What Makes a Great (Games) Critic?

Author Maria Bustillos has penned an interesting article on criticism over at The Awl. She questions the presumed requirement of experience, that a critic needs only to have consumed more than others in order to be ready for the task at hand.

What we really need is a critic who has got something interesting to say. Who is writing something that we would like to read. Whose aliveness just comes out and grabs you by the throat and makes you think, or go pop-eyed with amazement, or throw your monitor across the room in a fit of rage. As a lover of good criticism, I am asking, or demanding (more like begging, really), that this passion and immediacy be the first quality that should recommend a critic to public notice.

The piece focuses on film and book criticism, with anecdotes on Pauline Kael and George Bernard Shaw. But these same ideas can certainly apply to the growing body of games criticism, both online and off-.

For a long time, critics of games were tasked with recommending a purchase or not, and that was all. As games seep ever deeper into our daily lives, continuing to evolve and grow in influence, it holds that there needs to be an evolved response to these works. Bustillos writes about Kael’s popularity and importance:

She was a great artist, and a great benefactor of American culture, […]. She provided our age with the means to break free of hidebound ideas about the “correct” exercise of a serious mind. Where the default position in popular criticism before Kael had been merely censorious, she created a new and higher standard, one of real discernment. Plus her writing is exhilarating all by itself.

In twenty years, will someone be able to describe a games critic this way?

-Jon Irwin

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