The Offense of Criticism to a Shill

by Jed Pressgrove

Last week, critic Yussef Cole offered a historical analysis of the animation style that StudioMDHR mimicked in its hit shooter Cuphead. Although Cole wasn’t the first to point out that the game’s early 20th-century aesthetic is associated with racial caricatures, his essay had an unforeseen level of detail, fairness, and insight. Every sentence of the article is measured. As a writer, it’s hard not to notice the craft in his criticism.

Enter Brandon Orselli, who responded to Cole’s piece with “Stop Trying to Be Offended at Every Video Game.” Taken at face value, Orselli’s title is a silly exaggeration. Cuphead doesn’t represent “every video game.” More importantly, Cole doesn’t appeal to emotion in his essay. He only mentions that as a black man aware of animation history, he doesn’t have the “luxury” of viewing Cuphead from an ahistorical lens. Even Cole’s title, “Cuphead and the Racist Spectre of Fleisher Animation,” is restrained; the use of “spectre” doesn’t suggest a visceral reaction but rather a careful observation, as ghosts are hard to see.

But I’ll throw Orselli a bone, albeit a small one. The title “Stop Trying to Be Offended at Every Video Game” could be clever hyperbole if I had been born yesterday, the very day his article was published. Orselli might also say his article wasn’t a direct response to Cole. I would reject that as a lie. Although he also references a Kotaku article, that Ethan Gach piece is a simple and brief regurgitation of Cole’s argument that is meant to generate traffic, not add to the argument. Furthermore, Orselli is definitely lying when he says Cuphead “has been the┬ásubject of multiple attempts at baseless attacks via the collective mainstream gaming journalism world.” For one thing, if you look at mainstream reviews of Cuphead, you will not see much discussion in the line of Cole’s criticism. What’s more, Orselli knows he’s trying to deceive people with that sentence about the mainstream. After all, in the next paragraph, he implies Cole is one of many “no-name bloggers.”

This is the truth: the offended party here is Orselli because he is a shill. He labels his article an editorial, yet his final two paragraphs — precious real estate for an editorialist to drive home a point — are only used to market Cuphead and its creators. “I can’t wait to see what they put out next,” he says of StudioMDHR. “[T]he game sold over 1 million copies,” he says of Cuphead, as if sales indicate quality and/or represent an argument against critical perspective. (Does Orselli also champion how many burgers McDonald’s sells?)

Orselli is free to counter any criticism of a game, just as we all are. Dishonest responses like “Stop Trying to Be Offended at Every Video Game” are worthless, though. As a critic, like Cole, I have also been accused of simply being “offended” by a game, no matter how articulate my criticism is. But it’s not a coincidence that these accusations often come from people like Orselli; people who like the criticized game in question; people who care about sales figures as if their bills won’t be paid unless a game that they like sells well.

Shills don’t understand that although offense can inspire criticism, not all criticism, as written, drips with offense. If shills want to know what offense looks like, they might go into their bathrooms, where their superficial complaints can be flushed, and stare into a mirror.