Make Better Criticism A call for a mature form of critical analysis Matteo Bittanti
Make “Better” Games? • What does “better” mean? • What is “criticism”? “The practice of analyzing, classifying, interpreting, evaluating literary of other artistic works; a critical article or essay.”
The game syllogism • To make better games we need to define what better means • To define what better means we need criticism • To make better games we need [better] criticism
HOW WE GOT HEREor THE SO-CALLED GAME CRITICISM • Magalogs • Official/”Unofficial” catalogs • Promotion as information (and vice versa) Why?
BECAUSE… “Game publications and web sites still mostly employ low-paid hobbyists who are easy targets of lavish marketing events that encourage inappropriate ties between game makers and game critics.” (Justin Hall, “Ethics in Videogame Criticism”, 04.10.03)
THE RESULT • Games regarded as mere commercial products (“toys for boys”) • Mags as consumer guides • Mags talk about games in terms of their technical aspects, using unintelligible, esoteric and self referential argot • Obsession for quantitative evaluation
TECHNOLOGICAL DETERMINISMUBER ALLES BIGGER + FASTER HARDWARE = BETTER SOFTWARE
SEX, DRUGS AND VIDEOGAMES Chuck Klosterman plays The Sims
VIDEOGAMES, CIRCA 2004 AMERICA’S ARMY
VIDEOGAMES, CIRCA 2004 TOM CLANCY’S RAINBOX SIX: ATHENA SWORD
VIDEOGAMES, CIRCA 2004 STATE OF EMERGENCY
VIDEOGAMES, CIRCA 2004 GRAND THEFT AUTO: VICE CITY
VIDEOGAMES, CIRCA 2004 FUGITIVE HUNTER
VIDEOGAMES, CIRCA 2004 MANHUNT
VIDEOGAMES, CIRCA 2004 KUMAWAR
VIDEOGAMES, CIRCA 2004 POSTAL 2
VIDEOGAMES, CIRCA 2004 REPUBLIC: THE REVOLUTION
VIDEOGAMES, CIRCA 2004 THE SIMS 2
GAME STUDIES • Field is young • Umbrella term(references to RE purely coincidental) • Theodore Sturgeon’s Axiom (90:10) • VG as “texts”, “discourses”, “practices” • No common vocabularyeven within the game studies community
THE RISKS • Niche, anomaly • Me vs. You “These guys using semiotics to study games worry me” (Chris Crawford, 2003) “These Ivory Tower guys need a big tall glass of shut the fuck up” (DoD04 paraphrase)
THE RISKS • Balkanization of game criticism - Baudrillard vs. Counter-Strike
GAME STUDIES • Dissecting a corpse? • Game criticism should not be an autopsy!
WHAT DO WE TALK ABOUT WHEN WE TALK ABOUT GAMES? • We all agree here,right? • Videogames are a bit like pornography (no, I’m not going to use the joystick metaphor here)
1. VIDEOGAME AS TEXT • “Readable” • “Complete” • Made of different elements that have no meaning per se but acquire a shape when assembled • Game as a box
BREAKING THE BOX Small Soldiers, Joe Dante, 1998
2. VIDEOGAME AS DISCOURSE • “Extended communication (often interactive) dealing with a particular topic” • “System of representation consisting of a set of representational codes for constructing particular forms of reality”
2. VIDEOGAME AS DISCOURSE • “Dominant tropes within the discourse of a particular historical period determine what can be known” (Michel Foucault) • Dominant vs. marginalized tropes in games
GAME TRIBES STRUCTURALISTS • The subject (= the player) is the product of available discourses (= games). • Games make the player. • Hard core ludologists are mostly (only?) interested in the formal structure of games.
GAME TRIBES CONSTRUCTIVISTS • Allow for the possibility of negotiation and resistance. • The players and the games create meanings. • Cultural studies, fandom studies etc.
GAME TRIBES POSTSTRUCTURALISTS • Deny any meaning (or more provocatively any reality) outside the discourses. • There is no reality outside the Matrix (video games).
3. VIDEOGAMES AS PRACTICE • “Meaning-making behaviors in which people engage following particular conventions or rules of construction and consumption” • Socio-cultural contexts have crucial importance
3. VIDEOGAMES AS PRACTICE • What happens in front of the screen matters more than what happens onto the screen • Videogames are rites: they oscillate between the sacred and the profane
MAKING SENSE OF VIDEOGAMES • What makes a game “good” or “bad” is not… Technology “Gameplay” • …But the value that players give to games Gaming is a meaning-making activity
HOW TO “READ” A GAME 1. FASHION MODEL 2. POLITIQUE 3. BASKET 4. ME, MYSELF, AND EYE
1. FASHION MODEL • Specific games are informed by generic cultural models • Deductive • Texts - and even the media - are not important per se… • …What matters are the cultural models
2. POLITIQUE • The single text matters • …There is an “Author” • …He is trying to communicate something to me • …Hey, I should pay close attention to each element in the game! (homologies)
2. POLITIQUE • Cinema studies: Filmology (1946); Politique des Auteurs (1954); Author Policy (late 50s-’60s) Film director as an author in terms of - personality - production worker - number of key contributors
HALL OF FAME Academy of Interactive Arts and Sciences (Interactive.org) On the right, Jean-Luc Godard
3. BASKET • = A container • = The amount that basket can hold • = A score in basketball • Like it or not, we all carry a basket full of cultural, aesthetical, political, ideological and ludic knowledge (plus biases, assumptions etc. etc.)