Arts and Crafts

I’ve been musing recently on the difference between literary criticism (and movie criticism) and game criticism.

One of the things that came to mind was that literary criticism is more focused on the art of its subject and game criticism is more focused on the craft.

By Art, I mean what a game is.
The Art of a game is that undefinable “something” that affects you on a deep level. The author of Zen and The Art of Motorcycle Maintainance would call it “Quality.”

By Craft, I mean what a game does.
The Craft of a game is the skill of execution — the features, gameplay, etc. This has more to do with the external experience of playing the game.

The two are completely linked — you can’t have good Art without good Craft, and vice-versa. It’s just a question of what you choose to look at when you critique a game.

The best way I could illustrate this would be by example:

Here’s a piece of criticism that focuses on the art [SPOILER ALERT. DON’T READ THIS UNLESS YOU’VE FINISHED BOTH PORTAL AND BIOSHOCK]:

Here’s a piece of criticism that focuses on the craft:

Anyway, I’m not trying to make any specific point here, only that I think it’s an interesting difference.

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  1. I’ve been thinking about it and I think I misrepresented the author of ZAMM’s point of view here.

    I think he’d say that both were trying to describe Quality, but that the “Art” one was describing it in what he calls the “Romantic” view and the “Craft” one is describing it in the “Classical” view.

    He is really pretty clear about pointing out that Quality is an absolute in both views, and it’s just a difference of perspective as to how you describe it.

    Looking at it that way, it’s really more interesting to note the Classic / Romantic split there. Why is it that more articles would be describing it classically than romantically? Does it have to do with the fact that technology attracts those with a classical outlook? Probably.

    In which case it’s interesting that now the industry is starting to attract the other half. That means something rather significant, but I don’t know if I can quite put my finger on it. It’s a herald, but I don’t know yet what of.

  2. Damn, I need to go pick up a book and two games. Then I’ll have an intelligent response to your points. 🙂

    For now: I think you’re right about the audience, and it’s shift. I’d also point out that the craft of games is more apparent to a game player than the craft of movies, and they have more interest in it. You rarely hear people talk about how beautiful a movie is, and certainly not the film quality. That’s because high-quality film is standard in that industry, but making a good looking game is a constant challenge for game developers. Perhaps this will change when the technology behind games settles down a bit, but it took movies a good long time to do that. (For the record, I never read a book review without seeing some mention of the writing style of the author, but again that isn’t as quantifiable as graphics are)

  3. Yeah, but when was the last time you read a book review that talked about the typeface the author used, or how many words it had per page, or exactly how many hours it took the reviewer to read it?

    Those things happen, yeah, but usually as a result of the author doing something with the craft that is unusual or which impacts the art.

    But they talk about that shit all the time in game reviews.

    I think you’re right, it does have something to do with technology and our visuals settling down. But I think once you play Bioshock and Portal, and read that review that you’ll see I’m also talking about something else (and I can’t put my finger on exactly what it is).

  4. I totally agree, it’s a really odd bit of gaming culture, and while I can see contributing factors I can’t adequately explain the phenomena.

    Of course I love New Games Journalism, and I love the Penny Arcade Style (which doesn’t have as much of an official name, as far as I know) of reviewing games. Actually, Zero Punctuation is exactly what I like. Those are actual reviews, and exemplify what I’m talking about. Would you consider ZP to be more Classic or Romantic?

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