Wednesday, February 03, 2010

Driving Blind

Speaking of the work of academics, Brenda Brathwaite has a wonderfully scathing piece about game criticism in "Deep Critique Without Play" that applies equally to the scattershot amateur expert chiming in as part of the vox populi in online popularity contests and the supposedly serious academic too engrossed in deep concerns to actually play a game.

I’d like to offer you my opinion on a game I’ve never played. My opinions are based purely on the collective conscience and on my interpretation of the game’s play by viewing screenshots and photographs of it in development and in play. I heard its designer talk about it, and I suppose that should be enough. If not him (or her, in my case), certainly the many other people I’ve heard talk about it should suffice. I don’t know whether they played the game either.

Now, there are already a number of you wondering why I’d ever do such a thing. Perhaps you’re wondering why
anyone would ever do such a thing. Yet, it happens all the time.

In her opening, Brathwaite uses a clever rhetorical strategy by adopting the voice of her object of criticism. She also recreates a number of conversations in which popular opinion is revealed to be utterly uninformed.

Me: Yeah, I am studying a bunch of games for my thesis, including Daikatana.

Critic: Oh my goodness. That game sucked.

Me: What did you think when you played it?

Critic: Oh, I didn’t play it.

Brathwaite then restages this conversation as being about something someone loved rather than something hated and being about a movie rather than about a videogame to reveal how conventions of received opinion operate.

So, this whole process of deep critique without play is fascinating to me. By deep, I don’t necessarily mean that the critic discussed it at length, though that could also be true. I also mean that the critic pushed the blade with conviction into a wound he was not personally sure was there. It is telling that we don’t often profess our opinions similarly for things we loved.

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