Hang All The Critics: Towards Useful Video Game Writing

Jonathan McCalmont @ 18-01-2012

 

  1. The Problem

It does not take a genius to realise that the world of video game reviewing is completely and utterly fucked. Their reputations sullied by an endless cavalcade of scandal and stupidity, video game reviewers routinely find themselves in the impossible position of having to balance the financial requirements of their publishers with the (frequently unreasonable) expectations of their audience, all the while striving to be completely objective, irreproachably fair, amusingly articulate and uncommonly insightful. Frankly, nobody could satisfy all of these demands at once — and, even if they could, I doubt that anyone would care. The age of the critic has now well and truly passed. Continue reading “Hang All The Critics: Towards Useful Video Game Writing”


Skyrim and the Quest for Meaning

Jonathan McCalmont @ 07-12-2011
  1. Lithium

I’m old enough to remember when video games were comparatively simple things. For example, I remember the side-scrolling video game adaptation of Robocop (1988). Relatively short, Robocop had you shooting and jumping your way from one side of the world to another. Once you got to the end of one world, you moved to another, and then another… and then the worlds started repeating themselves in slightly different colours. These games were simple to understand: you immediately knew what you were expected to do and what constituted victory. Nearly twenty-five years on, video game technology has advanced to the point where games are beginning to acquire the complex ambiguity of the real world — and with this complexity comes difficulty. Continue reading “Skyrim and the Quest for Meaning”


Demon’s Souls and the Meaning and Import of Virtual Death

Jonathan McCalmont @ 09-11-2011

 

  1. Bad is Good and Good is Bad

The problem with video game writing is that it tends to be written by fans of video games. The corruption and stupidity of games journalism are not isolated quirks of the system but symptoms of a flawed approach to the medium. Fans, by their nature, approach their choice of medium wanting to fall in love: Good games are filled with good things; bad games are filled with bad things. Love the good things. Hate the bad things.

While I think that this approach to art can be intensely rewarding, I also think that it has its weaknesses and the most obvious weakness is a failure to recognise that bad things can sometimes be good.  They can be good because these bad and un-fun things make the good bits glow that much brighter, and because even painful and unpleasant experiences have meaning and importance. This is a column about the role of death in video games and how a more sophisticated appreciation of one of the least fun aspects of the gaming experience might unlock the door to a world of new themes and experiences. Continue reading “Demon’s Souls and the Meaning and Import of Virtual Death”


The Shameful Joys of Deus Ex: Human Revolutions

Jonathan McCalmont @ 12-10-2011

 

  1. Context, Dear Boy… Context

Here is a common complaint:

‘One of the problems facing video game writing is a systemic failure to place games in their correct historical context’

What this generally means is that writers fail to open their reviews with a lengthy diatribe on the history of this or that genre. While I think that there is definitely a place for that type of opening and am quite partial to it myself, I think that the real problem of context is far more local and far less high-minded. The true problem of context is that how you experience a particular video game is likely to be determined by the games you played immediately before. For example, if you move from playing one version of Civilization to the next then the thing that is most likely stand out is the developers’ latest fine-tuning of the game’s basic formula. Conversely, if you pick up Civilization V after Europa Universalis III, you will most likely be struck by the weakness of the AI and the lack of control you have over your own economy. Aesthetic reactions, like all reactions, are highly contextual. This much was evident in the reaction to Eidos Montreal’s recent reboot of the Deus Ex franchise entitled Deus Ex: Human Revolution. Continue reading “The Shameful Joys of Deus Ex: Human Revolutions”


QWOP, GIRP and the Construction of Video Game Realism

Jonathan McCalmont @ 14-09-2011

 

1: A Problematic Concept

Whenever mainstream news outlets mention video games I cringe. I cringe because every time traditional news outlets move beyond their traditional territory and reach out to an unfamiliar cultural milieu in an effort to appear plugged in, they invariably wind up making both themselves and that cultural milieu look awful. The awfulness comes from the fact that journalists in unfamiliar territory tend to take authority figures at face value and, in the world of video games, this generally results in precisely the sort of hyperbolic bullshit that makes video game journalism such an oxymoron. Continue reading “QWOP, GIRP and the Construction of Video Game Realism”


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