All week long I’ve been reading tweets that have intimated that there has been some kind of sea change opinion shift in the way that Bioshock Infinite was received by audiences. The entire conversation has had a kind of “these damn hipsters” feel, as if the HD rerelease of some blockbuster game should be met with the sanctified silence of the venerated tomb, and I just wanted to take a moment to maybe put some of these sentiments into perspective.
In my neck of the internet woods, Bioshock Infinite was put under the knife. I collected thirty pieces of criticism on the game myself, and I probably made the active choice not to put another thirty on there for content overlap reasons. It was a game that the critical community showed up for, talked about, and came to some general consensus about. People were critical, have been critical, and actually formed an opinion about this game before it was expedient to on the release of the HD remasters in TYOOL 2016.
I’m not surprised by the surprise that some people critically engaged with the game. Tevis Thompson’s post-Infinite review castigation piece neatly split “critics” and “reviewers” into two camps, and if I had to hazard a guess I would say that the people whose tweets I’ve seen were maybe more familiar with the latter than the former.
And it isn’t their fault. Games criticism seems to be everywhere in my internet social circles, but that’s because I’m in it, have been in it. I’ve watched a dozen sites, magazines, and personal projects centered on critical inquiry in games sink beneath the tides of no money, no attention, no time. I’ve seen other places linger on (this site might be in that lingering zone). I can’t really say that I’ve seen any site thrive, even if thriving means living on the best side of precarity, but I have seen some critics do well, which is maybe the best thing that I can ask for.
There was a time that the primary argument in the broad world of games criticism went something like this: if we can get things archived so that people have a history and if we can get people paid so they’re not scrambling all the time then we will be able to have a critical community that will raise the level of discourse around games. That seemed to be a shared goal, and many, many people have left the world of games disgusted because they came to believe that achieving the first two might not move the chains on the third in any way.
So “no one criticized Infinite before!” comes to signify two things for me.
The first is that the games criticism of three, four, five years ago wasn’t all that successful. We didn’t reach the broad audience, and that’s a bummer, but it’s also not surprising.
The second is that something has changed. If the world were the same way it was three years ago, the people finding out about these long standing critiques would still be walking around thinking everyone sees Infinite as a holy grail of achievement. And that’s heartening, in some ways, because it means the discourse has shifted that little, small amount. The words got out, somehow.
In any case, that’s just what I’ve been thinking about this week. I’ve got the long view on “games criticism” at this point, like quite a few others, and I’d say that 80% of the people doing that kind of work on the internet who predate myself and my “cohort” have gone on to other things. Maybe even higher. But there’s a weird print in the culture in the shape of their words, and well, I guess that’s something.