I wrote about the art of criticism with the distinction between emotivism and criticism. This one deals with criticism and politics.
The impetus is the Escapist, which just came under new/old leadership. One of their ex-employees left the company in 2011, and came back to it in 2017. He wrote that when he came back, it was a ghost town.
To make matters worse, beginning at some point in 2013 or 2014 The Escapist’s former publisher had allowed the website to become a home to political extremists. Whether right- or left-wing doesn’t matter here, although you may know which. It wasn’t a secret. It also isn’t interesting. For a time before it was allowed to begin dying, The Escapist’s editors routinely chose and created content based on a political agenda over journalistic insight. As a result, those not willing to put their political opinions in front of their journalism left The Escapist behind.
The offices were closed, most of the staff disappeared, and the place was up for sale. Upon coming back, Russ Pitts decided that he was going to change things.
“One thing I can tell you without delay or equivocation: We’re leaving politics at the door,” Pitts’ post reads. “Most of us have thoughts about politics. Just like most of you. And, because we’re creators, those thoughts might show up in our work. Avoiding that would be unnatural. That said, I can promise you no one here will share their politics in an attempt to convince you yours are wrong. And your worth will not be calculated based on whether you’re on the left or on the right. Politics are everywhere, but they don’t have to be everything. We’re going to focus on what’s fun, and we hope you’ll join us in that.”
Talk about politics when politics is germane
This one doesn’t seem hard to do, and Russ is acknowledging it isn’t hard to do, but many pieces I’ve read by various critics online inject politics into discussions that frankly don’t warrant them.
Mario is a game about a plumber who goes to a magic kingdom and has to rescue a princess. Injecting politics into a game meant for kids is going to be divisive and it’s frankly unwarranted.
Pac-Man is a game about a creature running from ghosts, who gets a special power-up that enables him to eat ghosts, and he gets bonus points for eating strawberries and other fruits. This is not a game that needs political analysis.
There are plenty of games that do talk about politics explicitly, The Witcher series, Bioshock, Bioshock Infinite, Far Cry 5 (in a muddled way admittedly), Fallout, Metal Gear Solid, (also, admittedly muddled), Wolfenstein, Papers Please, etc.
In my own reviews, I tend to leave politics out unless someone makes an explicitly political statement.
“Suddenly an argument with an ex-girlfriend came to mind where she criticized him for wasting money on video games, and he threw her expensive purse collection back at her. She had of course responded, “It’s an investment.” His response that maybe math wasn’t her strong suit had not gone well.”
Kong, Aleron. The Land: Founding: A LitRPG Saga (Chaos Seeds Book 1) (Kindle Locations 4219-4221). Aleron Kong. Kindle Edition.
“Soooo, my soul familiar is a demanding female who rejects offered affection but later clings to me in a way that everyone can see… There is probably a lesson in all of this…”
Kong, Aleron. The Land: Forging: A LitRPG Saga (Chaos Seeds Book 2) (Kindle Location 1336 – 1337). Kindle Edition.
Well, what do you want me to do about statements like that? To be fair, it’s a minor portion of the The Land that Aleron likes to insert casual sexism into his books, but ignoring it isn’t any more intellectually honest than overblowing it.
A good critic shouldn’t look for politics where there isn’t any, but they also shouldn’t ignore politics when it does.
Right Opinion states that the problem with games is that the gamer is an integral part of the medium, which is not true of any other medium. The way games journalists went about trying to change what they perceive as a toxic culture is by injecting politics into the situation, which hasn’t worked.
Don’t Substitute a Political Opinion for a Critical One
This is the one that I find most news organizations and outlets tend to fall into. They remind me of reading students final papers.
The example I like to give is Lindsey Ellis. Even though she does talk about her political opinions a lot, I’ve never seen her use that as a means of avoiding critical analysis, plot, themes, cinematography, etc.
I also give her props for criticizing films which are clearly pandering to her viewpoint.
But if you want her magnus opus as of right now, it’s her analysis of Michael Bay’s Transformers.
Get a diversity of opinions
Name a single conservative or libertarian game critic at any online game magazine.
That rhetorical question is very difficult to answer, you can certainly give off a long-list of liberal critics, but naming a single one that isn’t is difficult. In most cases, the ideological spectrum is so narrow that you can swap out entire articles on different websites and never know it.
In an ideal World, you want critics who can respond to each other’s works critically rather than merely regurgitating what other people have said. Part of the reason why so many of these online magazines have collapsed is for this reason. If I already know what an article is going to say without reading it, what’s the point in me reading it? If I don’t have to watch your video to know exactly, word for word, how your argument is going to unfold, what’s the point?
Stop trying to pigeon hole politics into existing camps
A prime example of this is Zoie Burgher. You probably don’t remember Zoie, but she was the most shameless Twitch girl as far as the “BoobTube”. She at least had some self-awareness that this was her brand.
Many people didn’t like her on Twitch, the arguments being that one, Twitch has always had a bias towards women and two, if you turn Twitch into a camgirl website, you change the essential nature of what makes Twitch so popular.
The predictable story was that this was harassment of women in gaming, but that really never came up in any of the critiques or video responses about her. It was simply the easiest, pre-existing narrative story you can write.
This is why a diversity of opinions matter. The more diverse the opinions of the staff, the more likely that there won’t be simple, cookie-cutter-template articles.
Uphold Standards and Build Trust
This heavily builds on the point above, and it’s very subjective, but on the personal level, people need to trust your opinion. When people think you’re only there to push an agenda, they’re going to tune you out.
The reason I get DMs asking for me to review work all the time is that people trust that I’m going to tell them what’s right, what’s wrong, and offer constructive advice.
On this website, when I make a claim, I source that claim. It’s an important part of building trust, being able to construct logical arguments, support it with evidence, and derive a conclusion based on it, but so many critics don’t do any of that and leave their opinions floating the air like skyhooks, unsupported by anything.
On a business/financial model, in addition to getting diverse viewpoints, you need to be able to eliminate people that are untrustworthy. Anyone who has a history of crying wolf too many times needs to be removed, regardless of what that person’s political affiliation is.
One example is the Cuphead nontroversy. Cuphead is a notoriously difficult and fun game. A video game reviewer, (he doesn’t normally review video games), played the game and failed disastrously at even the most basic moves in the tutorial.
IMHO, he was probably drunk. Game expos tend to try to booze and schmooze everyone there so they will associate good memories with the game, and the game you play is usually a heavily curated chunk of the game for the same reason.
He was immediately mocked for his horrific gameplay footage, particularly after he reviewed it as too difficult. Video gamers put a high premium on skill, it’s why Twitch streamers can earn so much money. Instead of acknowledging that the game play footage was a disaster, video game journalists circled the wagons.
“It’s because of racism”, or “GamerGate” or any other deflection. Then they started writing copy-pasted pieces on “Do you need to know how to play a game in order to critique it?” The answer to that is obviously, “Yes”, just as obvious as it should be if you ask, “Do you need to know the rules of sport in order to be a referee or judge?” The answer is yes, in any sport except boxing.
The irony is that the person at the heart of the nontroversy was the one most humble about it. He said, “Fans were disappointed in my performance and I let myself and them down.”