The Cuphead Runneth Over Dean

GamesBeat writer Dean Takahashi, @deantak, recently had some trouble playing Cuphead:

This new video has, in many ways, brought back the game journalist competency debate that last reared its ugly head when Polygon’s Arthur Gies played Doom and didn’t do it very well.

The emergent arguments and accusations levied at the person in question have been as various as they are dubious: That Mr. Takahashi’s specific position, as a video game journalist, requires him to be good at all games, or flatly refuse to touch anything and everything that he is not “good enough” at; and that his incompetence at one game now renders him entirely incompetent on the whole, furthermore throwing his entire review history under question. In addition, his performance has not only at once “embarrassed” him, but also the entity he works for.

Finally, it was to be noted, Takahashi’s flub had once again illustrated – nay, revealed – the review charade, calling into question the entire premise of not only games journalism, games journalists, but also journalism and the media on the whole!

This is to say nothing of the dismaying meanness directed at Takahashi, which quite obviously relates, in large part, to a collective psychosis, an osmosis into social media -based outrage culture, wherein any and all faces protruding from the otherwise ubiquitous and oblique mass media diet are instantly bandwagoned upon, to be smitten with holy anger for daring to err, in public, or in private. There were also those that simply tried throwing further fuel on the fire, like @stillgray, who chose to abandon professional courtesy in favour of blatant populism.

In this post – which is, by the way, not a defense of Takahashi, or in favour of any other specific person – I discuss the idea of whether we can have, at all, a shared criterion of competence that can be applied uniformly, and fairly, to video game criticism. I also discuss the unique – and very, very difficult position – that games journalism, and especially reviewing as one of its sub-sections, occupies amidst different types, or forms, of the objects of aesthetic analysis.

If you, in your heart of hearts, think that Mr. Dean Takahashi is a bad, or a flawed, person because he’s bad at Cuphead, and that as a journalist, this would then imply that he essentially fakes his his way through reviews (also discussing game endings), then I guess that’s fine, too. Takahashi makes for an easy target for criticism, after all: One can easily bring up some of the more indefensible things that he’s written, even discounting all the PR release talk, like his claim that a Warhammer 40 000 game ripped off Gears of War.1

That being said, I think it might be pertinent, for this article, to read and attempt to understand his personal response to the debacle, which unfortunately ran with the same clichéd headline I had prepared for my own article.

The essential point of this article is simply this: If you at all believe that occasions such as these are clear-cut, open-and-shut cases in favour of the idea that “games journalists are all bad and should feel bad,” then I want to present an argument to the opposite. I also detest the idea of intentionally avoiding the complexities, difficulties, and ambiguities of the topic and believe that does a great, great disservice to all of us: To those writing reviews, and to those reading them.

There is nothing simple at all about the constant negotiation and balancing act that a games journalist does, between the three terrible pillars of competence, objectivity, and public servitude.

(more…)

  1. I do actually, personally, think the addendum to the original Space Marine article makes it a fantastic read. It actually encapsulates many of the problems that I discuss in this article. []

Read More

Video Game Criticism and the Question of S#%t

The Binding of Isaac

I had (erroneously) assumed that I would never, ever be writing about s#$t in video games, but after recently posting my conceptual/generic analysis of The Binding of Isaac, questions of merit, value/quality and meaning, as well as the overall relevance of video game criticism, emerged – chiefly at Rock, Paper Shotgun, as usual, the Mecca of Video Games that it so happens to be (props to the poster Hexagonalbolts for the tip).

A swift return to the wonderful, wonderful world of Isaac is thusly in order. Obviously, being the hotbed for argument that it inherently is thanks to its religious leanings, The Binding of Isaac has been more or less at the centre of critical attention ever since its release.

Still, the mere idea of taking Isaac, well, seriously, seemed to produce in some commenters a more intensified response yet, and indeed, many questions were asked, more arguments had, with many an opinion ranging from the honest to the ironic. The question seemed to be, isn’t it simply too much to write about Isaac like this? Here are a series of strawmen of some of the aforementioned:

  • Are video games worthy of or suitable for analysis?
  • Is The Binding of Isaac worthy of such a critique?
  • Shouldn’t video game criticism be just about play and/or quality?
  • Are any of these meanings intended? Why look for them if they aren’t?
  • Why bother?

I’m not so sure that I can come even close to answering these questions in just one article, but on the whole, the question of “Why bother?” seems to encompass the rest of them. We’ll stick to that, for the most part. The reason I’m quick to jump into the fray with an in-depth response is that I find this particular discussion, of meaning, to be relevant for video game criticism on the one hand, and separate from the “games as art(?)” discourse on the other, even if this doesn’t appear to be the case first-hand.

The one chief aim of this article, then, is to answer the question of “Why bother?” especially as it pertains to the semantic/narrative functions of video games, as well as to discuss our understanding of video game criticism (its aims, objects, uses). As mentioned, I will rather try work my way around the question of “art”, only ever dipping my toes in its waters with the intention of otherwise staying firmly ashore. (more…)

Read More