Esquire has an interesting piece about the state of game criticism, and the author makes some strong points. First, he doesn't think many of us are doing a good job. Why is that?
But what these people are writing is not really criticism. Almost without exception, it's consumer advice; it tells you what old game a new game resembles, and what the playing experience entails, and whether the game will be commercially successful. It's expository information. As far as I can tell, there is no major critic who specializes in explaining what playing a given game feels like, nor is anyone analyzing what specific games mean in any context outside the game itself.
He's making the point that the games of today are like the rock and roll music of yesteryear, a social force that everyone isaffected byand the powers that be don't understand. I'm not sure I agree with that point for a number of reasons, or with his issues with game criticism. First, rock and roll was powerful because everyone was listening to it. You heard it wherever you went: it was on the radio,it blasted from cars. With games? Often the preaching is done strictly to the choir, people play games in their homes and on their computers and consoles. If you aren't plugged into the scene the only way you're even aware that games exist is through news reports on how we're all becoming killers.
I agreethat game criticism needs to dig a little deeper, but that cliche also applies to almost any other kind of criticism. What's a film review like? It tells us what others movies the film is like, whether or not we should see it, and how much money it could make in the opening weekend. Sound familiar? A movie also plays out the same way every time, while a game is always going to be different things to different people. Even something as static as Madden is a complex beast. Let's say you play in franchise mode, and I only play online. For you the game is a matter of crunching stats, making detailed decisions about your franchise and player management. For me, it's a matter of mastering the mechanics against a human opponent. We are playing two very different games, and would review them very differently as a result.
There is a void, but there is still time to fill it. Somebody needs to become the first significant Xbox critic, stat. If nothing else, I'm sure he'll get rich.
Get a few gaming critics together, and the one thing we'll all agree on is that no one is getting rich. While the author complains about the lack of game criticism in newspapers and magazines (after slagging print media in the opening paragraph), the truth is that good criticism and analysis is going on out there. I think Ars Technica does a good job, but of course I'ma little biased. I think the Escapist, while a touch pretentious, has some amazing writing. With the fluid nature of games though, most of the meaning comes from the personal interplay between the player and the game, and that's different from everyone. The most I can do is tell you the strengths and weaknesses of a game and what I thought about it; the player does the rest. Do you really need people like me to tell you how the game will move you? Of course not, I don't know you. You'll find your own significant moments in the game without my help.