A Few Things to Avoid When Analyzing Games

A Few Things to Avoid When Analyzing Games

Don’t speculate about the development process.

Speculation about the development of a game is usually wrong. Despite this, video game critics incorporate internet rumors and unverified “common knowledge” into their writing. Even if the information is accurate, it’s useless in reviewing a game. The game is what it is, and reflecting on how it got here is not useful for figuring out how good it is.

Speculating on development can also solidify a narrative around a game that removes nuance from discussion. For example: “Dark Souls II is a terrible game because Miyasaki-san wasn’t involved enough. The developers of Dark Souls II must have thought ‘hard is good,’ and so made this terrible game.” This is a common point made about Dark Souls II. It’s unverified, probably wrong, and distracts from good games discussion and analysis. Continue reading “A Few Things to Avoid When Analyzing Games”

Why Totalbiscuit and Erik Kain Are Wrong About Review Scores

Why Totalbiscuit and Erik Kain Are Wrong About Review Scores

IGN’s review score for Prey has caused some controversy. Dan Stapleton wrote the review, and gave Prey a 4/10. The main problem Stapleton had with the game is that it corrupted his save file. Despite receiving assistance from the developer (Arkane Studios), he could not finish the game due to the save corruption bug. Later, a patch was released updating the game and fixing the problem. Stapleton then updated the review and changed the score from a 4/10 to an 8/10.

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Problems and Merits of YouTube Critics

Problems and Merits of YouTube Critics

In the past few years, there has been a surge in popularity of long-form videos analyzing games. These video essays range from thirty minutes to six hours long. The popular videos in this genre have between 500,000 and 1,000,000 views, with a few reaching ridiculous view counts like 11 million. I am encouraged that serious analysis of games is apparently so popular. However, there are a few worrying issues that accompany my enthusiasm.

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Why Video Games Are Interpreted

Why Video Games Are Interpreted

If you think of games like I do, you might wonder why people ever thought to interpret games in the first place. Games have certain qualities that should make the medium resistant to interpretation, yet it’s done anyway. I went over a few in my last post, which were laid out by Susan Sontag. Games are young, they are mass culture instead of high art, they have “direct address,” and they have a formal vocabulary. Despite these, games are obviously interpreted. In this post, I’ll prove that games conform to Sontag’s criteria for an interpretation-resistant media as well as some other criteria which should help it avoid interpretation  even more. After that, I want to explain why games have failed to escape interpretation despite having those qualities.

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Stop Interpreting Games

Stop Interpreting Games

What is important now is to recover our senses. We must learn to see more, to hear more, to feel more.

[…]

The aim of all commentary on art now should be to make works of art…more, rather than less, real to us. The function of criticism should be to show how it is what it is, even that it is what it is, rather than to show what it means.

—Susan Sontag, Against Interpretation

In her 1966 essay “Against Interpretation,” Susan Sontag diagnoses art appreciation and art criticism with a sickness: interpretation. She claims that cinema (in her time) is free from interpretation because of a few preventative qualities of the medium: cinema’s youth, it being mass culture instead of high art, and its formal vocabulary. Films today, of course, are regularly interpreted by the public and academics alike. Those allegedly preventative qualities proved too meek to defend against interpretation. Games are in a similar position. They share the qualities that cinema had in Sontag’s day, and have even more safeguards against interpretation. Despite that, interpretation has crept into gaming and it is growing. Interpretation is more contagious and stubborn than Sontag thought. I will explain why Sontag describes interpretation as a sickness, and why video games need to be cured of it.

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The Value of Story in Contextualizing Gameplay

The Value of Story in Contextualizing Gameplay

People who defend stories in video games often claim that stories are valuable because they contextualize gameplay, thereby giving the player valuable information related to play while ostensibly just giving them information about the game’s world or central plot. For example, an opening cutscene is, on its face, just telling the backstory of the game. However, it also imparts important information that makes learning the game smoother: who is the enemy, where the player is supposed to go, what the overall goal of the game is, and so on. It is supposed that if the player was just dropped into the world without this bit of story, then he might be confused and rudderless. This benefit of story is overstated, and I’ll explain why.

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Why Jeff Vogel is Wrong on Games Being Art

Why Jeff Vogel is Wrong on Games Being Art

Recently, Jeff Vogel of Spiderweb Software wrote a short blog with the ridiculous title “No, Video Games Aren’t Art. We’re BETTER.” The article itself is just about as infantile and pretentious as the title would let on, but I do have sympathy for some of Vogel’s sentiments anyway. The tone of the blog post is exhaustion—Vogel is tired of bickering about whether or not games are art, the apologetic tone many gamers take toward the medium, and the unsightly desperation of pseudo-intellectuals who beg for the medium to be validated by the experts in other artistic media. I sympathize with these points, but Vogel swings too far in the opposite direction and misunderstands art in the process.

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