reviewing versus criticism


two days ago, i posted up about the games i’m looking forward to playing. today i’d like to drop a couple of ideas out in relationship to the games i have played (or know enough about so that i know what to expect) and a little bit of the ideas that are kind of churning around in my head. now, let me make a couple of quick comments about this process before i go to crazy here. i am, in fact, a published author. not a lot, mind you, but enough so that i’ve got a little bit of street cred in the academic community. both of my published works are on j.r.r. tolkien’s work — one on the silmarillion and one on his beowulf criticism. the first was published in the book, a wilderness of signs: ethics, beauty, and the environment after post-modernism; the second was in the book, past watchful dragons: faith and fantasy in the world of c.s. lewis. so its not much, but it’s something. i am starting my ph.d this summer, as i mentioned in an earlier post. however, i did take two years off from writing about some of these critical pathways to teach in an inner-city school. so it will take a little while for some of this to come back.

the first few articles that really try to go in depth will take a while to get out there so give me some time! i will be putting some reviews up, as well — just your good ol’ straight forward game reviews while i work on some of the longer stuff. and, as implied by the title of this post, the principle difference between reviewing and critical study is in the are of qualitative studies. reviewing is telling you, the reader, whether or not something is worth your time, the difference between good and bad — poor and mediocre. critical studies, on the other hand, will work with something that is either good or bad; the point is to tease out the intricacies of cultural and philosophical relevance. for instance, an anthropologist, if they find a landfill of e.t. games 300 years from now, will not look for a review of e.t. the game to find out whether or not they should pop it into their xbox 4200 (which plays all manner of media cards at the time in the future — i would hope it would be backwards compatible by then). they will just put it in and study it as a cultural icon. now, i’m mixing a metaphor from literary studies to anthropology and i feel like i could tease that out a bit more if asked to, but that isn’t the point of the post.

what is the point of the post, however, is to look at what i am to do in this blog. i will be both reviewing and “critiquing.” the review is what we are most familiar with. it was happens in game informer, egm, pc gamer, and all the other magazines of their ilk. it is important to understand that there is a place for reviews. they are necessary and give excellent information, they help consumers decide which products to purchase, and they give a lot of hack writers a job — or at least a place to voice their first person opinionated soliloquies. and some are even very good or very well-written. but none of these are in the business of criticism, per se. i want to review games. i like writing reviews — and some may even be hack jobs. but its fun. critiquing in this context is not the same thing. we get a “critique” when someone listens to us do a presentation at work, or when a person reads a letter or post you’ve written and provides an analysis of what you wrote correctly or incorrectly. once again, their is a place for this. criticism, in a very distinct literary sense, is different. it is the project the writer embarks upon, in which he attempts to, as stated earlier, tease out the connections from one media form to the next, tying it into the philosophy of an age, an ethos of a culture, and attempting to understand how where that works stands in relationship to those things. it is looking at phenomenon and epiphenomenon; the systems of thought that surround a text (and a video game is, in a very real sense, a text) and how they produce each other — not the examination of the “rightness” or “wrongness” of the text, if i may use those words.

so, tomorrow, i will type up a list of games i want to review — these are games that i’ve played, liked or disliked, and want to comment on. there is another list, that of games which i would like to examine from a critical perspective. that list will come this weekend. so please excuse the episodic nature of my posts. there’s a lot of work to do, here, and i’ve only just begun.

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