Spector Wants Ebert I Want New Voices

What we need, as I said in an earlier column, is our own Andrew Sarris, Leonard Maltin, Pauline Kael, Judith Crist, Manny Farber, David Thomson, or Roger Ebert. We need people in mainstream media who are willing to fight with each other (not literally, of course) about how games work, how they reflect and affect culture, how we judge them as art as well as entertainment. We need people who want to explain games, individually and generically, as much as they want to judge them. We need what might be called mainstream critical theorists.

Warren Spector: Where's Gaming's Roger Ebert?

Warren Spector dreams of an age when places like the New York Times (beyond the Totillo stuff) covers video games the same way they do film. While I think hoping that video games in particular find their Ebert to be a bit misguided, I really wouldn't mind more coverage of Games in the LA times.

Video Games can't have another Ebert because no one else is getting another Ebert. Which is a shame. I LOVED Roger Eberts writing and TV work. If it weren't for him I wouldn't be going into Film/media studies at this very moment. But what he represents, a highly accepted critic embedded in the mainstream, isn't likely to happen again or at least not on a large scale. He was also a LOT more than just the thumbs up or down guy on TV. He was a great writer who spent years writing for Chicago Sun-Times and published many books. Than once his voice left him made the jump to the digital space better than anyone his age ever did. Guys like that don't come along very often.

Video Games don't really make for good TV. No, it isn't that G4 failed. The regmimented way broad and cable cast television is presented has strict deadlines. Unless you have perfect demos that encapsulate a game in 30 seconds of montage, it would be hard to encapsulate a game in a 5-10 minute conversation. Also the amount of time necessary for both hosts to just play all the games they were going to talk about would be emence. These things create lag in production and an inability to change midstream to talk about recent developements. Things Adam Sessler, now at Rev3Games, has complained about his time at G4. Even than with his weekly shows like Spoiled Games (on the Internet) it's hard to do.

Maybe if things started small there would be enough lead time to work out the kinks. Ebert started out on a public broadcast station where the show grew and eventually became syndicated nationwide. With his co-hosts Gene Sskel and Richard Roeper he had frank thoughtful discussions on the latest (and some older) films. These weren't high falutin discussions they were ones everyone could understand.

I would love for Gaming to have it's Roger Ebert. I'm just not going to wait holding his bag. Where Warren gets it 100% right is the want for video game writing like he sees in the New York and I see in the LA Times about Film,TV, and Art. Print is dead but those are still institutions that will stick around, giving their content prestige and validation.

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Posted by ThunderSlash

Gaming already had its Roger Ebert.

He didn't like video games very much.

Edited by Video_Game_King

Gaming already had its Roger Ebert.

He didn't like video games very much.

Who are we talking about, exactly?

Also, maybe publicity is an issue. The Gaming Ebert might already be out there, but not yet well known.

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Posted by EvilNiGHTS

I'm worried that by namedropping Roger Ebert we're opening ourselves up to the phrase "the Citizen Kane of game reviewers".

Posted by ThunderSlash
Edited by Slag

I feel like Warren Spector just dissed Jeff and Giant Bomb in general. Seems to me like Giant Bomb Quick looks do a pretty dang good job of this. Maybe they admittedly don't dabble in design theory much, but any "regular person" would easily understand what a game is about by watching one. And the guys generally have pretty clear reasons for why they like or dislike something. Patrick's commentary in particular sounds like the type of thing he is looking for.

I'm sure it's unintentional diss. It's probably a baby boomer thing. He just wants validation of his work from the old guard of media that his contemporary peers still use that may barely even exist in ten- twenty years.

Winning over the NY Times, LA Times , NBC Nightly News etc is fighting grandpa's war, not today's war.

Posted by DrDarkStryfe

The industry can be better, the industry needs to be better, but the industry has to want to be better.

Gaming needs to find that mainstream appeal that the other entertainment mediums enjoy, which it does not have. Movies, music, and literature are talked about through several different mediums, were as gaming has always been confined to the enthusiast media. Image and lack of transparency has a lot to do with this.

You will not attract a massive outpouring of people who will argue for the sake of improving a medium on a large stage until you solve the image problem the industry still has.

Posted by Hailinel

@slag said:

I feel like Warren Spector just dissed Jeff and Giant Bomb in general. Seems to me like Giant Bomb Quick looks do a pretty dang good job of this. Maybe they admittedly don't dabble in design theory much, but any "regular person" would easily understand what a game is about by watching one. And the guys generally have pretty clear reasons for why they like or dislike something. Patrick's commentary in particular sounds like the type of thing he is looking for.

I'm sure it's unintentional diss. It's probably a baby boomer thing. He just wants validation of his work from the old guard of media that his contemporary peers still use that may barely even exist in ten- twenty years.

Winning over the NY Times, LA Times , NBC Nightly News etc is fighting grandpa's war, not today's war.

No, not really.

Ebert, for as negative as he was toward games, was a widely recognized, insightful voice in film criticism with decades of experience writing about and studying film and film history, backed up by a field of likewise experienced, respected critics and academics. I actually majored in Cinema Studies when I was in college (a sub-major of Comparative Literature), in which we learned about film history, theory, and how to critique and analyze. (You might ask how I've fared in life with such a major under my belt, but the analytical skills I honed studying it have actually served me well in my occupation.)

But there isn't anything comparable in the field of video game criticism. As knowledgeable about game history as he is, Jeff has his faults when it comes to study and analysis. Didn't he straight up admit while writing up a preview on one of the more recent Halo games that he had trouble writing the article due to his habit of not taking notes at press events? For all of his experience as a critic, he is not an academic person. He's gotten a lot better since the early Gamespot days when review text was comically brief, and his knowledge of games is encyclopedic, but he lacks that academic, intellectual edge that separates the Roger Eberts from random schmucks with Youtube accounts and cleverly titled blogs. Game criticism's Roger Ebert won't come from a site like Giant Bomb; (s)he'll emerge from an environment more akin to Gamasutra or some other publication where academic knowledge is just as key as a love of video games.

(This is not meant to be a diss on Jeff, despite what you may read into it. As I said, Jeff is great at what he does for the most part, and he's come a long way, but I would stop short of calling him game journalism's Roger Ebert.)

Edited by Video_Game_King

@hailinel said:

He's gotten a lot better since the early Gamespot days when review text was comically brief, and his knowledge of games is encyclopedic, but he lacks that academic, intellectual edge that separates the Roger Eberts from random schmucks with Youtube accounts and cleverly titled blogs.

You saying something?

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Edited by Pr1mus

Games could definitely use a lot more coverage outside the established gaming sites such as this one. Especially when it comes to reviews. Step outside of the big circle jerk that is "gaming journalism" and there's a whole other side to discover and critiques you'd never hear on the average GB, Gamespot, Joystiq etc.

As for having that one revered reviewer like Ebert was to movies... well games and game reviews simply aren't old enough for that yet. Ebert didn't become the reviewer he was or at least wasn't recognized as such in the first couple years. Even guys like Jeff and Adam Sessler who have been at it for close to 20 years now are at best half-way to where Ebert was. This stuff takes time and i don't think any of the most recognizable names in game reviews like Jeff and Adam who have been at it for the longest time will ever become that voice. It will have to be someone else.

Posted by Slag

@hailinel said:

@slag said:

I feel like Warren Spector just dissed Jeff and Giant Bomb in general. Seems to me like Giant Bomb Quick looks do a pretty dang good job of this. Maybe they admittedly don't dabble in design theory much, but any "regular person" would easily understand what a game is about by watching one. And the guys generally have pretty clear reasons for why they like or dislike something. Patrick's commentary in particular sounds like the type of thing he is looking for.

I'm sure it's unintentional diss. It's probably a baby boomer thing. He just wants validation of his work from the old guard of media that his contemporary peers still use that may barely even exist in ten- twenty years.

Winning over the NY Times, LA Times , NBC Nightly News etc is fighting grandpa's war, not today's war.

No, not really.

Ebert, for as negative as he was toward games, was a widely recognized, insightful voice in film criticism with decades of experience writing about and studying film and film history, backed up by a field of likewise experienced, respected critics and academics. I actually majored in Cinema Studies when I was in college (a sub-major of Comparative Literature), in which we learned about film history, theory, and how to critique and analyze. (You might ask how I've fared in life with such a major under my belt, but the analytical skills I honed studying it have actually served me well in my occupation.)

But there isn't anything comparable in the field of video game criticism. As knowledgeable about game history as he is, Jeff has his faults when it comes to study and analysis. Didn't he straight up admit while writing up a preview on one of the more recent Halo games that he had trouble writing the article due to his habit of not taking notes at press events? For all of his experience as a critic, he is not an academic person. He's gotten a lot better since the early Gamespot days when review text was comically brief, and his knowledge of games is encyclopedic, but he lacks that academic, intellectual edge that separates the Roger Eberts from random schmucks with Youtube accounts and cleverly titled blogs. Game criticism's Roger Ebert won't come from a site like Giant Bomb; (s)he'll emerge from an environment more akin to Gamasutra or some other publication where academic knowledge is just as key as a love of video games.

(This is not meant to be a diss on Jeff, despite what you may read into it. As I said, Jeff is great at what he does for the most part, and he's come a long way, but I would stop short of calling him game journalism's Roger Ebert.)

Sure, I see your point about Jeff's style and and I don't read your opinion as a diss unlike Spector's which in my opinion is very devaluing of who is out there not just Giant Bomb.

I think your opinion is fair mainly because I don't think he has aspired to take his work in that direction. I certainly think he has the raw ability to do that that if he wanted to, but I'd can't imagine he ever would due to personal tastes/hangups and his plethora of other responsibilities. Nor can I ever imagine that Jeff himself would be comfortable with that kind of comparison. Alex once mentioned modeling himself off Ebert I think, but I never felt like that was Jeff's motivation for doing what he does. But of who is out there currently I think he certainly has to be on the short list of most influential critics. He has the stature and the crossover appeal.

I don't care about Ebert's opinion about games as a medium. Right or wrong, that in itself really isn't what I think Spector is after. He's a creator who wants validation as an artist.

But I do think Ebert was a man of his time and always seemed to have a knack for understanding where his audience was as well as staying current. If he were 30 years old today I sincerely doubt he's be trying to get a Chicago Sun-Times gig. And if he did it would only be there to serve a launching pad for his real work. I think he'd be out there where the people are at today, which is social media. Guys who crossover into mainstream like Carl Sagan of Physics do that.

Newspapers, TV, those are yesterday's media. And for better or worse in today's world there is so much choice for information/entertainment that there likely will never be publications that hold that kind of tastemaker authority ever again that the Networks and major dailies once had. The audience is far too fractured for that and the channels too consumer whim dictated.

Ebert also came along well after movie criticism was a 4-5 decade+ old practice, with sophisticated best practices culture and coursework well established for it. To my knowledge "Video Game Studies" is next to non-existent in today's colleges (at least when I was in school this was so) so it seems a bit unfair to hold that lack of academic infrastructure against today's critics.

Edited by Hailinel

@slag said:

Ebert also came along well after movie criticism was a 4-5 decade+ old practice, with sophisticated best practices culture and coursework well established for it. To my knowledge "Video Game Studies" is next to non-existent in today's colleges (at least when I was in school this was so) so it seems a bit unfair to hold that lack of academic infrastructure against today's critics.

I realize that; the lack of academics in video game studies was actually part of my point. But I don't think it entirely unfair to bring it up because of the fact that Ebert came along after four or five decades of film criticism and academia had been amassed. Courses that teach video game criticism might exist somewhere, but they're in the vast minority and are not part of a dedicated curriculum. And video game culture as a whole is still mired in that odd spot where people scoff at those that do attempt for the more academic approach, because they're just games, man! Don't think about it and have fun!

For there to be a Roger Ebert of video game criticism (if such is even a possibility; like the search for the Citizen Kane of video games, it may be a pure fantasy), this figure, whoever that may be, needs to have that academic backing, which means that we might not see such a figure for another couple of decades, at least. All we have now are self-styled Youtube celebrities, random people with blogs, and "professional game critics," many of whom fell into where they were because they happened to be in Northern California when Gamespot, IGN and other review sites were just getting their start in the mid-90s. (In other words, slaving away at video games all day in order to pound out text and stamp a ten-point decimal score at the end.) Game journalism has evolved since then, but the academic side needs to evolve as well and allow the better journalists to rise to the top, above Youtube superstars and acerbic bloggers.

Posted by MrMazz

@slag: Ebert didn't really come along when film criticism wasn't 4-5 decades old practice. Both from a journalistic and academic perspective. Writing about movies in your paper was looked down upon, kinda like games writing atm. Him winning the Pulitzer Prize for Criticism in 75 was a bit of shock back than you didn't win for writing about film.

I don't think I adequatly expressed this in my blog post but the Ebert of Video Games is more of an ideal to strive for than a flesh and blood position imo. Also shout outs to thecitizenkaneofvideogames. a misguided attempt at reformation and validation. Thank goodness people starting to realize Citizen Kane wasn't Citizen Kane when it came out and besides Rules of the Game is better.

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Posted by Hunter5024

I think most modern movie critics suck. Their writing is usually useless from my perspective.

Edited by MrMazz

@hunter5024: and what is your perspective on their function relative to you?

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Posted by JasonR86

People have already started that. This site does that very thing often. He's just looking in the wrong spots for his video game talk.

Edited by Hunter5024

@mrmazz: Their function is to tell me whether or not I will be entertained by a movie. The fact that there is generally such a consensus on something as subjective as film proves that the industry isn't as good as it could be, because there isn't quite the same variety as there is among game critics.

Here's something Greg Kasavin said that really explains why I generally don't find them very useful.

If games were reviewed like movies: "[Ending spoiled in first sentence, followed by comments interesting to subset of other film critics]"

Posted by Hailinel

@mrmazz: Their function is to tell me whether or not I will be entertained by a movie. The fact that there is generally such a consensus on something as subjective as film proves that the industry isn't as good as it could be, because there isn't quite the same variety as there is among game critics.

Here's something Greg Kasavin said to me that really explains why I generally don't find them very useful.

If games were reviewed like movies: "[Ending spoiled in first sentence, followed by comments interesting to subset of other film critics]"

That's actually insultingly dismissive.

Edited by Zekhariah

My expectation would be more that this goes into the opposite direction (for all mediums). A lot of the high profile writer/reviewer types in traditional media, and probably crossing over to famous news readers (Dan Rather, Brian Williams, Peter Jennings), or late night shows (Carson) are not going to have that level of fame going forward. It is a bit much to think that some universal game critic will become some kind of king-maker box quote artist. People do not en mass value the opinion of particular individuals on that broad of a basis, because online media allows them to be more stringently focused on their concerns. Stuff like Neogaf, youtubers, and further development in the social networking space (maybe a slightly more content rich twitter?).

Video games will probably just get more Angry Joes, Jim Sterlings, Cynical british, and RPS type work in this area. A lot of that is a zero for me in interest. But each one is able to carve out its own audience, and in many cases coverage overlap will lead to entertainment factor of reading the subject matter being at the forefront - and not necessarily based on a considered critical opinion. The old stuff sticks around out of habit and inertia with certain audiences, but pining for a video game Ebert seems like it would be beyond pointless.

Edit: The entire quest for validation deal, to me, is just a natural push for wanting to have some respect that you are creating value. Even among those without an interest in your medium. I kind of think over-think how respected a lot of the other sectors of entertainment really are in a broader audience. Like particular fantastic genre music can be on-point from a narrative and message standpoint, but large portions of the population will consider it garbage depending on basic genre.

Edited by Hunter5024

@hailinel said:

@hunter5024 said:

@mrmazz: Their function is to tell me whether or not I will be entertained by a movie. The fact that there is generally such a consensus on something as subjective as film proves that the industry isn't as good as it could be, because there isn't quite the same variety as there is among game critics.

Here's something Greg Kasavin said that really explains why I generally don't find them very useful.

If games were reviewed like movies: "[Ending spoiled in first sentence, followed by comments interesting to subset of other film critics]"

That's actually insultingly dismissive.

Well its sure how I feel when I read movie reviews.

Posted by Slag

@hailinel:

so in essence We need Roger Ebert's professors first because the critic has to have academic credentials which makes her or him have credibility with the mainstream media? If you believe that sort of accreditation is necessary component of a would be Roger Ebert than I can understand why you feel the way you do.

I personally do not feel that way. If anything I find it even more impressive that guys like Jeff are doing what they do without predecessors or formal training. They and other like them are essentially creating the craft itself and in Jeff's case reinventing it occasionally. Yeah it's rough and imperfect but I'm willing to forgive that in light of what came before it. It sure beats the Puff drivel that existed in the 80's and 90's.

But I also didn't go take, let alone major in Cinema Studies, so my standards admittedly for the practice probably aren't nearly as high as yours. :)

I don't think "professional video game critics" though should be discounted just because they happened to be in the right place at the right time, in this case California. Quite a few successful people in all fields have had significant luck like that. You can unfairly ignore legitimately talented people just as easily as you might over credit them for having their jobs if you do.

Posted by Hailinel

@slag said:

@hailinel:

so in essence We need Roger Ebert's professors first because the critic has to have academic credentials which makes her or him have credibility with the mainstream media? If you believe that sort of accreditation is necessary component of a would be Roger Ebert than I can understand why you feel the way you do.

I personally do not feel that way. If anything I find it even more impressive that guys like Jeff are doing what they do without predecessors or formal training. They and other like them are essentially creating the craft itself and in Jeff's case reinventing it occasionally. Yeah it's rough and imperfect but I'm willing to forgive that in light of what came before it. It sure beats the Puff drivel that existed in the 80's and 90's.

But I also didn't go take, let alone major in Cinema Studies, so my standards admittedly for the practice probably aren't nearly as high as yours. :)

I don't think "professional video game critics" though should be discounted just because they happened to be in the right place at the right time, in this case California. Quite a few successful people in all fields have had significant luck like that. You can unfairly ignore legitimately talented people just as easily as you might over credit them for having their jobs if you do.

No, we need that academic background to elevate those with hone analytical skillsets and a better knowledge of the medium from the guys that grew up with an NES in their basement, the latter of which unfortunately accounts for the majority of modern game critics.

Edited by Hailinel

@hailinel said:

@hunter5024 said:

@mrmazz: Their function is to tell me whether or not I will be entertained by a movie. The fact that there is generally such a consensus on something as subjective as film proves that the industry isn't as good as it could be, because there isn't quite the same variety as there is among game critics.

Here's something Greg Kasavin said that really explains why I generally don't find them very useful.

If games were reviewed like movies: "[Ending spoiled in first sentence, followed by comments interesting to subset of other film critics]"

That's actually insultingly dismissive.

Well its sure how I feel when I read movie reviews.

Regardless of what you feel, Kasavin's take on film criticism is absurd. I could just as easily boil down game criticism in a similar manner:

[Hyperbolic praise/overwrought sarcasm, interspersed with instruction manual-like prose describing gameplay that will only be of interest to genre fans. Offers nothing of intellectual value while assigning a score on a ten-point decimal scale.]

Posted by Slag

@hailinel said:

No, we need that academic background to elevate those with hone analytical skillsets and a better knowledge of the medium from the guys that grew up with an NES in their basement, the latter of which unfortunately accounts for the majority of modern game critics.

Fair enough. I don't see it that way but that could be my life experience bias from my admittedly very different background than yours.

Edited by Hunter5024

@hailinel: Have you considered that this academic training is actually the reason that people like me find their reviews frequently impenetrable and useless? From my perspective a critics job is to inform people of somethings quality. Because quality is subjective, that means I have to find someone whose tastes align with mine, and generally, that means someone who has seen and enjoyed many of the same films. If all of the critics were trained in similar programs, asked to watch the same movies, then taught to assess their worth by the same standards, that would lead to a lot of people with very similar opinions. I think that might be why they frequently come across so inside baseball you know? In a way someone without such training might be able to speak to the audience on a more even level.

Edit: And while I get the point you're trying to make by boiling down game criticism, the fact that your example sounded about ten times more useful than the type of review Greg was talking about says a lot. (Also I'd just like to say that Greg was very classy about the comment. He went on to say that he was just having a bit of fun and didn't mean to insult anyone, so I hope you don't take it the wrong way.)

Posted by Slag

@mrmazz said:

@slag: Ebert didn't really come along when film criticism wasn't 4-5 decades old practice. Both from a journalistic and academic perspective. Writing about movies in your paper was looked down upon, kinda like games writing atm. Him winning the Pulitzer Prize for Criticism in 75 was a bit of shock back than you didn't win for writing about film.

I don't think I adequatly expressed this in my blog post but the Ebert of Video Games is more of an ideal to strive for than a flesh and blood position imo. Also shout outs to thecitizenkaneofvideogames. a misguided attempt at reformation and validation. Thank goodness people starting to realize Citizen Kane wasn't Citizen Kane when it came out and besides Rules of the Game is better.

When was it considered to have started? I just assumed, perhaps incorrectly, the practice nebulously began sometime within ten years of the medium's creation and evolved from there. I'm not talking about when it became respected , just when it was established enough to be taught and majored at respectable universities.

Posted by Hailinel

@hailinel: Have you considered that this academic training is actually the reason that people like me find their reviews frequently impenetrable and useless? From my perspective a critics job is to inform people of somethings quality. Because quality is subjective, that means I have to find someone whose tastes align with mine, and generally, that means someone who has seen and enjoyed many of the same films. If all of the critics were trained in similar programs, asked to watch the same movies, then taught to assess their worth by the same standards, that would lead to a lot of people with very similar opinions. I think that might be why they frequently come across so inside baseball you know? In a way someone without such training might be able to speak to the audience on a more even level.

Well, I don't find them impenetrable. Frankly, most reviews I see in print publications and online tend to avoid the truly inside baseball terminology seen in academia. I can't think of a single review I've read where "mise-en-scene" was used in a manner that didn't mock the inside baseballishness of the term.

Quality is subjective, of course, and reviews will always reflect the taste of reviewers. It's natural to gravitate toward one reviewer if he or she tends to share your tastes more often than not. But schooling doesn't turn students into a critical hivemind. When I was in college, when I wasn't asked to write about films we specifically watched in class, I wrote about the films that interested me personally. My standards were certainly raised by my schooling, but we didn't all walk out of class intent on trashing any film that wasn't Citizen Kane. We came out of those classes with a better understanding of film structure, history, theory, and a generally improved sense of quality. But we didn't walk out as drones; we walked out as people more knowledgeable about the subject and more capable of discussing the subject than when we started.

Posted by Hunter5024

@hailinel said:

@hunter5024 said:

@hailinel: Have you considered that this academic training is actually the reason that people like me find their reviews frequently impenetrable and useless? From my perspective a critics job is to inform people of somethings quality. Because quality is subjective, that means I have to find someone whose tastes align with mine, and generally, that means someone who has seen and enjoyed many of the same films. If all of the critics were trained in similar programs, asked to watch the same movies, then taught to assess their worth by the same standards, that would lead to a lot of people with very similar opinions. I think that might be why they frequently come across so inside baseball you know? In a way someone without such training might be able to speak to the audience on a more even level.

Well, I don't find them impenetrable. Frankly, most reviews I see in print publications and online tend to avoid the truly inside baseball terminology seen in academia. I can't think of a single review I've read where "mise-en-scene" was used in a manner that didn't mock the inside baseballishness of the term.

Quality is subjective, of course, and reviews will always reflect the taste of reviewers. It's natural to gravitate toward one reviewer if he or she tends to share your tastes more often than not. But schooling doesn't turn students into a critical hivemind. When I was in college, when I wasn't asked to write about films we specifically watched in class, I wrote about the films that interested me personally. My standards were certainly raised by my schooling, but we didn't all walk out of class intent on trashing any film that wasn't Citizen Kane. We came out of those classes with a better understanding of film structure, history, theory, and a generally improved sense of quality. But we didn't walk out as drones; we walked out as people more knowledgeable about the subject and more capable of discussing the subject than when we started.

But that's the point. You've had that academic training, so of course you wouldn't find them impenetrable. What I'm saying is I think being more knowledgeable about the subject actually separates you from the average movie goer in a way, because they are not equipped to view movies in the same way. For example, when I first saw Citizen Kane I was super uninformed about movies, and I had no idea what sort of impact it made on the history of film. I thought it was incredibly boring, and I didn't enjoy watching it at all, whereas so many critics think its a masterpiece, because they have an appreciation for its context. From my perspective as a viewer, those critics did a bad job when they told me that movie was good, and someone without that training would have known better.

Posted by Hailinel

@hailinel said:

@hunter5024 said:

@hailinel: Have you considered that this academic training is actually the reason that people like me find their reviews frequently impenetrable and useless? From my perspective a critics job is to inform people of somethings quality. Because quality is subjective, that means I have to find someone whose tastes align with mine, and generally, that means someone who has seen and enjoyed many of the same films. If all of the critics were trained in similar programs, asked to watch the same movies, then taught to assess their worth by the same standards, that would lead to a lot of people with very similar opinions. I think that might be why they frequently come across so inside baseball you know? In a way someone without such training might be able to speak to the audience on a more even level.

Well, I don't find them impenetrable. Frankly, most reviews I see in print publications and online tend to avoid the truly inside baseball terminology seen in academia. I can't think of a single review I've read where "mise-en-scene" was used in a manner that didn't mock the inside baseballishness of the term.

Quality is subjective, of course, and reviews will always reflect the taste of reviewers. It's natural to gravitate toward one reviewer if he or she tends to share your tastes more often than not. But schooling doesn't turn students into a critical hivemind. When I was in college, when I wasn't asked to write about films we specifically watched in class, I wrote about the films that interested me personally. My standards were certainly raised by my schooling, but we didn't all walk out of class intent on trashing any film that wasn't Citizen Kane. We came out of those classes with a better understanding of film structure, history, theory, and a generally improved sense of quality. But we didn't walk out as drones; we walked out as people more knowledgeable about the subject and more capable of discussing the subject than when we started.

But that's the point. You've had that academic training, so of course you wouldn't find them impenetrable. What I'm saying is I think being more knowledgeable about the subject actually separates you from the average movie goer in a way, because they are not equipped to view movies in the same way. For example, when I first saw Citizen Kane I was super uninformed about movies, and I had no idea what sort of impact it made on the history of film. I thought it was incredibly boring, and I didn't enjoy watching it at all, whereas so many critics think its a masterpiece, because they have an appreciation for its context. From my perspective as a viewer, those critics did a bad job when they told me that movie was good, and someone without that training would have known better.

OK, so what do you find impenetrable? Also, which critics were you apparently reading regarding Citizen Kane? I could have given you a pretty straight answer on why it's held in as high a regard as it is without confusing you.

Posted by Dallas_Raines

@hailinel: Kasavin's tweet was actually in response to an earlier article about the quality of film criticism versus game criticism. He was simply reversing that article's joke about a film being reviewed like a game. Obviously, he was a bit incensed about folks like Chris Remo shitting on his previous career.

Posted by Hailinel

@hailinel: Kasavin's tweet was actually in response to an earlier article about the quality of film criticism versus game criticism. He was simply reversing that article's joke about a film being reviewed like a game. Obviously, he was a bit incensed about folks like Chris Remo shitting on his previous career.

I haven't read the article, but it sounds like I'd be siding with Remo over Kasavin on that one.

Posted by Slag

@hailinel: @hunter5024:

fwiw their communication style was the quality that made Siskel and Ebert so commercially successful. They were able to convey movie critic analysis in a plainspoken way that the laymen could understand. So the kind of issues you are talking about Hunter are exactly what Ebert addressed.

Same thing Stephen Hawking did for Black Holes, the Big Bang etc.

Posted by ArbitraryWater

@slag said:

To my knowledge "Video Game Studies" is next to non-existent in today's colleges (at least when I was in school this was so) so it seems a bit unfair to hold that lack of academic infrastructure against today's critics.

If @mattbodega's tweets from a while ago were any indication, video game study classes exist and are insane.

I feel like this comment is just a continuation of Warren Spector's "Games today are too violent, the medium needs to mature, critics didn't get Epic Mickey" spiel that he's been on for a while, and I feel like this is him showing his age and wanting validation for what he's done. Should we have games journalists more willing to look at games analytically and critically? Yes. But games are an inherently different medium from movies and I'm not entirely sure if we've figured out how to do that in a way that is both comprehensive and widely respected in the way that Ebert was. I'm not going to be the one to crack that nut, but until then I think I'll be fine with the Giant Bomb approach.

Edited by Hunter5024

@hailinel said:

@hunter5024 said:

@hailinel said:

@hunter5024 said:

@hailinel: Have you considered that this academic training is actually the reason that people like me find their reviews frequently impenetrable and useless? From my perspective a critics job is to inform people of somethings quality. Because quality is subjective, that means I have to find someone whose tastes align with mine, and generally, that means someone who has seen and enjoyed many of the same films. If all of the critics were trained in similar programs, asked to watch the same movies, then taught to assess their worth by the same standards, that would lead to a lot of people with very similar opinions. I think that might be why they frequently come across so inside baseball you know? In a way someone without such training might be able to speak to the audience on a more even level.

Well, I don't find them impenetrable. Frankly, most reviews I see in print publications and online tend to avoid the truly inside baseball terminology seen in academia. I can't think of a single review I've read where "mise-en-scene" was used in a manner that didn't mock the inside baseballishness of the term.

Quality is subjective, of course, and reviews will always reflect the taste of reviewers. It's natural to gravitate toward one reviewer if he or she tends to share your tastes more often than not. But schooling doesn't turn students into a critical hivemind. When I was in college, when I wasn't asked to write about films we specifically watched in class, I wrote about the films that interested me personally. My standards were certainly raised by my schooling, but we didn't all walk out of class intent on trashing any film that wasn't Citizen Kane. We came out of those classes with a better understanding of film structure, history, theory, and a generally improved sense of quality. But we didn't walk out as drones; we walked out as people more knowledgeable about the subject and more capable of discussing the subject than when we started.

But that's the point. You've had that academic training, so of course you wouldn't find them impenetrable. What I'm saying is I think being more knowledgeable about the subject actually separates you from the average movie goer in a way, because they are not equipped to view movies in the same way. For example, when I first saw Citizen Kane I was super uninformed about movies, and I had no idea what sort of impact it made on the history of film. I thought it was incredibly boring, and I didn't enjoy watching it at all, whereas so many critics think its a masterpiece, because they have an appreciation for its context. From my perspective as a viewer, those critics did a bad job when they told me that movie was good, and someone without that training would have known better.

OK, so what do you find impenetrable? Also, which critics were you apparently reading regarding Citizen Kane? I could have given you a pretty straight answer on why it's held in as high a regard as it is without confusing you.

I think you might have missed the point of what I was saying. I watched Citizen Kane by circumstance, and the fact that it's so widely praised by critics even though I didn't enjoy it at all was an example of critic/viewer dissonance. I understand why they enjoy it now, and I think this has a lot to do with its place in history, which is something the average viewer shouldn't be expected to know. (Though this film in particular is so commonly mentioned that in this specific case, mainstream audiences likely do know this, so I probably should have thought of a better example.)

As for what I find impenetrable, I would say that I commonly find references to other movies I've never seen in reviews which drives me crazy. I think it's common for film critics to expect you to be very familiar with a directors previous work when writing their reviews. I'd say most film reviews focus heavily on factors outside of the movie itself. If you're just trying to figure out whether or not a movie is worth going out for, all of these things can be really infuriating.

Posted by Hunter5024

@dallas_raines: Could you link the article please?

@slag: Admittedly, I'm probably not as familiar with Ebert's work specifically as I should be, so I'm not sure how much of what I'm saying applies to him. All I know is I thought his favorite movie kind of sucked.

Posted by Hailinel

@hunter5024: Could you find me an example? Your description isn't coming across as clear as it probably could. I don't know of any review off hand that I can think of that expected the reader to necessarily be familiar with a director's previous work; it's just a handy point of reference for those that have seen other works by the director. Like, if you're writing a review and start off by saying it's directed by Michael Bay, if you've seen Bay's film's before, it can give you a reasonable assumption of what to expect before delving deeper into the review.

Edited by Jokers_Wild

@hailinel: From my perspective a critics job is to inform people of somethings quality.

And from my perspective, Newtonian physics works perfectly.

A critic's job is not to tell you if a work of art is "good." It's to offer you perspective on a work. Unfortunately critics have been transformed into salesmen in the last few decades, because so many people lack the academic perspective which you denigrate.

Edited by Hunter5024

@hailinel: Well it could take a long time to read a bunch of reviews looking for specific examples, so I'll just go find a couple random reviews for Pacific Rim since I want to go see that anyways.

This article spends way more time talking about Guillermo Del Toro than the actual movie, and drops references to just about every movie he's ever made. The only information it actually presents I already knew from the trailer.

This guy uses so many other movies as a point of reference that I find it basically incomprehensible. He also gets bonus annoying points for feeling the need to bring up 9/11 and the Reagan administration.

I read a few others, but they were so brief I didn't really have anything to say about them. Also I've had vast swaths of this movie spoiled for me during this delve, so I hope you're happy.

@jokers_wild: Movie critics were created to tell people whether or not movies were worth seeing, there's really no arguing that. Perhaps its elevated beyond that to the point where people take value in the criticism itself, but expecting something to serve the purpose for which it was created is perfectly rational.

Posted by coakroach
we're missing much criticism or historical analysis that might speed up a process of achieving cultural acceptance of games as something more than a way to pluck dollars from the pockets of teenage and 20-something boys or the purses of 30-something women.

Is... is he actually saying this?

Games havent achieved cultural acceptance? Games are only bought by late teens/early twenties males?

Is this current Warren Spector or Warren Spector that just time travelled from the mid 90's? Because if he's the latter somebody give him a heads up and tell him not to make Epic Mickey.

Edited by ArbitraryWater

@coakroach: Oh man, didn't see that part. I can understand his frustration to a degree, but like David Cage whenever he opens his mouth, Spector really is underselling how far games have advanced since the last time he made something relevant (i.e. Deus Ex, which came out almost 13 years ago). Then again, unlike David Cage, Spector has actually made games that are focused on mechanics and systems instead of attempts to create interactive movies.

Posted by Hailinel

@hailinel: Well it could take a long time to read a bunch of reviews looking for specific examples, so I'll just go find a couple random reviews for Pacific Rim since I want to go see that anyways.

This article spends way more time talking about Guillermo Del Toro than the actual movie, and drops references to just about every movie he's ever made. The only information it actually presents I already knew from the trailer.

This guy uses so many other movies as a point of reference that I find it basically incomprehensible. He also gets bonus annoying points for feeling the need to bring up 9/11 and the Reagan administration.

I read a few others, but they were so brief I didn't really have anything to say about them. Also I've had vast swaths of this movie spoiled for me during this delve, so I hope you're happy.

Uh...no?

The first review you linked to talks about del Toro primarily for the first paragraph. Then it largely (and rightly) talks about the movie in comparison to Japanese giant monster movies. And the second is from a website called Film Freak Central. This sounds like a website geared toward, well, film freaks that have probably been exposed to a lot of the movies named in the review.

So I really don't see your point. The EW review is simplistic and easily digestible. All it really says is that Del Toro made a monster movie with silly dialogue. If that's your thing, go for it. The Film Freak Central review does a far better job of describing exactly how and theorizes why the film came to be, and his ultimate conclusion is that it feels like a mediocre movie made to pander to the overseas box office. Regardless of whether or not you understand the references in his review, that point seems very clear.

The EW review is written for general audiences and does a good job of framing it against del Toro's other work. The second is targeted at a more specific group of people. So I'm really not sure what the problem is here. Both reviews cater to different audiences, and if you weren't so hung up on the first paragraph talking so much about del Toro, I'd say that the EW review seems more your speed.

Edited by MrMazz

O this got way more comments than I expected scanning over them YAY good disscussion. Imma just throw out some links for anyone who wants to do some reading.

GAMES: Yea academic criticisim of video games is in the early stages. Right now there are guys like Jesper Juul, he's written like 3 books their a bit esoteric and not really my thing but an interesting enough take on games critc. Also there is a book called Die Tryin: Video Games, Masculinity, Culture by Derek Burrill, which isn't 100% about games but uses them as a an example to look at a larget digital culture and why we do stuff. Finally there is FirstPersonScholar which does weekly essays not quiet the level of SCMS stuff but it's something. Shoutouts to Critical Distance This Week in Bloging just posting up mad amounts of links to a variety of subjects about games.

Film: The Power of Film by Howard Suber is an excelelnt read. Suber taught my Aunt an UCLA and I've had the pleasure of chatting with him a couple times. Power of Film is basically a dictionary of terms found within film and explains them all in very plain english. Even though other than a couple french terms like mise en scene (aka the world of the frame basically) all the terms are self explanatory. Movie Made America is another solid Film History book. Also just read a bunch of stuff and than think about what they are saying and how that compares to your perspective. EDIT: Forgot to link to TheDissolve a new site from all the recently ex-AVCLub guys. Also hey Screened! remeber that place? Were still around and kickin.

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Posted by Gaff

Games will get a mainstream voice once developers start making mainstream games. Until then...

Posted by Veektarius

If a game review allows me to accurately guide my purchase, it is sufficient and effective. I have no interest in literary value or design theory from a review. These subjects are better addressed in separate articles, like Guns of Navarro.

Posted by MikkaQ

I'm very careful about this stuff because I think critical theory basically ruined movies for me and I don't watch nearly as many as I did before I took university and high school courses on film theory and criticism.

I think there is the same risk for games to be completely overanalyzed to the point of losing track of the broader strokes and achievements of the game and missing the entire entertainment angle of the critique.

Ebert was amazing about balancing this (that was probably his biggest strength), but I can't say the same for other critics.

Posted by GunslingerPanda

@mrmazz said:

Video Games don't really make for good TV.

Disagree. I use Twitch.tv way more than I use Netflix, and I simply don't use TV. I don't even own one.

Posted by MrMazz

@gunslingerpanda: Either you didn't read the contextualizing sentences or you are simply trying to make a sarcastic comment. Not sure on either. Twitch.TV is NOT TV it's internet streaming that isn't bound to the same kind of structure that broad and cablecast television is set with. Though perhaps Netflix could fuck with the system a bit by taking more creative license with what they call an "episode" with their original programming (I have no idea why that went bold and I can't unbold it). Your use of the term TV as a synonm is wrong, when there is a deeper difference than simply calling something TV belies.

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Posted by Video_Game_King

I'm not sure how valid that excuse is. Saying "games are different" without actually saying how they're different and how those differences affect criticism and whatnot, then it's not a good argument. Personally, I'll say that if you can analyze a book and write an academic essay on that, you're set for anything. The tools needed for that are quite flexible; you just gotta know how to use them.

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Posted by MikkaQ

I'm not sure how valid that excuse is. Saying "games are different" without actually saying how they're different and how those differences affect criticism and whatnot, then it's not a good argument. Personally, I'll say that if you can analyze a book and write an academic essay on that, you're set for anything. The tools needed for that are quite flexible; you just gotta know how to use them.

That's probably because the difference is super obvious. It's interactive. That changes everything because the person playing the game can affect the experience almost as much as the people making it. With a movie you strictly see what the creators intended. The experience of playing a game is even more objective than watching a movie so critics have to deal with that in their own ways. Besides, the two media aren't even similar, you can't talk about the camera-work, the composition or the editing of a video game, likewise you can't talk about the gameplay of a movie.

Edited by Video_Game_King
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Edited by MikkaQ

@video_game_king said:

@mikkaq:

That doesn't mean we have to throw out tools of criticism from another medium. We build on top of them as we see fit.

Yea, you can, at least in limited instances. Video games still have visuals to deal with.

Those only really apply when talking about cutscenes. which are short films placed in between sections of a game. Naturally you could apply film criticism to them, but it would probably cast a really unfavorable light on like... every game ever made with cutscenes. Yes games have visuals to deal with, but so does ballet and painting and damn near every artform. Doesn't make 'em comparable.

I agree we don't need to throw the tools of criticism out completely, but I'd say they're different enough that we should try some new approaches because games criticism could stand to improve a lot.

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