Citizen Kane, Ebert, And Gaming’s Inferiority Complex

I can’t believe we’re still having this goddamn discussion. 

I can’t believe I actually feel that it’s necessary for me to write this dumb article. I can’t believe that people are still arguing over what constitutes an “Ebert of Gaming” or a “Citizen Kane of Gaming” or a “Step Up 2 Fast 2 Furious XIII: Starring Dwayne ‘The Rock’ Johnson And An Egregiously Sexualized Purple Smurf of Gaming”. I can’t believe people continue to name-drop these fairytales in hushed, reverent tones like they’re some kind of long-awaited Messiah. I can’t believe that Deus Ex creator Warren Spector is now one of those people.

Fuck this. Let’s set the record straight on gaming’s insipid inferiority complex once and for all. 

Now, forgive me if I’m wrong, but I’m pretty sure that the gaming industry isn’t the film industry. Can we agree on that? Please? I mean, last time I checked we didn’t have letters on a mountain somewhere, so sorry folks. Guess we’re just gonna have to be different. Damn shame, that.

The problem with gaming’s incessant desire to be just like big brother Hollywood is multifarious and exceedingly annoying – like a thousand-headed hydra puffing away on an equal number of vuvuzelas. Have games or games criticism earned a place in the rarefied pantheon of unanimously beloved “mainstream” art? No, not really. Would it be cool if we had a Citizen Kane or, as Warren Spector suggests, an Ebert? I guess so.

But everyone waiting for those shining beacons of cultural acceptance to descend from on-high utterly fails to understand two key points: 1) in this day and age, creating direct analogs to those landmarks is actually impossible, and 2) games and games criticism are in the midst of a renaissance. An unstoppable explosion of evolution and creativity. The formation of an identity that is, frankly, far more exciting than film. Why aren’t we championing that to everyone with (or without) ears? Why are we instead breathlessly awaiting the day our medium suddenly and inexplicably conforms to somebody else’s standard?

It’s basically astounding. I just… I can’t even… arrrrrghhh.

Ahem. Let’s start with point one. Somewhat recently, humankind invented this thing called The Internet. It’s mostly for cat pictures and hyper-detailed instructional videos about how to remove clothing, but we also occasionally use it to host every other word, thought, video, idea, and piece of information in existence. Oh, games too. Our lives sizzle and pop with information overload. Millions of voices. A never-ending news cycle. New games – and articles and videos and macaroni sculptures about games – every second. In short, there’s just too much for one standout to rise that far above the rest. To define a whole medium for decades to come.

And that’s fantastic! Film “grew up” during a time where – due to the way media was created and distributed – its mainstream boundaries were rather rigidly defined. I mean, there’s a reason that both Citizen Kane and Ebert earned their gleaming pedestals eons ago. Games and the discussion surrounding them, however, can be so, so, so much more, because they’re growing in every imaginable direction right now. At this point, even the idea of “mainstream” culture at large is in flux, with dinosaurs like TV, theaters, print publications, and traditional ads dying out to make way for blogs, YouTube, social media, and the like. “Authoritative” voices are falling by the wayside in favor of diversity and variety. More, more, more, more. And just as YouTube means anyone can make a movie, tools like Unity, GameMaker, and Twine ensure that anybody can create a game.

We’re finally on the cusp of discovering our own way. Our own identity. Hollywood found its all-time greats and then promptly got stuck in a horrible rut. Gaming’s strength right now is that it’s a lawless, untamed, beautiful Wild West. Frankly, I don’t want a single, looming Citizen-Kane-type entity. Not in this day and age. That would mean that, somewhere along the way, we hit a dead end. Something standardized the formula.

What I’m saying is, our most creative, interesting works can be our mainstream. Or at least, a major part of it. We don’t have to be the next Hollywood.

Millions of voices are creating the language of games and games criticism instead of playing with a limited palette provided by a privileged few. We have indies of all shapes, sizes, colors, and goals. We have a triple-A scene that’s finally starting to value them . We have games on every mobile, console, and in-between platform imaginable. We have big websites with huge reaches and smaller, more thoughtful publications like Critical Distance, re/Action, and The Border House. We have YouTubers and people who stream so much that they’ve practically turned their lives into reality shows. We’re far from perfect and we still have tons of work to do, but goodness. Just look at all of that.

Somewhere in that whirling cacophony of creativity is our mainstream. Or the future of it, anyway. But it’s still growing, evolving, gesticulating. New developments are happening every day. For now, gaming’s potential is limitless.

That’s insane. That’s wildly exciting. It’s why I chose to dedicate my life to this medium and not, say, film, literature, or writing those awful jokes on Popsicle sticks (aka, my true calling). I love both Ebert and Citizen Kane, but our nano cyber hashtagged future world has passed them by. It’s great to aspire to heights of cultural relevance and impact (and by all means, let’s keep doing that), but are we really so insecure that we want someone else to show us the way? To cast a eclipsing shadow over us while condescendingly chortling, “Oh, so you finally retraced my footsteps? Haha, that’s adorable.”

It is hideously depressing to me that many of the gaming industry’s most vocal, noticeable personalities and creators – our loudest voices to any sort of outside culture – are so fixated on comparing everything to a bygone era while one of the most exciting, interesting artistic movements in history takes root right under their noses. We need those people to instead confidently draw attention to what the gaming industry is becoming, what it’s blossoming into. Celebrate the diverse lifeblood now pushing our medium to new heights. Love the journey – not some destination a very specific part of another creative medium reached decades ago.

Because I’m not sure if you know this, but games are really goddamn amazing, and everyone should know.


  1. MOKKA says:

    I think it’s partially because people are somehow reluctant to admit that they are still ‘playing’ something. Adults don’t play. At the very best, adults gamble, but they don’t play.

    • woodsey says:

      I think that rather extends to another issue, which is that the most popular stuff – let’s just say Call of Duty and get it over with – remains to be little more than a reaction to the thought process of, “Hey, what if I could play that action scene?” when watching a film.

      There are too many people who want to play films and so games are made in a way that has them more easily compared to – and then utterly destroyed beside – films.

      • WrenBoy says:

        “Hey, what if I could play that action scene?” when watching a film.

        I see what you are saying but Just Cause 2 is kinda fun surely?

        • Runs With Foxes says:

          Why would you bring up Just Cause 2 there? That’s a game that puts the player in control almost the whole time and allows you to make your own fun. It’s basically anathema to the Calls of Duty that permit you to hit some on-screen prompts for a moment before plunging you into a cutscene inspired by whichever action film the game’s “narrative director” saw on the weekend.

          • Post-Internet Syndrome says:

            He probably meant that Just Cause takes the idea of “I want to play that action scene” and actually turns it into a game, while CoD seems content to just go through the motions. And if he didn’t mean that I would like to. Scripted corridors isn’t the only way to cater to that impulse, as has been shown.

            Scripted corridors by all means have their place, but I wouldn’t simply blame the consumers for demanding them. Consumers are demanding fun and are not thinking too hard of what exactly that entails.

          • WrenBoy says:

            He probably meant that Just Cause takes the idea of “I want to play that action scene” and actually turns it into a game, while CoD seems content to just go through the motions.

            He surely did.

      • Runs With Foxes says:

        Maybe if critics were better able to critique games as games (i.e. their game design) instead of as fiction, they’d be better able to explain the value of games. But look at the games that get the most “thoughtful” criticism, and the ones that prompt critiques that are shared around: it’s invariably the moviegames. Bioshock Infinite and Last of Us are the most recent examples. Both are shit games in terms of their design, and discussion is almost entirely centred on their fiction. When actual game design is mentioned, it’s to complain that the shooty bits (i.e. the game bits) get in the way of the emotional narrative moments.

        There’s a massive hypocrisy in Grayson’s article. He should be taking aim at his colleagues who take their critical cues from other media instead of games. If you don’t want games to be compared to films all the time, stop fucking comparing them to films all the time.

        • Beva says:

          How is Last of Us a shit game, exactly?

        • Jim Rossignol says:

          I don’t think that’s actually what counts as hypocrisy. It would if Nathan dwelt on games-as-cinematic, but he does not. He does not have any control over other writers.

    • aepervius says:

      “Adult don’t play” is indeed the thinking of the generation of my parents. My own generation has adult playing, even if some of my peer look down to it. And the generation of our kids, my nephew for example, see gaming as normal.

      The problem is that the “film critics” are in my experience mostly stuck in the last generation “thought process”.

    • JackShandy says:

      Are adults actually reluctant to say they’re “Playing” Soccer, Cricket, Chess, Poker or Rugby? I’ve never noticed any discomfort with it before, and it obviously hasn’t manifested in any other verb for “Engaging with a sport/game”.

      • Phendron says:

        Adults are reluctant to say they play Cops and Robbers, which is more imaginary than sports and much less so than most video games.

        • JackShandy says:

          Uh – do Adults all have secret cops-and-robbers hobbies that they conceal from everyone else at all costs?

    • Keith Nemitz says:

      Right now my spouse, who is 50+ YO, is playing the piano. I’m very proud of her. Me? I really enjoyed this article, another great for RPS.

      My fear is, will the swirling tempest of gaming and game criticism ever collapse into something, anything? Or will it continue to flit about without rest, let alone anchor itself where others can catch up to it?

      I not sure it will, nor must it. But that would be more comforting than always having to chase after it. As long at it doesn’t devolve into the app store’s Top Game’s list, we still have a chance to keep gaming alive. Because good developers and good game critics need MONEY!

      Now go buy a game that’s outside your comfort zone, and read some damn ads on sites that publish your favorite games journos!

    • aer0ace says:

      “We need those people to instead confidently draw attention to what the gaming industry is becoming, what it’s blossoming into.”

      Exactly. The industry can’t discuss its Citizen Kane until the generation that won’t accept games as a classic medium die off. Once you have only generations in existence that have experienced games and can form an opinion one way or another, the discussion can start. Until then, video games as a mainstream entertainment medium will continue focusing on its growth rather than its best.

  2. FFabian says:

    Huh? Wait? What? Am I still on RPS? An opinion piece on something else than misogyny? Shocking…

  3. lowprices says:

    YES. Thank you. Gaming’s insecure idolisation of cinema has always struck me as pointless and limiting. I just wish more people could see that. Also, “Who gives a fucking fuck” is a great tag, and I move that it be used on any post related to Call of Duty in future.

    • UmmonTL says:

      I think when people that might reach a larger audience talk about a “Citizen Kane of Gaming” or “Ebert of Gaming” what they are trying to do is connect to the people outside of the gaming community. If people from the mainstream hear about this strange “Games are Art” idea and decide to look it up what can they find? A bunch of circle-jerking by gamers that say of course it’s art, just look at XYZ. I’m not saying we should look for and hope for these things to appear but the idea of a game so good it touches everybody and makes them say: “YES! Games are art” is a good one to communicate.

      • Corb says:

        There are other non-gaming focus websites like Cracked that have already written articles in support of “gaming is art” so I guess you’ll have to upgrade it to awkward nerd orgy.

      • Mad Hamish says:

        “the idea of a game so good it touches everybody and makes them say: “YES! Games are art” is a good one to communicate.”

        The problem with that is that it’s never going to happen. It doesn’t happen with films anymore either or TV or music or ….art. For the same reasons stated in the article. It’s best just to keep on keepin on and not care if it’s accepted or not. The simple passage of time is on game’s side.

  4. Mr Rud says:

    “Now, forgive me if I’m wrong, but I’m pretty sure that the gaming industry isn’t the film industry. Can we agree on that? Please?”

    Seeing that some of the most succesfull games (commercially and critically) are linear, story-driven games, I’d argue that people are not as sure as we might think


    Can the gaming press take responsability for praising the arguably-exceptional-story-in-a-broken-game Bioshock Infinite ?


    What if gamers and journos could turn “the Citizen Kane of videogames” into an insult ? That would be the world I would like to live in

    • Meat Circus says:

      I think I saw more bona fide criticism of the many and various ways that Infinite was broken than any other high-profile release in memory.

      Infinite put itself on a pedestal, and many, many people found it had no claim to be there.

      • Mr Rud says:

        But still, it was praised extensively for its linear story, implying that it excuses the shitty gameplay, plus metacritic says 94, so it can’t be worng am i rite ? (sarcasm)

        I don’t argue that there is criticism that analyzes these issues, but it is always a second wave of opinion pieces that come always too little, too late; and maybe these pieces are made by the same people that praised the game in the first place, sounding like a convenient: “I don’t have contractual obligations with this game anymore, finally I can speak my mind”

        so yeah, keep giving 10/10 to the Bioshock Infinites of this world and save the critizism for later: it makes you feel good about yourself but it doesn’t change a thing really

        • Rikard Peterson says:

          Sounds like an argument to ignore any scores attached to reviews. I can agree with that.

          (Regarding the point you want to make – I don’t follow enough different places to have an opinion on the state of game journalism in general, nor do I care that much as long as we have places like RPS.)

        • UmmonTL says:

          Just stop looking at scores, find reviewers that have similar tastes to yours and see what they have to say about the game. A review score only makes sense if the reviewer is completely unbiased and will methodically judge each game the same way. And that is almost impossible because the tech changes so much and things like a good story or interesting style are always highly subjective. Giving the right score to a bad game is easy but giving the right score to a good game is hard.

          Anyways, regarding Bioshock Infinite, I think the praise it got is warranted in the sense that it showed the industry that a good story is something the public wants. The game had it’s initial hype and criticisms of gameplay or graphics followed but didn’t reduce it’s success.

          • nearly says:

            the game didn’t really have a good story. an interesting character in Elizabeth? sure, and her powers bring in a lot of mystery. but the story, overall, is “get the girl and bring her to us” and that becomes constantly “but first do this. and this.” very little of what happens follows logically or is internally consistent, and yet the characters leap to conclusions and have them affirmed by sloppy narrative reinforcement as correct. the game tries to tell a story of subtlety but without actually containing any subtlety. the ending is basically magic wand waving and the story becomes “whatever I want it to be.” that’s a copout, not a good story.

      • kael13 says:

        I went and played Infinite again recently… The NPCs don’t even look at you half the time. Very unsettling. The engine sure is showing its age.

    • onsamyj says:

      The story was awful! They shoved time-traveling story into parallel-worlds one, and because of that resolution doesn’t work (no spoilers, so go see “Looper” for good example of how to do it). And parallel worlds? Well, they forget to put in any! No, different haircuts and robots from thin air doesn’t count.

      • coffeetable says:

        Agreed. I honestly don’t know what people see in BS:I. It’s a poor game tied to some mediocre writing and outright-bad plotting.

        The only redeeming thing – and the one people seem to confuse with a worthwhile story – is that the world is very well constructed and fleshed-out.

        • The Random One says:

          “They couldn’t move all the crates of ammo so they moved to a parallel dimension where the crates of ammo already were where they wanted” could very well have come from in Axe Cop.

          I agree that people are confusing a well realized world with a well realized story, but to their credit this is an error almost as old as science fiction itself.

          • scatterbrainless says:

            I think it was J.G. Ballard who said that, unlike most other genres of fiction, the narrative voice of the author in science fiction is almost entirely expressed through setting. I’ve always liked that attitude and in general most of the best science fiction does place the other elements at the behest of realizing a setting. I actually quite liked Infinite, is what I’m trying to say.

      • dftaylor says:

        I enjoyed the game but felt the mystical mumbo-jumbo was really weak, especially as it got on towards the end. Narrative-wise, it’s a confusing mess with ruminations on power and corruption, violence, etc but with no real development of those themes. Elizabeth is interesting, but the conflict between the game mechanics and her attitude are especially jarring. She’s scared of your mass-murdering ways but is happy to throw you ammunition and medical kits when you’re actually doing the slaughtering.

        The original Bioshock’s story was a lot better for how it built all the different stories around you, but there’s very little player agency in it (which is the point, of course) and you’re very much a bystander in both games.

        It’s no better than the majority of dippy pulp SF that was kicking around, shamelessly imitating Bester and Dick but without their intelligence and narrative coherence.

      • Azradesh says:

        Looper is a terrible example of how to do it. The entire film is a complete contradiction plot wise.

        • Malibu Stacey says:

          Agreed. Primer is the definitive article in this case.

          • nearly says:

            I think someone here on RPS referred me to “Time Crimes” (Los Cronocrimenos) which manages to do the time travel thing very intelligently. have heard of Primer a few times but never managed to sit down and watch it.

          • Aninhumer says:

            Primer gets the model of time travel right, but that is not sufficient to make a good time travel story.

            The plot is actually pretty simple, but completely obscured by one of the worst narrative structures I’ve ever seen in a film. It starts with a ponderous exploration of the characters’ reaction to the the new technology, and then dumps the rest of the plot in a block of highly complex, and only partially explained exposition in the last 15mins.
            It gives the impression they filmed the first bit, and then weren’t sure what they actually wanted to do with the set up, and also ran out of money.

          • scatterbrainless says:

            A lot of that structural strangeness is a formal realization of its time travel mechanics: maintaining the integrity of the character’s temporal trajectory as it is interferred with from without

    • Strabo says:

      I for one loved Bioshock: Infinte, flaws and all.

    • ffordesoon says:

      I liked Bioshock Infinite quite a lot. I thought it was lovely.

      Even if I didn’t like it, I doubt I would ask anyone to “take responsibility” for liking it. Because that’s, you know, silly.

    • Jim Rossignol says:

      Not sure Infinite was actually that highly praised, at least after the first wave of reviews. But it was divisive once again: many people did enjoy its conceits, even if it was a terrible action game. I know at least a couple of the RPS team (myself included) were singularly bored by it.

      • Premium User Badge

        Adam Smith says:

        Infinite, perhaps unfairly, reminded me how quickly I become bored when playing games about shooting men in the head. I preferred Bioshock’s world/narrative and Bioshock 2’s action.

  5. Meat Circus says:

    Games journalism is full of “Eberts of gaming”, spouting endless middlebrow platitudes and mistaking consumer advice for criticism.

    I blame Ebert in no small part for the singularly parlous state of games criticism (especially its near total absence).

    As for the Citizen Kane of games, it’d be a game that was the obsessive vision of a singular creator, full of inventiveness, broad themes and epic scopes, yet full of huge stretches that are intolerably dull, and in the end is profoundly broken despite its brilliance?


    • Kaira- says:

      Or MGS-series.

    • MasterDex says:

      As for the Citizen Kane of games, it’d be a game that was the obsessive vision of a singular creator, full of inventiveness, broad themes and epic scopes, yet full of huge stretches that are intolerably dull, and in the end is profoundly broken despite its brilliance?

      Final Fantasy VII?

      You know, it’s strange. I remember making a comment very recently about FFVII being more like a Citizen Kane of gaming than Twilight. It was met with nothing but ridicule too. Then, making things even stranger, I start seeing “Citizen kane of gaming” pop up in the articles themselves. And then I see this!

      Your welcome for the discussion, RPS. :D

      • Mad Hamish says:

        Yeah I remember I had a good laugh at that. I’ve been laughing at the whole “citizen kane of gaming” thing for ages. Nathan is spot on with this. It’s something RPS has been saying for a while and I’ve always agreed with. We sound pathetic, like we’re trying to please a strict father who is never happy with our accomplishments. Forget about proving the medium to the rest of the world. It proved itself to me a long time ago and it sounds like it has to you as well. Though we would disagree on the games I’m sure we can agree to that. Games are unique and moving in a totally different direction than any other medium. We should be happy they’re different.

        The next thing RPS should tackle is this “oh games journalism is broken” bollocks.

    • chaosprime says:

      Ding. PS: T was our Citizen Kane, damn skippy.

      I dunno if y’all noticed, but we have our Apocalypse Now, too. (Spec Ops: The Line.)

      • scatterbrainless says:

        I think you meant to say Far Cry 2. It’s cool, I gotchya back.

    • greenbananas says:

      “As for the Citizen Kane of games, it’d be a game that was the obsessive vision of a singular creator”


      “full of inventiveness, broad themes and epic scopes,”


      “yet full of huge stretches that are intolerably dull”

      Oh yeah.

      “and in the end is profoundly broken despite its brilliance? ”

      Again, yes. That’s Cart Life.

    • Jim Rossignol says:

      Your mum is the Ebert of gaming.

  6. int says:

    Ooooh! Me ‘art.

  7. TreuloseTomate says:

    Half-Life 2 is my Kane.

    • Ulaxes says:

      It would be also one of my Kanes, if I would use Kanes to compare something, which I don’t :)

      Also Zelda ALTTP, Super Mario World, Super Metroid, Fallout 2, Doom 2, Half-life 1, Chrono Trigger, Deus Ex…

      My Kane is actually a city of Kanes :)

      • Mad Hamish says:

        We should use “Kanes” as a unit of measurement. I say Dwarf Fortress is at least 30 kilokanes.

    • aepervius says:

      I would place planescape torment far above half life 2. Multiple Ending, good depth to the story, and compared to HL2 , not so clichee.

    • Faxanadu says:

      Half-Life is the Citizen Kane of Gaming. This isn’t even a debate. This isn’t even a matter of taste. I am furiously zealous when it comes to this. It’s the game that spawned millions of awesome things, it’s the game that was way ahead of its time, it’s the game everybody played, it’s THE GAME.

      I will now glare at you.

  8. golem09 says:

    This is the Citizen Kane of articles.

  9. Fomorian1988 says:

    *slow clap*

  10. Okami says:

    We don’t need a Roger Ebert of game, we just need a Mark Kermode and we already have a couple of him in the form of RPS and other game writers who see their job as more than just being another big publisher PR mouthpiece.

    • MuscleHorse says:

      Does that make us the witterati of gaming?

    • zachforrest says:

      can i be the first to say i quite like Mark Kermode

      • Okami says:

        I like him as well. He’s unapologetically subjective in his reviews and always gives good reasons for why he likes or doesn’t like stuff. His verdicts about movies are also heavily influenced by his own outlook on life, his political views and his ideals about cinematography. And because you know where he’s coming from, because you know his standards and he doesn’t even pretend to be “objective” in any way, listening to him reveiw a movie will give you a pretty good idea if the movie is worthwhile for you to watch or not. Even if he really slams a movie, you migh still get the impression that you might like it and should watch it, because you might have different priorities than him.

        A good critic should always be subjective in my opinion.

        • Mad Hamish says:

          hear hear. I can’t stand it when internet heads criticise critics by saying “oh they’re biased” or “oh that just his/her opinion” like it invalidates anything. They seem expect total objectivity, which is probably impossible and they give no credit for them backing up and explaining their opinions.

          Mark Kermode is a fantastic critic and I think we have gaming equivalents but we need more.

          • scatterbrainless says:

            I don’t want to know what someone else thinks, I want to know what I’m supposed to think!

      • Schmudley says:

        Can I be the first to say hello to Jason Isaacs?

      • Ross Angus says:

        Don’t mention Mark Kermode to John. He hates that guy.

      • Guvornator says:

        My favorite Kermode moment link to . “Some wacko with an air rifle” Brilliant.

    • Malibu Stacey says:

      Mark Kermode is the Rab Florence of movie criticism.

    • BooleanBob says:

      I can’t be the only one who’d prefer a Rhianna Off’ve Films of games to a MK of the same.

  11. Damian says:

    Firstly, the reason Citizen Kane is a touchstone of movies is not because it is a particularly interesting movie *now*, but because it was a hugely innovative movie *then*. The movie introduced a wide array of elements to the film industry that were so influential they have become the norm, now, such that when someone comes to it for the first time after having been exposed to, really, anything in the last thirty years (or fifty), they come away feeling underwhelmed. “Is that it?” they ask, expecting more. Citizen Kane was more! It was everything, or close to it, then. It created so many things out of thin air, and everything it did well, was copied.

    Secondly, for games, the Citizen Kane of games has probably already occurred. It would be a game that is so bedrock, so obvious, so necessary, that it probably isn’t thought about too much. Something that introduced saves, or lives, or jumping, or running from left to right, or increases in power, or mouse look, or 3d, or …etc. A game, or a series of games, for which the systems they created have been so influential that virtually every game since borrows from, or expands upon, their idea. The Mario games. The Quake games. The Half-Life games. The Master of Orion games. The Civilisation games. The Pong games. The Space Invader games. The Ultima games. Etc. Games whose systems and concepts are so ingrained now, that going back is painful, and strange, and difficult, and odd, and – and – and – disappointing. Because their ideas have been so wholly subsumed into ordinary gaming that the ideas are not new any more. They are routine and regular. Just like Citizen Kane.

    The gaming industry’s obsession with Citizen Kane is indicative of an industry going through growing pains. The fact that gaming journalists discuss the gaming industry while referring to other media further reinforces this point. The industry is struggling to understand what it means to itself, and can only step outside itself and use other reference points as guideposts for ideas as to its own future. That’s normal, and indicative of an immature industry struggling to become mature.

    References to film aren’t needed. References to literature aren’t needed. References to music aren’t needed. They may help to understand, and they may act as an adjunct to comprehension, but they are wholly different forms of art, and thus can’t capture the essence of a game. That doesn’t make the lesser – or greater – but it does make them different. The answers to gaming’s future are not contained anywhere but in games.

    At present, this obsession with game journalists and critics about other media smacks of a younger brother’s obsession with his older sibling. Really, it doesn’t matter what they other fellow is doing – forge your own path. Film was never its own creature while it hewed closely to theatre. The novel never meant a thing until it was able to break away from free verse and long-form poetry.

    The best game is a game that can be purely itself. It’s why we tend to like games like Don’t Starve, Hotline Miami, Crusader Kings 2, Monaco, Braid, Bastion, Half-Life 2, Gish, etc. It’s why games such as Bioshock Infinite tend to fall away from critical acclaim after a while. Games need to be games; that is, they need to embrace the aspects of themselves that are purely “games”, things that are not replicable elsewhere, and they need to do those things to the best of their ability. “Cinematic” games are a dead-end and a failure, and fifty years from now they will be laughed about as examples of a medium which hadn’t yet been able to admit it was different to cinema.

    Games are games. They aren’t anything else. To say more, or less, is foolish, egotistical, naive, simplistic, and wrong. Similarly, to argue that they are some sort of cutting edge that literature, music, or cinema, is not, is similarly wrong. All of these art forms can do things that games can never do, simply because they are able to play to their own strengths. And, in the case of, say, literature or music, those strengths have been developed over thousands of years. Games can’t compete with that – and shouldn’t! – because they aren’t music, and they aren’t literature. They are games.

    • GaiusJulius394 says:

      I disagree with your interpretation of Citizen Kane as being some kind of bedrock, foundational movie. The fundamental language of cinema was laid many years earlier, although obviously Kane innovated in its use of sound, deep focus, storytelling etc. The games you refer to as Citizen Kane analogues would be closer to early silent films in their importance.

      • Damian says:

        GaiusJulius394 – I disagree with your argument. Citizen Kane was, I think, the synthesis of everything that had come before, plus a lot of what would come in the future, and thus it was important. It was the culmination of what the silent film era could achieve combined with the possibilities that were beginning to be expressed by the colour, full sound movies, and then it showed the way forward. Which is, in fact, very similar to video game history. To use Pong, it’s important for what it does, but it’s not really all that fun. There are other games that have taken its concept and turned it into fun – we can use Wii Tennis as a recent example. That doesn’t mean we just sweep away every game in between, or even Wii Tennis, and just say, “well, Pong exists and therefore…”, because that kind of statement is meaningless. First doesn’t mean best, and last doesn’t mean better than what came immediately before. Citizen Kane, however, represented an apex of the old, and an indication for what could occur in the future of film making.

        Malibu Stacey – Citizen Kane being critically panned, or critically acclaimed, in no way affects my argument, so I’m not sure why you brought it up. Some games that achieves amazing scores/critical plaudits are now forgotten, and some games that were weakly reviewed are now held up as great art. So, what’s your point? That art is always recognised as amazing when it first appears? Well, that’s ridiculous, and demonstrably false across basically every single art form that exists. New, avant garde, forward-thinking, progressive art is almost always critically ignored, derided or insulted. Not always, but almost always. So I don’t understand what point you are trying to make, sorry.

        • Lyndon says:

          It’s innovation was Deep Focus cinematography. The reason this is important is because Andre Bazin felt it was a major innovation which made film more democratic and realistic. I can’t go on much more now cause I gotta go party, but basically Hollywood film hasn’t been influenced by Citizen Kane. Hollywood cinema continues to be primarily influenced by the Russian montage directors which came before Kane, and is largely what Kane was innovating against.

          Art house film on the other hand follows in the realist tradition.

          From wiki:

          “The long-held standard and highly reductive view of Bazin’s critical system, now being subjected to more sophisticated analysis by Bazin scholars worldwide, is that he argued for films that depicted what he saw as “objective reality” (such as documentaries and films of the Italian neorealism school) and directors who made themselves “invisible” (such as Howard Hawks). He advocated the use of deep focus (Orson Welles), wide shots (Jean Renoir) and the “shot-in-depth”, and preferred what he referred to as “true continuity” through mise en scène over experiments in editing and visual effects. This placed him in opposition to film theory of the 1920s and 1930s, which emphasized how the cinema can manipulate reality. The concentration on objective reality, deep focus, and lack of montage are linked to Bazin’s belief that the interpretation of a film or scene should be left to the spectator. Bazin also preferred long takes to montage editing.”

          link to

    • Malibu Stacey says:

      You completely miss the fact Citizen Kane was critically panned when it was released & was only elevated to it’s current status a couple of decades later when the now outgoing generation of movie critics came across it.

      Irony of this situation should not be lost.

    • Dinger says:

      Citizen Kane was a great movie because it wrote literally and figuratively wrote the obituary for the mass media film was replacing.
      What’s surprising in this meme of the “Citizen Kane” is that this point is often lost in the technical details (which, for CK, are admittedly awesome).
      Nathan tells us to stop worrying about the past, of a long-dead era. That’s the wrong interpretation of CK. CK came out when the cinema was at its height, of which feature films are the last remaining ember; in 1940, cinema had become a powerful tool of mass communication and propaganda, shaping the very truth. CK consciously exudes the power of the medium, and it does so, by looking backwards.
      And now we have a new medium, a world-wide computer network, that actually did what Orson Welles claimed for Film: it has destroyed the newspapers, and it is disrupting all other media.
      It makes me want to open a blog, and write yet another article, mostly on CK.

  12. Gpig says:

    I thought the link for “Deus Ex creator Warren Spector” was going to link to the great moment in games writing on Old Man Murray (originally from IGN): “There’s a tendency among the press to attribute the creation of a game to a single person,” says Warren Spector, creator of Thief and Deus Ex.”

  13. onsamyj says:

    I think (game) journalists have too much spare time on their hands to write those stupid articles. I don’t need no recognition from… Actually, from who, exactly? Never mind, just go play something that you didn’t played before!

    • Dr I am a Doctor says:

      Articles like that are a good thing because it means game reviewers are finally growing up and realizing that playing bideo james is a pretty bad way to spend your life. They want to move on, but hideo dames are all they know

  14. Jamie White says:

    What we do need is a reviewer that’s not paid/endorsed by game companies and is willing to say “This game is crap, I wouldn’t pay for it”. Instead of pandering and being nice.

    • Jim Rossignol says:

      Because that never happens.

      • onsamyj says:

        I noticed some time ago, that there is no criticism before release. You can read a lot about bad movie script, shuffle of directors, troubles on set, etc., but games? Everything is good! Where did bad game comes from, then?

        Access to that information is sign of maturity, and game industry are nowhere near it.

        • Guvornator says:

          While I know what you mean (I generally avoid previews like the plague), I don’t think it’s really applicable. Game development tends to happen in a very controlled environment, both in a corporate and physical sense by people you don’t know. Essentially, nothing leaves the office. Films, on the other hand, are made by a revolving door of people, in a wide variety of often easily photographed locations,and involve world-wide celebrities whose every move is coveted by the gossip industry. What you identify as maturity is a combination of both the ease that, say TMZ, has to this info and A list celebrities throwing a paddy.

          • onsamyj says:

            Bribes! :)

            No, seriously, just look how much people know about movie-making. Actually, look how many movies there are about making movies! Games are mystery (there was Kickstarter about one character and many very different opinions should it cost so much or not). We just need more information, all kind of information, not just pr-bs before and review after. Again, if we want maturity – here it is.

          • Lacero says:

            I actually find it fascinating, and a little impressive, that game makers don’t make games about making games. There are thousands of books about authors, and films about filming something. And even musicals about making a musical and.. you get the idea. But the games industry sets its sights higher than replicating itself.

          • KenTWOu says:

            The funny thing that Warren Spector’s point is the same as yours!!! As far as I can get from your two previous messages. Instead of talking about these really important issues of gaming industry. Everbody’s talking about Ebert and Citizen Kane. Again, dammit!

        • ffordesoon says:

          How many previews on RPS have you read?

          Because they calls ’em like they sees ’em pretty damn often.

        • Lacero says:

          There’s been a reasonable amount of introspection on this on RPS this year, the highlight of course being Cara’s crysis 3 preview, and the followup.

          link to

          But yes it’s a huge problem. I hope RPS can do something about it, they seem like clever people and they know the industry more than me. For my part I usually miss when a game comes out the review posts and trailers and teasers all blur together until I just can’t tell anymore.

          Maybe an industry wide convention that released games have a blue filter and unreleased have a green filter? Like the matrix. Sort of.

          • derbefrier says:

            I dont know what they could possibly do other then report on what they have seen. I imagine previews are highly controlled things were the journalist only sees what they want them to see and only gets answers to the questions they want you to ask. Its not a stretch of the imagination by any means to go to a preview play a small part of the game that seems pretty awesome by itself then a few months later when that same reviewer gets the full version the veil is pulled from there eyes and they can see the game for what it really is, instead of a meticulously planned media event that lets you see only what they want you to see. I guess they could refuse to do previews but that would suck. So i suggest doing nothing and hope your reader base is smart enough to know the difference between a preview and a review. Hell write it out if you need to. Write a disclaimer at the top of every preview explaining what I just said. To me its a problem they really have no control over and they best they can do is educate the reader base on how limited and controlled a preview actually is and not to go throwing money around based on one persons limited exposure to a game.

      • Guvornator says:

        While I generally disagree with this young fellow’s cynicism, thing like magazines titled “Official [insert console name here] Magazine” do raise some uncomfortable questions about game journalism’s freedom from influence. You wouldn’t get “Official Warner Bros” magazine, for example.

        • MasterDex says:

          The reality is that if you give an ultra nasty review for a game, you’re probably not going to get any more review copies from the publisher/developer of that game. So you have to play nice.

          Instead of “This game is duller than a lecture on the sleeping habits of worms.”, you say something more along the lines of “Although the artists created an attractive world to navigate, the pacing and lack of direction as you make your way through the game leaves a lot to be desired.”

          In that way, you say essentially the same thing, in a way that your reader should pick up what you’re getting at but which the developers, even if they do see it as negative criticism, don’t feel insulted by.

          But yeah, just stay away from any Official Product Magazines.

          • Jim Rossignol says:

            “The reality is that if you give an ultra nasty review for a game, you’re probably not going to get any more review copies from the publisher/developer of that game. So you have to play nice.”

            Except that’s not the reality and never has been. When they get to the next game they want that on your site, too. Some publishers certainly do get arsey over particular reviews, but the idea that there’s a permanent blacklist culture is just a myth.

          • MattM says:

            I certainly curse from time to time, but I would prefer to not see it done in a review. When someone is ranting and cursing I find their assessment of a game less useful and trustworthy. I want a review to be as negative as necessary to describe the reviewers opinion but I don’t want to read something angry and aggressive.

          • MasterDex says:

            It’s a bit easier when you’re one of the prime sources of news for the gaming community to be able say outright that “This sucks”, but I’ve found the same isn’t true with a smaller outlet where a negative review for one game might mean that emails go unanswered, unreceived, etc. when it’s time for the next game to be reviewed.

            I’m not saying it’s going to be permanent or that it’s widespread but sometimes, I’ve found it’s wiser to say: “X had some potential that was sorely lost in translation. That being said, hardcore players of genre Y may find something they like in here.” than say: “This game sucks. You’d have to want to do nothing more than play this type of game, all day, every day, to find any redeeming factor.”

          • onsamyj says:

            So, you saying that every game reviewer is just cheap bastard, and all he wants is game for free?

          • PedroBraz says:

            Eurogamer swedens recent 10 score and review of SimCity if not directly payed for was definately in the suspicious category. And this little thing comes into mind too from a few years back:

            “a GameSpot writer named Jeff Gertsmann was fired from his editorial position after publishing a scathing review of the video game Kane & Lynch: Dead Men, trashing the title for it’s sloppy artificial intelligence and poor gameplay. Ironically enough, around the time the review was published, the ENTIRE GameSpot website was plastered with ads for the game, going as far as to become a temporary site theme for a few days. Several days later, rumors began to swirl around the internet that Gertsmann was fired due to external pressure caused by the game’s publisher Eidos Interactive (now Square Enix Europe).”

            And wasnt there something about IGN too?

            So yeah Jim, there WAS a problem back then and as SimCity proved, its pretty much still here. RPS though seems to be up front and honest, which is why I prefer it.

          • BigD says:

            I remember reading somewhere that ign knew about how the Aliens:CM demo was a fake before they received the final product. They later ranted through multiple articles about how Aliens:CM had deceived everyone.

      • Jamie White says:

        Have you been beyond this site?
        I really like The Verge and Polygon, and they are massive players, but Jesus they’re afraid of offending.

    • Strabo says:

      There are tons of people and review sites just doing this. You’re posting on one for example. Giant Bomb as another example was founded on walking away from a company who didn’t.

      • Jamie White says:

        That’s why I felt comfortable saying that here. I thought people who came here for the honesty, among other things, might hold similar opinions.

        On the same token, these guys have a niche. The hilarious, nonsensical Britishness applies to a certain type of person and being as I’m rather nonsensical and British myself, I love it.

        But as for more plain mainstream websites, I wouldn’t mind a little more critical honesty ala the reviews we get here.
        These niceynice reviews coupled with the same groups of people with no opinion or morals buying the same games over and over is encouraging companies like EA and Ubisoft.

    • Necroscope says:

      Surprisingly, no-one has mentioned the youtube generation of “I say what I want, I don’t give a fuck” game-reviewers, like Totalbiscuit for example amongst many, whose viewership/audience outweighs the written format of journalism considerably. The written format is being left behind by informative entertainers on youtube

      • Jamie White says:

        Very true, but let’s not pretend that they get previews, special treatment and exclusivity like the bribes these written review sites get. Plus it’s not always in a timely fashion on a wide range of games.

        I find Birgirpall a good youtube channel to go by, as whilst they piss about they do expose the failings of a game.

  15. Okami says:

    I’m still waiting for the Citizen Kane of Books.

  16. Dr I am a Doctor says:

    Citizen Kane was actually pretty bad and was only lauded because of how it revolutionized filmmaking from the technical perspective

    Also, video shames are terrible.

    • dwk says:

      Why all the hate against citizen kane. I saw it for the first time a few years back and found it a genuinely interesting movie,it is still a great example non linear storytelling.

  17. Yosharian says:

    Ebert is a fucking dinosaur, people need to stop crying about his dismissal of gaming.

    Also, it’s cool to hate on Citizen Kane now? When did that happen? CK is a great movie, period.

    • Iokanaan says:

      not cool, but something called opinion. a very subjective thing, last time I checked.

      • Yosharian says:

        No, it’s definitely cool. It’s cool to hate on anything that is a classic, ‘whut Half-Life? dat game overrated, it was only good in its time, no good now’. Some sad shit.

        • Dances to Podcasts says:

          I really don’t get the anti-narrative purist sentiment. It’s like saying (yes, I’m going to make a movie reference here!) that 12 Angry Men, Rear Window, The Man From Earth, Reservoir Dogs or Dogville are bad because they’re too much like theater. No one would make that argument, because it’s stupid. Yet in games we see it all the time.

          Games should be judged by what they try to do and whether they achieve it. If that’s narrative, that’s fine. If that’s something else, that’s fine too.

          • Yosharian says:

            12 Angry Men, now that’s a bloody good movie.

            I kinda see where the anti-narrative movement is coming from though. Because games have kind of become train rides. Hell, look at Half-Life, that’s an on rails train ride narrative shooter right from the start, but it still maintains respect with the player in the way it tells story and in the way that the game systems work. Complete opposite to something like Modern Warfare 2.

            On the other hand, I personally have no problem with games like Heavy Rain, for example, I even enjoy playing them. The Walking Dead was a brilliant narrative-driven game, despite the simplistic gaming system attached to it. I guess I don’t go into these games expecting complex game systems, whereas when I play an FPS game I expect certain things, like not being told where to go all the bloody time.

        • Faxmachinen says:

          Well, it’s true. Things lose appeal with time (see also: crusades, wigs, driving to work). Half-Life is still cool, but then it’s not almost three times as old as me either.

        • HothMonster says:

    • kalidanthepalidan says:

      *was* a dinosaur.

    • Josh W says:

      I think it’s probably slightly cooler to hate on ebert.

  18. Totally heterosexual says:

    Portal already happened!


  19. Schmudley says:

    Everything in this article is so spot-on that I felt like shouting out ‘hellelujah’ and ‘tell it preacher’ at various points.

    Of the many reasons why comparison to film is wrong is that the mainstream film industry is even worse at dealing with modern technology and behaviour than some of the games industry. Lovefilm and Netflix are miles behind what they could be in terms of delivering content, compared say to Steam.

  20. KingFunk says:

    “But it’s still growing, evolving, gesticulating.”

    Did you mean ‘gestating’? I like the idea of gesticulating, but contextually ‘gestating’ makes more sense.

    In a sort of, well, thing, I’ll refer to a certain film quote:

    “Where’s the foetus gonna gestate? You gonna keep it in a box?”

    Presumably, in our case, the foetus is games and the box is one of Snake’s.

  21. GaiusJulius394 says:

    Nathan, you are the rosebud of the Citizen Kane of gaming.

  22. spindaden says:

    I think Paola Antonelli has the right attitude in this talk:
    link to

    She celebrates the design of games in the same way you might celebrate other great designs in mediums like architecture or fashion or furniture.

    Are any of these mediums art? maybe, maybe not.
    Does it affect their credibility? no.

  23. hawksbane says:

    People have short memories, or maybe I’m old but the ‘Citizen Kane’ of games is/was Elite

    What you’ve never heard of it?

  24. Niko says:

    Well at least we have the Hunter S. Thompson of games journalism. His name’s Cara Ellison.

  25. Iokanaan says:

    and what is the Avatar of games?
    I mean, isn’t this problem also one of the difference between popular and ‘classical’? in the end, popularity (although influenced by budget and marketing) – in the short or long run – will be a guideline as to where video game evolution will bring us. Citizen Kanes, Odysseys, Divine Comedies and whatever will pop up among the weeds not because gamers can’t get over the imaginary idea of their medium being inferior but because some actually show the necessary backbone and vision.
    and in game criticism there seems to be similar ambiguity or dualism. leave the concept of the video game as the retarded nephew of film to whomever fancies to think that way.

    • Niko says:

      While playing the last Mass Effect it struck me that maybe that strive for cinematic realism is a really wrong path to go. I mean, the pinnacle apparently should be 3D animations which you can’t tell from real people, but they’ll still require voice work, and they’ll still be worse than real actors, so why bother? There’s different ways to tell a story in a game (Portal, anyone?), and frankly most of the games that I spend a lot of time are as far from cinema as possible. Maybe Minecraft is Citizen Kane, I dunno.

  26. dftaylor says:

    I think Nathan is somewhat misrepresenting Spector’s column with this thought-piece (which apparently concludes “games are more exciting so nyah-nyah-nyah”).

    Here’s where Spector makes the specific Ebert reference:

    “What we need, as I said in an earlier column, is our own Andrew Sarris, Leonard Maltin, Pauline Kael, Judith Crist, Manny Farber, David Thomson, or Roger Ebert. We need people in mainstream media who are willing to fight with each other (not literally, of course) about how games work, how they reflect and affect culture, how we judge them as art as well as entertainment. We need people who want to explain games, individually and generically, as much as they want to judge them. We need what might be called mainstream critical theorists.”

    So he’s not really asking for games to be considered in the same regard as film, he wants to see diverse schools of thought sitting in the mainstream debating the various merits or games to a winder audience.

    He includes three giants of film criticism – Kael, Maltin and Ebert – because they were astute historians of cinema, understood the craft and the language (and were willing to discuss it), but had populist sensibilities. Ebert, in particular, was as likely to praise the craft and intelligence of Last House on the Left as the fire and darkness of Taxi Driver. He gave credibility to all sorts of films by reviewing them on equal terms.

    It’s a point of comparison and not a sense of inferiority there. Spector’s asking why the games industry isn’t trying to create the same level of debate, why it isn’t reaching for the intellectual part of the audience. It’s all fine and well to see some excellent blogs on the story of Bioshock Infinte, but who’s actually reading outside of the gaming community and those who bought the game?

    Warren believes games need to consider themselves AS valuable as movies, not the same. Important difference which undermines the thesis of this article.

    A second issue to consider is that games are very keen to live in the same space as movies as a story-telling medium. The majority of games stories follow the Hero’s Quest structure, shamelessly steal from the language of movies, and try to compete using Hollywood expectations.

    In those circumstances, it’s only reasonable that people still see games in that context. Until games try to tell different sorts of stories (and while I loved Infinte, its story is a muddled mess of weird ideas and bad execution, largely coming back to “KILL EVERYTHING but think about it a little too”. It’s a much less interesting game than Bioshock was) they’ll be held beside movies.

    • JackShandy says:

      “It’s all fine and well to see some excellent blogs on the story of Bioshock Infinte, but who’s actually reading outside of the gaming community and those who bought the game?”

      No-one is reading gaming blogs except for the gaming community. No-one was watching Ebert’s show apart from the Movie Community, either. The only difference is that the Movie community is bigger.

      • WedgeJAntilles says:

        Yes, this. Specter’s mistake is that these people ALREADY EXIST. You can find them in blogs, on YouTube, on Twitter, all over the internet. You just don’t see them on TV because TV is an archaic and dying medium. And, as Nathan explains quite well in the article, “mainstream” culture is dying with it. There is no monoculture on the Internet–everyone can find their own niche.

        • KenTWOu says:

          Specter’s mistake is that these people ALREADY EXIST.

          He didn’t say they don’t exist, he said: We do have some people – not enough…

          • Josh W says:

            There’s a problem here though, that actually we may have too many.

            A freindly rivaly between different partisan critics promoting their own aesthetics and history of games doesn’t occur because these interesting people bounce off one another, and never get into really substantial debates. Or when they do, they are masked and blurred under the general character of internet commentary.

            My solution? Build your own historical examples from different games, your own shorthand, and then see how it applies to different new games.

            Then respond to other critics you find impressive, consider their perspective on games, how it differs from yours, and point out elements that make things more satisfying that fit with what you like.

            Basically, if people intentionally try to build personalised conversations with each other about games, we can get that kind of rival talking head situation in games critique.

            But do we actually want that? I’d rather just see a flood of analysis from whoever, with solid standards of debate. I don’t need the personality approach.

        • Runs With Foxes says:

          Specter’s mistake is that these people ALREADY EXIST. You can find them in blogs, on YouTube, on Twitter, all over the internet.

          This is exactly Spector’s point. These are not mainstream locations, they are insular circles of people who already play games. Spector was calling for more criticism in the mainstream, which might be read by people who don’t actually play games.

          You might not really care about that (neither do I really), but that was Spector’s point.

      • dftaylor says:

        That’s not true. Ebert and Siskel was a mainstream show (national network TV in the US) and Ebert’s articles were in the Chicago Sun-Times and syndicated around the US too. It was nothing to do with the movie audience being bigger, it was that his articles were featuring on mainstream channels which helped blockbusters like Jaws and The Empire Strikes Back (both critically derided as trash in some quarters) to gain credibility.

        Gaming doesn’t have those sort of personalities or exposure right now.

    • MasterDex says:

      Thank you, well said.

    • Kadayi says:

      Perfectly expressed. Fully understood what Spector is saying and personally can’t see what the issue is beyond perhaps sour grapes at somehow not being mentioned/regarded as a leading critical light by the man.

      The very fact that despite the very public (and often quite articulate) backlash at the ending of ME3 for instance, pretty much no one writing in the professional gaming press even raised an eyebrow is proof positive of a clear degree of increasing dissonance between reviewer and audience expectations. The fact that a fair few even went on the offensive and castigated the public for dismissing it was frankly risible.

      • Mad Hamish says:

        Well there’s a kinda taboo about talking about the end of games in a review. Sometimes people freak out about spoilers and the like.

        • Kadayi says:

          It’s entirely possible to highlight a film/game with thematic problems without necessarily giving away spoilers. The more pressing problem is the fact that across the board every reviewer gave the game high scores regardless. 93/100 on metacritic whilst public assessment was far less grandiose 5.5/10. Compare and contrast with say Prometheus, a film that similarly divided audiences yet, the spread of opinion by reviewers was much more evenly distributed, 65/100 on metacritic with 6.5/10 being the public assessment. Why the clear accord between reviewers and public with Prometheus, but such a substantial disparity between the two when it comes to Mass Effect 3? Could it not perhaps be a case of there being a disconnect between the criteria of assessment Vs the audience expectation?

          • BooleanBob says:

            There’s also a decent chance a lot of reviewers didn’t reach the end of the game before deadline.

          • Kadayi says:


            Shoddiness isn’t a valid excuse. With a game that’s the culmination of a trilogy to submit before reaching it’s narrative conclusion given the story driven nature of series is unwarranted, least of all to ignore its deficiencies wholesale in that regard.

    • ScorpionWasp says:

      Very well put. I believe that when people ask where the “Citizen Kane” of games is, they’re actually making a statement about the atrocious quality of writing in games. They aren’t demanding a clone of Citizen Kane, they’re demanding well written, meaningful stories in their games, much like Citizen Kane was in relation to all the drivel before it.

      Our standards for narrative quality in games are set incredibly low. People praise something like Bioshock, which is so full of fridge logic nothing in it makes the slightest bit of sense if you but think about the implications for ten minutes. Dragon Age is populated by a bunch of sycophants whose single purpose in life is telling the player how awesome he is. Protagonist breaks into a sacred vault, murders about 20 guards in the process (which is in itself highly improbable), allows a dangerous wizard to escape as a result, which is absolutely freaking taboo in their universe, and I’m there wondering if he’s going to be executed on the spot or if he’ll have to be purified by pain for days first, when someone offers him a job on an elite military unit. The new Deus Ex is a muddled mess that makes zero fucking sense through and through.

      And people can’t get enough of these things’ cocks. If plots like these were released as movies, people would fucking laugh at them. That’s a good thing. Quality control is good, we should have it too. I’m sick and tired of being sick and tired of people defending the horrible quality of game writing on the basis that “lol they’re gaems, if you want story go read a book!” I don’t want to read a book, I want an interactive game with good narrative. What’s so freaking wrong with that???

      • ScorpionWasp says:

        And I think we’ve had our Citizen Kane already. Several of them, in fact. Silent Hill 2, Vampire Bloodlines, The Void, Star Control. They’re all superb examples of story-telling; story telling applied to the specific hardships of our interactive medium. The problem is that, unlike Citizen Kane, their features were not copied. They didn’t set new standards. Gaming as whole continued being the puerile, shame-inducing thing that it always was.

        • MasterDex says:

          I think you’re right in saying that we’ve had our Citizen Kane already, and because of the nature of gaming, I’d say we’ve had a few Citizen Kanes. Forget about storytelling. That was only one thing Citizen Kane had going for it anyway, and certainly not the strongest. As far as games go, mechanics and so on are what’s key and there’s been titles that have and will forever have an effect on games because of their impact.

    • KenTWOu says:

      Very well said! Nathan Grayson missed the point!

    • Mario Figueiredo says:

      Thank you, dftaylor. I was going to write something along these lines and try to explain why Spector’s column is a lot more important than what is being portrayed here. You did a lot better than I could possibly do.

      I disagree completely. Nothing is great about games. You may feel you are living “interesting times”, but I feel we are going down a path that is slowly eroding at creativity and initiative. And to make that point across let me throw my own “Aaaargh!” at the fact you, like so many others, refuse to see this behind all the glitter of an entertaining gaming session and this false idea that the cacophony of hundreds of thousands of so-called criticis in blogs and youtube across the web, represents all we need to develop a critical thinking towards games.

      We need you and RPS and youtube and other media. But we are sorely lacking game criticism in the way Spector describes it. Done in a way that can reach to other audiences and in a way that properly demonstrates games cultural impact and importance.

      You may feel that you do it here in RPS. You surely try to. But this is not the desirable medium for it. You need authoritative voices and the proper mediums. If this bothers you so much to the point of writing this article, I’m sorely disappointed you come across as defensive and afraid of an evolutionary step, despite all you preach. Or maybe you just misread Spector.

  27. Shadowcat says:

    We need those people to instead confidently draw attention to what the gaming industry is becoming, what it’s blossoming into. Celebrate the diverse lifeblood now pushing our medium to new heights. Love the journey – not some destination a very specific part of another creative medium reached decades ago.

    Yes, if only there was more serious gaming criticism available to everyone, so that they could become more aware of all the amazing qualities of games.

    Seriously Nathan, did you read Warren’s article? I’m massively confused as to how reading that could possibly have triggered this.

  28. cunningmunki says:

    “I’m pretty sure that the gaming industry isn’t the film industry”

    Go and mention that to Rockstar, Infinity Ward, Crystal Dynamics, Naughty Dog, Ubisoft and Eidos. Because fuck knows someone hasn’t told them that.

    They think games are just films with QTEs.

    • MasterDex says:

      We need people who want to explain games, individually and generically, as much as they want to judge them.

      Comments like yours show the problem.

      Go and mention that to Rockstar – You mean the guys that gave us GTA? Trust me, they know it’s not the film industry.

      Infinity Ward – The original Infinity Ward gave FPS gamers one of the most satisfying arena shooters ever created. Whatever you think of CoD or IW now, the shooting mechanics of CoD4, as simple as they may be, are still up there with the best.

      I won’t go on but suffice to say, you simplify the issue you take far too much in favour of slagging a few developers/publishers. Why bother with the name-dropping and explain the real issue at hand – which is an issue that far more than those aforementioned developers have right now.

      • cunningmunki says:

        Whoa there, it was satire fella, satire.

        Tough crowd.

        • MasterDex says:

          Sorry. Internet, satire, sarcasm, etc. Not good combinations.

          Well played though, that read exactly like the type of comment someone would make.

  29. PopeRatzo says:

    1) in this day and age, creating direct analogs to those landmarks is actually impossible

    That’s not true.

    and 2) games and games criticism are in the midst of a renaissance

    This is also wrong. “Renaissance” means “rebirth”. What golden age are “games and games criticism” being reborn to? When was this magical classical period for games and game criticism? You can’t have a renaissance if games and (especially) game criticism are in their relative infancy.

    Someone, someday, will make a game comparable to the great works of art, cinema, etc. The work we’re seeing now is still infantile, obvious, and for the most part poorly executed. This unfortunately applies double to game criticism, though the work done here at RPS is at least picking it up off the floor a little.

    So, Mr Nathan Grayson, if that is your real name, you need to chill the fuck out with this outrage. You sound like a five year old who can’t believe he’s not being given an ice cream cone for being such a good boy. You may get your cone, but it won’t be because of your petulant demands or special pleading.

    • Jim Rossignol says:

      > What golden age are “games and games criticism” being reborn to?

      Amiga Power.

    • Somerled says:

      Someone, someday, will make a game comparable to the great works of art, cinema, etc.

      Or someone already has, and the game just hasn’t been elevated to that cultural status yet.

    • dftaylor says:

      “This is also wrong. “Renaissance” means “rebirth”. What golden age are “games and games criticism” being reborn to? When was this magical classical period for games and game criticism? You can’t have a renaissance if games and (especially) game criticism are in their relative infancy.”

      I was going to point that out, but was worried I’d be set upon for pointing out the incorrect word use. Thank heavens I’m not alone!

      There’s nothing wrong with what Spector is saying. He just wants games to be in the sort of spotlight that encourages the perception that the industry has something to say about society. It already does those things, but they get drowned out by MECHS SHOOTING MECHS LOLZ!

      At least a lot of the GTAV coversage has been on flying planes.

  30. engion3 says:

    I only buy games that have commercials during my favorite shows.

  31. strangeloup says:

    I thought we already had a citizen Kane.

  32. Shinwaka says:

    Great article, thanks Nathan.

  33. Rao Dao Zao says:

    I can’t see “Citizen Kane” without thinking of “Giants: Citizen Kabuto”.

  34. JamesTheNumberless says:

    I think there’s an extent to which anyone writing about games for a mainstream intellectual audience writes more as an apologist than as a critic. I don’t believe there really was a moment in time when everybody decided that movies were a serious art form, I think it just emerged that there were simultaneously a lot of people who felt the same and wanted to write and talk critically about movies they’d seen, without feeling the need to justify the medium itself.

  35. Zwebbie says:

    Chess is, has always been, and always will be, bigger than Citizen Kane. It’s just that it’s too much of a game for most people, and they’ll prefer to have less of a game but with a bit of a story and atmosphere. If we’re talking about great games, surely you should be praising Dominion, Galaxy Trucker or SpaceChem instead of Planescape Torment, The Longest Journey or Half-life, which aren’t terribly interesting from a ludological perspective?

  36. Phendron says:

    On the subject of ‘playing films’, I’d love to play a Blue Velvet game where you’re Frank Booth and each button is a different expletive-laced one-liner.

  37. Turkey says:

    I hope Rockstar goes insane and just make like the most oppulent fucking money-sinkhole version of Citizen Kane – The Video Game ever.

  38. Iskariot says:

    Great article.

  39. pocketlint60 says:

    So we all agree that the Citizen Kane of video games would suck, but am I the only one who thinks Citizen Kane wasn’t a good movie either?

    • GameCat says:

      Technically, it’s very great movie. Just look at shadows (realtime, 16xFFA), camera work, movie within a movie etc. Most of these stuff was groundbreaking.
      But for me it was too “cold”. I prefer more emotional movies.

  40. MadTinkerer says:

    And as I keep pointing out: It’s Ultima VII. It’s always been Ultima VII.

    Charles Foster Kane is a thinly disguised allegory for William Randolph Hearst. It is an awesome film even if you don’t understand the allegory, but you can see that it’s the drive to tell a true story in the guise of fiction that pushes the makers to create a truly great film. The story itself couldn’t be told as non-fiction because of the power of the Hearst company and the litigation that would have followed. Citizen Kane is often considered the creators’ best work, despite the fact that it is a black and white film and “old”.

    The Guardian is a thinly veiled allegory for Electronic Arts. It is an awesome game even if you don’t understand the allegory, but you can see that it’s the drive to tell a true story in the guise of fiction that pushes the makers to create a truly great game. The story itself couldn’t be told as non-fiction because the Ultima series is fantasy, and slipping a demon-god with a cult into the fantasy world made more sense than having an Eeeevil Corporation(TM) try to infiltrate Britannia directly. Ultima VII is often considered the creators’ best work despite the fact that it is 2D and “old”.

    • Shadowcat says:

      Nice :)

    • Arglebargle says:

      Played games with some ex-Origin employees tonite, and talking about Ultima VII, they felt this was a fairly astute observation.

  41. Grayvern says:

    Warren Spector is bemoaning the lack of reach games criticism has into mainstream media. I would contend that games have by far the largest, most accessible, wide reaching, high baseline of quality specialist press. Films and books can hardly boast the same number of high quality specialist websites.

    I’m not sure internet traffic wouldn’t indicate that games sites are far more popular than those for film.

    Videogames could do with some mainstream evangelism certainly, but covering individual games for mainstream audiences seems like putting the cart before the horse to me.

    Videogames are actually fairly unique in that given the comparatively small sales numbers of most games the specialist press still wields some influence.

    It’s probably more tradition that gives film personalities/ critics the platforms which give them name recognition but I’m not sure many people pay attention to their content and views.

  42. Lord Custard Smingleigh says:

    A better question is “what is the Daikatana of cinema”?

  43. DOLBYdigital says:

    I haven’t posted a comment on this site in years but just wanted to sign in and say ‘Great Article!’.
    Seriously Nathan, this was an excellent read that was relatively short and concise while still saying a lot.
    Sure some will agree and others disagree, that’s what opinions are all about.
    However I think Nathan did a nice job of explaining his thoughts on the matter and I would say I agree with them. Thanks again Nathan, I too am excited to see where gaming goes even though I don’t like much of the business side of the industry now-a-days.

  44. Machinations says:

    I did not realize that the hivemind had decided that Torment is “broken”. I would disagree vehemently, though it is true that there are parts toward the end less fleshed out than they should be.

    Torment succeeded in large part because the planescape universe was genius.

  45. Bob says:

    Why anybody wants a “Citizen Kane” of anything is beyond me. That movie never rated that highly with me….but I digress.

    I’m closer to 40 than I am 20 and I love my video games. It’s a diversion just as watching a movie or reading a book is, and like movies and books there are some worthy of my time and some not. If Borderlands 2, or the Mass Effects, Dishonored, or the Bioshocks aren’t “The Citizen Kanes of Gaming”, I don’t give a crap coz they entertain me more than that damn movie ever could.

  46. Not Marvelous says:

    I still don’t understand why video games enthusiasts continue to assert video games are the medium (art form?) with the most expressive potential / most cultural impact / many other superlatives. I have no idea what that claim is based on, except near universal acceptance across gaming websites.

    Also, and I can’t believe I have to say this, but movies do not equal Hollywood, and Hollywood does not equal any sort of ‘rut’, let alone one seventy (!) years old. That’s not even expressing an opinion, at least not an informed one, that’s just being overly enthusiastic about games, to the point of blindness to the outside world. Backed by meaningless statements like “gaming’s potential is limitless”.

    Anyway, disappointing article. Interesting topic though – I would definitely read justifications of *any* of the many claims made.

  47. Not Marvelous says:

    Add just one thing – games can copy from Hollywood no more than Hollywood (or any other medium) can copy from previously popular genre mediums. Adventures, heroes, romances etc. all existed way before any of us, in spoken word, on paper and on tape, and their structure has changed very little. This does not make them ‘bad’ – if anything, it means something about them works.

    In fact, I would argue that many of the best stories – and the best paintings and the best music – are rooted in some established genre or idea. Radical unconventionality is a recent artistic convention, and honestly, it has always struck me as a little bit, ahem, bourgeois.

  48. Nixitur says:

    That “image of images” of video game screenshots is really quite nice. I’m ashamed to say that I don’t recognize all of them.
    Can anyone help me out?

    Cave Story, Braid, Bastion, ?
    Edge, Super Meat Boy, Machinarium, Terraria
    ?, FTL, Dustforce, Don’t Starve
    Legend Of Grimrock, Bit.Trip Runner, Magicka, ?

    • Isair says:

      The one left of FTL is I Am Alive. Wondering about the other 2 myself.