Experimentation isn’t enough. Being different to other videogames isn’t enough. I know we’re tired. I know there’s a loathsome, invulnerable system of games and game-making, which seems to prohibit new or nuanced expression. I know doing something — anything — different to what games do typically feels like progress. But experimentation alone isn’t enough. And it isn’t the critic’s job to be cheerleader for a game because it comes from a background other than triple A — because it’s “trying something different.”
Criticism is pro-medium. If a critic comes down hard on something new, contrary or experimental it doesn’t automatically signal a person who is adverse to experimentation. On the contrary, by scrutinising one type of experiment, one different game, we hope to encourage ten others. I laid into Sunset. I laid into Her Story. I laid into Desert Golfing. But it had nothing to do with wanting to silence or stymie game-makers’ creativity. As much as anybody, I want games to succeed. I want them to be bold, human, and as unburdened as is practical by commercial sensibility. The core hypocrisy in my work as a critic is that my dream videogame would take no heed of anything I’ve written. As much as is possible, it would be a raw outpouring of expression, created with nobody and nothing in mind save the purity of the work. I want games like this to exist. But I don’t think tacit approval or blanket endorsement of everything which comes from certain backgrounds of development and has certain creative sensibilities is the way to make them happen.
To put it bluntly, it isn’t my job to like anybody’s game. I’m as exhausted as you by the mainstream sausage factory. But to stamp Okay on any and every game that tries to be different is to be as bad as the big boys. Of sexism, idiocy and myopic worldviews, mainstream games are blithely permissive. It’s an industry where play hours, DLC and screen resolution are constantly interrogated, but the important questions — is this smart? Is this interesting? Is this sexist? — are rarely asked. As much as I crave new types of games from different creative voices, I never want to fall into that pattern, of letting games go without a proper debrief. Once again, criticism is pro-medium. Once again, experimentation, as much as our Beloved Interactive Medium is starved for it, is not enough on its own, nor is it synonymous with quality or with art. There are games and movements within gaming worth discussing and being excited about above others, but to champion experimentation uniformly is to relinquish criticism and take up PR. It is neither the critic’s job nor her moral imperative.
And so for the second time in as many articles on this site I find myself quoting the novelist Richard Price: “As for how you come off, you dig your own grave or build your own monument by being who you are, so good luck and thanks for your time.”