Often I can be found around at my friend TC’s house, playing computer games with him on his X-box or Wii. Computer games are a big part of TC’s life, they are a major part of contemporary life but how to begin to discuss these games critically rather than just review them? It was Paul Callaghan, who writes a blog about games and culture, got me thinking about this subject. And this post has ended up being more about the difference between reviews and criticism than computer games.
I have read a couple of excellent articles about computer games in The Guardian. These articles demonstrate the difference between reviews and critical writing. Reviews are for the consumer; the articles are for everyone else.
The articles in The Guardian were not about the latest game or the best game, they were about games that are familiar to many people: World of Warcraft and Farmville. (See Sam Leith’s “World of Warcraft video game is every bit as glorious as Chartres Cathedral” and Naomi Alderman’s “Farmville gets its global game on”.) Even if you haven’t played these games, even if you might never consider these games you are aware of their existence and the articles were written for you, as well as, people who play the game. In writing critiques of computer games the game is not the subject being examined.
The writers in The Guardian are not reviewing computer games on release dates; the choice of games is not related to a promotional schedule for the games public release. Criticism needs time for reasoned judgment about a game rather than faddish enthusiasm. The choice of the game or games under examination is due to their significance for reasons other than newly released. You can review a token example of a game, the one that you play, but computer games exist in multiple and played at very different levels of competence. In critically examining games the critic is looking at the players as much as the game. This is a crucial distinction between a review and critique: a review is focused on the subject whereas a critique looks around rather than directly at the subject.
Back to TC’s house where playing computer games have moved from the computer in the study to the TV living room. I’m thinking about the way the players rotate on the couch, the kind of kibitzing that goes on when someone is playing the game. I have not written a lot about computer games as part of the “culture notes” in my blog. I guess that I haven’t really written about them here either as I have been using games the subject for this discussion of the difference between reviews and criticism. I have written one see my blog post about the Wii game De Blob because of its relevance to Melbourne’s street art.