Essay on game criticism by Greg Costikyan

Greg Costikyan has written a great essay on criticism versus reviews, and why we need more of the former:

A review is a buyer’s guide. It exists to tell you about some new product that you can buy, and whether you should or should not buy it. A good review goes beyond that, and suggests who should buy it, since not everyone enjoys everything. (E.g., A romance novel may be very fine of its kind, but is quite unlikely to appeal to me, since it is not a genre I enjoy.)


Criticism is an informed discussion, by an intelligent and knowledgeable observer of a medium, of the merits and importance (or lack thereof) of a particular work. Criticism isn’t intended to help the reader decide whether or not to plunk down money on something; some readers’ purchase decisions may be influenced, but guiding their decisions is not the purpose of the critical work. Criticism is, in a sense merely “writing about” — about art, about dance, about theater, about writing, about a game–about any particular work of art. How a critical piece addresses a work, and what approach it takes, may vary widely from critic to critic, and from work to work. There are, in fact, many valid critical approaches to a work, and at any given time, a critique may adopt only one, or several of them.

On the one hand, I have the feeling this situation is slowly getting better (partially due to essays such as Greg’s). On the other hand, I am wary. How soon until we get essays talking about the Marxist-feminist dialectic of the ludological aspects of Super Mario World? In other words: hermetic verbiage that has no relation to either the work or the craft?

But still, I agree we’re very far from having that problem right now.

Comments 5

  1. Stitched wrote:

    Can’t remember if we had this discussion before…

    I, too, would fear the over-intellectualizing of a medium that, for the most part, is entertainment. Before people start pulling out the “Art vs. Entertainment” artillery, keep in mind that while I DO see “art” in some forms of the medium, I find it hard to see the same in “space marine kills aliens 5” (CliffyB says Hello).

    The problem is defining what people mean by “art” as it relates to games.

    I think if the medium starts approaching art, it will probably alienate most of the current consumers of games. Wether or not this is bad thing is really a subjective point of view. On one hand, you get games that explore unknown territory (experimental) or more mature games (aimed at an increasingly aging population), however, the funding model is pretty market driven. So, really, we have a two-pronged problem:

    1 – In order to the push the medium, we need a funding model that is open to risk in order to make experimentation possible.

    2 – We need players who are willing to put down the “junk food” and start being interested in deeper games. It’s a hard sell when most players of “Bioshock” don’t see the Randian overtones and instead see the “cool mutant powers” and Art-Deco visuals or the love between the two characters in “Ico”, instead of the Inverse Kinematics of their movements.

    This largely applies to what I would call A-class production (high budget, large dev team)

    The indie devs have sort of an easier go at it, so far, on the PC side. This is changing a lot on the console side with XNA, Wiiware, and PSN (however, Microsoft cutting royalties to the devs by 50 percent is a worrying trend).

    The problem I am finding is also the tools we use to generate games. Right now, it still semms a big technical hurdle that seems unavoidable; the exception being the mod scene or off the shelf engines but its still largely a techie solution to an artistic problem.

    What would a game by Phillip Starck look like? A game exploring Existentialism?

    Or am I over-intellectualizing? ;)

    Posted 24 Feb 2008 at 5:24
  2. fluffy wrote:

    Posted 24 Feb 2008 at 12:50
  3. bingo wrote:

    I’ve always enjoyed Tim Roger’s essays for what they are ( ex: )
    along with Eric-Jon Waugh,, etc, etc.

    But then, maybe they’re all a bit too low-class for the high-art of video games… certainly they’re not very interesting if the main goal of all this is the legitimizing of video games in the public mind.

    Posted 24 Feb 2008 at 14:17
  4. Dave Rickey wrote:

    If I wanted to quickly educate myself on critique, what should I put on my reading list? Not actual critism, or a meta-critique of criticism, but the rhetorical and logical mechanics of critique?


    Posted 25 Feb 2008 at 16:34
  5. Jurie wrote:

    Dave: Good question. I’d personally be interested in a history of literary criticism.

    A brief history :)

    Posted 27 Feb 2008 at 1:55