Game designer and academic, Greg Costikyan, recently renewed the debate on the importance of game criticism and the lack thereof in a recent post at Play This Thing.
I'd be lying if I didn't admit that every time there's a call for serious-minded game criticism (not game reviews), it pisses me off quite a bit. After all, I do run a site called GameCritics.com and, in the last seven years, I've written well over 200 reviews attempting to explore the fundamental questions that folks like Costikyan claim should make up the core of game criticism. That doesn't even include the extensive work of my site colleagues whose strive for similar aspirations.
So despite our large body of work, worldwide visibility on the Web, and the obvious name of our site, why have our efforts and the work of The Escapist, Edge, and many others not considered the Lester Bangs of videogames? In a word: demand. Critical analysis of our general media isn't something that people are really concerned about so you can imagine that the situation for videogames is even bleaker.
Back when media wasn't instantly accessible by mouse-click and art challenged and inspired audiences to ask questions, critics were topical experts that taught us what to pay attention to and how to better understand and appreciate the finer points of art. Information, interpretation, and opinion were a critics' commodity that audiences sought and valued.
Today that dynamic is no longer necessary. "The critic is going the way of the dinosaur and the dodo bird" as N'gai Croal succincintly put it. The role of the critic has been supplanted by the Information Age. Limitless content that can be downloaded, streamed, and/or beamed either on-demand or Tivo'ed via cable television, Internet, or cell phone has made us less particular about the media we consume. It isn't a question of what we consume, but how much. With so much information, questions aren't as fascinatingly curious as they once were since they can be instantly gratified by Google or Wikipedia.
Blogs and message boards delivered the final blow to critics by empowering readers saturated with boundless infomation at their finger tips to also voice their own ideas and opinions. They leveled the playing field between critic and reader. Everyone became a critic and the critic became just another voice in the crowd.
The sad truth is that the majority of audiences don't want a deeper understanding of the art in their videogames. They simply want someone to sift through the crap and tell them what's worth their time and money. That's why people get paid to write game reviews that tell people what to buy and not write game criticism that help people to better understand the games they play.