Critique Versus Criticism: Why Fans Don’t Treat Video Games As Art

You’ll remember my article a year where I attempted to articulate my thoughts on why video games cannot be art. In a nutshell, I described video games as being more of a product and experience than a piece of art per say. That’s not to say there isn’t art in video games–there are hundreds and thousands of artists that work on video games that create great pieces of art; however, I argued that the total product is not classified as art.

Yet another reason why I feel video games cannot be considered art, in this time, is because of our views and conceptions about it. This year, and in past years, we’ve seen stark and vehement attacks on video game developers, companies, and certain individuals–both malicious and targeted in nature. One such instance was surrounding the creator of Return to Monkey Island, Ron Gilbert, who refused to share any more details on his game this past summer because of the constant abuse and hate that was slung his way due to his “new art style.”

This wasn’t the only instance of abuse by “fans” of video games; it has plagued itself to the developers at Santa Monica Studios about God of War Ragnarok, The Last of Us 2’s director Neil Druckmann receiving anti-semetic and abusive messages, Apex Legends developers Respawn Entertainment receiving abusive messages, and so many more.

This abuse has also permeated into comments and questions about creative and technical choices made by developers on Gotham Knights and A Plague Tale: Requiem capping their gameplay at 30FPS, prioritizing graphical quality.

These comments, articles, blogs, messages, and responses degrade the “art form” one would tack on to video games. We are all victim to this, as writing out your opinion on a widely distributed medium like Twitter, Facebook, and other social media sites can be damaging to creators working hard on their games. Even being a content creator like a streamer, or even podcasters (myself included) can give one an inflated ego, soap box, and a sense of entitlement to speak your mind regardless of the repercussions that could transpire. We degrade the medium with our expectations and our personal visions of the products, and flock to social media platforms and content platforms to display our hate and disgust for said mediums in an effort to hopefully find others who agree with our statements and declarations. This group polarization is damaging in many ways beyond video games, as it can inspire fake news, and can even spread hate and discontent that is neither warranted or called for.

Group polarization isn’t a new concept, as it is defined as a tendency for one to shift towards the extremes of ideas brought out by others, compared to reaching one’s own conclusion. If one were to do a search on a new game that interested them, and saw articles and posts that demean and demoralize it due to the writer’s own personal reasons, that can indirectly influence to possible avoid something they would otherwise enjoy. This of course excludes games that are broken and unplayable due to technical difficulty; however, that should not need to be said. Group polarization can also reinforce one’s own feelings so much that they become unable to listen to other’s viewpoints.

Critics of media and art tend to be inflammatory and attention-grabbing, because by all accounts they want you, the reader, to buy into what they are saying, click on their posts, and share their opinions. Not only does this include articles, blogs, reviews, podcasts, and videos, but also with social media posts. Create an inflammatory statement about something and watch your “likes” go up, or receiving supportive comments, can be euphoric experiences and encourage them to provide more.

According to Terry Barrett from Ohio State University on criticizing art, “Critics, however, are much more likely to be persuasive by putting their evidence in the form of lively writing, using colorful terms in carefully wrought phrases, to engage the reader with the critic’s perception and understanding so that eventually the reader will be likely to think, ‘Yes, I see what you mean. Yes, I agree with the way you see it.'” Critics, he describes, are only out to persuade you how things are seen through their eyes in the most persuasive way manner, especially if the viewer or reader has not experienced it for themselves.

That rhetoric, as I’ve stated before, perverts the video game medium and can cause more damage than good.

Instead, I must argue that critique versus criticism can push the medium forward to be more inclusive and welcoming to not only fans, but also to the countless developers that work extremely hard to bring out the video games we all love and cherish. To help understand the difference, criticism seeks to harm and inflame tension, while critique seeks to understand and seeks clarification. Judy Reeves, the author of Writing Alone, Writing Together; A Guide for Writers and Writing Groups, delves deeper into the differences of critique versus criticism.

  • Criticism tends to look for faults, while critiquing tends to look for structures
  • Criticism condems what is not understood, while critiquing seeks clarification
  • Criticism is negative, while critiquing is positive (even in regard to what isn’t working)

There is more to these thoughts, and I echo my point that if we are to respect video games as an “art”, then we must respect the artists, creators, and writers that make the work. There is no guarantee that we will love and appreciate every video game out there, and that’s ok because not every game is made for a wide audience. Instead, I feel we should step away from the role of a wrecking ball and not be so quick to tear down and destroy others because of their creations and works because of your misunderstanding, or what didn’t match your taste, opinion, or even your wants.

For a group of people that consider video games as an art form, we sure don’t treat it like one.

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