Experiments in Long-Form Gaming Criticism

I try to strike a good balance on Medium between writing stuff I’m interested in, and writing stuff I think a potential audience might be interested in.

If I don’t like the topic, I’m not going to have much to say about it. And if other people don’t like the topic, then it’s like shouting into the ether.

I recently started a couple of long-form pieces on Fallout 4 and Skyrim, Bethesda’s two modern gaming masterpieces. Neither one has a specific ending date or number of installments.

They’re the most “for me” pieces of writing I’ve put up on Medium so far.

I love the idea of long-form gaming criticism. It goes completely against the norm of pumping out content around a game’s release then breathlessly moving to the next one. But, I think longer-form criticism more closely reflects the way that people play games, particularly longer ones. I like to think a great deal about the games I’m playing, and I don’t really get to share those thoughts with anyone unless someone I know personally is playing the same thing at the same time.

If I were able to take a poll of my readers, I’d imagine most of them would just want me to review random headphones or whatever the latest Starbucks drink is. I’m going to keep doing both of those things…although I already reviewed the latest Starbucks drink, and the only headphones I’m even passively interested in right now are the Astro A50's.

There’s no way to write long-form criticism of headphones. It’d be like…well today I wore the headphones again, and here are the songs I listened to. Certain things like build quality and long-term comfort do become more clear over a longer time. I’d certainly have liked to catch this Sony build quality problem before I wrote a glowing review of the model in question.

But that stuff doesn’t happen to everyone. And the experience of wearing a headphone doesn’t change all that much day-to-day, session-to-session. You can get 95 percent of it in your first sitting.

Games aren’t like that.

They’re weird, nightmarish piles of art and code. They’re really tough to design. They can provide a different quality of experience in every play session, and they’re usually longer than a movie.

Movies give the same base experience to every viewer, more or less, within a narrow window. Sure, things like projector and sound quality can alter it, but the product has one specific artistic package once it arrives in front of you. The same goes for books and music, though those are again suspect to viewing environments and personal artistic interpretation.

Games try to mimic this, but so many variables can get in the way, from the skill of the player to the hardware used to play it.

Long form criticism of games can better pick up these nuances than a rushed review over some marathon play sessions. At least, in my opinion. None of my thoughts on this are new, but as someone who was once in the churn of playing through every new release and even writing reviews for a small magazine, it’s nice to force myself to take a step back.

Books and movies and music get revisited and re-explored all the time, whereas games rarely do. At least, critically.

There’s still a Fallout installment coming Friday this week, and I might also write about how my MacBook is now kind of just a swanky Chromebook.

Next week, I might start a third gaming series in the middle of the week but I haven’t decided what game to focus on yet. And of course more headphone and cafe drink content is also coming.

Now, here is a picture of the Skyrim logo, since Medium will get all passive aggressive at me if I don’t put a picture in this post.

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