Screw the Hype, Be a Game Critic

by Jed Pressgrove

Hype is typically interpreted as positive coverage, while criticism is typically interpreted as negative coverage. People tend to overlook positive criticism, so they also tend to overlook negative hype. This reality allows negative hype to masquerade as criticism. As such, game critics often have an unchecked case of the hype.

Unchecked negative hype is associated with a know-it-all mentality, a mentality that most critics, myself included, must battle. The know-it-all mentality doesn’t respect the basic process of criticism, that is, engaging with art/entertainment to provide a critical and interpretative analysis of the art/entertainment. When we stoop to the know-it-all mentality, when we make definitive statements about a game without playing it, we are no longer critics. We are infected with hype and reduce the possibility of a reader gaining valuable perspective.

Game critics are supposed to play and analyze games. Unfortunately, they’re also expected to be PR stooges who care about and comment on every banal form of attention-getting from game developers and publishers. A recent case is the outrage over a publicity stunt from Destructive Creations, the developers of the immodestly titled shooter, Hatred. Along with a predictably violent trailer for Hatred, Destructive Creations released a politically incorrect statement that was designed to exploit the festering wounds of party politics (SJWs vs. Gamergate) in the Twitter game community. Even though any expert on video games should be aware of the medium’s countless examples of glorified murder, many game critics were shocked by Destructive Creations’ publicity stunt. This shock has translated to Hatred receiving quite a bit of attention for a random violent shooter, including but not limited to readers wanting to play the game because of the negative hype.

Game criticism faces a fundamental dilemma when, for the sake of a feeling of moral superiority, advertising and PR are treated as an artform rather than a method of brainwashing. Critics who want to play judge, jury, and executioner the easy way (i.e., by not playing the games) take for granted the difference between artistic intent and our interpretations as players. Indeed, the reason why we criticize, why we feel we have something to offer to readers, is due to the difference between intent and interpretation. To condemn or praise a game before playing it is to say our interpretations, our experiences and reactions as players, are irrelevant.

Screw the trailers, screw the PR statements, screw the positive and negative hype. Be a game critic.

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