Thursday, March 8, 2012

Killing Time

I try to keep abreast of other writers who are trying to break from the old model of discussing video games. Every so often I will come across a piece that proves insightful, enjoyable, probing, or perhaps all three. Coverage of smaller titles and the burgeoning world of the greater "indie games scene" or detours into the worlds of board/card/physical games can prove to be at the very least refreshing once in a while. This all said, though, the majority of the time I am forced to cringe at the obvious growing pains of a young and anemic writing collective groping desperately at erudition.

This "mode" of analysis is something I have seen before in the past, which I now have the luxury of looking back on and shaking my head at in bemusement. Some of it is reflected in turn-of-the-millennium alternative music journalism; "deep" personal anecdotes framing a flimsily drawn parallel to namecheck some obscure bit of historical/cultural trivium, with some grand existential thesis and some sentence fragment beat poetics thrown in. Too many times have I visited a certain video game site in 2012, only to have memories of 2000 and Brent DiCrescenzo leading with "I had never seen a shooting star before…" echo from the recesses.

Shall I compare thee to an aquarium?
Reviews of canonized albums by alt-rock-gone-electronic bands aside, the other place I've seen this kind of desperate grasping at straws is in the worst examples of my own writing. I feel comfortable critiquing because I know the place well; the less sure a writer is of themselves or the ties they try to illustrate between topics, the more grandiose the whole production becomes. Rather than create a firm foundation and create a series of ordered thoughts which flow with grace, the panic kicks in. Instead, you get a deluge of verbose space-filler; rather than argue or convince, success is now achieved through browbeating the audience into submission.

Again, it comes from what I feel is the community around video games attempting to put on airs in a play at acceptance from the nebulous, judgmental "Everyone Else". Maybe because you can't understand the complex rulesets governing Fortune Street you choose to spend half your time rattling on about how the CPU characters are like predatory investment bankers. Maybe you feel the need to kill word count soul-searching on how an interactive fiction novella with anime schoolgirls really opened your straight male eyes to feminism/sexism because it coincided with the latest proof Rush Limbaugh is a disgusting excuse for a human being. Maybe you did an interview with a musician like Damian Abraham of Fucked Up without particularly connecting to games in any significant way. (Or at least a way that you were personally able to identify.)

Masocore platformers + fighting games + John Coltrane = jumbled mess.
My complaints here aren't some kind of lash out at a non-existent hipster boogeyman, or an attempt to stifle emergent voices… were I in the position to in any way approach the kinds of audiences these writers have already been afforded. My main concern is that, in large part, much of their work again commits the cardinal sin of attempting to undersell the act of playing a game in favor of crowing on about how mature and not-for-kids games narratives are trying to be. More than that, the perpetual allusions of academic posturing come off as ungainly at best and thoroughly artless at worst.

The evolution of a medium and the ability to discuss it is a progression, and one best handled delicately. Just because "gonzo" worked great for dearly departed Hunter S. doesn't mean you can toss it on right away as a literary aesthetic and have it fit. As we slowly hobble out into the light of real cultural analysis, we first need a clinical language to help guide our discussions in a mutual understanding. After that foundation is in place, and only then, seems the prudent time for expressive deconstructions; without it, New Games Journalism stands in danger of collapsing under its own weighty aspirations. There's plenty of time for us to get up to stillborn babies' IMAX afterlives.

Let's be real, he could be kind of a prick anyway.

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