Why Video Game Criticism Exists

As defined by the Merriam-Webster Dictionary, two of the three definitions of the word, “criticism” address the art of critiquing a work of art or literature. The first known usage of the word appeared in Thomas Dekker’s A Knight’s Conjuring (1607), according to the 1971 edition of the Oxford English Dictionary. The art of critique is old. It’s been applied to every medium of media imaginable. Literature, music, film, TV, painting, drawing, sculpture, dance, cooking, and on are all subject criticism. And yes, even video games.

Sometimes this criticism is minor, sometimes significant. But, well thought out criticism, is almost always given for the purpose of gaining a greater understanding of the work. And to attempt to push the creator’s ways of thinking. Because perfection is not for this lifetime and multiple heads are better than one. The act criticism doesn’t assert that a piece is worthless because it can be critiqued, rather, the art of critique suggests that a piece is valuable because it can be thoughtfully theorized. Of all of the communities I have walked in, built around media I find the video game community most resistant to hearing criticisms of the games which they love. I have some news for people who have a hard time hearing it.

Criticism Comes From a Place of Love

Whatever you think of Anita Sarkeezian, at the beginning of the first episode of her Tropes vs Women in Video Games series she opens with something which I think can be applied to criticism on a large scale:

“Remember that it’s both possible and even necessary to simultaneously enjoy media while also being critical of its more problematic or pernicious aspects.” -Sarkeezian

This is to say, critics of TV also enjoy TV or they wouldn’t care enough about it to comment on it. This is the same for video game critics. Just because someone gives a game a bad review, does not mean they hate video games or they were looking for problems. Problems found them and they reported on it. This can mean bugs, bad combat mechanics, or a crappy story, but it can also mean not enjoying the treatment of a character.

Taking the time to figure out why something about a game was unenjoyable or enjoyable and expressing it is what video game criticism is. It takes time, knowledge, research, and most of all love. Because without a deep love for the medium, it’s easier to simply say, “well, it’s just a game,” and walk away. But to me and other critics, video games are not, “just games,” they are a powerful form of media which deserve the level of respect that other mediums get.

When critics tackle the social implications of a video game, it is high praise. It means they believe video games have the ability to affect the way people look at social issues in their daily lives. And because of that, games then have a responsibility to be conscious of this influence. If you believe it’s, “just a game,” you are saying video games aren’t affecting. If you are unable or unwilling to give video games that level of respect, are you really someone who is passionate about games?

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Nicole is a video game and pop-culture critic with a lifelong relationship with video games and the strange tenderness that can be found within them. She is an avid collector of DS games and a reluctant collector of Amiibos. She has a strong belief that the gaming community, with some work, can become an inclusive and nurturing environment to all who seek to belong to it.

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13 responses to “Why Video Game Criticism Exists”

  1. T40Rs731N Avatar

    “Those who can, do. Those who can’t, criticize.”

    “No one builds statues to critics.”

    “There is more than one way to burn a book. And the world is full of people running about with lit matches.” From the afterword to the 1979 edition of Fahrenheit 451.

    Take your pick. Critics and their criticisms still are worthless. Their opinions are not even equivalent to dung, since dung can be used as fertilizer.

    1. No love for Roger Ebert?

      1. T40Rs731N Avatar

        None. The guy didn’t recognize games as art.

        1. Nic Reuben Avatar
          Nic Reuben

          “The trouble with most of us is that we would rather be ruined by praise than saved by criticism’
          ‘Criticism may not be agreeable, but it’s necessary. It fulfills the same function as pain in the human body. It calls attention to an unhealthy state of things”

          Take your pick.

          See, we do recognise games as art here, which is why we afford them the same amount of respect and cultural examination given to any other art form. Namely, criticism. Also, you might want to expand your definition of that term. Having a critical perspective on something is not the same as criticising it. Also, I have a small statue of myself I built from print-outs of ill-informed comments. Yours is now nestling softly between my arse cheeks.

          1. T40Rs731N Avatar

            Criticism, like prayer, serves no function. That is a false analogy claiming it functions the same as pain in the human body. So, no pick taken. The choices I place above are widely accepted quotes by amazing people who have created, not criticized.

            “Expand your definition.” Projecting doesn’t do your argument any good.

            Critical perspective, critical thinking, etc are not criticism. You are correct. So, why are you disagreeing with my statement on critics and their critiques?


            But, please, provide something that proves the efficacy of critiques and criticism. Provide peer reviewed, published science that proves the effectiveness of criticism and/ or critics.

            I stick with those that choose to create, rather than tear down. I will stand with those who protect art, not those that choose to burn it.

          2. Your whole troll-lite thing is tiring. You’re obviously here to argue and prod rather than have an actual discussion. Please chill on it now.

          3. Nic Reuben Avatar
            Nic Reuben

            Troll-lite sounds like the worst soft drink in the world

          4. Nic Reuben Avatar
            Nic Reuben

            Or possibly a precious metal made from compressed trolls

          5. T40Rs731N Avatar

            Passive aggressive trolling isn’t much good either. Are you going to mod my comments because you don’t agree with them? I was discussing something with Nic who had the temerity to respond thoughtfully. Perhaps you should read what he wrote.

          6. Nic Reuben Avatar
            Nic Reuben

            I just disagree that it’s useless. I don’t need to provide evidence because it’s something I enjoy reading, watching, listening to, experiencing. I come away from good critique feeling enlightened, informed and inspired. It’s useful to me, and presumably to quite a lot of other people. When I then go to write my own fiction, poetry, music etc, I feel I can approach the creative process more informed. Charlie Brooker made his career writing critique for about 15 years before he created anything. Art has nothing to do with ‘peer reviewed evidence’, it’s about personal interpretation. Criticism is about cultural conversation. It’s just the same shit people do with their friends after consuming media, just in a different form. No-one is trying to burn anything, just expand the conversation, and get some points of view involved that are not traditionally accounted for. If someone feels something, and they express it, how can that be worthless? That’s the whole point of art in the first place

          7. T40Rs731N Avatar

            I appreciate your response. The problem, and I apologize for not thoroughly expressing my stance for you (I have written extensively about critics), is that I am mostly responding to those critics that look only to tear down. I am responding to those, as Bradbury puts it, with “lit matches.” If you want to really read what I am most proud of, it is here: http://n4g.com/user/blogpost/thorstein/532101

            I came from here from N4G and I read the article. It just hasn’t been my experience that the majority of critics and their critiques function as you stated: a cultural conversation. Are there some that serve that function? Perhaps. But, like the article above states, reducing work/ art to a score, makes for a very demeaning way of having a “cultural conversation.”

            I wouldn’t go so far as to say, “No one is trying to burn anything.” Bradbury is right. There are too many censors, too many critics, too many “moral authoritarians” trying to end thought and discourse.

            You do use the term “good critique” and that places a condition upon the critique: one of quality. We can’t ignore that there is a plethora of terrible critique floating around in mass media masquerading as critique when in reality it is clickbait.

            And I wholeheartedly agree: “If someone feels something, and they express it, how can that be worthless?” That is art. But I won’t place art on the same shelf as criticism.

          8. Nic Reuben Avatar
            Nic Reuben

            I read your piece, and it’s well argued. Look, no-one wants to exist in a world where all art is a homogeneous grey blob. George RR Martin once said “Art is not a democracy” and I agree with that completely. A favourite philosopher of mine – Robert Anton Wilson – says this:

            “All statements are true in some sense, false in some sense, meaningless in some sense, true and false in some sense, true and meaningless in some sense, false and meaningless in some sense, and true and false and meaningless in some sense”

            The thing is, if we all filled up our articles and reviews with ‘this is my opinion’ ‘it seems that way to me’ ‘I think this, but you may not’, it would make for really messy and long articles. I know it’s tempting to see the written word with an air of assumed authority when it’s up on a nice looking website and formatted smartly, but really, it’s all the perspectives of fallible humans at the end of the day. The value comes in reading from a wide variety of sources and comparing and contrasting opinions. There’s plenty of viewpoints I find repugnant or badly informed, but I have to admit, unless an idea is outrightly harmful, the world would be poorer for their not existing.

            However, the crux of your piece seems to be that because perspectives vary, reviews are useless. But by that logic, no-one would ever express their opinion on anything. Everyone agrees that numeric scores are a problem, but seem to demand ‘objectivity’ when someone writes an editorial.

            As for the ‘end of thought and discourse’, unfortunately, I do see a lot of comments of N4G along the lines of ‘this needs to be stopped’ ‘ban this’, it’s a chicken and egg thing – you think someone is censoring something and then try to censor them censoring you ad nauseum. It really comes down to ‘I don’t agree with you, but I’ll defend your right to say it’, unless, of course, you’re genuinely spouting hate speech.

    2. That’s a fair opinion to have but, if you think it’s worthless, why bother to come to a website dedicated to Game Criticism and then comment? Seems like you think it’s more important than you’d like to admit.

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