11 November 2010

A Fistful of Writing

Had a couple of reviews appear in The Onion's A.V. Club recently. First up: God of War: Ghost of Sparta.

"Ghost Of Sparta’s plot is more of the series’ highbrow trash. Typical of all God Of War games, the mythological milieu gives this installment a faux erudite patina. Though you're merely banging away at two buttons, the series’ genius is that you forever feel like you’re doing something of grave importance, something that would make a ninth-grade English teacher proud."

Read the rest of my words--the A.V. Club limits me to a miserly 400, so there aren't too many more to read--here. One commenter took issue with my use of the phrase "faux erudite patina." My feelings on this matter:

1. It makes me happy that people are not only reading my reviews, but also reading them closely enough to take issue with my phrasings.

2. I think "faux erudite patina" accurately describes my experience with the series--the GOW games have always come off as smarter than they actually are--but I can see the commenter's point. This phrase would probably merit at least an eight out of 10 on the Douche Scale, with one being least-douchiest and 10 being maximum-douchiest.

Still, I'm standing by my phrase. It's probably the most interesting string of words I've written all year. Just look at the way those vowels and consonants crash into one another! Whee! Say it aloud a few times. Faux. Erudite. Patina. See? It's already starting to grow on you.

My second more recent review for The A.V. Club was for the Kinect. A sample:

"In its worst moments, Kinect doesn’t feel like a better way to play—it’s more like a barrier between you and the game. Instead of drawing gamers deeper into the experience and making things more immersive, actions like navigating gameplay menus or pausing a game—simple actions that gamers take for granted—suddenly feel complex and needlessly obtuse. At these moments, veteran gamers will pine for the poetic certainty of an old-fashioned button press."

Read the rest of it here. In typical A.V. Club fashion, one commenter dings me a second time for my previous use of "faux erudite patina" in my Ghost of Sparta review. Bravo, sir. Brah. Vo.

One comment did get my ire up. A guy--well, I'm assuming it was a guy--left a comment saying that he wishes two things would happen. One: That the A.V. Club learn how to review games critically. And two: That the A.V. Club stop reviewing games altogether.

The not-so-subtle subtext here: That I have absolutely no idea what I am doing. That I do not know my ass from a hole in the ground.

To you, sir, I say this: I do in fact know my ass from a hole in the ground.

Of course, these sentiments are commonplace on message boards and comment threads. I've read them before. I'll read them again. People are always informing me that I am terrible at my job.

That simply is not true.

For some reason, gamers--more so than movie lovers, or TV fans, or book readers--perpetually feel that they are born not only with the toolset required to write and speak critically about games, but that they are also born with the inherent god-given right to review games.

No matter how well one writes, or how well one articulates something about a game, there will forever be be an army of salivating, semi-delusional jackals out there waiting to let you know they could have done your job exactly one million times better than you have done it.

To those jackals, I say: I hear you. And I love you.

I once felt the way you do.

And trust me: You. Are. Wrong.

Irrefutable proof that you are wrong: If you could do my job one million times better than I'm doing it, you would be doing it instead of informing me that I am terrible at it.

Now please enjoy this complimentary box of faux erudite patina.


  1. Bravo! I personally know someone who reviews video game on a daily basis and it is not an easy job. (Endless nights of typing... Brutal!) It's not only saying "I like that one but not so much that other one". It's making sure that you dig deep enough in the game to extract what's good, what's not good, why it's good and why it sucks!

    I guess it is part of the "Human Experience" to always compare yourself to the one next to you and asume that you are better.

  2. This comment has been removed by the author.

  3. I think the problem is also the state of video games.

    Scott mentioned not long ago in a Reviews on the Run segment that video games are still a one or two note medium. While I agree that most games are only able to affect the player in a fairly trivial manner, I think the implications of this fact also make their way into criticism.

    Until games can evolve into a compelling narrative, which I believe will happen, criticism can only comment on the superficial and basic characteristics of the medium.

    Today, the talents of writers like Scott are applied to a medium which has a readership that does not need to look beyond the matters of gameplay, graphics and sound. Therefore, in my opinion, EVERY reader is a critic and worse, every reader is qualified.

    Now, that does not mean they can write well nor does it mean that Scott cannot. It does mean, however, that until the medium moves forward into substance rather than fancy, it is easier for the reader to miss the importance of a great writer like Scott.

    And I must also mention that the determination, blood, sweat and (maybe?) tears that Scott has shed over the years have not been in vain. We are just at a point where it is hard to see the fruit in such labors and sadly, once games DO get beyond the two note experience, players will likely not make the connection between evolution and criticism.

    Between the medium and its most devout and intelligent players.

  4. For reasons I do not understand, there is a popular sentiment that AV Club game reviews are somehow "wrong" or at least below the standards of the rest of the site. I must admit to being part of that mob once, but I think things have gotten much better and now that I've had to write a few reviews myself, I no longer see it as some pushover task.

    Did the person in question at least offer an opinion as to what your Kinect review lacked that he wanted?

  5. Scott,

    As a game reviewer you're refreshingly honest, and often unyielding. You demand better, and when you play a better game, you acknowledge it. If I listened to the lighthearted, silver lining finding reviewers, I'd have a library of mediocre games collecting dust on my shelves.

    The market is saturated with titles trying to milk the consumer of their hard earned money and I appreciate you saving us from being pulled in by awful gimmicks and money grabs.

    I'm an X-Box 360 owner and unless Kinect gets some titles worth buying, I'm not even considering picking it up. I don't have a Wii for a reason.



  6. Good read! Also I caught an error, "there will forever be be an army of salivating". Too many "be." INCOMING GRAMMAR NAZIS! LEFT SIDE! EVEN SIDE!etc.

  7. Excellent post as usual.

  8. First of all, I want to say that I regularly follow your written work. I have since Crispy. But, I do want to make a few points...

    1. Using a string of words from three foreign languages is douche-like, as you noted. It's also confusing. I'm not dense -- I get what you are saying with those three words. And, perhaps utilizing them allowed you to utilize more words elsewhere. However, it still is awkward at best. Do I love the sentence? Absolutely. Is it awkward? Yep.

    2. I absolutely love the community that is the A.V. Club. The thoughtful diversions, the "white knight" attitude of some and the stark contrast of others, and, my personal favourite, the non-professional professionals. It's part of the site dynamic. Love it or hate it, I don't see it changing.

    3. I believe that the rise in the popularity of gaming has coincided with the internet (oh wait, that's fact!). As such, and rather unlike literature and film, those that wanted their chance in the limelight have had more tools than ever before. Movie reviews have been around for ages in papers. Even gaming magazines, which are all but done for, are a relatively new medium in comparison. With the internet right there -- and those associated with using both early on -- we have seen this rise in my non-professional professionals.

    To conclude, I think your work is fine at worst. I'm entertained, I'm compelled to read on, and I'm treated to an honest take (Halo: Reach anyone?) that I'm not likely to receive anywhere else. For that, I salute you.

  9. you're not a bad lil writer. wish you'd add some "wicked dude"s to your reviews.

  10. You aren't terrible at your job but the thing to keep in mind is even though, yeah you're a good reviewer, and yeah there are troll-jackals who say "you suck; I hate you; other generic troll talk"... don't get cocky or say people who aren't reviewers can't say when you maybe did make a bit of a mistake or suggest ideas and they are wrong(like the some people on the escapist can be). Not that trolls/jackals are right when they say you are terrible at you job. You make a lot of good reviews but you also should recognize when you do make mistakes. There are other people who review games well and get trolls too, people like Victor Lucas. You are a great reviewer, and I imagine this post was just a venting really, so know I'm not criticizing you for posting this but , just a gentle reminder that the trolls or jackals or whoever disagrees speak up more often, than people who agree with you. There are others who are smart and can disagree too though, who aren't professional reviewers. You are a respectable reviewer and do a good job still, and keep it up... and I like the Kinect post, and the newer top 10 of 2010 post. =)