Chuck Klosterman, a contributing writer for Esquire and regular columnist for SPIN Magazine, has written a fascinating and frustrating feature for the former inquiring as to the whereabouts of "The Lester Bangs of Video Games." Klosterman wants to know why there is no video game analog to film-critics like Pauline Kael or music-critics like Lester Bangs, and explains why he suspects there never will be.
He asks Steven Johnson, whose Everything Bad is Good for You Klosterman calls "one of the only mainstream books that comes remotely close to the kind of gaming criticism I just described," about the dilemma. Johnson responds, "Video games generally have narratives and some kind of character development, but-almost without exception-these are the least interesting things about them. Gamers don't play because they're drawn into the story line; they play because there's something intoxicating about the mix of exploring an environment and solving problems. The stories are an afterthought." He also talks with MIT's Henry Jenkins who says, "Game designers are asking themselves questions about how a game should look and what it should do, but not about what the game is supposed to mean."
What's refreshing about Klosterman's take is that he's willing to acknowledge the importance and potential of video games (unlike other critics who've issued similar dictums) while also noting and understanding the shortcomings. What's frustrating are the ommissions; some would be heirs to this throne do come to mind and -- curiously enough -- some even appear on Something Awful's list of the five worst game reviews. Do gamers want anything more than a shopping guide out of their reviews? Do game designers even mean anything with the games they make?
So we're all on the same page, before you start commenting on the column, be sure to read it first!
[Update: for some rebuttals, check out Game Girl Advance, John Scalzi, and Clive Thompson.]
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