On Criticism

I’ve been reading a lot of criticism lately, both literary and consumer, and there’s a lot to be desired.  This was prompted by the release of a certain AAA title, and my having a viewpoint widely orthogonal to the populace at large.  There’s a self-imposed embargo to prevent my leaking any “Thpoilerths” onto the Internet, and any safe public spaces are full of frothy zealotry where any measured and well-reasoned questioning is met with a flurry of downvote flavored censorship.

Thpoilerths” aside, outside my island sanctuary, it’s been an isolating experience – with the two negative reviews I’ve seen either being right, but not going far enough, or having chunks of insight surrounded by bile. I understand why negative criticism is so readily discounted when it’s half-hearted or overtly bitter. Too much of the criticism I’ve read seems to stem from people wanting to be pithy, to be one of the cool kids, or just lavish meaningless adjectives.  So while it’s been enriching learning about imperialist and feminist literary criticism as well as the meaning of the word “menarche,”  it’s a whole lot of people straining their thoughts through other people’s words, and winding up with not much of anything.

That and other events raised the question for me: what exactly is the role of criticism?  Is it curatorial? Is it analytical? Is it consumer focused, giving insight as to where people should spend their money and time?  Is it entertainment?

I think the internet drives people to consume for consumption’s sake.  Rather than a private, thought-provoking experience, everything becomes more grist for the mill.  My doing a “Let’s Play” of the 100+ hour RPG I just finished wouldn’t have been a great time, ( just checked… it’s been done – 62 parts). Another fantastic game I recently finished took a good deal of effort to stretch out to 4 hours – which while better for a weekly review structure, is limiting in both thematic scope and financial feasibility.  I guess it’s a question of whether I’m doing something I enjoy, why I want to discuss it with others, and how my relationship with those others is defined.

Since I started writing this post, is that there’s a little bit of a quiet minority, who I can only hope were held up by PAX and GDC being back to back this year are acknowledging that “yes ma’am, that is indeed an ugly baby”, the mass fugue state is ending, and in fact the emperor is not wearing any clothes.  Though a lot of the early advocates are even more entrenched and defensive now.  If you’ve played the game in question, you should already know what I’m talking about. If you don’t care about my coloring your view of the game: Rot13(Ovbfubpx Vasvavgr)

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7 comments on “On Criticism
  1. angryscholar says:

    I can only assume it’s the art-deco Ayn Randian epic that everyone’s nuts over. Haven’t played it, though, so I couldn’t say.

    I agree, criticism is a mixed bag. Particularly the academic kind. It’s definitely more fun to write than it is to read

  2. vigorousbog says:

    Neoclassical Quantum Exceptionalism, but yeah… leaving that for now.

    Good criticism shows me some new truth or perspective and has even reversed my opinion in a couple of cases. Bad criticism is either conspicuously uncritical or doesn’t explore the experience more fully. It has the additional effects of diluting the visibility of the former or just shouting down any dissent. I’m not sure if the internet has come up with a crazy-filter that respects alternate viewpoints.

    It’s uncomfortable that a loose collaboration of people can have such a strange effect on reality.

    • angryscholar says:

      Agreed. And sorry, WP’s little comment notify dealy doesn’t seem to be working lately.

      There’s a strange power underlying even the most innocuous-seeming criticism. Take the generally warm reaction to “Darksiders,” for instance. I maintain that that is some trite crap, but I’m basically alone in that opinion.

  3. vigorousbog says:

    I’m not 100% sure what was so offensive about Darksiders – it was extremely derivative – Portal gun being the most egregious, but not only, offense. The Black Tower was extremely frustrating and a complete change in tone. On the other hand, it had a unique art aesthetic (Joe Mad) and above average gameplay. Considering the majority of people got it for under $5 as THQ circled the drain? Nobody thought it was fantastic, but for the money people had a pretty good time. I’ll probably check out Darksiders II when the price goes down and I’ll following the next games produced by Vigil, now Texas based Crytek USA and the Darksiders IP now absorbed into the Nordic Games portfolio.

    Nordic Games was involved in Remedy Games (A Finnish company) releasing another one of my “what is going on here?” games in the US – Alan Wake. Between terrible writing, uninteresting combat, and a magic flashlight, it’s a bad time. It failed to make me care, so nothing it did was scary or even weird. Right now I’m trying to decide if it is better or worse than Silent Hill: Homecoming.

    • angryscholar says:

      See, I agree that Alan Wake’s writing was terrible–but I enjoyed the gameplay. I thought it was tense, and the lighting effects were impressive. Darksiders wasn’t offensive, it just wasn’t -fun-. It had nothing to commend it. Instead of offering innovation OR refined versions of familiar gameplay elements, it just shamelessly copied signature items from other franchises without improving on them in any way. So Portal did the portal gun better, and Shadow of the Colossus did the sandworm fight better, and Zelda and God of War and even Devil May Cry did everything else better. It was a boring, lazy imitation. Imitation per se isn’t the problem–it’s the general -crappiness- of the imitation.

      But then again, this is the thing about criticism. At the end of the day, it’s all entirely subjective, and people will not be convinced.

      • vigorousbog says:

        It’s a question of framing. If you go to see Trans4mers, and compare it to Roshomon – it’s not going to compare. Or if you try to find its place among the comprehensive body of films, it’ll rank surprisingly high, solely due to budget and scope. But if you evaluate Trans4mers in its own context, as a bad summer action movie, it may in fact actually be pretty good.

        The original post was about the use of art as a shared experience or anchor point that allows individuals to interact more quickly and on a deeper level. And that feeling of loneliness when you can see no way of joining the conversation, and a strange sense of loss with one’s decreasing desire to participate.

        The insight inherent to criticism comes from its subjectivity and comparing multiple viewpoints. While I care what other people think, it’s not for the sake of revising my own viewpoint or overwriting theirs. It gives an alternate perception of the same experience, that I can juxtapose with my own, which in turn enriches my empathy and understanding in future situations.

      • angryscholar says:

        Unless it doesn’t.

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