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PC Gamer Goes To War

PC Gamer’s Tim Edwards, a top-chum and occasional employer of the RPS hivemind, wasn’t terribly happy about Greg Costikyan’s controversial assertion that a game review is a different, lesser beast to game criticism – a nobler species Costikyan claims barely exists. So he’s posted a riposte on the PC Gamer blog.

It includes stuff like this:

Greg’s is a purely semantic argument based around trying to define what reviews and criticism should be, that doesn’t take into account what reviewers and critics are already doing. Games criticism doesn’t /have to be anything/. There are no rules of what reviews can and cannot include – the only question for writers should be: what will the reader gain from the review?

There may be blood. There already is in the Gamer blog’s comments threads, in fact – but you lot will, I’m sure, keep it civilized over here.

Which side of the argument am I on? Well, personally I feel that – oh! Look over there! It’s a badger, with a gun! Yoink!

Oh.

You’re still here. Damn.

Well, okay. I’ll dance around the subject a little. I don’t wholly agree (somewhat inevitably, what with games writing being my trade’n’all) with Greg’s analysis, and worry that he’s either not read or has discounted some great games writing – but I can entirely imagine that reading yet another dry graphics/audio/gameplay breakdown on UltraMegaGamesNetworkSite#14 would incite such frustration. I also have some concerns about the artificial structures of reader and editor expectations even the best-intentioned review is usually subject to (and I have the scars to prove it). Gamer’s in something of a privileged position for this debate, being as it is a magazine that’s become so established and respected over these long years precisely because it often deviates from preview/review norms.

Deviating myself here from Tim’s defence of reviews onto Greg’s wider claim that there is little or no ‘games criticism’, I can point to PCG pieces such as Kieron’s incredible Cradle feature, Jim’s eye-opening Korean gaming investigation or John’s teary text-love for The Longest Journey, and his concerns seem a little hasty. Furthermore, I’m certainly not convinced that worthy critical discussion of this young medium, with its wealth of unique, deeply personal experiences, is necessarily the same as film or literature criticism. (Christ, I was in some danger of a “travel journalism to imaginary places” just then). Still, it’s true that most mags and sites default to the path of least resistance (or the path of most audience, depending on how you look at it). Whether you agree with Tim or not, you should be very glad someone in his position cares as much as he does.

I sometimes worry that Amazon user reviews and Digg ratings will eventually kill off traditional games journalism, and those such as we men of RPS will end up penniless and starving. Perhaps instead that would increase the demand for games writing outside of a buyer’s guide structure (and hey, maybe it’ll even mean we actually turn a buck from this damned place) – then Greg will get his wish, while simultaneously games writers get to prove he was wrong about them.

Oy, I’m rambling all over the shop. And, distressingly enough, it’s because I’m trying to avoid reviewing an RTS.

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Alec Meer

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Co-founder of RPS. Dungeon Keeper & X-COM 4 Life.

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