This month Blasphemous Geometries turns a conceptual corner, as Jonathan McCalmont decides to refocus the critical crosshairs on video games.
Back in the 1930s, a number of physicists (including Einstein) argued that our universe is oscillatory. What this meant was that after the Big Bang, the universe expands until it reaches a certain level of density and gravitational pull, at which point it begins to contract until it ends with a Big Crunch. This idea still has some devotees. However, what made the Oscillatory Theorists interesting was the belief that after the universe had contracted back to its original singularity, it would then bounce back again; expanding until its physical limits were met and another Big Crunch was initiated. This meant that, according to the Oscillatory Theorists, the universe was stuck in a cycle of eternal destruction and rebirth. This has always struck me as a rather useful analogy for certain internet debates. “Is Science Fiction Dying?” is one such debate but another is “Where is the Lester Bangs of Video Games?”.
These debates typically draw their fuel either from some new insight or some popular writer deciding to address the question. They produce heat and light and expand aggressively, prompting responses, discussions and maybe even new publications before eventually entropy grabs a hold of them. “Oh great, this debate again” someone will moan with all of the hyperbolic sarcasm of the truly witless. “Don’t you read such-and-such?” another will ask and before long, the energy is sucked back into a singularity of ideas; lying dormant and ready to expand again should the right person stumble across the question and turn their mind to it.
Before you start rolling your eyes, let me reassure you that I have no desire to actually address the issue of the Lester Bangs-shaped hole in the world of video game writing. This is largely because I suspect that there is no such hole. The Guardian‘s Charlie Brooker began his career as a games journalist and the internet is filled with intelligent blogs and websites trying to create for video games the same middle ground between reviewing and academic theory as the one trail-blazed by Serge Daney for film, Lester Bangs for rock music and John Clute for genre. The real question is not where the writers are but rather why they have not achieved mainstream success and in response to this all I can do is point out that Les Cahiers du Cinema has always lost money and that Lester Bangs no more edited Rolling Stone magazine than John Clute runs the Sci Fi Channel. This type of writing – and thinking – has always been niche, and if you think that it does not exist then that is probably more of a reflection upon you than it is upon the writers or the market. The internet is a rich conceptual ecosystem and whether the subject matter is pornography, cats or intelligent writing, the chances are that if that niche is not already being explored then it soon will be.
Which brings us neatly to the real purpose behind this column.
For over a year now, Blasphemous Geometries has been vying for your attention with nuggets of thought about science fiction and genre. Sometimes it has allowed me to rant about super-hero films, other times it has allowed me to talk about the dwindling of the SF blogosphere and the perils of trying to define a genre. Obviously, some of these columns are more successful than others but it has always been enjoyable to finish writing them (anyone who enjoys the process of writing clearly needs their head examining). However, the time has come to shake things up and so, from next month onwards, Blasphemous Geometries will become a column devoted to video game criticism.
Each month, Blasphemous Geometries will take a look at a different game. There will be no evaluation or recommendation, only interpretation. These interpretations will not rely upon hype or designer protestations, but upon an examination of the games on their own terms. Great criticism is not about making purchasing decisions, it is about inviting you to look again at a work you might well already have experienced. I can think of no better aim for this column and of no medium more deserving of this kind of attention.
Jonathan McCalmont is a recovering academic with a background in philosophy and political science. He lives in London, UK where he teaches and writes about books and films for a number of different venues. Like Howard Beale in Network, he is as mad as hell and he’s not going to take this any more.
Jonathan recently launched Fruitless Recursion – “an online journal devoted to discussing works of criticism and non-fiction relating to the SF, Fantasy and Horror genres.” If you liked the column above, you’ll love it.
[ The fractal in the Blasphemous Geometries header image is a public domain image lifted from Zyzstar. ]