October 30th, 2008

Dramatic post title, no?

Okay, I don’t actually think what I’m about to say will change video game reviews as we know them. However, I would like to come up with a new approach to games. Here’s the deal: I like CrispyGamer.com. I’d like to pitch some regular feature their way, but I want to have a specific idea in mind. What I don’t want to do is one more “sex/gender in games column.” I did that for Joystiq for a year, I do it every day here at Heroine Sheik, and Leigh Alexander does something similar for GameSetWatch. What I’d like to do instead is write about games the way I want to read about them. Now what the heck does that mean?

With no disrespect to my fellow game writers, when I read about video games these days I always feel like there’s something lacking. Straightforward reviews definitely have a use — I know I use them when I’m deciding which games to buy/play — but I don’t think they’re the only way to approach games. I guess what I miss is analysis. Instead of just hearing whether this game is good, I want to hear thoughts on what this game means. Even if that analysis seems silly, I want the reviewer to interact with the title and think up something I might miss.

With that in mind, I’m thinking of something called “The Overanalysis Game.” Basically, you take a newly released title. You play it. Then you write an entertaining but also thoughtful piece analyzing what elements of the game mean. Maybe you call up some people who worked on the game and ask them for their input. Maybe you talk to other people who’ve played it and see how they responded to the same material. What’s important though is you go beyond the “good/bad” review model.

Now let’s see if I can make that game work. Within the next few days, both Fallout 3 and Far Cry 2 should be arriving on my doorstep. My plan: to play one of them over the weekend, and come back next week with a sample column based on some element of the game. Will Crispy Gamer like it? I don’t know. But at least I’ll feel like I’m on my way to doing something about game writing instead of just bitching about it…

Tags: projects, reviews

8 Responses to “The future of video game reviews”

  1. eli Says:

    what you’re saying, maybe, is that games should be taken seriously as an art form. I think most reviews just go for good/bad because people are looking for entertainment rather than art. That being so, you might try applying the overanalysis game to indie games rather than mainstream – to Braid rather than Far Cry. Because these are often made with goals other than money in mind, you’re more likely to find legitimate art.

  2. pat m. Says:

    if crispy gamer doesn’t like it, selectbutton.net and the gamer’s quarter will. it’s right up their alley.

  3. Fred Zeleny Says:

    I wholeheartedly agree, and think this sort of deeper game analysis is exactly what we need more of as an industry. The more reviewers and other players examine games for deeper meanings, the more developers will be encouraged to focus on coherent deeper meanings, rather than writing off such depth as an arthouse pretension, irrelevant to players.

    As they say, “You reward what you measure.” Game reviews have measured graphics, outfits, hours of gameplay, and all manner of important-but-superficial details- and studios rush to one-up each other on those metrics. But there’s far too little attention paid to thematic coherence, message, and other issues that take deeper analysis. It takes a little longer to judge them, but I know readers like me would find them invaluable.

    I look forward to reading those reviews! And, with luck, seeing them help the industry grow!

  4. That Fuzzy Bastard Says:

    In part, I think you’re talking about the difference between “review” and “criticism”. The former is a buyer’s guide (not that there’s anything wrong with that!). The latter is using the work under discussion as a lens through which you can look at bigger ideas.

    This is totally gauche, but… That’s what I’ve been trying to do on my infrequently-updated blog (linked from my name above). I often try to focus on a single element of a game—the New Game + feature in Dead Rising, or the girlfriends of Grand Theft Auto—to talk about larger questions of interactive narrative.

    There’s a number of people doing this, too—you (“Portal Is For Lesbians” is a perfect example), Michael Abbot, even Yahtzee often steps away from the specifics of the game he’s discussing to get into more general questions. It’s a worthy enterprise, and goes a long way towards validating both games and games criticism.

    Now, if you confuse it with reviews, you’ll get a lot of people very pissed off. But the blogosphere is, like, the perfect place for this kind of discussion. I look forward to hearing it.

  5. PixelVixen707 Says:

    Would love to see that! Though to be fair to the Crispies, Tom Chick hit the ball far on his Fallout 3 write-up.

    Good crit is out there, but not in the “enthusiast press.” The mainstream media often gets it right: the NYT’s Seth Schiesel, your alma mater The Onion, Mitch Krpata at the Phoenix, the mighty N’Gai Croal, and a few others think outside the mechanics and to get to the themes. Chris Remo’s recent commentaries at GameSetWatch.com, where he picks choice elements that interest him and expounds at leisure, have been excellent. Leigh Alexander, I ‘dore. And a number of games bloggers (COUGH) post thoughtful after-action reports.

    But the world needs more – and those titles you mention should offer great fodder. The term “overanalysis” gives me the jeebies, but Fallout 3 has suffered from underanalysis. Lay siege!

  6. Denis Says:

    Fallout 3 opens itself to this very, very well. There’s so much to examine, and so many discrete elements at which one can look, from the use of the skills in this particular world and what it means to how the tutorial shapes the way you may end up viewing the entire game.

    But yes, I’m enjoying the reviewing done by people looking for thematic content, as we seem saturated with witty, snarky, or amusing reviews that tell me whether or not to play the game. Even if the gameplay is good, will the game make me think, will the story be compelling, and can I lose myself in more than just the screen in front of me pondering it? Iunno. Maybe it’s a bit of a stretch.

  7. Carl Says:

    OK. Read actionbutton.net.

    Don’t write critical reviews that wankerous.

  8. John H. Says:

    Good luck with it!

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