I really enjoy this video of a talk Robert Yang gave at the NYU Gamecenter a couple months back. In particular, I like that Yang pushes (and has been pushing in a lot of places like his blog, twitter, other conferences) the idea that learning to read code is an important part of thinking about games, whether that means your writing criticism for free on the internet or doing so as part of your academic life.
This is of course a subject fraught with conflict, and I am absolutely aware of all the critiques on both sides of the “do people need to learn to code?” fight. I’m not a hardline believer in the idea that you have to make in order to talk, but I do think there is something like a hierarchy of useful tools when talking about videogames and digital media in general. The top, most useful tool, is being able to actively work in whatever media you are studying — at that level, you probably have the capability to make very specific and precise instruments of measure and analysis that allow you to ask very specific questions of your objects. Below that, you have something like an openness and a desire to both collect and understand those instruments. This is learning to read code, and more importantly, learning to know what you need to be able to read in code (or, maybe even better, hardware and how it is operating). Below that, the standard set of media studies tools that apply to everything equally — good old phenomenological analysis, close reading, and everything that comes with those two tools.
I’m mostly riffing here, but I can’t imagine this is too contentious, is it?