Saturday, September 20, 2008

Why Gamers Should Embrace Critical-Material

I have noticed the reactions from gamers and non-gamers alike when I utter the words "critique," "essay," "analysis," or any such term. Among the range of disinterested, repulsed, and condescending reactions, few becomes excited at the idea of reading an essay about any form of entertainment or art.

We've all written essays and book reports throughout our time in school, and perhaps we have grown to hate them over time. Some falsely associate reading a critical essay, which is very different from a review, with work, time consumption, and even flowery, filigree without any real substance. We are people who value our time and invest in our entertainment. So reading a thousand words of meretricious persiflage shouldn't excite us.

But a proper critical essay is not any of these things. A proper essay is clear, concise, and cogent in delivering its message and/or ideas. The reader who takes up such an essay has nothing to lose. With every turn of the page comes a deeper understanding. The writers of such material aren't masked magicians seeking to pull the curtains and reveal the secret inner workings of the world's favorite magic tricks. Such writers don't intend to break the illusion of a trick, but rather uncover a deeper truth in a work.

I've come across many people who squirm, fidget, and practically throw tantrums at the idea of thinking deeply about their favorite TV shows, movies, and video games; especially video games. It's as if all of a sudden, these individuals are transported from the comfort of their living rooms to the ridged, plastic, unyielding prisons of a desk in a dimly lit high school class room. But thinking deeply and obtaining a better understanding is not what they fear. Many times, it's explanation that such individuals seek.

To prove it, just look at any one of these examples: Death Note, Ocean's 11, or The Murders in the Rue Morgue. Each of these works feature an excellent blend of up front information, charismatic characters, and mystery that entices the viewers/readers to try and piece the solution together for themselves. Toward the end of each of these works, what actually happened behind the scenes is revealed and explained thoroughly. Some say "I knew it." Other might say, "I didn't see that coming." But all would rather know than be left in the dark having only a piece of their potential enjoyment.

To draw the analogy, everything preceding the explanation these works is analogous to any form of entertainment or art. The detail explanation that walks through all the steps and piecing together exactly how the elements come together is analogous to a critical essay. Knowing more about a work and how it works doesn't ruin the story/show/film/video game. Not only does it increase one's enjoyment of the work, but afterward it's hard to imagine being without it. Ask anyone who has read/seen Death Note, Ocean's 11, or The Murders in the Rue Morgue if they would rather have had the explanation removed from their experience.

The Sixth Sense is not popular because of the twist at the end. It's popular because when the twist is revealed it creates an "ah ha!" moment giving the viewer a unique opportunity to revisit the film in their mind with a new lens of understanding. Even when watching the film again, the viewer remembers their impressions from when they didn't know the twist in addition to developing a new set of impressions from the informed perspective. In this way, it's like watching two films!

Knowledge is power, and the more lenses one has to view a work of art the more interesting and entertaining it becomes. This is how it is for me at least.

So if you're the type of person who is warming up to the idea of reading critical-essays on your favorite video games, then the Critical-Gaming blog is the right place for you. I pour hours of work and research into each essay so that you don't have to. I know personally, I wouldn't like The Legend of Zelda: Phantom Hourglass as much as I do if I didn't write a few essays on it. It's no coincidence that it's my second favorite Zelda next to Majora's Mask.

If video games are the newest and most engaging/interactive art form, a gamer might never understand why unless they start asking questions, thinking more deeply, and tapping into the discourse of their favorite video games. Why wouldn't we want to get extra value from our games?

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