Want to read a great game review (great review, I mean – I have no opinion about the game yet)? Try this:
My only real quibble with Chris Suellentrop’s review is that he’s more forgiving of misogyny and the “fun” of virtual violence than I might be. Here’s Sam Houser on the topic of misogyny:
“I mean, I suppose we could have done it, early enough on – with a female character.”
Leaving aside the fact that Suellentrop was able to get one of gaming’s more reclusive figures to speak out, I think the discussion was about more than just player avatars – Suellentrop seemed to have been pointing out that all the female characters in the series are treated badly. But, hey, if next time around we get cool female avatars in a GTA game, that’s a win, right?
So, yeah, much as I like the review, I feel that Suellentrop lets GTA V off the hook too easily for its content “issues.” Of course, in the spirit of total honestly, that has to be qualified by the fact that I’ve always found it nearly impossible to get past the content and story choices the GTA team offers. I try, really, I try, but I always seem to find the content too much to bear, even when the gameplay is rock solid.
And in this case, Suellentrop makes a solid case for the gameplay, assessing it in highly positive (and likely accurate) terms. My squeamishness is easily countered. Feel free to ignore me on this…
THE IMPORTANT THING
The important thing is not who likes or doesn’t like the content, or even who does or doesn’t like the gameplay – the important thing is that this review told me everything I needed to know to decide whether to buy the game or not. And then it went on to tell me what place the game might play (sorry for the pun) in a larger cultural context.
I read the review and knew to expect open world stuff on a whole new level, more options available to me than ever, great music, visuals that will blow me away, content that makes me go “ugh” and a story that makes me go “meh.” (Okay, I made those last two up – that’s me talking not the reviewers! Bad Warren!)
But all of that being given, the thing I found most compelling, was as Suellentrop put it, the game “evokes and satirizes the anxieties of 21st-century life. There’s a fake Facebook (LifeInvader), a fake Twitter (Bleeter), a fake Apple (Fruit), a fake Kickstarter (Beseecher), a fake “50 Shades of Grey” (“Chains of Intimacy”), even a fake Call of Duty (Righteous Slaughter 7, a first-person shooter game that advertises itself with the tagline “The identical art of contemporary killing”).”
Oh, yeah, I’m in. Facebook as LifeInvader? Twitter as Bleeter? That kind of self-consciousness and cultural awareness are right up my alley – just what it takes to crank a game up to 11. A less well-conceived and executed review might not have twigged me to all that was going on in the game; this one did. If only all game reviews were like that!
So, I’ve read the review. I’ve thought through my history with the series. Will I buy and play GTA V?
You kind of have to if you call yourself a gamer or game developer, right I’m just hoping I can get past the content this time…
REVIEW AS CONVERSATION-STARTER
Whether you’re a curmudgeonly developer, a gamer, a parent, a reviewer or a game-hating politician, go read this review. At the very least it’ll make a great conversation starter. And we need more adult conversation around games – the way they play, the ideas they express and their place in the broader media/cultural world.
And that conversation doesn’t have to end with debate about the merits of a single game. One might just as easily use it as a jumping off point for a discussion of my current fave topic – the state of games criticism today.
SERIOUS CRITICISM IS ALIVE AND ALMOST WELL
Thanks to many of you, I’m starting to find that the kind of writing and thinking I see in the New York Times is more common than I thought, There’s more quality games criticism out there than I expected. Sadly, if unsurprisingly, most of it is found on gamer-oriented websites, which still leaves the NY Times as one of the few outlets – maybe the only one – that reaches normal humans. But, luckily, the Times critics are doing a fine job.
And that leads to what I consider to be a Big Question…
A BIG QUESTION
Does either Stephen Totilo or Chris Suellentrop have a large enough body of work – more importantly, a philosophically coherent body of work – to justify a collection of reviews in printed or ebook form?
Such a collection, with an introductory section outlining the critical foundation supporting all the individual reviews, could be our “I Lost It at the Movies,” our “Confessions of a Cultist,” or our “The Private Eye, The Cowboy and the Very Naked Girl.” (And if you don’t know those books, look ‘em up.)
Someone should publish that book. Now. I’d blurb that book in a heartbeat. Heck, I’d write the foreword, if anyone asked! And then I’d start bugging Totilo and Suellentrop to tackle the little job of writing the games version of “The American Cinema.” At this point, there’s no one I’d trust more to do the job right.
A BIGGER QUESTION
Back to GTA V – anyone know whether I should play on Xbox or PS3? That’s one thing Suellentrop and the Times didn’t tell me!