So over on Facebook, Brendan and I had a short conversation about games crit. The topic of “games in themselves” came up, which Brendan understands in this way:
Well, I think the term “in themselves” implies an idea of looking at a game as a hermeneutically sealed-off, purified thing, completely detached from any human relationship to it (be it creator or consumer). I think that implies focusing on what shape this polygon is or how many pixels between the avatar and their goal and nothing but straight up description. I think this is entirely valid writing and super useful for those who want to understand how a game was constructed (namely, a developer readership), but I think it is less useful for an audience of players who are much more interested in understanding their reception of the game than the game as this sealed up mechanical object distinct from their engagement with it.
As we’ve spoken about before, I think being player-centric or game-centric are both lacking and I think the most important work (‘most important’ for a readership of players wanting to comprehend their reception of the game, not ‘most important’ in an ultimate sense) looks at the relationships between games and players to richly describe actual engagements and receptions. I think looking at anything ‘in itself’ potentially cuts off all the relationships with other actors/objects that make that thing itself in the first place.
So yeah. I guess when I hear “games in themselves” I think of film critics talking about nothing other than what kind of camera was used and what wattage the lightbulbs were, and I think of what Top Gear would be like if they spent entire segments talking about nothing but the motor, and not the motor in relation to the upholstery in relation to the brand in relation to a whole heap of other things that aren’t simply in ‘the game itself’.
That’s what I think of when people say games in themselves. I think of all this interesting and totally valid writing that isn’t really that useful for the readership and the goals that I am talking about.
But link me to a piece of writing you think is about games in themselves, and I will probably really like the piece and just disagree about it being about games in themselves.
To which I responded:
Trying to be as brief as possible: games centered criticism rejects fetishizing the moment when the playing subject enters into a relationship with the game object and begins to think of the game as existing only for the subject’s pleasure. So it rides both lines: on one hand, it allows us to think through the player’s interaction with the game without romanticizing that relationship (rendering it divine); on the other hand, it does allow for an appreciation of the nonhuman, and ekphraistically impossible, elements of the game. There can be a beauty of code; the cascade of physics is, itself, a huge part of the game, and indeed probably means more for the hardware of the game than the player does.