RR: Academic

So, Oscar season, right?

I feel that the Oscars have rapidly accelerated to the point where, like the Superbowl, saying “I don’t care about this!” has ceased to be…a statement. It’s become something foregone—not everywhere, but I imagine most of the venues where my voice would actually be heard.

However, beyond my not caring about the Oscars, any more I struggle to understand why anyone cares about the Oscars. My go-to information and analysis, Grantland, was displeased. The AV Club let the wolves have at it with a live chat. Again, maybe that’s echo-chamber talk.

The Oscar voter interviews are drawing reactions that are a combination of “That’s terrible” and “However, it’s pretty much how I figured they’d be,” Which, yeah, of course they are. They’re Donald Sterling-ass revelations, which is to say “revelations which confirm an existing, low opinion of a group of powerful individuals unless you are one of those individuals, in which case it feels totally okay.”

I’m not, obviously.

But I bring this up not to pillory the Oscars, but to reflect on how differently this sort of thing is handled in the videogame industry. Penny Arcade’s “We’re Right Awards” present a strident, confident appraisal of the stuff they think is great. Giant Bomb’s exhaustive listings are accompanied by (sometimes exhausting, but always appreciated) deliberative podcasts detailing the process of arriving at their decisions. It’s always contentious. It’s often brutal. It’s definitely great.

Plus, Giant Bomb goes further and lets  a ridiculous host of folks chime in, from gaming luminaries (at least to folks who follow Giant Bomb) to WWE Superstars (at least to folks who follow Giant Bomb). Hell, John Carpenter was popping in on the reg, though I don’t know if he’ll shift over to Kotaku now that Patrick “Scoops” Klepek has taken his hotdog suit in that direction. Each list is idiosyncratic in many ways, from preamable, to—in some cases—how many items actually make a given Top 10.

You won’t always agree with the items on the list, or at least I don’t. But there’s some prep for that when you see who’s putting items on the list. In the case of GB’s proper list, you can not only anticipate some things based on the personalities, but also see how items are bullied and forced onto the list or cut with great sorrow and trepidation. It’s easy not just to disagree, but to explicitly recognize the specific areas of authority, control, and overlap between your opinion and a particular lister’s.

In general, an argument for why a game reviewer’s voice has authority is that he or she plays a lot of video games in a year. There’s been a sort of ebb tide about that argument, scoring reviews in general, and so forth in the last several years. Folks point out that playing games on a deadline isn’t the best way to play them, and there are huge problems with multiplayer games (which was every game for a while, and is still a major portion) before they’re, you know, out. But you get to know much or all of that going in. There are some folks whose opinions I readily discount, and others who I’ll trust in specific avenues (Patrick Klepek liking a horror game tells me it’s probably a very good horror game, and I should therefore never play it because I’d die). Then there are folks like Vinnie Caravella, whose enjoyment of a thing (in that case, a think I’d already had wishlisted) produces an immediate click on the buy button.

So when yet another year goes by with fury and vexation about how The Academy is a bunch of wealthy, old, white gentlemen sprinkled with folks who maybe hit two of those qualities instead of all three, I’m left wondering who is listening to them at all. I’m spoiled, in that my primary exposure to criticism—beyond my side-eye sneer at literary criticism as performed by English majors in college while being an English major in college—has been in this aggressively-evolving realm, where folks who talk about video games as a job or hobby are saying “Shit no, I won’t take a free game. That’s crazy.” or “Yeah, gimme the game for free, that’s cool. But keep that free pizza out of here.” or even “I don’t review games. I’m just trying to help you spend your money.”

This post is a product of my random-writing-roll table, wherein I roll up assignments that I have to complete for myself, because giving yourself homework is fun! This prompt was “What I want out of video games” and I ran from there.

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