Trilinkual

1. John Scalzi has a fascinating post on “Why there are no great video game critics (yet).” His first argument is that they aren’t yet a mature medium, which is probably true; he notes that it took several decades for mature film and pop music criticism to start appearing (the same is probably true for genre sf, even though it was a subset of an existing form, prose fiction: Astounding 1926, Damon Knight 1952). On the other hand, as a general rule I do think we’re feeling the lack of such criticism today. One of the things Adam Roberts argues in his Palgrave History of Science Fiction is that just as the novel supplanted the short story as the dominant form of sf in the mid 20th century, so film and tv have started to supplant the novel, if they haven’t done so already. I think you can quite easily add computer games, and possibly comics, to ‘film and tv.’ One of my formative sf experiences was playing the later Final Fantasy games on the PS2, for instance—it’s clearly going to become increasingly untenable to talk about sf as a cultural discourse while considering prose fiction in isolation. I’m not saying all critics have to know about everything, and neither am I saying that written sf is going away, but … already we have stories like Kelly Link’s “Magic for Beginners,” which is part of a dialogue with a tv series (Buffy), or David Marusek’s Counting Heads, which is more-or-less consciously structured like a season of US tv; and we have writers like Sean Stewart and Neil Gaiman who happily hop, skip and jump between multiple media.

2. Andrew Wheeler, a senior editor at the Science Fiction Book Club, posts a list of “The Great SF Novels of the 90s.” Context: the SFBC has been reprinting eight books a year from successive decades each year for the past four years. As preparation, each time he’s surveyed readers of RASFW, and latterly his blog, about their preferences, to get ideas. He cuts the data several different ways, but some books keep showing up, as you’d expect—Snow Crash, A Fire Upon The Deep, The Sparrow, Red Mars, Use of Weapons. What’s a little embarrassing, considering this is supposed to be my period, is the number of books and even writers coming up that I’m not very familiar with. I haven’t read Hyperion, or The Iron Dragon’s Daughter, for instance, and very little Bujold, George RR Martin, or Connie Willis. On the other hand, it’s a pretty US-centric list, as you would expect; it doesn’t look complete to me without something by Stephen Baxter, and probably Ken Macleod and Greg Egan as well. What do you think’s missing, though?

3. All hail the Robot Pope!

“But wait!” you say. “The Robot Pope will have bugs!” But that’s where you’re wrong. The only way to really ensure the Robot Pope is as bug-free and as accurate as possible is to create an open-source pope architecture.

9 thoughts on “Trilinkual

  1. I stopped reading computer games magazines in the mid-Nineties and I couldn’t name a Kael or Bangs but this isn’t the same as saying there are no great critics. Videogames clearly aren’t the dominant pop art form of our day (it remains music) but looking at the magazines from the late Eighties onward you’ll see subculture journalism and criticism which aligns strongly with the stuff published in, say, NME.

    What I mean is that it’s immature as a narrative medium.

    I think this is the problem, computer games aren’t predominantly a narrative medium. However it is worth noting that videogames journalism – despite its relative immaturity as a medium – became far more professional, far quicker than SF journalism.

    I also found this pretty amusing:

    Now, this is all part and parcel of a larger issue in video game journalism in general, which is the perception that it’s in the pocket of the industry itself because it is highly dependent on the largess of the video game companies, who offer sneak previews to games and access to programmers, etc. in an informal quid pro quo situation.

    How is this different from any other form of journalism?

    PS “I haven’t read Hyperion, or The Iron Dragon’s Daughter”. For shame.

  2. I think this is the problem, computer games aren’t predominantly a narrative medium.

    Well, yes and no. Yes, in that there are plenty of games that have nothing to do with narrative. No, in that I get the impression (without, admittedly, paying very close attention to the field) that one of the big goals in game development at the moment is creating a sense of narrative in things like first-person shooters. Am I wrong? Each sort of game will need a different type of critical response, clearly.

    How is this different from any other form of journalism?

    Apparently not at all.

  3. Am I wrong?

    I don’t think so (though I’m not really up on the field.) However I think this is something slightly different. Increasingly embedding narrative is not the same as making it a narrative art. Even a FPS with a strong narrative will be primarily an interactive rather than narrative medium. To say critics haven’t emerged because it is not yet mature as a narrative medium seems to be a category error.

    Apparently not at all.

    Oh dear, I think I agree with Graham.

  4. Oh dear, I think I agree with Graham.

    Martin, I’m so sorry.

    Re FPS games, I’m not much into that area, but I remember being wowed as I played my way through Half-Life at the extent to which they did manage to paste a narrative to the necessary movement-through-landscapes. It had the markers you expect from a narrative – big set-pieces, reversals of fortune, changes of scenery – if, of necessity, not much character interaction. I believe they used sometime sf writer Marc Laidlaw to work on that aspect?

    Re the professionalism of videogame journalism – I’m guessing, Niall, but that may be because there’s always been more money swilling around in that field, compared to written sf. Hence more venues which can afford to pay, hence less of the whuffie/amateur culture of much sf reviewing.

  5. Wayne Bremser has written at least one fascinating and mature article on the relationship between Matthew Barney’s art-video Cremaster 3 and the old school video game Donkey Kong. Posted at Game Girl Advance http://www.gamegirladvance.com/archives/2003/05/23/matthew_barney_versus_donkey_kong.html it has also been reprinted at Boing boing i believe.
    Mature rock music criticism can probably be dated back to Paul Williams’ Crawdaddy in 1966, but Paul came from an SF fanzine background. I would be surprised if there isn’t a similar Game criticism online or in a fanzine tradition that overlaps with SF criticism.

  6. Fabulous video game critic Kieron Gillen was so incensed that he didn’t even bother to write the appropriate rant, just assuming his readers could fill in the details.

    I read criticism on the Guardian’s games blog, on Dubious Quality, on the amazing blog Gamers With Jobs, in the Escapist. It’s not, in fact, like the criticism of pure narrative media. In many ways, game criticism is closer to art criticism or music criticism. But there’s good criticism out there; you just have to pay attention. Yes, there’s a lot of consumer information masquerading as criticism; how is this not also true for movies, books and so on?

    I think games may become the dominant art form instead of music over the next ten years; particularly if the big music publishers persist in plodding across the earth like angry dinosaurs.

  7. Alison, thanks for the link: made me laugh far too much. The idea of taking certain rants as read and then moving on to the next subject is one the internet direly needs…

  8. You’ve heard of Stuart Campbell, right? I mean, the man hates RPGs, but let’s not hold that against him.

  9. I haven’t read Hyperion, or The Iron Dragon’s Daughter

    What Martin said. I know you spend all your time with recently published books (too many freebies eh?), but you really do need to read both of these books, among the others that you have shamefully neglected.

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