December 14, 2014

Owning Your Criticism

I’m not going to single out anyone or pretend that I have the power to tell people what they can and cannot do. I’m not going to say that a person’s views or values are invalid or worthless based on my knowledge or beliefs because I acknowledge that I’m a person. My experiences, friends, family, social standing, and preferences create biases and can influence how I think. I also acknowledge that I don’t know everything and that there are cases where I might be completely wrong or miss the point. But at least I expect that I own up to what I say.

Game criticism is a joke. All you have to do is point out the obvious with an air of smugness while nudging the right people and then all of a sudden you’re a “critic” or whatever nonsensical title these people come up with that screams “please treat me like an intellectual.” Like newbies entering the game industry calling themselves “game designers” because they could follow a platformer tutorial, many critics’ claim to fame are regurgitated opinions that are boilerplate and cookie-cutter at best.

Now if these critics were newbies trying to find their style, I wouldn’t care; everyone makes mistakes when they start out. But some of these critics have been in the industry for years, writing to impress other critics rather than for an audience that’s interested in criticism. In a vain attempt to become intellectuals, critics have sold their sound for a spot in a popular cover band playing the Top 50 chart over and over again. Let’s hope that no one asks them to play an original.

People can call themselves whatever they want as long as they acknowledge that if they call themselves something, people will expect them to be that something. Imagine if someone called themselves a police officer until a robber held up a bank; that’s what I think of game critics right now. It’s fun to play the cop when people look at you with admiration or in fear of what you could do to them if they stepped out of line. But the minute things get tough, being a cop doesn’t sound too appealing. But why should you care? You weren’t a cop; you were just a civilian that wanted to take the law into their own hands. Big difference.

Some game critics should be thankful that they aren’t charged for impersonating a critic; Twitter would get real quiet fast. How backwards is game criticism when we value the appearance of criticism more than the criticism itself? When people that continuously say absurd things can pick and choose what was “serious” or manufacture problems and show up at the right time as the “hero”? When slashing at the ankles of falling giants causes thousands upon thousands to praise these people like infallible gods? God forbid that a critic remembers that they can bleed red blood. God help those audiences that wait for their God’s Word, as if it were manna from heaven, while their god waits until they can gracefully fall on the “right” side of history. God bless those that look beyond obvious conclusions, shaky narratives and admit fault when their criticism falls short. These people acknowledge their humanity instead of retroactively editing their way into godhood.

Criticism is about making people stop and think, not telling them what to think. Criticism is about using your perspective to analyze and highlight things that may get lost in the noise. Criticism is about offering a lens rather than saying that only your view matters. And if you, the critic, can’t own up to your critique, then why should anyone care about what you have to say?