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  1. #1

    The Games Criticism Thread

    Such a thoughtful and intelligent forum, and there is no thread dedicated to games criticism.
    Shame on you! I say.

    But Melody meows to the rescue :D

    In this (hopefully) ongoing thread I'd like to share and discuss with you articles, videos, podcasts etc. about games criticism. Think of it as an extension of the best parts of the Sunday Papers comment section (especially now that there is no edit button anymore!)

    If you'd like, I can also edit this post to fill a sort of essential database with links to the major games crit blogs and zines and curatorial efforts. If there is enough interest, that is.

    For now, I'll just point you to Critical Distance as an excellent starting point, especially if you're not familiar with this kind of writing. And of course, RPS' very own Sunday Papers, although usually only a small part of the links can be considered games criticism.

  2. #2
    Formal Games Critics are not really a base of opinions I really value*, except long after release when the hype has faded. Their job is to court attention and try and further legitimise their position while carefully minding to not upset the publishers who pay for their access to games in grandiose fashions.

    We can't blame publishers for trying to compromise the critic, nor the critic for acting in self interest but nor should we overly value this profession.

    It's games enthusiast media, and there is nothing wrong with that, but we should go into it with our eyes open.

    *I'd rather listen to trusted peers in forums with appropriate specialisms, the Truck Sim folks who really knows their stuff, the DoTA nuts, etc.
    Last edited by Heliocentric; 15-02-2015 at 10:57 AM.
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  3. #3
    I'm not sure we're operating under the same definition of games critic?

    RPS (almost) never does games crit; and reviews are not games crit (although occasionally they may contain bits of games crit) Most critics I know and read don't (regularly) write for major websites and don't get their games from the publisher.

    Also the purpose of criticism is not to say if a game is good or not, but if a game is doing something interesting with the medium, to highlight if it has something interesting or valuable to contribute to a larger conversation etc.

    I'm not sure what Truck Sims folks and MOBA enthusiasts have to do with this. I can't say I've ever read any games crit that focused on those two genres, other than feminist criticism of MOBAs' character design.

  4. #4
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    Quote Originally Posted by MelodyMeows View Post
    I'm not sure we're operating under the same definition of games critic?
    The problem is that "X criticism" is a terrible term for what you're talking about. Unfortunately there doesn't seem to be an obvious alternative that isn't either pompous or academic (or usually both), so it seems we just have to live with that.
    Irrelevant on further examination of the rest of the thread.

  5. #5
    Quote Originally Posted by NathanH View Post
    The problem is that "X criticism" is a terrible term for what you're talking about. Unfortunately there doesn't seem to be an obvious alternative that isn't either pompous or academic (or usually both), so it seems we just have to live with that.
    Well, we've always called it film crit and lit crit and art crit (and, from certain perspectives; psychoanalytic crit, Marxist crit, feminist crit, formalist crit, structuralist crit, etc etc) since high school at least, (and, collectively, for centuries) I wonder why it's suddenly a terrible term when applied to games?

  6. #6
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    Quote Originally Posted by MelodyMeows View Post
    Well, we've always called it film crit and lit crit and art crit (and, from certain perspectives; psychoanalytic crit, Marxist crit, feminist crit, formalist crit, structuralist crit, etc etc) since high school at least, (and, collectively, for centuries) I wonder why it's suddenly a terrible term when applied to games?
    It's a terrible term when applied to all other fields where "criticism" could also reasonably mean "analysing whether it's good or not".

    For instance, we have food criticism too, which is definitely about whether the food is good or not rather than what is the food's contribution to the larger conversation.
    Last edited by NathanH; 15-02-2015 at 11:26 AM.
    Irrelevant on further examination of the rest of the thread.

  7. #7
    Secondary Hivemind Nexus Eight Rooks's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by NathanH View Post
    The problem is that "X criticism" is a terrible term for what you're talking about. Unfortunately there doesn't seem to be an obvious alternative that isn't either pompous or academic (or usually both), so it seems we just have to live with that.
    It's only a terrible term if you respond to "criticism" with YOU CAN'T TELL ME WHAT TO THINK. Sadly this is most people's knee-jerk reaction, pretty much - not just over video games, to be fair, but it certainly raises some of the most vocal objections.

    Quote Originally Posted by Heliocentric View Post
    *I'd rather listen to trusted peers in forums with appropriate specialisms, the Truck Sim folks who really knows their stuff, the DoTA nuts, etc.
    I'd rather listen to people who weren't primarily interested in preaching to the choir. Sure, a lot of supposed "critics" fall into this category, but if I want to know why I should play classic Fallout games I'm not going to ask NMA for input.
    Last edited by Eight Rooks; 15-02-2015 at 11:34 AM.
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  8. #8
    One of my favourite critics, Lana Polansky, recorded a podcast with Zolani Stewart, about Videogames' "Cult of the new". If you can put up with the low quality recording, especially of Zolani's voice, it's very much worth it.
    Quote Originally Posted by Lana Polansky
    In this episode, Zolani Stewart and I discuss the hyperaccelerated culture of games writing, the preoccupation with “newness” or immediacy in videogames as a capitalist myth, the importance of historical and cross-comparative study, and how to talk about games like Mountain in that context. “Context” must be an important concept here because I’m pretty sure I say it like 900 times.
    From the podcast (about 11:00)
    Quote Originally Posted by Lana Polansky
    An obsession with 'new' is a fetishistic obsession. It's an obsession with objects simply because they are new iterations. And usually what that means in this context is they're more efficiently doing the same thing. It's shiny and new for a while and then when it loses its patina you move on to the next thing. This is especially a problem with the technophilia or tech-progressivism of games, and where you get concepts like planned obsolescence for things like hardware, and cycles for consoles. [...] [In this context] the new is just a shinier permutation of the familiar, and of course it gets boring, so you move on to the newer and the newer, and it gets emptier and emptier too [while] you end up with a huge backlog of garbage. Why this is so harmful [is that] we're actively burning fuel (physical material, creative energies, exploited labour) to perpetuate a machinery that can't last.
    Reminds me of the (far less radical) video about design trends in AAA games by George Weidman (SuperBunnyHop) in which laments that he feels like he's been playing the same game all year.

  9. #9
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    Well, I guess "analysis" would be a better term than "criticism". I also thought this was about reviewing games, which seemed odd. And it's not just about individual games, but the whole complex, I understand. So, "game complex analysis"? ;D
    Resident graphics snob.

    And remember: Bad practices often become a trend, if not dealt with promptly.

  10. #10
    Secondary Hivemind Nexus Wenz's Avatar
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    it works for me as much as gaming criticism or whatever, it's still better than venturing google on my own;l
    Last edited by Wenz; 15-02-2015 at 12:53 PM.

  11. #11
    Quote Originally Posted by DanMan View Post
    Well, I guess "analysis" would be a better term than "criticism". I also thought this was about reviewing games, which seemed odd. And it's not just about individual games, but the whole complex, I understand. So, "game complex analysis"? ;D
    It can be about individual games, games design, the culture around games and more. It can be more personal, or more formal, and even academic. The S.exe can usually be classified as games criticism, I'd say. But criticism is not, and never was, about reviewing, or about whether a game is "good" or "fun". (Even when it comes to reviews, I'd argue that focusing just on fun is a narrow-minded approach, but that's a topic for another day)
    Last edited by MelodyMeows; 15-02-2015 at 01:00 PM.

  12. #12
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    Youtube is a much better resource for what you're looking for Melody. This is a visual and interactive medium after all.

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FRBisIZvl24 - An excellent analysis of Half-Life 2's/Valve's approach to level design. Its wonderfully revealing of how Valve combine story telling with their level design skills.

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MMggqenxuZc - More Valve analysis. This time focusing on how they add invisible tutorials in their game.

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=65ht...h2-0R44TBkRfWv - a lovely in depth review/critique of Marvellous Miss Take. I really like this guy. His approach is simple and he focuses on the nitty gritty of how everything works in a game and it helps he has a smooth buttery voice. :)

    https://www.youtube.com/playlist?lis...AF467F9391D767 - here's a series of lectures and interviews held by Warren Spector back in 2007 at the University of Austin (where he's currently teaching a game development course). There are some wonderful ones in there and the intro lecture is a good insight into his approach to game design and what games are in general.

    https://www.youtube.com/user/LimitTheory/videos - the devblog for an indie space-trading-combat-exploration game. The dev has a lovely voice, knows his stuff and is very open about his goals and limitations. Episode 14 where he talks about his UI updates is great.
    Last edited by khaz; 15-02-2015 at 01:23 PM.

  13. #13
    Quote Originally Posted by Eight Rooks View Post
    I'd rather listen to people who weren't primarily interested in preaching to the choir. Sure, a lot of supposed "critics" fall into this category, but if I want to know why I should play classic Fallout games I'm not going to ask NMA for input.
    You'd have much going stepwise, ask people with useful experience which are not flagrantly biased. If you lack the judgement to observe that in a forum why would you be able to find it in a games blogger? Maybe NMA is a pointless intellectual wasteland (ironic) but not all forums share such pitfalls.

    Quote Originally Posted by MelodyMeows View Post
    I'm not sure what Truck Sims folks and MOBA enthusiasts have to do with this. I can't say I've ever read any games crit that focused on those two genres, other than feminist criticism of MOBAs' character design.
    Examplecat gets mistaken for the onlycat frequently. Critical thinking need not be in editorial form, have you ever had a critical discussion? What if that was written down, say on a shared platform for discussion, on the Internet maybe.
    Last edited by Heliocentric; 15-02-2015 at 01:35 PM.
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  14. #14
    Quote Originally Posted by khaz View Post
    Youtube is a much better resource for what you're looking for Melody. This is a visual and interactive medium after all.
    Youtube is a very valuable resource indeed. And thank you for those links.
    Whether it is "a much better" resource (as opposed to "just another resource") is debatable, since I find more written content on a weekly basis than I have time to read, and producing video takes time and resources (and skills) that some may not have. And I say this regardless of the fact that one of my favourite critics, Christopher Franklin/Errant Signal, produces video content almost exclusively.

    Anyway, I created this thread for the purpose of sharing and, even more importantly, debating this kind of articles/videos/podcasts/whatever, like it often happens in the comment section of the Sunday Papers. If I wanted to just read it by myself, I'd have just read it by myself, and trust me, I have no shortage of material. I even just bought all the issues of Kill Screen in this lovely bundle on StoryBundle.

    Also, to be completely honest, I have little personal interest in many of the topics of those videos. They're still games criticism, but they feel a little sterile to me, they're very much about the craft and less about ideas. (which is completely fine, if that's what you're interested in) Something like this is much more interesting for me, even if the subject matter is still level design.
    Last edited by MelodyMeows; 15-02-2015 at 01:59 PM.

  15. #15
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    I have conceptual/idea critique links too. I just need to find them. <_<

    As for the link you posted; it's well written, logical and offers reasonable conjecture. Unfortunately I also find it shallow and a case of the author attributing a context where none exists.

    Now, attributing context where none exists is a normal human trait. In this case, the fact that Squeenix turned off the random battles for this sequence is because they knew the frustration of the level design in addition to the random battles would be too much for most players. I think it was a practical decision at the time as it was probably too late to change the level design by then. Speculation on my part but its how I see it.

    Funnily enough, throughout that article all I could think of was two other similar sequences. One is from FF7 itself where Cloud/Barrett/Tifa climb up the stairs at Shinra HQ - https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4MhEm5fYPmo - to try and save Aerith. Its funnier, better written, offers insight into the characters, isn't an exercise in traversal (aside from the fact its 100+ floors) and the z-axis doesn't confuse you.

    The other is MGS3. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vgaYe4ZYYyY - Kojima doing Kojima things.

    Level design is grossly underused in the context of story telling and immersiveness (hence my links). I think many game developers rely too much on traditional story telling mediums instead of utilising an unique aspect of games: its a two way medium.

    I remember playing the Metroid Prime series and the way Retro/Nintendo used the environmental design to develop the universe Samus experienced was exquisite. Its a similar thing with the souls games. Chrono Trigger combined its time travel mechanic with traditional jrpg norms in an elegant manner which had an impact on both story and environment/level design. Or the way Valve built this panic strewn storyline using the safehouses in the two left 4 dead games.

    I'm kinda rambling. :)
    Last edited by khaz; 15-02-2015 at 03:16 PM.

  16. #16
    Secondary Hivemind Nexus karaquazian's Avatar
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    Probably don't have a games criticism thread because we might attract a certain group who bang on about "ethics" as a mask for sexist bullshit.

  17. #17
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    Its entirely possible to talk about games and the critical analysis that exists (depressingly little) about them out there without bringing up or even having gamergate as part of the conversation. This is a good thread with good links that can foster good debate and thought.

    And that you are even considering the idea of not having a thread on games criticism/analysis means you may be giving gamergate the validation it doesn't warrant. Let's actually stick to the focus of the thread for once and see where it takes us?

  18. #18
    Secondary Hivemind Nexus rockman29's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by khaz View Post
    I have conceptual/idea critique links too. I just need to find them. <_<

    As for the link you posted; it's well written, logical and offers reasonable conjecture. Unfortunately I also find it shallow and a case of the author attributing a context where none exists.

    Now, attributing context where none exists is a normal human trait. In this case, the fact that Squeenix turned off the random battles for this sequence is because they knew the frustration of the level design in addition to the random battles would be too much for most players. I think it was a practical decision at the time as it was probably too late to change the level design by then. Speculation on my part but its how I see it.

    Funnily enough, throughout that article all I could think of was two other similar sequences. One is from FF7 itself where Cloud/Barrett/Tifa climb up the stairs at Shinra HQ - https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4MhEm5fYPmo - to try and save Aerith. Its funnier, better written, offers insight into the characters, isn't an exercise in traversal (aside from the fact its 100+ floors) and the z-axis doesn't confuse you.

    The other is MGS3. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vgaYe4ZYYyY - Kojima doing Kojima things.

    Level design is grossly underused in the context of story telling and immersiveness (hence my links). I think many game developers rely too much on traditional story telling mediums instead of utilising an unique aspect of games: its a two way medium.
    Both those scenes in FF VII and MGS3 were awesome :)

    I never thought about that actually, had they put in battle scenes in that stairwell.... that would be awful. I think the reason through the story or whatever was because that was the stealth route. The other route was through the front entrance. In any case it was excellent for the reasons you are saying I agree :)
    Last edited by rockman29; 15-02-2015 at 05:00 PM.

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    I don't understand the issue with terminology people are throwing around. It seems like utter semantics.

    Book reviews or critics or analysis or critical analysis, its all just the same damned thing. Its about analyzing things objectively to come to a conclusion and the conclusion is dependent on the style, focus and intent of the author or publishing source.

    Book reviews will focus as much on narrative structure as they will with the topical value of a central theme. I feel like this sense that we need to divide review from criticism, or put analysis to one side of the other two terms is just a total misunderstanding of the notion of critical analysis of art and cultural media.

    I see it like many gamers get annoyed when people talk about whether something is valid culturally or deep or interesting or whatever and they just want someone to say whether its a good game, because fuck artsy fartsy stuff, this is entertainment, it doesn't need cultural value.

    It seems like an utterly arbitrary distinction. Is it just that the gaming population sees games as purely mechanical distractions designed for unallocated time periods in our daily lives? Why are we struggling with terminology that is basically uncontroversial in any other entertainment media?

  20. #20
    Secondary Hivemind Nexus Wenz's Avatar
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    I find reviews to be generic opinions rather than analysis pieces but yeah, who cares, it's just ass covering for semantics fights.


    maybe it's a little irking to use words like fun or abstract anyone can make stuff from but the thread will eventually get there at some point
    Last edited by Wenz; 16-02-2015 at 01:44 AM.

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