Sunday, 4 May 2014

The moral duty of the game critic, part 2: with great readership comes great responsibility

About six months ago, I wrote the first post in a three-part series entitled The moral duty of the game critic. I'd like to tell you that the reason it's taken me six months to write the second part is because this post was so brilliantly complex and profound that it took me that entire half a year (!) to perfect it. But alas, that is not the case. I'm not going to list the multitude of reasons for my hiatus from this blog, but it would probably be best explained as something along the lines of university/life/moving house/lack of internet/whatever other factors I can blame for what is most likely my own wonderful tendency towards procrastination taken to dazzling new heights.

But the good news is: I'm back! Yes, that is good news, try to look a little more excited please. I've also consumed a ridiculously high amount of caffeine today, which was supposed to motivate me to write a rather dry essay on The Sims for university but has resulted in this word vomit instead. So let's continue, shall we?

In my last post, I discussed the notion that games critics basically don't owe you anything, you unappreciative little jerks. That is, games critics are more than entitled to analyse and discuss potential flaws within games, or the problematic nature of the games industry until the cows come home- in other words, do their actual job.

Now I'd like to discuss what games critics should keep in mind when doing this job- and no, I'm not talking about the opinion of anonymous fifteen-year-old commenter #415. Nor am I referring to grammatical consistency or the use of profanities. After all, everyone knows that capital letters, bold type and eyebrow-raising four letter words only make your argument stronger- no exceptions allowed, EVER. What I'm actually referring to is the abuse of power that comes with a larger readership.

You see, despite what your concerned grandparents may tell you, there actually are people out there who make a living from writing (or at least, they write professionally on the side of their banal hospitality job so they can actually pay their rent). These people are employed to write. And the reason editors employ them is not just because the words they string together look kind of nice on a piece of paper or a computer screen, but because their writing will draw people- readers- to their publication/website/post-modern zine about dungeon crawlers from the mid-nineties. And so as they write more and more content of increasing quality, more people will want to read what they're producing. Before you know it, our semi-employed games critic has themselves a rather large readership. Success!

That's when the oft occurring inflated sense of ego thing can take over. I'm not just talking about illusions of grandeur. By all means, if there's thousands of people out there who hang on your every written thought, then you're most definitely within your rights to give yourself a well-deserved pat on the back. You've earned it, buddy!

I'm also not referring to accepting sleazy sponsorship from leading manufacturers of your favourite MSG-laden (and somehow edible) food stuffs. You know what I'm talking about.

You see, with this dazzling widespread recognition often comes another feeling: the idea that you, the writer, live inside a bubble. You are the ruler of this bubble; anything you say is gospel, and anyone who wants to disagree with you can't, because who the hell are they to step inside your bubble and challenge your word?

Let me put it this way. If you write about or critique video games, then you are essentially commenting on a media product; something that is culturally significant and shaped by an industry that is a beautiful, writhing mass of different values, ideas, beliefs and variables that all come together and try to get along- sometimes successfully, sometimes not. This is very exciting! How wonderful it is that such a thing exists, and how great it is that we can be a part of it and maybe even get to talk about this stuff for a living!

But sometimes, games critics can get a little too wrapped up inside their own bubble. They've got thousands of people reading their thoughts on these video game things, and they worked damn hard on those words. So sometimes they act a bit... well, I don't want to say deluded, but let's just go with that.

Have a feeling you might fit the criteria? Let's see if any of the following thoughts have crossed your mind lately:
  • "You want the link to my podcast? What, you can't trawl through the last six months of my articles to find the link? Wow, I thought my readers were dedicated. Apparently not. Find it yourself."
  • "This guy just asked my opinion of an aspect of a game I just posted a review of. Wasn't what I wrote enough? Did it not encapsulate everything that could possibly be said about that game, ever? I don't have time for social discourse, buddy!"
  • "What do you mean, you have a slightly different opinion to mine on this issue? But I'm right! Can't you see? Only I am allowed to be right! BLOCKED"
  • "Another anonymous comment about my sexual promiscuity. I hate the internet."

Okay, so that last one was totally justified.

I guess what I'm trying to say here is this: some games critics are so involved with what's going on in their own bubble that they forget that they're just one tiny bubble in the bubble bath that is the video games industry.

So, what is this great responsibility that kindly and jerk-faced critics alike should probably keep in mind? It's simple: be humble. Acknowledge where you started. Realise that you're not getting paid to be an entitled wanker to people on twitter. Most importantly, recognise that you're part of a massive, constantly evolving media industry, and there are going to be people who don't agree with your opinion. Their comments on your thoughts aren't always an attack on your work. Sometimes, it's an invitation to an eye-opening conversation. You don't know everything there is to know about video games- and that's a good thing. Remember what your primary school librarian told you- learning is fun!

In my next post, I'll be discussing all that awesome good stuff critics are doing for the world. Now that they've managed to stop being total assholes, that is.

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