There are still people in America who do not take video games seriously. These are the same people who question the relevance of hip-hop and assume newspapers will still exist in twenty-five years. It's hard to find an irrefutably accurate statistic for the economic value of the video-game industry, but the best estimates seem to be around $28 billion. As such, I'm not going to waste any space trying to convince people that gaming is important. If you're reading this column, I'm jut going to assume that you believe video games in 2006 are the cultural equivalent of rock music in 1967, because that's (more or less) reality."
Klosterman goes on to write that although many writers review games...there are few if any real "video game critics." He fails to locate a "Pauline Kael" of video game writing for instance, and examines the reasons why in his fascinating piece.
The Esquire article got me thinking about this notion. I recently completed a book about Rock'nRoll Movies, and so the author's metaphor about rock music in 1967 seems really powerful to me. Are critics missing the boat on what is potentially the most influential art form of the next thirty years? Have we - as a culture; and as critics - failed to come up with a common lexicon for legitimate criticism of video games?
Klosterman sees the gap in video game "criticism" as arising directly from the fact that games are seen as "product" and little more. They are not seen in terms of narrative, but rather in terms of playability. This would be a little like going to the movies and reviewing the quality of the auditorium seating, no? Actually, movies are increasingly seen this way too; but that's a debate for another day...
If Mr. Klosterman is right and - outside of product - there exists no common set of aesthetic criteria for "video game criticism", why don't we - here on the blog - establish them? Henceforth. I would like to put out a call to all those who are interested in this idea to submit scholarly pieces to me at my e-mail address, and I'll post them here on the blog in their entirety with your byline. Seems to me, we need to establish this missing information as soon as possible, and begin a new critical movement in the study of video games.
Why do I think this is important? Well, in honesty, video games actually have "one up" on movies and TV. Movies and television are always being criticized as "passive" pastimes. Personally, I find movie and TV viewing stimulating. Heck, I've made a career out of watching TV and film and analyzing them. But video games are different...you can't argue that they are passive. Instead, they are immersive. What does that mean to us, as percipients and as participants?
What should the criteria be for "video game criticism?" If we're talking about horror games, I submit the same criteria I judge for horror movies: a benchmark of "is it scary?"; and consequently how does it make itself scary? I played the GameCube version of Resident Evil 4 last year and I'll tell you something...it was as frightening, jolting and suspenseful as anything I'd seen in theaters in the last year or so. The game exploits a cinematic sense of "tight framing" and "peripheral vision" to create scares and jolts. Yet as much as it pains me, I honestly feel we might have to leave behind the descriptors and language of cinema studies to create a whole new vocabulary for games.
Maybe someone has already done this? Let me know!
And again, if you're so inclined, e-mail me well-thought out, scholarly pieces (no more than maybe 1200 words in length) that I can use here on the blog. Together, let's establish the aesthetic criteria for video game criticism. Let's haggle over it; fight, debate, and then emerge with a new school of criticism.