I’m nervous posting this, because I recognize I’m not a cultural arbiter. I’ve just been thinking about criticism, and I wanted to get my thoughts on paper to figure out where I stand. I know I’m not Marshall McLuhan, and I’m well aware these aren’t all original, revolutionary ideas. But I do believe them, and I wanted to put them all into one place. Unlike everything else I write, I genuinely don’t care who reads this.
I’ve started writing regular video game reviews. I’ve been reading and writing criticism for years, including dance, film, theater and television. I don’t intend on approaching game writing any differently. I’m not a game designer and I doubt I’ll ever enter the gaming industry. I’m a writer and I write about the culture. Video games are a part of that culture.
Score is a gut feeling. I don’t have a definable system for doling out star reviews, and there’s no right or wrong way to score.
I may go easier on a game with higher ambitions and iffy execution than something cold, competent and mercenary.
I do take readers into consideration, and I recognize the critic’s role as consumer reporter. For a large portion of the audience, including myself at various times, what I do is just tell people what games are good to buy and what games aren’t. I embrace this role in the culture.
I also take my role as cultural critic seriously. If I find a game’s politics problematic or harmful to audiences, you can bet your bottom dollar (your bottom dollar I say!) that this will be addressed.
I love Abbie Heppe’s X-Play review of Metroid: Other M. The backlash she received taught me two things: 1. Gamers have a misogyny problem (duh). 2. We can often be viewed solely as consumer reporters, letting people know whether the game is any fun in a traditional, bullet-points-on-the-back-of-the-box sense. I disagree with that notion. Opinions don’t start and end at gameplay. If that were the case, I wouldn’t love Deadly Premonition as much as I do.
I will sometimes give a game a higher review than another game that you deem “better.” That’s fine. But scores aren’t the voice of God. Read the prose if you’d like to know about the game.
This isn’t academic writing. I get that. But I will go into every review with full consideration of the culture in my mind. I will be thinking about Audre Lorde, F. Scott Fitzgerald, Jay Z, Jeanette Winterson, and everything that has shaped my writing, for better or worse. I won’t go off the rails, and I won’t be mentioning some 18th century philosopher in my reviews (most likely), but I’m a writer and every idea I’ve learned is a part of my arsenal. Every idea I have has been shaped by my experiences. I can’t separate myself from that, nor should I. After all, those experiences made me the writer I’ve become. It’s why I’m paid to write.
I love Metacritic and I use Metacritic, but as a writer, I fear Metacritic and what it’s done to our conversations. Specifically on games. I love scores. I, like the deputy, love dots. As a reader, I think letter grades and star ratings are fun and appealing.
But writing is a conversation with the culture, the creators, and the readers. It’s not bullet points, not scores, and not grades. Writing about games isn’t a math equation. Which is good, because I suck at math.