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A Critical Anallysis of Contemporary Video Game Criticism

A Critical Anallysis of Contemporary Video Game Criticism

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Published by: rjschiphorst on Jul 08, 2011
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A Critical Analysis
of Contemporary
Video Game Criticism
Video games are becoming an increasing important element within contemporary culture. However, looking atthe video games being massively produced and sold one notices a degeneration of innovation andexperimentation. It has been argued that video game journalists need to provide a critical platform on whichvideo games should be discussed and assessed. However, video games journalism and critique seems to lack aconstructive and critical approach towards the medium. This paper tries to analyze the current state of videogame journalism and critically asses its constructive value.Course: Game StudiesStudent: Robert-Jan SchiphorstStudent Number: 3237370Date: 08-07-2011
We need critics who know and care about games the way Pauline Kael knew movies. We need criticswho write about them with that same degree of wit, wisdom, and passion.-
Henry Jenkins (2005)
A Lively Art?
Henry Jenkins wrote the above statement six years ago in his article "Video Games, the New LivelyArt" in which he revisits Gilbert
Seldes’s argumentation
for defining art within new media andappropriates it to the now relatively new medium, video games. Jenkins's reason for using Seldesbecomes clear quickly as the similarities between early cinema, which Seldes argued was a lively art,and video games, are striking. With the term "lively art" Seldes referred to the popular arts at thebeginning of the twentieth century. Stating that these were fully imbedded within everyday life, theirpresence were embraced and validated by the average citizen because these media reflected themodern world in which they lived, both in content as in the technology of the media itself. "Theytook the very machinery of the industrial age, which many felt dehumanizing, and found within it theresources for expressing individual visions, for reasserting basic human needs, desires, and fantasies(Jenkins)." Seldes thus celebrated arts that were not fully established, because it was here whereexperimentation was a necessity, where there were no clearly defined norms, only innovation and aperpetual movement forward. In the early days of cinema every new film was a technological andartistic experimentation of the medium itself, there were no guidelines or safe bets and this made it,compared to the classical established arts, a lively one.Fast-forward about eighty years and Jenkins is arguing that a similar case can be made for videogames. Slightly changing the previous quote by Jenkins and appropriating it towards video gamesquickly reveals the similarities of Seldes's lively arts:
video game developers took the very machinery of the digital age, which many felt dehumanizing, and found within it the resources for expressingindividual visions, for reasserting basic human needs, desires, and fantasies
. Video games havebecome an increasingly bigger part of popular culture, they reflect the digital media that surround usand exist within them. Moreover, the video game industry is becoming bigger than the musicindustry, which shows video game's immense popularity. However, looking at the video gamesthemselves, the ones that apparently define the video game industry and how the industry is viewed,
show an incredible lack of both “liveliness” and “art”.
The liveliness of the medium, its experimentaland innovative approach, seems to be lacking. Why is this happing, what is the reason for this
seeming conservative mentality within the video game industry? This paper will argue that thisconservative approach is being fueled by the lack of a resourceful, inventive and critical voice withinvideo game journalism and argues this by looking at contemporary video game criticism andassessing its merit.
A Conservative Medium
These are the top video games of 2010 based on worldwide sells:1.
Wii Sports (Wii)2.
Wii Sports Resort (Wii)3.
New Super Mario Bros. (Wii)4.
Call of Duty: Black Ops (Xbox 360)5.
Wii Fit Plus (Wii)6.
Call of Duty: Black Ops (Playstation 3)7.
Halo: Reach (Wii)8.
Kinect Adventures (Wii)9.
Pokémon Heart Gold/Soul Silver (Nintendo DS)10.
Super Mario Galaxy 2 (Wii)Of this top ten, eight games are sequels or spinoffs (or even sequels of spinoffs) and only two gamesare original intellectual properties: Kinect Adventures and Wii Sports. This list shows theoverwhelming abundance and seaming popularity of sequels. Why is it that within a mediumheralded for its innovation and modernity the actual media texts lack both innovation andexperimentation?The short answer for this is purely economical. Producing video games, and especially modern videogames, is an expensive and risk-full process. So much so, that video games companies
aren’t easily
willing to risk millions of dollars on a new intellectual property if it is unclear that they will profit or atleast make their money back. Maintaining a video game franchise, that is at least profitable, istherefore a logical financial decision. David Nieborg points out in his book
Triple A: The Political Economy of the Blockbuster Video Game
that this franchising trend is a key aspect of the seventhgeneration of video game consoles. Downloadable content (DLC) and paid-for downloadable content(PDLC) in-between sequels are used as a
means to maintain a franchise’s presence and playability,

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