Everyone's a Critic

When we were discussing bringing the ol’ Sasquatch out of retirement, the biggest motivating factor for me was the chance to continue improving as a writer and editor. Now that things are underway again, I’ve been dusting off some physical and mental baggage from my past life as a game critic. I imagine any “creative” is sitting on troves of buried fears and telltale hearts; at least, that’s the conclusion I’m drawing from my own circus of neuroses. Chief among those fears is this question:

Does my work as a critic have any value?

More specifically: as a critic of art, media and technology, is there any intrinsic or enduring value in asserting truths about something I didn’t make?

The Wrong Question

Let’s start with an example of a question I might try to tackle on this blog, like:

“What is the most important game of the past decade?”

In this case, the answers could vary dramatically — especially depending on whom you ask:

  • To designers: The Witness?
  • To graphics programmers: Something in VR, or the latest, smoothest game shipped on a modern engine?
  • To narrative designers: Inside or Journey?
  • To writers: The Last of Us?
  • To investors and publishers: World of Warcraft? Star Citizen? Minecraft?
  • To me: Undertale? Rock Band? Persona 4?

My answers are all over the place, and those are just off the top of my head. What if I applied existing metrics like Metacritic averages, sales figures, active player counts, and so on? It becomes exhausting, like seeking out the end of a fractal.

So why do we even bother with rankings, with review scores on a 100-point scale, with accolades and Game of the Year awards? Why critique anything at all?

This idea began to haunt me, but in that tantalizing way that suggests “hey, there’s an article in here.” (Pro tip: learn to transform your doubts and fears into a marketable skill.) But before I could kick into auto-pilot and crank out a traditional three-pillar essay, I realized I was asking the wrong question.

The Right Question

Because the original question hinges on context and personal ideals, it assumes we all share the same understanding of inherent value. Clearly, that’s problematic.

“Inherent value” is a fallacy. Value is a description, an interpretation in the eye of the beholder. There’s no more inherent value in this article than there is in the air I breathe or the Nicolas Cage .gifs I covet. So there’s no sense in trying to ascribe an absolute metric or weight to my work. Chasing that thread will only lead to frustration and anxiety.

Instead, let’s assert that anything can have value, but creation of value requires input from both the creator and the recipient. The creator makes something and chooses how they want to present it to others (if at all — but that’s still a choice). And the audience brings its expectations and values to this creation and, based on the creator’s introduction, seeks to categorize and assign value to it. It’s almost like a conversation, and in that sense, it brings people together.

Last week, I was lucky enough to see Seth Godin give a talk to my company. He had plenty of insight I appreciated, but what stood out to me was his definition of art. To him, “art is when a human does something that brings people closer together.”

People make games. Our crew here plays and discusses those games. We take our impressions and share them with each other and with you. The goal has always been to bring us all closer to the experiences we seek. And if both you and I identify value in that goal, then hey, we’re all set.