Apart from being overwhelmed with work, one of the reasons I've had trouble getting this blog started on a regular basis is a problem I have about how to think about good game criticism. My problem: should good writing about games be about the game or about what the game shows beyond itself?
Think about it this way: we get interested in the best books because they make us think about something beyond just the experience of the book. But even some of the most interesting game writing still is focused on games as an interesting medium without much discussion of how that medium connects us to...anything beyond it.
Now of course I don't want to say that games have to "teach" a lesson, and some of the most pathetic game writing I've read has been various Metal Gear Solid fans talk about how MGS4 was a big "statement" against military industrial complexes or some other guff. I don't want games to be morality lessons, just like I don't want books to be "lessons in life." Or rather, if they are, they better be damn smart about it.
The point, though, in its simplest sense, is that good writing has themes. It's *about* something, even if it's only there to show how complicated an issue is or to point out an interesting perspective. Writing that is completely and solely self-reflexive, writing about writing, is ultimately only interesting to professionals, academics or writers, and it ends up becoming shop talk.
But so much of even good game writing focuses on games as games, not games as a medium. To be a medium, it's got to connect disparate subjects, whether it's the reader and some theme or the player and some experience. But there's so very little of that. That's why it seems like so much of game writing is introverted, really interested at the internal workings of various games, but hardly at all interested in connecting games to anything else in the culture. And when it does happen, it falls into the worst GTA violence cliches.
Maybe that's the fault of the games rather than the writers. Even with Bioshock...is Rand's Objectivism really a hot topic? Maybe among precocious adolescents for whom its their first introduction to philosophy. But for the rest of us?
Certainly games don't have "meaning" in the same way that author-centered writing has always been about the production of, discourse, and argument about meaning. But we haven't really figured out what to replace it with.
Put simply: a good book review can speak to someone who hasn't read the book and who may never read the book. But games writing is still aimed at gamers, not at a general reader who can find a reason to be interested in the game beyond the introverted world of the medium and its fans. So what would good extroverted game writing be? I'm still looking for great examples.