Nelson