Studying Video Games
Tuesday, January 6, 2009 at 10:50AM
Richard Terrell (KirbyKid) in Critique, Language

So there are a lot of brainy video game bloggers out there. I've subscribed to a great many of them and there are still more springing up. It seems that everyone wants to talk intelligently about video games. Everyone wants to elevate the discourse surrounding this new and exciting art form. And I say, great! How could I not support such a movement. After all, the aims of the Critical-Gaming Network point in the same direction. But how substantive are these blog site?

The purpose of this article isn't to call anyone out. I'm all about uplifting and educating. But I will say that I would like to know what some bloggers really think about the games they cover/hold in such high regard. I want others to uncover the insight and the specifics that come from from studying a game closely, not just playing through it.

Many have commented on the abundance of quality games released in the year of 08 and how they didn't have enough time to play them all. I agree. In fact, I'd go as far as to say, if there were no new games released in 09, I'd still have plenty to play. Between the many Virtual Console games, Wii Disk games, DS games, and PS3 games I have yet to play (not to mention practicing for Brawl tournaments and building LBP/Bangai-O levels), I already have plenty to play this year. This doesn't even include all the games I study for the Critical-Gaming blog or the games that I intend on revisiting like Mario Galaxy, Twilight Princess, and even Wind Waker.

I study games like I study poems, short stories, movies, tv shows, music theory, a piece of music, art, or math, which involves rereading/replaying/rewatching, focused practice, close reading, asking questions, carrying on conversations, investigating, experimenting, and enjoying the entire process. Since last summer, I've been studying New Super Mario Brothers, more specifically World 7-5. I took the insight I gained from writing essays about Super Mario Brothers for the NES and investigated NSMB to see how it held up. The more I played, the more I understood and appreciated the design. Now, NSMB is not only one of my favorite Mario platformers, but I hold world 7-5 as one of the greatest levels in Mario history.

Over my time of study with NSMB, I must have played level 7-5 for at least 10 hours. Personally, I'd much rather play a great level for 10 hours, than a lackluster game for one. Part of process of knowing oneself involves understanding what you like. Even if what you like is something that's less than perfect, broken, or just bad, understanding it for what it is including the positive and negative qualities reflects positively back to you. In other words, opinions aren't shields that you can set up to hold back all questions. And questions on your options aren't attacks against your character. Opinions aren't an end in themselves. They are an invitation for others to understand you and your perspective. The shallower the opinion, the less of yourself you represent.

If you like how video games can tell stories, then I expect you to tell me how the game presents its story or stories. I expect you to tell me what you think are the important characters, events, or elements and why. I expect specific quotes or references to specific moments in the game. I expect more than just the the obvious cursory observations that have been tossed around the gaming enthusiast press in the months leading up to the games release. I expect bloggers to make bold statements and back them up. I expect bloggers to talk, debate, and argue about the issues, not congratulate each other on a job well rehashed or an idea half formed. If a blogger doesn't have time to cover all the games they play in depth (because most don't), then they should try to cover a small part of a game in detail. Perhaps the size of a demo. Perhaps a flash/indie game. 

There are some who will say, "My blog is mine, and I can write in it however I want." This is true. Such bloggers can make their posts along with their excuses. If they do, then they shouldn't make such claims like...

...unless they intend on following through. And to the four blogs from which I borrowed the statements above, I'm not being accusatory. I simply used your "about" statements as examples of purposeful and scholarly intent.

If I were to teach a course on video game design & theory, I would require the students to come into the first day of class with their favorite game in mind. Throughout the course, each student would write essays on their favorite game. And by the end, even if a student realizes that their favorite game isn't very well designed, the gameplay isn't as good as they thought, and the story is filled with plot holes, at least they would understand it and themselves better. At least they would have it in writing.

The only way to get to that higher level of understanding, is to study.

My last bit of advice: Quit trying to say something that no one else is saying, and find the words that say something about you.

Article originally appeared on Critical-Gaming Network (http://critical-gaming.com/).
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